Facebook can be a horrible place if you are sensitive to other people's actions and perceptive about their subtle messages. It can also be fertile territory for understanding people in general and knowing your friends better. In ways both subtle and gross, you can see how others think and feel.
Recently, I have had experiences with both of the obvious and the less so. One of my friends posted a picture of three people on the beach. One woman was very thin, possibly anorexic, and she had had somewhat moderate breast implants (probably a "B", definitely no more than a C-cup). Her age was difficult to gauge but given the skin sagging, her hair color and texture, and her wrinkles, she may have been as old as her early 60's or as young as her late 40's (probably she was in her mid to late 50's). She was standing with her arm around a slightly overweight woman with a hairy, chunky guy in Speedos on the other side. My friend's comment was something like "I'm glad I kept my own (referring to her breasts)! She (thin woman with implants) makes the guy on the right look pretty good!"
I should note that my friend is very short (about 4' 11"/150 cm.) and has very large breasts. She has also rarely been thin, but not especially been fat. She has had body issues all of her life including being uncomfortable with her disproportionately large breasts and feeling she had a large behind. As she has gotten older, she has put on a little more weight and gained enough at one point to develop Type 2 diabetes, but changed her habits to take her out of the red zone and back to borderline insulin function.
The fact that my friend engaged in such body shaming upset me for several reasons. First of all, I disagree with all body shaming on principle. Second, the sort of sagging and skin wrinkling that woman had was very familiar. It was a less extreme version of what has been happening to me as I lose weight. Third, I think anyone with their own body issues should have more empathy for others with less than perfect bodies. Finally, her behavior was childish and cruel. No one should have their picture passed around and talked about in such a fashion.
Since I don't believe that outright confrontation is helpful when people do these things, I made a comment saying that we don't know anything about how this woman came to be in this state. On the heels of a few "ewwws" and "I just tossed my lunch" types of comments, I mentioned that an acquaintance recently had a double mastectomy and had breast implants as a result. Any woman could have such implants because of a medical issue, not just because she's vain. I did not say that it didn't matter if she looked as she did out of vanity or not, but I did think so. I wanted my friend to have empathy for this woman, not merely use her as a stepping stone to elevating her own low self-esteem a notch or two.
As the comment thread went on, I mentioned that I would be certain never to show up on a beach in a bathing suit of any sort because strangers would take my picture and pass it around on the internet and mock my body as was being done with that poor woman. My friend expressed incredulity that my body could look so bad and called me a "goddess" (which is weird since she knows I used to be fatter). I guess as someone who has never been severely overweight, she doesn't know that you don't spring back into shape but rather look like a stretched out sweater made of skin. At any rate, my husband, who is also her friend, went on to mention that he felt there was too much body shaming as did a few other people and she withdrew the picture under the weight of disapproval. I remain somewhat surprised that she didn't anticipate how bad what she did might make her look.
Another one of my friends recently posted that she found some dresses in the back of her closet and that she was shocked that they fit. This particular friend has always been slightly chubby and gained a little more weight as time has gone on. She's probably no less overweight than I currently am, but has been mentioning that she went down two dress sizes recently.
Note that my Facebook page does not discuss my weight or anyone else's. As far as they know, what they see is what I am. This blog is unknown to them (and shall remain so) and my struggles are not public. There is no reason for anyone to think I am trying to lose weight, though I do occasionally post recipes which I enjoy that are sugar-free or nutritious. They are there for me to keep track of, and for diabetic friends to experiment with on their own. Though I have never been diabetic, I do make sugar-free items (baked goods) to reduce the blood sugar impact and calories of such items.
Regarding my friend's situation, I commented to her that there were no dresses in the back of my closet, but if there were, they surely would not fit me. I did not state that the reason this was the case was that all of my clothes from the past are far too big and she "liked" the comment. I am not sure why she would "like" the fact that I wouldn't fit into my old clothes while she could, but I got the impression that she was concluding that I was too fat to fit in my old togs. This friend is from college and last she saw me I was at a lowish relative weight (very similar to how I am now), though she met me when I was likely in the 300-350 lb. range in my earlier college years. She had no way of knowing I'd regained and lost weight again, so she didn't know my bodily disposition over the years. From her perspective, I have remained unchanged.
This friend has had a habit of being competitive and copying people she admires or is envious of. When I lost weight in my later college years, she also lost weight shortly thereafter and had shown increasing moodiness and resentment toward me as I continued to lose weight at that time. She also dyed her hair blond to match her roommate's (who she had a serious non-sexual crush on and believed was the coolest human being on the planet) and dressed like said roommate for several years. It could also have been a coincidence, but she dyed her hair the same color as mine shortly after I connected with her on Facebook and remarked on how great she looked with that color.
Though I could be wrong, I think the reason my friend "liked" the idea that I may not be able to wear my old clothes was that she felt I'd gained weight and that made her feel better about herself. This is all not meant in any way to say that I am awesome and enviable in my beauty, but rather as a reflection on the situation in which someone is competing with me and happier to come out the "winner" in her estimation. Both of these friends are behaving competitively with other women. One of them is doing so with a picture of a woman from the internet and the other with an old friend. In both cases, they are valuing bodies such that they can value themselves more highly relative to others.
In both of these cases, I'm not angry with my friends, but I am disappointed that they assign such value to external appearances and sad that their self-estimation is such that it is based on body size and shape. I'm also increasingly uncomfortable with the feeling that I'm being drawn into a sort of "race" for relative beauty now that I'm no longer viewed as the one who absolutely will come in last. When I was super obese and near 400 lbs., women simply dismissed me entirely as "competition". Now, it's not quite so simple.
I don't want to be involved in any of this, but it does seem quite unavoidable. Though I have changed a lot inside, it seems that people only attend to the changes on the outside, and they aren't necessarily happy to see me looking pretty good if they feel they look relatively not quite as good. I don't want to play this game, but people keep dealing me hands anyway. I'm not sure what to do about it, but I guess all I can do is try to maintain empathy for them and their needs in this regard.