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How Shame and Fear Disempower Progress Toward Wellness

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Shame and fear are powerful content creating and marketing tools in a time when the internet and social media have become the acceptable destinations to find solutions (and even self diagnosing) for health concerns. A widely used educating tool is observing someone “doing something wrong” and calling them out for it (publicly or by implication). This can create an effective way of getting engagement and sales as influencer culture shifts the landscape of how information is delivered to the humans who seek support. It’s also a very powerful way to make people feel bad for choosing what they have decided is best for them, even if it isn’t necessarily the best for them.

Let’s put on our compassion hats for a minute and consider emotion, trauma, and narrative controlling dialogues and the power it has to influence how we make decisions for ourselves. There are SO MANY examples of how this shows up in the space I provide for clients at TGV and how the “best” choice margins aren’t simply based in “right or wrong” , it’s the making room to (re/un)learn how to support complete wellness as a process that has bumps in the road. It’s understanding that the more we learn, the more we discover we don’t know AND that letting go of/rethinking harmful practices/internal resources isn’t easy at the best of times.

Recently I came under fire on social media for having product offerings for women who choose to wash their vulva with a product instead of water (granted, my original post on it was off brand, poorly worded and void of the healthy conversation starters you are all accustomed to. Thanks for the opportunity to rewrite it. Additional gratitude to those who messaged me to let me know the post was not my usual forum and asking if I was ok. That was really incredible to know that you all care for me too). It was my first experience with being publicly shamed and I was surprised how it activated feelings in me to protect my community from the landslide of vitriol brought on by my mistakes while simultaneously being ok with being “wrong” for my clients that need me to be wrong for them.

Vaginas. Smells. Discharge. Mucous. Menstruation.

Imagine being a woman who spent years of her life being told that all of these very natural processes are dirty, shameful and that talking about it is taboo. Imagine having health issues and feeling dirty and gross and not seeking support because of it. Then imagine discovering that all of that was not correct information and that a healthy reproductive cycle includes mucous and different smells. Imagine discovering that the practices you were taught (like douching and using soaps) to hide the smells and disguise the discharge could in fact be harmful. THEN in your exploration to discover more information, you find there are doctors on both sides of the conversation. The only thing you know for sure is that you’re still navigating feelings of embarrassment about your smells and discharge despite that you just learned otherwise and feeling better has you returning to your previous practices, harmful or not. Except now you feel shame from both sides. You are hiding that you wash AND you’re washing to hide.

THIS IS THE TRUTH of many clients who arrive at the shop looking to buy products. ALL products. Shame, embarrassment and fear are the root motivator for beauty and personal care products. For these clients, like all of us, wellness isn’t a straight line. It’s a practice. It’s a digging out from a litany of deciding factors that have us standing in our own reality. Some of those factors began with shaming, fear, trauma, industry brainwashing and oppression. This same conversation could be about any potentially self harming practices. Smoking, food choices, sleep practices, sun practices, alcohol or drug consumption.

So… Am I a profiteer of client’s poor choices? I’ll let you decide. All I can do is show up, educate and present the healthiest options without adding to existing feelings of guilt or shame so my clients feel safe to revisit uncomfortable or triggering conversations anytime they are ready. Quite simply, if they aren’t ready for the information, it doesn’t matter if I’m “right”, it’s not right for them…. yet… maybe ever. Offering a product that offers harm reduction is the option that remains in hopes that the trust built will leave the door open for future opportunities to be supportive when they are ready. We are all experiencing different places, depths and commitment levels to our wellness. The extraordinary part of this is it gives each of us experience so we can relate to and support one another no matter where we are in our health journey with the efforts making space for everyone to reclaim their version of well being.

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