What is body shaming?
“The action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size.”
I’ve witnessed so much body shaming recently, and as someone who has been at the receiving end on many occasions, I feel that it’s an important topic to be talking about. Whether you’re calling someone too thin, too fat, too muscular, or making negative and abusive comments about someone’s body in any way, you are guilty of body shaming. Worryingly, I have noticed a trend where people make these comments, and try to pass them off as advice or concern. It appears as though they believe they are doing someone a favour by telling them they need to eat more, or maybe they shouldn’t wear a bikini if they have a belly roll, or perhaps they should work out less because it will make them look more “feminine.”
Carly Rowena (who is an amazing advocate of body confidence), recently posted a comment from her YouTube channel, where someone had said that her figure was “not cute and for sure not beautiful. All because of external oblique muscles.” Which apparently aren’t for women, as we should have certain proportions to be considered beautiful. Lydia Elise Millen recently received a tirade of abuse recently because she mentioned her clothes were a size 6 and some were a little big on her. Kristy Green also received negative comments, sadly from what appeared to be a family member, publicly shaming her for being a bad role model for apparently being “too skinny.” I have a very close friend who has scoliosis and kyphosis, which meant she had a curvature of the spine. Before her surgery, she told me she received horrendous abuse from complete strangers because her body didn’t conform to societies, or their own, standards of “beauty.” This breaks my heart, because she’s the most beautiful person both inside and out.
My personal experience
My weight has fluctuated over the years. I have been a size 8-10 and I have been a size 18-20, and everywhere in between. But The stigma of being a “fat person” has always stuck with me, leading to extreme anxiety in social situations, issues with binge eating and depression. I now hate having my photograph taken, which makes it difficult when you’ve been advised for your chosen career that you need to have an online presence, and at some point, will be expected to speak in public.
As a plus size woman, I’ve been conditioned to believe that I’m not sexy, I’m not attractive, and I use my humour as a defense because, you know, fat people are funny, right? I do the “fat Monica dance” when I feel uncomfortable in a club, and make jokes to point out that I know I’m fat before someone else does it for me. I have had people make disgusting comments to or about me, have had men shout pig noises at me in public, tell me my slimmer friends are fit but they wouldn’t go near me, I’ve overheard groups of guys talking about me negatively in comparison to my slimmer friends, been called a fat cow by other girls, and even had a family member sit me down and tell me I should consider wearing maternity jeans, because my belly was so big (I was a size 14 at the time).
Body shaming in the media
One of the issues is that we are significantly influenced by the media into thinking there’s a “normal” way to look. As women, we are supposed to be thin, but not too thin, curvy, but not fat, have big boobs, but they must be perky and full, big bums but they must be pert and peachy. We shouldn’t have stretch marks or imperfections. And this should all be natural, by the way, or we risk being branded as fake or plastic. Weekly mags regularly splash photos of celebs in bikinis, pointing out supposed flaws and branding them too fat or too thin. Lead actresses in Hollywood are rarely plus size, and if they are its typically in a comedy role. Social media definitely adds extra pressure to fit in with this “perfect” image. However, brands like Missguided and ASOS are now leading the way, helping shatter this unrealistic image by not airbrushing their models; back rolls, stretch marks and spots are visible and we are loving it, so why is there still so much body shaming going on?
This unachievable strive for a perfection that doesn’t exist has convinced us that there’s something wrong with different body shapes and sizes. But this is what makes us all unique, this is what makes us…us! I always have and always will have a big bum, I will never be a size 4, and those stretch marks are there forever. But that’s who I am, and I’m slowly learning to accept that there is nothing wrong with that. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t me advocating being unhealthy, but I also think that people should be happy. And if someone is healthy and happy at a size 4 or a size 20, then to me, that’s the most important thing.
Why body shaming is so dangerous
When you body shame, your’e making assumptions and judgments about people. If someone is overweight, it doesn’t mean they are unfit, if underweight, it doesn’t mean they don’t eat. Making comments like these are not only unhelpful, they can be dangerous.
Even the most confident, positive person can be affected by body shaming. It might be a fleeting comment to you, or what you consider “constructive” criticism, or just a laugh with mates. But your comments could be very damaging to a person. Once you say something, especially online, you can never take that back. You might forget about it soon afterwards, but that person on the receiving end will likely never forget it. Whenever they are having a crappy day and are feeling bad about themselves, that comment will come back to haunt them, seemingly validating that negative thought they have about their appearance. Body shaming can lead, or contribute, to eating disorders, body dysmorphia, anxiety disorders and depression.
If you have genuine concerns for someone you know, based on more than just how they look, please be aware that telling them they are too thin, too fat, or making any negative comment regarding how they look is only going to trigger their illness, making them more likely to restrict, binge or purge. You can find more information on how to help someone you suspect has an eating disorder here.
ASOS and Missguided are doing amazing with portraying a more realistic and varied body image of their models. Glossier’s Body Hero campaign showed real, unedited bodies of all shapes, sizes, ages and races, celebrating diversity and body confidence. An increasing number of bloggers aren’t photo shopping out their scars, stretchmarks or cellulite anymore, and real vs Instagram pics are shared more frequently to give a more realistic image compared to what we see online. We definitely need to see more of this!
Before you make a comment about someone’s appearance, consider the effect this will have both on that person and on yourself. Think about it, do you feel better when you lift someone up and make them feel good? Yes! Do you feel really crappy and annoyed at yourself when you make a mean comment about someone? Of course you do! When you judge someone by their appearance, it doesn’t define them, it defines you. Your judgement of others says a lot more about your character than someone’s dress size says about theirs.
Not only do we need to stop body shaming others, but we also need to stop making negative comments about our own bodies and appearance. If we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves sometimes, we wouldn’t have any left.
So, let’s move forward, let’s show others some love and respect, and let’s do the same for ourselves. We shouldn’t be defining beauty purely as an exterior quality. It’s cliché but it’s true, beauty comes from within.