When are we, as a society, going to stop shaming people, particularly women, but also men, for not attaining the media inspired “ideals” of beauty and body mass? Who gets to decide what is and what is not attractive? Who gets to play the monopoly on toying with our insecurities when beauty is in the eye of the beholder? It is subjective and body shaming is an ideological tool used to maintain an air of objective standardisation on our individual health and appearance.
In differentiating between body sizes with labels such as “plus-size”, “size-zero” or “obese”, we are ostracising a percentage of the population and endorsing their negative thought and behavioural processes, influencing a downward spiral, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. People come in all shapes and sizes (cliché, but true). If we were supposed to look a certain way, do you not think that genetically this would be what is physically attained across many a nation? But this is not the case. We are not genetically predisposed to maintain a highly specific weight. Instead this is a notion compounded by pressure from an array of social sources; from the media, to family, friends, peers and colleagues, even strangers who may feel the need to comment when we pass them by. Whether the use of body shaming is to infantilise, informalise or demote, it seeks solely to silence and demean people.
Many people will quickly seek to argue that your weight does not define you. For those who have suffered from eating disorders at either end of the spectrum, their weight is a defining characteristic. Shaming them for being underweight or “skinny“, overweight or “fat” just compounds the issue. People who haven’t suffered from an eating disorder or known people who are suffering / are in recovery don’t seem to understand this. It is hard to let go of something that has controlled you for so long. Body shaming perpetuates the darkness and manipulative patterns. Body shaming is dangerous as it reinforces the feelings of worthlessness, guilt and of being trapped in a seemingly endless vicious illness.
And whilst being “underweight” or “overweight” both present various potential health risks for the individual, what is considered either of these things is different for every person. What is a healthy weight for one person can be either over- or underweight for another individual. Individual difference is something that is rarely considered by the medical profession before they make wild and (sometimes) spurious claims about health risks associated with both “extremes” that are supposedly applicable to every member of the population. Therefore, individual genetic and lifestyle differences must be taken into account.
To malign or judge a person’s inherited physicality is to make generation after generation of anxious, paranoid and neurotic people. To make destructive and exclusionary judgements about a person’s inherited form robs them of pride in the body type that was given to them through their ancestral lines, slashing away their bodily identity and roots to the rest of their family.
To combat this, we should all strive for a body that is both healthy for us as an individual in our own right (and not just an object to be dehumanised) and one we can learn to love and accept. This, unfortunately, is not a message spread successfully by mainstream channels. These social outlets play on our fears and anxieties, our low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Because we are aware of these problems and consider them to be fundamental flaws, we unwillingly fall prey to their malicious traps and techniques of subconscious control.
When (women’s) magazines, as the prime culprit, suggest that we learn to love our bodies, should we not be taught to adjust our mental habits, instead of being encouraged to drop those last 3 pounds or buy THAT shade of lipstick? Materialistic attainment of objects fills an emotional void momentarily, but it does not target the root of the problem. Moreover, is it not somewhat hypocritical that within the very pages that claim to be espousing a healthy body relationship, they are using models with bodies that are, on the whole, unobtainable to the majority of society? Because ultimately, we all deserve what’s best for us, and the current depiction of “perfect” or “ideal” isn’t necessarily perfect or ideal for the vast majority of the population. The obsession of the media to promote a body-image that sadly so often can be compared to a person suffering from an under-eating disorder is dysfunctional and destructive. (And even the media cannot find these idealised women for their campaigns or editorial spreads, hence the excessive reliance on photoshopping).
When the value of people is continuously reliant on whether they fit the ideal of physical and / or sexual beauty, and whether they fulfil what society has socialised us into expecting from them physically, we create a society in which the goal of humans is to be aesthetically appealing whilst maintaining an often unrealistic visual representation of humanity. This contribution to society is reduced to looking or being sexy and attaining an unrealistic health standard. This view must change. It is perplexing how this has been allowed to continue for so long. I’m not suggesting that editorial spreads or anything advertised with a physical form should promote people classified by the medical profession as overweight, but instead a more “achievable” and “realistic” form is used. Or, perhaps as an alternative, a variety of body shapes and sizes are used to showcase an article of clothing, for instance, in all its subjective glory, to demonstrate the beauty and individuality across a range of body ideals.
Primark recently withdrew their use of mannequins which displayed clearly visible rib-cages. Whilst this, at first glance, can be considered a positive affirmation for promoting a healthy body image, it, in reality, does more damage than good. In replacing fat-shaming with skinny-shaming, the fashion retailer is reinforcing the belief that to be skinny and have jutting bones is bad. Yet they have not recalled their use of larger mannequins with curves and rolls. Positive discrimination is replacing one form of discrimination with another in order that society can be seen to correct past injustices perpetuated against certain groups. But this then marginalises a different group. This is the vindictive injustice of our societal institutions. Some people are a healthy body weight and are happy with their body, but have bones evident. Some people have bodies that they are perfectly comfortable with because they are proud of their layers of fat. When will society and all its institutions and corporations learn to accept this?
The problem with body shaming is simple. It reinforces a dangerous mentality in both women and men that in order to be desirable and accepted by society and our peers or colleagues, we must look a certain way and wear a specific clothes size, regardless of the destruction caused. Frankly, I would like to see a world in which everyone can be happy at a weight and size that is healthy for them, not defined by social media and peer pressure, without criticism or social shaming.
Harsh judgements about body acceptability leads to the creation of a nation of “hunched-over tall [people], short [people] on stilts, [people] of size dressed as though in mourning, very slender [people] trying to puff themselves out like adders, and various other [people] in hiding” (Clarissa Pinkola Estés). Destroying a person’s affiliation with their natural body cheats them of confidence, respect and self-love. Oversimplified and inaccurate portrayals of body size have profoundly affected how we perceive and relate to one another and how we value ourselves.
Body shaming needs to stop. It is not acceptable. It is degrading, humiliating and perpetuates the patriarchal notion of the dehumanising objectification of the body. It’s not a feminist issue. It is a humanitarian issue and it needs to be taken seriously so that we can transform this socially constructed and hierarchical ideology of body shape. Our bodies are powerful and they will no longer be frowned upon, censored, silenced and marginalised. It’s about accepting who we are, and denying the belief that our body shape determines our status and respectability.