Body Shame Or Pride

I've read that only 3% of women are happy with their bodies and that cosmetic surgery has increased by 300% in the last decade. Our shame is big business!

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Have you ever been to one of those spa days?

When I did recently, I found that it wasn’t entirely the relaxing and comfortable experience I'd been expecting.

After my initial disappointment with what passes as a spa nowadays (despite it being in a superior hotel), I was then shocked to find a cramped and grubby communal changing area – thankfully it was single sex.

It was bad enough a few years ago having to endure the glare of public exposure in the communal changing rooms in clothing/fashion shop. This was even worse because it involved complete nakedness, scrutiny, wet swimming costumes and clothes that just couldn’t be put back on quickly enough due to skin still being wet from an all-too-quick rub down - with a towel still moist from the sauna, steam room and poolside lounger! Aaaarrgh!

However, what really interested me most was the way in which different women presented their bodies, and their pride, indifference or shame with the way they looked and were seen by the other woman there.

We pretend not to look but we are perhaps all furtively comparing ourselves with everyone else – well at least those of us that still care how we ‘match up’.

I've read that only 3% of women are happy with their bodies and that cosmetic surgery has increased by 300% in the last decade. Our shame is big business!

As for me, well I headed straight for the ladies toilet – there was only one available which made me feel even more conspicuous as well as selfish – and I got down to my swimming 'cossy’ in record speed.

I did feel a pang of guilt at seeing someone waiting to use the toilet but she may have had a similar plan to mine – to avoid the discomfort of undressing in front of a bunch of strangers.

I know, I know, we are all ‘one’ in the great ocean of consciousness – but in such potentially shaming situations, and here’s the point – we become separate, insular, isolated, and vulnerable to judgement and perceived criticism, or even ridicule.

There were a few younger women there who proudly strutted their tanned, svelte and agile bodies around, as they knowingly soaked up and enjoyed the envy of the fatter and old women around them.

They moved as if their social status were elevated by reason of their fertility and desirability. It is.

Some seemed proud to flaunt themselves in spite of their obvious imperfections – as if showing off their battle scars.

One had bright orange fake-tanned skin adorned with a chaotic sprawl of tattoos that told her story – perhaps of both physical and emotional pain.

This also intrigued me and I wondered about these women’s self-concept and self-esteem, and whether they were somehow over-compensating by getting their faults out there in the open, and almost challenging anyone to judge them.

One or two women seemed at ease with the imposition of the communal flesh exposure. For the rest of us it was a case of ‘dissociating’ and numbing out of both the presence, and looks, of the other women in this cramped corner of this cramped room. There was nowhere to hide.

Futile attempts by some to hide their fat under towels until their clothes were off and the swimming costume was on, only drew more attention because of the effort and squirming involved.

They’d left it too late. They were obese and they knew it and were clearly ashamed of it. I imagine they felt a magnified version of my own discomfort.

No-one spoke. Certainly not about what was going on – that would be unthinkable. The mission was to get into the water as quickly as was humanly possible – even though this involved the walk, or waddle, of shame to the pool – past several fit men working up a sweat of their own in the gym area.

I felt some sadness at the stark realisation that I was now one of the wobbly middle-aged women. Not as fat as some but, as I lamented, not as firm flexible and vibrant as the youngsters there. I used to look like them a decade (or two) ago!

I was proud of my body in my 20s and 30s - but now I felt sorry for it, and a bit annoyed that it was letting me down and feeding my middle-aged sense of shame.

Our bodies tell our story – one that we hide or display according to our feelings of pride or shame.

Paradoxically we all have something about our bodies to be proud of – we might have just forgotten that as we focus upon self-criticism instead.

Had I realised the angst involved in my well-intentioned offer of a spa day and afternoon tea with a friend – I would have chosen a different way to show my gratitude to her!

I’ve got to go through the 'spa day' experience all over again. I’d already booked another one at the same time, and will be taking another friend along to a different spa very soon.

Next time I’ll be prepared and may even wear my swimming costume under my day clothes – just to save time you understand. Then there’ll only be the shower and re-dressing part to fumble through!

Unless of course I choose instead to feel proud of the way I look, and I take my time without trying to hide my 'flaws'.

In which case it may all just go swimmingly! :-)

Maxine Harley (MSc Integrative Psychotherapy)


Helping women to FEEL better so they can BE, DO AND HAVE better.

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Maxine Harley



Go to the profile of Diane Priestley
over 5 years ago
Thanks for your witty and honest article Maxine. Yes how weird are communal change rooms and how self-conscious we all feel! You captured the experience so accurately - those sexy young women flaunting their skinny bodies while us embarrassed middle-aged ladies attempt to hide our flabby tummies, wistfully remembering the lithe little Size 10 bodies we once had! Recently I've made peace with my extra poundage. I've decided I really do love my body. I would prefer to be lighter, especially when hiking in Africa! But I tell myself this body is still serving me well, getting me around and functioning pretty well. I'm grateful I have all my limbs, my mobility and my health at nearly 60. I think I will flaunt my flesh next chance I get. Maybe on safari I will go skinny dipping with the hippos!
Go to the profile of Maxine Harley
over 5 years ago
Thanks Diane - much appreciated. Delighted to read that you have an acceptance and appreciation for your body. I'd love to see those hippo's faces...they'll think you're soooo skinny! :-))