Moving beyond the global epidemic of ‘Body Shaming’

Moving beyond the global epidemic of ‘Body Shaming’

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Did you ever stop and think about how often we are told to change our appearance?  Magazines constantly offer tips about how to lose weight “in days,” appear slimmer “instantly,” and hide our “imperfections” … without actually knowing anything about us, much less our appearance. This is one example of body-shaming, and it is everywhere.

Body shaming has become a serious issue in our society. Body shaming is defined as being “inappropriate, negative statements and attitudes toward another person’s weight or size.” It is a form of bullying and, as well as being humiliating, it can lead to short and long term psychological and health related issues.

It has become the norm to criticize aspects of our bodies as some type of bonding experience with friends – if we all hate our bodies; it somehow makes us feel connected and united.

Today’s generation does not see anything wrong in “expressing their opinions,” regardless of the fact that these very opinions can actually hurt someone.

More than one-third of the young girls today are scared of becoming ‘fat,’ and therefore engage in crash dieting, or binge eating. It has also been seen that girls as young as 10 years old are worried about the way they look and their ‘size’! Those who clearly intend to hurt, will never stop targeting the body image with unsavory comments, but what we need to understand here is that nobody chooses the body they have, especially an unfit body.

Humor does not always conjure smiles. When used in a wrong manner, humor sometimes can be very twisted and affect someone’s life to the core. One such type of humor is body shaming, which is a corrosive trend that has become one of the most damaging forces in today’s world.

These days, people do not seem to find anything wrong in making fun of someone else’s body, and sure enough, it is the ‘fat’ guy who is the preferred target compared to the thin. Shockingly enough, some people think/believe that making a person feel ashamed of their bodies is a potent way of motivating them to transform themselves, and that they will work even harder to achieve this miracle.

We live in a society that is obsessed with everything. Fat is bad, dark is ugly, thin is sick. These “Too much” and “Not Enough” and “Wish I had” attitudes are something that we cultivate about our bodies each and every day. Most of us are potential victims of “body shaming” especially via social media. When we fail to meet the supposed beauty standards, it takes a toll on our perception of our self and make us love ourselves less.

We have become a society of unreal expectation and images. Retouched images falsely portray young and older women with a sense of perfection that is beyond reach. It is not only sculpting the body, but false images of wrinkle-free, flawless skin and long, flowing hair that affect how we see ourselves.

We should be promoting health and fitness instead of skin and bones as the ideal. When it comes to eating disorders, we can’t blame photo retouching and model images as the only cause.

We need to address the real issue, and that is mental health, self-esteem, and self-worth. So perhaps the laws need to take it a bit further and focus on being healthy and not falsely perfect.

In an age where media and social media are easily accessible, there is a strong emphasis on idealized beauty on platforms such as Instagram, magazines and television. When seeing celebrities and models who are thought to have “perfect bodies”, individuals start to become critical of their own bodies and succumb to the pressure of living up to somewhat unrealistic standards.

Messages from the media and from each other often imply that we should want to change, that we should care about looking slimmer, smaller, and tanner.  And if we don’t, we worry that we are at risk of being the target of someone else’s body-shaming comments.

The ones that are threatened by this ideal notion of beauty the most, are models and actresses because public exposure of their image is a part of their job. So, some of them resort to Plastic Surgery, Non-Stop Workout, Dieting and Photoshop.

The result is that they only make the problem worse by injecting unhealthy, unrealistic messages into our minds. By allowing this, they construct stereotypes that young women follow all over the world and establish a norm of the perfect body type. After the size zero trend started by Kareena Kapoor Khan in her film Tashan,

Despite their celebrity status, some celebrities have had to deal with body shaming for example, Ariana Grande received a comment saying “Curves are sexy sticks aren’t.” Because of comments like these, both men and women are seen to predominantly suffer from low self-esteem and insecurity.

Bollywood Actresses like Huma Qureshi, Sonakshi Sinha, Vidya Balan, and Zareen khan have actively spoken against Body Shaming.  Although People pick on these actresses for their weight and make them the center of many fat shaming jokes, Huma went a step ahead and shut her critics by posing on the cover of Femina saying, “I don’t owe you perfection! My body, My rules.” Actresses like Sonam Kapoor too decided to share her opinion on body shaming through twitter. ” Fat shaming or skinny shaming… It’s still body shaming!”

A recent example of this is the “A4 size challenge”, in which social media users- mostly women have been engaged in a bizarre mission to attain a thinner waist than the breadth of a regular A4 size paper sheet.

No matter how this manifest, it often leads to comparison and shame, and perpetuates the idea that people should be judged mainly for their physical features.

When seeing celebrities and models who are thought to have “perfect bodies”, individuals start to become critical of their own bodies and succumb to the pressure of living up to somewhat unrealistic standards.

Body-shaming (criticizing yourself or others because of some aspect of physical appearance) can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism.

