November 5, 2013

Not All Criticism is Shaming.

It seems that “shaming” has become the new black.

It’s everywhere, and it has become very popular to claim that people are “shaming” someone or something if they happen to disagree with them. Based on a very informal, non-scientific poll I conducted for the purposes of this piece, it seems that popular ones are “slut-shaming”, “fat shaming” and “thin shaming” even though are also things such as “social media shaming” and, my personal  favorite, “tattoo shaming.”

In a recent piece by slate.com’s Mark Peters, he urges people to stop using this already over-used word and points out that “just because you don’t like someone else’s criticism of you does not mean they are shaming you.”

He’s right.

Frankly, the idea that any kind of criticism is bad baffles me. I should disclose that it even hits a little close to home because once upon a time, back in the day, I was a professional critic.

In my case, I was a movie reviewer for a tiny public radio station. To say that I loved my job was an understatement. It didn’t pay much but I got to see tons of movies and attend The Virginia Film Festival every year as a perk. I saw some really great movies, some really middling ones, and some really bad ones. Sometimes, I also did reviews of books and albums, too.

As a critic, my job was to deliver my opinion of whatever piece of art I was reviewing. While I knew that not everyone was going to agree with my opinion and I was even prepared that there would always be a few that hated it, I was unprepared by how some people took any criticism at all as a personal attack or shaming of someone or something.

It seemed to do little good to explain that it was not my intention but I will repeat what I said once to one person who once took the time to email me: Not all criticism is meant to hurtful. In fact, there are even some people who welcome criticism and use it as a way to improve upon themselves and their skills.

As a writer and yoga teacher, I expect a certain amount of criticism. I won’t lie and say it would not affect me if someone read a piece or walked out a class muttering, “That was garbage!” The truth is, it would hurt me. A lot.

However, there is a difference between criticism, bullying, and shaming, and sometimes we seem to forget that.

In a post I read today in which the author (rightly) pointed out that the vast majority of clothing ads feature models like Kate Moss who do not represent the norm, someone took her to task saying that she was saying “thin people who aren’t real people [and] body shaming goes both ways.”

I wondered if we had read the same piece because the way I see it, suggesting that the majority of people are not as thin as a fashion model is actual, verifiable fact and in no way suggests to me that it is a shaming of thin people. Besides, there are even a lot of thin people—like me—and feel that those high-fashion, impossibly beautiful models in no way represent me or anyone I happen to know.

My hope, much like Mark Peters, is that this trend of automatically saying that a certain person or group of people are being “shamed” simply because there is some sort of criticism or perceived criticism that may not even be there will stop sooner rather than later.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I fear we may get to a point where no one feels comfortable saying anything that could even remotely be seen as negative lest they get labeled with the “shame” label.

The truth is, not everything is life is perfect. We can’t and shouldn’t go through life without criticizing anyone or anything. An excessive of anything is never a good idea, but there is a middle way.

Besides, life would be so much less interesting if we all agreed on everything and never let an opposing voice speak now and then.


For more, Waylon’s podcast/video on Shaming.

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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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