If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all” I’m sure at some point in our life we’ve all heard countless variations of this phrase. I was reminded of this saying as my best friend and I recently had a conversation about people sharing unwarranted, disregardful opinions that slowly chip away at our self-esteem that triggers thoughts and painful memories about ourselves we want to forget.
Sadly, to this very day, thirty years later I can vividly recall every moment I was teased for being fat. Every laugh, every snicker, every snide comment I added to my mental Rolodex. Filing, retrieving and replaying each moment whenever I was rejected and made to feel unworthy.
Growing up fat I was teased by my peers, in fact, I was teased for a lot of things. From my high pitch squeaky voice to my coke bottle eyeglasses. We expect this type of behavior from children, chalking it up to youthful innocence. What about adults? What excuse do we use when we hear adults shaming and bullying one another?
I don’t need to remind you that with the increase use of social media the internet has become a tool where we can shame, hate and ridicule one another behind a screen without any ramifications. Fortunately, you can delete and block these trolls and send them packing forever in cyberspace never having to deal with them again. However, what do you do in real life with people you live, interact and work with on a daily basis?
The belief of being seen, as less than, and not good enough is rampant within the Jamaican culture as well as other Black and Afro Caribbean communities. Beliefs and attitudes that have been perpetuated from slavery. I have had countless discussions with friends and heard from other women sharing their stories of relatives, friends, co-workers and even strangers making comments or statements that send us all spiraling down an emotional black hole.
We all have certain topics or issues with ourselves that are very sensitive to discuss especially if we have not healed from the emotional wounds. Unfortunately, people (myself included) do not always think before they make comments or pass judgments.
I’m talking about those comments and or questions that are seemly innocent but result in a change or ending of a relationship; or worse, irreparable psychological damage.
For example, during my teenage years, I was a patient of a well-renowned dermatologist in Jamaica. On one particular visit, this doctor at the end of the appointment reminded me that I “need to lose some weight girlfriend”. As a teenager who had been overweight for years, tried and failed several diets and struggling with my body image, hearing that I needed to lose weight was unnecessary and actually prolonged my unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits.
Telling someone they need to lose weight is like telling a blind person, they’re blind. I felt so horrible as it reminded me of my inability to lose the weight, despite my best efforts. I never saw that doctor again, in fact I stayed far away from all doctors because I didn’t want to feel that level of shame again.
My best friend always reminds me about “intent versus impact”. We may have good intentions, but we never know the impact our words will have. So, a word of advice and a gentle reminder to myself, I encourage you to:
- Think before you speak.
- If you must share your thoughts and opinions, timing and location are important.
- And if the person is offended, apologize which is all you can do at this point. Then Emphasize actively reflect and try not to do it again. The impact of our words can be profound and wide ranging more than we realize.
In my book, The Healthy Makeover I talk more about the emotional effects of being overweight and how it impacted my self-esteem.