Body Shaming - Do We Really Know What It Is?
Updated: May 10, 2019
The term "body shaming" is fairly new. Up until recently there wasn't a title for the damage we were doing to each other, the concept of it has been around for as long as concerns of weight and appearance have been. It might have taken different forms but we have always put an emphasis on how we look. In fact, we have monetized what we consider the perfect look, and in doing so we have de-valued all of those who do not fall under perfections heading.
I'm not exactly sure when this term became a part of our common vernacular but I do know that growing up it was never said. It seems as if up until the last few years, it was used it was used by only a small subset of people who were dialed into the issue. But for the majority of us, we continued to offer up our opinion, an opinion that more often than not, was not asked for. These critiques were bandied about without any of us paying attention to the fact that it was a problem.
For myself, as I'm sure, for many others I used to say things like "Just because they make it in your size doesn't mean you have to wear it". Did I think I was being cruel? To be honest I can't say I thought about it. Did I know I was possibly affecting someone else's self-esteem? I sure didn't, because as far as I was concerned if I didn't say it to your face than how could it hurt? Well, I wasn't wrong but I was also completely incorrect. I never thought about how those around me felt about themselves and how they viewed the importance of my opinion.
Humans are amazing at pointing fingers at others and then offering up our excuses as to why the criticisms didn't apply to us or why we aren't responsible for them. Through the ages, we love a scapegoat, someone to make us feel superior, smarter, faster, more capable. Instead of relying on ourselves to make us feel better we have always gone with the easiest less emotionally invasive way of giving ourselves an ego boost; shaming and subjugating others.
Just like a checklist we have worked our way through the ways to keep others down. Once it was deemed inappropriate we moved on the next group of people. We have covered it all, at least in the United States we have. Whether it be race, religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation, etc... we move through peoples vulnerabilities like locust.
And now the spotlight has fallen on Body Shaming - we used to call it Fat Shaming but that was only part of the spectrum. We forgot to take in to account all the other ways we made people feel bad about their bodies and appearances.
But here's my question, how many of us actually know what it means? We have a general idea but it seems to have such a large pool of victimization that we are never sure when we will and when we won't offend.
What Does It Mean -
noun - The definition of body shaming is the practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about a person's body size or weight.
An example of body shaming is telling a child that they are "too fat."An example of body shaming is when thin women are told they are "too skinny."
Based on what the dictionary says, body shaming is limited to size and weight. But as our society changes so does the way we use the term. Per Walden Behavioral Care, it is so much more than that. It not only encompasses weight but it also speaks to how you dress and what you look like in general.
How We Body Shame -
Can you honestly remember a time when we didn't break people down by what they looked like? It's ingrained so deeply in our society that we even do it during job interviews. Come on people, we take something that is specifically about how they perform at an assigned task and we turn it into a mini Ms. America pageant. Now, I'm not talking about dressing for the job I'm talking about the fact that "attractive" people are more than likely to get hired over an "unattractive" person.
Do Attractive People Have a Leg Up In Job Interviews?
It turns out that how attractive a candidate is can have a huge impact on their chances of getting a job interview. Experiments already proved that wearing luxury brands increases the chances of being hired, so it stands to reason that good looks might have similar effects.
Researchers from the University of Messina sent over 11,000 resumes to 1,542 job openings in Italy – eight resumes per opening. Four resumes in each batch had one of four pictures: an attractive man, an unattractive man, an attractive woman, or an unattractive woman.
The other four resumes had no pictures at all. The average callback rate was 30%, but attractive people received far more attention.
Attractive women had a callback rate of 54% and attractive men had a callback rate of 47%. However, unattractive women had a callback rate of 7% and unattractive men had a callback rate of 24%.
We also may not realize it but body shaming is something that we instill in our children at a very young age and they carry this behavior over to school. Children as young as 9 and 10 are starting to feel that weight of how they are physically presented to the world. Imagine that!
Now you can say that you don't bring up your child's weight, their looks, or even how they dress but what you forget is children are sponges and they pick up what you say and do. So if you sit there and critique the TV, a friend or even yourself, they hear that. They then take that information and personalize it, they do what they always do; they learn from it. Depending upon your child's personality they will either internalize it and use it to judge themselves or they will externalize it and use it to judge others. Either way, the destructive behavior continues.
I'm not going to bring up the obvious ways we, as a society body shame. We all know that our media does it. For example, the modeling world has built a billion dollar industry around it.
There are so many ways that we participate in it that we seem to focus mainly on the in your face kind. But that's not enough we need to work harder and delve further, not just into where we find it but why it happens.
Why We Body Shame -
This is my opinion and you don't have to agree but I believe that we participate in this soul-crushing exercise for one basic reason; lack of self-esteem.
People of my generation and the generation before, love to talk about how ridiculous caring about someone's self-esteem is. But even that, as far as I'm concerned is based upon poor self-esteem.
The opposite of love is not hate, its ambivalence and vice versa. When you feel good about who you are and how you are, you extend the same courtesy to those around you. Even when you're working on loving yourself you become aware of what areas you need to work on. With that new knowledge you develop the ability to stop yourself in mid "shame".
The Purposely Unseen Victims -
The problem with shining a light on this behavior is the fact that we forget to include all victims. We focus mainly on the women in society and have a hard time acknowledging the men that feel the brunt of this burden as well.
This isn't a gender issue, this is a societal issue and the last time I checked men are a part of our society. If we only address one part of the disease we will never be able to eradicate it. The problem is, as vocal as men are in regards to what they consider their "due" they become nearly silent when it comes to their emotional and mental rights.
We are so used to men stepping up and taking, and or demanding what they want that we leave them out of the conversation, simply because they are too scared to speak up. This goes back to what I spoke about before; how we emotionally raise our men.
If we treat them like they have no feelings and place that expectation on them from birth, how do you expect them to step forward and say "you hurt my feelings". Most people cringe at the thought of a man saying that his feelings are hurt, we tend to look at him as emasculated simply because he dared to tell you, you hurt him.
We have created these men that would rather push themselves beyond all reasonable expectations of sanity rather than tell you to stop demoralizing them.
The effects of body shaming on men's health
But the unhealthy thoughts and opinions around the ‘perfect’ body shape and size, regardless of whether they are perception or reality, can end up leading to something much more sinister. The number of adult men being admitted to hospital for eating disorders has risen by 70% in the last six years, according to NHS figures.
Body shaming has been found to lead to poor diets, excessive exercising, and depression – a combination that can create a dangerous relationship with food. Not something that many men would admit to, however.
We as a society are evolving and for some reason, this is one of the areas that we have a hard time letting go off and moving on from. But it all feeds into each other. If we tell people that how they present themselves to the world is abhorrent, and then turn around and tell young men that their feelings have no place in society we teach them to hate themselves AND judge others.
As angry as we get when we hear men rating women based upon their physical characteristics we seem to be perfectly okay with minimizing men them down to their physical attributes. Ask yourself why we don't treat them with the same respect that we believe women should be treated.
Our young men are growing up with the values WE instill in them. Let's raise the men that we want in our lives. That means respecting how they value themselves and teaching them to value women the same way.
Am I The Sum Of My Body Parts? -
Am I only what you see? Only what you imagine me to be when you encounter me on the street? Are you?
The pain that we cause is real, we are responsible for how we treat each other. This world is only so big and we all inhabit it together. We are not as far removed from each other as we think we are.
Please keep that in mind the next time your thoughts stray down this dark path. If you wouldn't say it to the person whose heart you are in charge of, don't say it to anyone else.
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
― Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children