This leads to the question: if it has such harsh consequences, why is body-shaming so common?

Body-shaming manifests in many ways:

1) Criticizing your own appearance, through a judgment or comparison to another person. (i.e.: “I’m so ugly compared to her.” “Look at how broad my shoulders are.”)

2) Criticizing another’s appearance in front of them, (i.e.: “With those thighs, you’re never going to find a date.”)

3) Criticizing another’s appearance without their knowledge. (i.e.: “Did you see what she’s wearing today? Not flattering.” “At least you don’t look like her!”).

Why, when we are upset, annoyed, or intimidated by someone, do we default to criticizing their appearance?  “Whatever, she’s ugly,” can be a go-to defense in these situations, particularly during adolescence and the young-adult years.

In some ways, it feels easier to shoot for something that will hurt, like targeting physical appearance, rather than expressing what is really going on emotionally.

Saying, “I’m really hurt by how my friend treated me,” or “I’m terrified of losing this friendship” opens us up and makes us more vulnerable, and therefore feels easier to bury underneath the body-shaming comments that rush to mind.

Multiple studies have shown the negative impact of the media on body image. Exposure to photoshopped images of unrealistic body ideals has been linked to low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders.

The harmful effects of body shaming go beyond just increase in weight. Here are some of the other major risks that body shaming presents:

  • Depression: People who are target of body shaming due to weight are at higher risk of depression and other mental illnesses (no surprises there).

  • Eating disorders:Body shaming is linked to an increased risk of eating disorders, such as Anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.
  • Reduced self-esteem: People with weight issues who are soft targets for body-shamers, end up with major self-esteem issues.
    With no one to defend them, and unable to defend themselves, such people may become recluses, avoiding any kind of social interaction, be it merely going out with friends.

There is a misconception that body shaming individuals could help motivate them to losing weight. Dr Rebecca Pearl, an assistant professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, says, “When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.”

In a study published in Obesity, the journal of The Obesity Society, conducted by Dr Pearl and her colleagues from the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania, it was found that people who are battling obesity face being stereotyped as lazy, incompetent, unattractive, lacking willpower, and are to blame for their own excess weight.

The pain of these messages may take a toll on health and increase the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Dr Pearl says, “We identified a significant relationship between the internalization of weight bias and having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which is a marker of poor health.”

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S., resulting in at least one death every 62 minutes. In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, negative body image was determined to be a predictor of suicidal thoughts among college students, especially among young women.

One study explored how our ideal of beauty has historically been shaped by social context—and has been historically difficult to achieve. “Current mass media is ubiquitous and powerful, leading to increased body dissatisfaction among both men and women,” according to the authors of the study

The issue of body image has traditionally been seen as being a female concern, but there has been an increase in focus put on how it affects men.

Professor Harrison Pope, a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Adonis complex: the secret crisis of male body obsession, says, “More than ever, men are struggling with the same enormous pressure to achieve physical perfection that women have dealt with for centuries.

From compulsive weightlifting to steroid use, from hair plugs to cosmetic surgery, growing numbers of men are taking the quest for perfect muscles, skin, and hair too far, crossing the line from normal interest to pathological obsession”. According to Consumer Health Digest, we live in a society where “men are expected to display their masculinity and strength through their physical appearance, hence causing an increase in men who are suffering from body shaming.”

Is body shaming an issue you encounter? If so, think smart!

How do we challenge this?  In situations like those listed above, expressing true feelings rather than physical criticisms can be a great first step.  While recently discussing this with the Adolescent IOP, several patients admitted that it is hard to identify ways of expressing frustration without using body-shaming, as this has become an almost automatic response.

Practice identifying why you are upset about a situation.  For example, it’s unlikely that you’re mad at a friend because she’s breaking out, and more likely that you’re upset about a miscommunication or feeling of rejection.  Practice thinking it, and eventually, verbalizing it.

Identify who in your life is body-positive – or even body-neutral.  Think of people who celebrate their body for what it can do, and people who refuse to comment on others’ physical appearances.  Spending time with these people can be especially helpful while you are struggling with your own internalized body-shaming, and help you view yourself – and others – more positively.

Confront those who perpetuate body-shaming.  Once you’ve become more aware of your own body-shaming behaviors, you may notice how often your friends, family or co-workers do it.  Talk to them.  Discuss why it bothers you and help them see how it may also be hurtful to them.

Find something (or things!) you LIKE about your body.  We spend so much time witnessing advertisements about how to make our eyelashes millimeters longer and how to get whiter teeth that it’d be nice to counter some of that by celebrating what we do have.  Maybe, despite your body image struggles, you love a new hairstyle you discovered.  Maybe you’ve noticed how much stronger you feel with balanced eating.  Find something physical or nonphysical that makes you YOU and celebrate it every day.

