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No matter how far we’ve come in terms of progress—whether it’s feminism, inclusivity or understanding mental health—there are always things holding us back. And one of these things is shame.
As Dr. Brene Brown, leading researcher in shame and empathy, says:
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”
We’re all taught from a young age to feel shame on cue—and that the best way to tackle shame is to conform and adhere to social norms. Whether it’s our perceptions around body image, our gender roles, acting or dressing in a certain way, how we identify, or the decisions we make, we are told that we should feel shame if we don’t fit into an arbitrary ideal.
5 Things We Are Ashamed About
1. Sexuality & Shame Post #MeToo
There’s been a weird aftermath to the #MeToo movement. The movement itself has caused shockwaves everywhere—from Hollywood to office culture to social media. So why do we still feel shame and uneasiness, especially when it comes to our own sexuality?
The answer could be that the movement has raised awareness around the existence of predatory powerful men in the workplace, which has shifted our attitudes towards outwardly displaying our sexuality or sensuality for fear of a negative outcome. And the worst thing is that this possible negative outcome could be anything from sexual assault or harassment from a man to being shamed by another woman for “asking for trouble.” Just look at Whoopi Goldberg’s slut-shaming of Bella Thorne when the Thorton’s private nudes were leaked.
And while there has been a lot of positive change since beginning of the movement, it has also made it only too clear that if we experience sexual assault or harassment and report it or talk about it, we will be faced with judgement and slut-shaming. The movement has brought feminine sexuality into the public sphere and opened it up to debate—often with a disregard for the individuals that are being spoken about.
Sexuality post #MeToo is not something we should feel ashamed of. We should not live in fear of judgment because of our sexual choices, preferences, what we wear, or how drunk we get at a party. Assault is never a victim’s fault.
2. Periods. Periods. Periods.
Despite menstruation being a completely natural bodily function that women have experienced for literally hundreds of thousands of years, this is still something that we’re ashamed about, even as we enter 2020.
Period shame is a problem; whether it’s global period taboos, young girls routinely missing school due to period poverty, or the marketing language used around period products (still frequently referred to as “feminine hygiene” products, which implies getting one’s period is linked to uncleanliness and dirt. You just need to look at the normal over-sanitized adverts for pads showing mysterious blue liquid being absorbed (what is this?!) to understand that we’ve been hiding our wombs and blood from wider society due to shame.
Thankfully, there are many brands normalizing menstruation and making these conversations more mainstream (such as vocal period underwear brands like Knix, which did an excellent job of supporting and celebrating Pride recently with a series of #KnixPride themed blog posts) — not to mention female athletes and celebrities speaking out about periods and reducing the stigma.
Within time, we should be getting to a point where periods are no longer hidden, or blushed over, or a source of shame, and instead be celebrated for what they truly are: part of an incredible cycle that can create life.
3. Being the wrong Type of Feminist: Too Feminist or Not Feminist Enough
In 2019, it can sometimes feel hard striking the balance between being “too feminist” and “not feminist enough”.
It sounds ridiculous, right? We should all be united by this positive movement that essentially promotes equality for everyone. But in the public and political social sphere that is Twitter (and other social media platforms to a lesser extent), divides are all too clearly starting to show between different groups and activist circles of feminists.
Most of this stems from how disagreements on how best to effect change and which issues should be tackled. And while there are interpretations that these divides are a shameful sign of the feminist movement weakening, there are takes that suggest that debate and conflict can help feminism move forward and become more diverse, inclusive and representational.
Whatever your “brand” of feminism is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s possible to belong to various groups or waves of feminism, place emphasis on different issues, and still be inclusive and intersectional. (The only thing to be ashamed about is if you are placing less value on others because of your feminist beliefs; feminism is about equality for everyone, and supporting others who may not be like you in the process.)
4. Our Bodies—and Our Relationships with Them
We have a funny relationship with our bodies. From an early age, we are bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards that teach us to feel ashamed of our bodies. Whether it is our size, shape, color, gender, age, ability or disability, the way we identify ourselves, our imperfections, cellulite, stretch marks, freckles or scars… there are a million and one ways that we are deemed imperfect and not good enough. The question is, for who?
(Likewise, if we are confident and comfortable with our bodies, we are still judged — for being arrogant, narcissistic and immodest. Frankly, there is no winning.)
Accepting and loving your body the way it is can be difficult, after years of being told that yours isn’t acceptable for whatever reason. But your body is yours —and it’s amazing and strong and beautiful in its own completely unique way. Let’s celebrate that, and build confidence instead of shame in ourselves and others.
5. Mental Health Concerns
The discussions around mental health are getting better, we’ll give you that. In certain sections of society, mental health problems are no longer as stigmatized, and treated with the same level of understanding and compassion that physical maladies are.
Unfortunately, this is absolutely not the case in many other places—and a lot of ignorant views and outdated opinions are often given (unasked for, of course). Being met with harmful comments (“man up” being a classic), uncomfortable glances and a lack of support are all too frequent for many people. So it’s not surprising that we feel ashamed when we struggle with our mental health, especially when we’re dealing with our own internal insecurities about how we feel and how we’re coping.
We’re here to tell you that poor mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. There are so many people in the world that have mental health problems (literally, millions), so the sooner we normalize this as a society, the better.
In the meantime, speak to your loved ones, do things that make you happy, open up about your feelings, and don’t be afraid to get help — whether it’s in the form of therapy or medication. You’re just helping yourself to be the best version of yourself.
Shame is a funny old thing. And although we like to think that we have some level of cognitive autonomy when it comes to what we feel ashamed about and what we don’t, a lot of what we feel in this respect is taught to us by society. Our bodies, our natural cycles, our sexuality, our individuality, and feminism… these are five things that we learn to feel ashamed about from an early age (but, of course, definitely shouldn’t be).
Thankfully, changes are slowly but surely happening. One of the key things that we can do to aid change for the better is to recognize the role of shame for the use of control, and to call it out — for yourself and others. Live the way you want to, rather than being shamed into changing aspects of your personality and lifestyle.