#FatShaming Vs. #Thinspiration: Is Our Society Enabling Social Prejudice and Body Discrimination?
#BodyShaming: on the face of it, society proactively condemns judgement based on one's size, and yet simultaneously, judgments related to one's size and health, one's size and the standards of beauty saturate societal thought.
I am lucky. I have my mother’s metabolism. I’m tall and fairly slender. But this doesn’t mean that I have never faced body shaming or felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I understand that I am privileged. I don’t have an medical issue that impacts weight gain or suffer with mental illness that impacts the way I see my body size. But, I am a member of a society that assaults its citizens with the images of perfection, taunts people with the idea that there is something that we should aspire to become, and even though I am, mostly, comfortable in my own skin, I have felt that paradigm my whole life.
But is there something that we are specifically doing to enable, and even promote those archetypes of perfection?
It would be easy enough to blame the media: the Victoria Secret models, the magazine cover girls, Hollywood celebrities, the Insta-famous types who are so prevalent across digital media; and to some extent, I do believe that is a large contributor. We raise our children in an environment where the heroes they look up to, watch on the television, read about in magazines, are essentially perfect. They are free of blemishes, free of cellulite, wonderfully toned and these are the creatures that prevail media narratives. It leads to issues with confidence from an early age, as we are a species that inherently endeavours to categorise ourselves: we define ourselves as option A or B, as either similar to the models and actresses in magazines and on television screens, and sadly, more often than now we destructively judge ourselves.
Children are raised in an environment where beauty is associated with a very specific list of values. The Victoria Secret model, the magazine cover girls, Hollywood celebrities, each of the women in these groups are considered as something to aspire to. They are perfect, they are ideal. But even they are not real, the women in magazines are airbrushed to ensure that they are perfect, blemish-free and have the perfect ideal shape. Yes, models that flood the pages of magazines and walk the runway, may have to keep up their fitness, tone their bodies to within an inch of their lives, eat well, smoke to keep slender, spend thousands on makeup and beauty services to keep their faces as pretty as possible, their skin as flawless as they can, they do all of this because it is their job. But there is no such thing as one state of perfection. Each and every person is perfect in their own unique way and we should not be compared to anyone else as a method of validation.
Some phones now even do the airbrushing automatically for you to ensure you attain the “beauty face” you desire. Samsung have been criticised by several beauty bloggers for their “beauty” setting which automatically airbrushes and retouches one’s face. For Mel Wells, pictured below, the Samsung automatically doctored her selfie, removing her ‘freckles and imperfections’.
Whilst the fact that the “beauty face” mode is automatically activated when using the front-face camera on a Samsung is shocking and damaging, we are not unaccustomed to the “beer goggles” effect with technology. Social media platforms enable filters and editing which can radically change the end result. Our original photo undergoes an extreme makeover and we can transform from our “Ugly Duckling” reality become “Cinderella”, which is why we may choose to share this with on our social network, but it means that we have essentially created an alter ego for ourselves. This alter ego is the most attractive, thinnest and all over most perfect version of ourselves, and when we look to the mirror, we are innately disappointed because that’s the image staring back at us.
The binary of ugly duckling and Cinderella has been a hotly discussed topic lately due to the upcoming release of Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs and the marketing campaign that was chosen for the promotion of the film. Before I begin to impart judgements, I would like to state that I have not seen this film. It is very possible that there will a lovely moralistic ending that will make the audience feel warm and gooey, and enable them to appreciate all body types and see the beauty in physical differences. Maybe this film makes an important statement about body positivity, I honestly don’t know; however, the chosen marketing campaign posters would indicate otherwise. The poster has caused uproar with people everywhere, because it clearly indicates that “no longer beautiful” means shorter, curvier and with smaller eyes. This is essentially equating these qualities with “no longer beautiful”, with an ugly duckling. How the hell this made it through the various approvals of a marketing team is beyond me! Did someone in the office hit send on the wrong advertisement? Or had final round of approvals happened on the 1st of April and someone didn’t quite realise it wasn’t a classic April Fools? Whatever the reason, the hurtful and especially damaging element of this campaign is the context. This is a remake of Snow White, a film that is clearly marketed for children. As the target consumer, children are being informed that the small differences between these two women, enables one to be classified as beautiful and the other not. Producer of Red Shoes, Sujin Hwang has since issued an apology for this poster and confirmed that the advertising campaign has been terminated. Even though this is no longer around for people to see, this sentiment saturates the attitudes of the general public.
So why, when we are raised to do unto others, to treat others how we like to be treated, to never judge a book by its cover; why then do we continue to correlate beauty with such a viciously limited set of ideals. Why do we have such a prevalent culture of body-shaming?
As a society, we exist in a world where everything is shared, pictures of taken of anything and everything and uploaded to the global network of the internet. This does mean that we open ourselves up to criticism, on a personal, social, national and even global scale.
This is shown by the very existence of memes that are made without consent. It’s happening more and more. The internet is a playground. Upon this plane we are all children, we do not really consider our interactions as real, or having bigger implications, we can be a little crueller or a little more vicious because it’s just a playground and we are protected from the real emotions or the real impact unto others through the distance of our screen.