Here are the some of the ways you can arm yourselves against this practice:

 The body-positivity movement still has a long way to go in the fight against body-shaming and making people of all shapes and sizes feel included, fairly represented, and—above all—beautiful. The good news: These conversations are happening on an international level, which means we’re one step closer to living in a body-pos world.

  • Stand Up for Yourself

Next time when someone condemns your looks, or mocks you, don’t just withdraw into a shell. Speak out against it. Express what is going on inside your mind. Stand up against bullying. Remember, your motive isn’t to humiliate them, but to make them aware of the negativity of their attitude and the implications of their ‘shaming’ on those affected.

  • DO NOT overreact in panic

Sometimes we just go into an overdrive with our feelings of embarrassment, terror, and panic, and even diet planning. Control your knee-jerk reactions. There is no need to feel terrified of those who lack even basic human sensitivity, for they are no better than beasts.

Take a step back, breathe, sit yourself down. Then, take a hard look at the situation realistically and sanely. Trust yourself more than the person commenting. You have only yourself to take support from in your journey ahead. Strengthen yourself inside, and then plan to strengthen yourself outside.

  • Find the real issues

Sit down, and take time out to think about the real issues that are bothering you. Why are you in this situation? What do you want to change, and why are you afraid of changing it? Many a times, there may be factors beyond your control that are thwarting your efforts. Accept and admit the reality of the situation. If it’s something that is beyond your control, don’t stress on it, but move on in life. Times will change.

  • Share it. Talk about it. Don’t bottle it up!

Express the emotion to move through it. Talking with someone you trust will help you tide over an unpleasant situation. Talking is nature’s antidote to stress. Keeping it inside you will only weaken you further, and destroy your inner motivation.

  • Make yourself feel good

Most often, our inability to cope with a perceived failure or shame propels us into a ‘self-destruct’ mode, where we end up punishing ourselves rather than fighting back. Stop wallowing in self-pity! Engage in a coping mechanism that is not self-destructive.

Controlling food, having better lifestyle and dietary habits, and regular exercise are better coping mechanisms that have helped people over decades to feel good, and ultimately bring the changes they wish to see in themselves. Always divert yourself to something more useful.

  • Ignore the Negativity

Some comments should simply be ignored. If you have few of those callous ‘friends’ in your life who like to provoke you with their unpleasantness, and see you squirm with their comments, the best recourse is to stay away from such negative influences entirely. People like these usually thrive on your discomfort and misery. Trying to correct them or make them see your point is futile.

Plus, not everyone in this world understands your journey. Neither do they need to. The most important thing is for you to understand your own journey, and be your own well-wisher and guide.

So, what is this idea of a “perfect body”?

The answer to this is it is unrealistic. Yes, society and social media have contributed in creating this myth of the “perfect body” as epitomized by that hunk who has a six-pack abs, or the woman with the ‘enviable’ size-zero figure.

But the real question to ask is, are these ‘role models’ for perfect physiques actually ‘fit’ in the true sense of the term?

So, the ‘perfect body’ is only a ruse propagated by a large group of apathetic individuals, either to fulfill the needs of their vanity, or to satisfy their vested (read: commercial) interests.

Enjoying the diversity should be our main concern. What is ‘beauty’? As they say, it’s in the eyes of the beholder. We need to teach young girls to love the way they are. Fat, Thin, Tall, Short does not matter as long as you are comfortable in your own skin. Body Hate isn’t about your body – it’s about your mind. Or rather, the thoughts in your mind. And what you feel about yourself is what you tend to project out into the world.

We spend so much time criticizing ourselves, seeing all these products in the media to make your waist smaller, height taller, skin lighter. Why don’t we try and move some of the focus away and start celebrating our bodies the way it is? When I learned to focus on positive aspects of my body and myself, it became much easier to feel confident, outgoing and empowered.

We are all unique, quite beautifully so, we are given the bodies that we have at birth. We can’t change that. So, why are we having this shame for our own beautiful bodies? When did it become okay for other people to pass a judgement on how we look?

If someone is unhealthy, tell them how to change that, show them how they can become fit, and encourage them to take that road, rather than just criticizing them, or even making fun of them. Discrimination, singling out, and shaming only causes stress and makes any person feel bad. If someone is already overweight, this stress can actually make them eat more and more, and consequently, gain even more weight.

Body shaming is a deplorable practice that must be avoided at all costs. No one is perfect, and if we remember our own imperfections, we will learn motivate, support, and encourage each other. Body shaming is an issue that will not be solved unless everyone learns to accept their own bodies, and until the myth of the ‘perfect body’ ceases to be.

So, Let’s try and take a step closer to freedom from Body Shaming. Let’s love our bodies despite its size. Let’s try and fall in love with ourselves. Because if we don’t then who will? Soar high above the thought that you’re not okay just the way you are. This is your life and you get to play by your rules.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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