Courtesy of W. Eric Snell of E. Snell Design/Posing School NYC

In high school, I loved hanging out with other women, particularly those who exhibited a level of confidence in their stride. But cliques didn’t work well for me—I despised the thought of shadowing the queen bee of a pseudo girl group.

Besides, even among my female friends, I felt different. It felt like puberty had screwed me over hard; I hated my 32 AA breasts and tiny frame. It was as if God had anointed all of my female classmates and then taken a lunch break when it was my turn. For a hormonal teenager, it was devastating to watch guys flirt with my friends while I was just the “homie” with the box frame. In hindsight, there was nothing wrong with my body. If anything, I’ve realized that a lot of my issues stemmed from negative feedback from other women within my circle.

After gaining a significant amount of weight in my 20s, the shitstorm of “support” came in the form of condescending advice. In one instance, while expressing my desire to lose weight, one of my full-figured ex-best friends laughed and heavily suggested that I give up hopes of being a “skinny bitch.” If I hadn’t had a level of respect she clearly didn’t have for me, I would’ve put a nonmetaphorical foot in her ass. On the other hand, with that state of mind, I’d be fighting the world.

By 2014, my desires of weight loss had come to fruition. I naively thought this would be the remedy to both my self-hate and negative feedback from others. Instead, I was greeted with comments questioning my appetite, or snide suggestions that I was aspiring to look like an Instagram thirst trap.

And you know what? Most of those comments came from women.

I’m preparing myself for side eyes, but why do women poke fun at each other? In the age of reality-television shows and the glorification of being petty, I became hesitant about giving other women compliments without it being misinterpreted as shade. Optimistically, I want to believe we’re not that broken, but perhaps some of these are self-inflicted wounds. Speaking for myself, after years of hurt, my admiration for headstrong women shifted to my being on edge if I had a vulnerable moment.

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When I think back to advice received well into my early 20s, I was taught to never keep another woman around my man for too long if I wanted to preserve a healthy relationship. In the workplace, I recall hearing female co-workers poke fun at a deserving candidate who received a promotion. And even within my own body-positive community, after an article I wrote went viral a few weeks ago, I had to stop reading the comments because a small group of women thought I wasn’t “fat enough” to speak on plus-size-body issues.

Though my skin is fairly thick from years of negative commentary, it’d be nice not to feel attacked for not meeting invisible requirements of other women. Recently, a stranger sent me a nasty direct message regarding my expressed delight in seeing a plus-size woman of color grace the September 2017 cover of Women’s Running magazine. This time, I suddenly found myself engaged in a verbal insult match, just to find out what her problem was. The entire dialogue baffled me, considering that she’d mentioned her own weight-loss journey. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—her “success,” she now felt liberated to make a poor attempt at stripping down an accomplished athlete—as well as bodies like my own—to justify her distorted views of a “healthy body.”

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Screenshot courtesy of L. Shauntay Snell

But personal responsibility goes a long way. If I desire to attract positive changes, then I must change the way I view myself and others. While I was going through my fitness journey, my problematic thinking was also the culprit. In turn, I actively started listening to my own dialogue; realizing that I’d had my own nasty commentary about my peers’ bodies. After self-reflection, I know it came from a mixture of my own internal demons and years of unhealthy conditioning regarding how society views women. I’d guess I’m not the only one.

While I’m not an avid believer in New Year’s resolutions, I’ve revised my bucket list to speak better to myself and others. Instead of succumbing to the fear of paying a compliment to another woman, I pride myself on taking a leap of faith to extend a warm remark.

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Women have enough on our plates. Being kinder to one another—and our mental and physical well-being—is helpful in relieving the heavy load. If smiling is contagious, then I hope being kind is just as infectious. Yes, it’s a minor step, but change starts within us.