Body-positive Instagrammer Noonie Regardless was turned into the meme below. Luckily, Noonie is a renowned advocate for the body positive movement so she is not as vulnerable to the cruel judgements of others, so she laughed this off, but this meme is in another league in terms of cruelty.
The Body Positive movement with it’s philosophy: “Love your Body, Live Your Life” challenges this social judgement and discrimination. In a world where we are aware of the differences between humans and we logically understand that we should not judge anyone for their weight, has our society caught up to these ideals?
The long and short answer would be no. Body shaming affects everyone and can be tied to any aspect of our bodies. One person’s body is fair game for others to criticise – from weight to the size of their nose or shape of their ears. I’m sure we’ve all had both compliments and criticisms about our bodies; whether that’s from people we know and care about, or Random Randall, the stranger sitting opposite you on the tube that feels the need to share their thoughts. Speaking from personal experience, any comment, whether good or bad, perpetuates the idea that one’s body is available for public critique, and that in turn suggests that one’s self-worth is valued in direct correlation with their appearance and how they are judged in the eyes of others. Whilst I understand that the body positive movement looks to challenge this and champion body confidence and I would hope the body positive movement would be a common philosophy; all it takes is to look at any media source to have that reality check rain down on us as brutally as the Ice Bucket challenge.
So what’s the big difference between Thin Shaming and Fat Shaming; and why are they considered different?
Body shaming is body shaming. In my book, one’s size is not important, if you are bullying anyone based on their size then it’s wrong and damaging to society as a whole, as well as that particular individual.
I’ve recently read an article on the impacts of body-shaming for its victims and the differences in its manifestation between who have been fat-shamed and thin-shamed. The writer wrote a number of points which I fully endorsed. However, she referenced the below quote from Melissa A. Fabello on Everyday Feminism, and there are a couple of aspects that negatively resonated with me, and my personal experiences: http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/10/lets-talk-about-thin-privilege/
Because I wanted to be like, “Well, thin people can hate their bodies, too, ya know! Just because you think it’s ‘perfect’ doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with it!”
But then I realized that they were right.
Because here’s the thing: Can a thin person have body image struggles? Can a thin person be at war with their self-image? Can a thin person hate to look in the mirror?
And does that suck?
But the difference between these negative feelings and fatphobia is this: The only person worrying about whether or not I’m meeting beauty standards is me.
And that’s not the same for fat folk.
When you’re not thin, other people on the beach actually do take offense. When you’re not thin, people really do think that you shouldn’t be in a bathing suit. When you’re not thin, people really do make your body their moral obligation.
And while your internal struggle is real and significant, the point is: You might hate your body, but society doesn’t.
That’s thin privilege.
Whilst I understand the point that Fabello is making, I do not understand this need to make it so significantly different from fat shaming. Body ideals have transformed immensely throughout history. Currently, Postmodern beauty is typical slender, with an hourglass shape, large curves for breasts and butt, thigh gap, large eyes, button nose, plump lips. There has been a dramatic change over time of what is classified as ideal.
Does this mean that if we were in ancient Greece where fuller bodies were desired, thin shaming would be inherently less privileged? Slender women would face greater scrutiny. No, I do not believe so. Condemnation is hurtful irrespective of one’s size. The fetishisation of the underweight female figure means that perhaps there are less vocalised judgements, perhaps there are less visible stares. But, from my position, where I’ve always been tall, fairly slender, but always healthy, I’ve still faced judgements, even from those I’m exceptionally close to. I’ve been belittled for not liking how an outfit looks in the changing rooms. I’m challenged for being anorexic, when I’m not hungry. They are little things but they were hurtful to hear. I can only image the pain that is faced by those who endure this every day of their lives.
Instead, I believe that the issues lay with the crossover between fat shaming and healthy living advice. With obesity prevalence increasing from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015; in fact, in 2015, 58% of women and 68% of men were categorised as overweight or obese. Admissions to hospital and long-term illnesses associated with obesity, overweight and waist circumference have been a focus recently, and this has had a resultant impact and prevalence on the stigmatisation of the obese throughout Britain.
Fat shaming is fed by this fear and condemnation of unhealthy lifestyles. Where we should support and aid with the loss of unhealthy weight, there is an unfriendly crossover to the judgment of curves. A curvaceous girl is not necessarily unhealthy. In fact, the last time I did any real exercise was months ago, may even years ago, from my part, I would judge that 99% of all people in general are healthier than I am. In my book, if one is healthy and happy, we should celebrate that.
To summarise, my rather long and at times, blustering argument, yes there are many factors which feed the Body Shaming Beast. All we do to counteract it, is practice what we preach. Also, remember: the media, fashion industry, the “on trend” female ideal is subjective and will evolve over time; but confidence, and particularly, body confidence is something that’s stylish in every shape, shade and season. Make sure you never leave your house without it and you’ll circumvent the body shaming culture altogether.