Ashley Judd, 44, was in the news recently for her eloquent rebuttal after negative comments made about her face being "puffy" in a photo and some media people assuming she’d had “work done” or was “letting herself go.”
She asked women to share one of the moments when they were shamed about their appearance.
The first moment that came to mind was when I was 23. Yes, 23. I worked as a sous chef in a non-air conditioned restaurant kitchen in the American South. Hot!
It was the 1980’s and the style in the tiny, supremely casual beach resort town where I lived was for younger women to go braless, if they so desired. It was a bit of a hippie thing, and not at all unusual or remarkable. For me, a bra was more than a bit unnecessary.
I was well aware that most people thought I was flat-chested. That’s how I thought of myself, too, and sometimes it really bothered me. For the most part I had learned to accept that my breasts did not align with the view that bigger was better. But I had other things to worry about, and the size of my 34 AAA breasts was getting less important to me every year.
So there I was, well-covered in a cotton t-shirt, braless, reasonably confident about myself, sweating my ass off working in a broiling hot and humid kitchen. A young man, Tim, age 19 and a dishwasher, took a look at my t-shirt one day and made a hand gesture across his chest while uncharacteristically scowling. Tim and I were friendly acquaintances, although he ran with a different and younger crowd than me, the old lady of twenty-three.
I didn’t understand what his gesture meant, so I smiled and asked him what he was trying to say.
“They’re saggy. You really should wear a bra.”
Oh, yeah, he did.
“Are you kidding me?” was the only retort I managed to sputter.
Red-faced, disbelieving, stunned, stung, shamed at the criticism, invaded, humiliated, and self-conscious in a way that only a woman who has had her breasts publicly evaluated without asking for it can understand, I went to the other side of the kitchen and finished my shift under a pall of embarrassment.
Even today, I want to deny the charge of saggy breasts, even though whether they were or were not saggy does not truly even matter. It was the idea that someone else thought it appropriate to look closely at my breasts, evaluate them, and then pass that evaluation on to me in the form of unsolicited advice. That does matter, that Tim thought my breasts were ANY of his business.
Would I feel differently if he had said, “Nice rack!”?
Honestly, yes, my indignity would have a different feeling, more like the all too familiar reaction most females are acquainted with-- unwanted sexual attention. That he was criticizing me for part of my body, one of the quintessentially “female” parts, is partly why this memory has stayed with me so long. He was telling me I was flawed.
Even though Ashley Judd was criticized for her face, an arguably slightly less embarrassing feature to have scrutinized, this experience from over 30 years ago was what immediately popped into my head when she asked other women to tell their moment.
My moment was in 1981. Ashley Judd’s was in 2012. Is anyone else as utterly sick of it and as ready for change as I am? Pervasive negativity about women and their looks has got to stop.
One way we can promote change is to avoid casual negative comments about a woman’s appearance, no matter whether we "like" the woman or not. JUST DON’T DO IT. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not as easy as it sounds, but I’m re-committing myself to this goal.
Will you join me in making an effort to change the way we talk about women?
Feel free to tell your “Ashley Judd” moment below.