Body Shaming and Society
I weigh 180 pounds and am 5 foot, 2 inches tall. According to the body mass index or BMI, I am morbidly obese. I “should” be 101 to 136 pounds. 101 pounds! Really? On average, I wear a size 12 jeans but can range from a 10 to 14 depending on the pants. I wear mediums, larges and even extra larges depending on where and who I am buying my clothes from. I can buy most of my clothes in usual stores but am also considered “plus size.” Whatever the hell that means. And the question that I have been finding myself asking on a more regular basis is:
And no, I am not making a reference to penis size, but rather to the question as to why does my body size, or anyone’s body size, matter so much. Not only has clothing companies created such a distinction between sizes that people, mainly women, are constantly feeling confused as to what “size” they are. We are constantly being bombarded with unrealistic images of that “perfect” body. We are being told that we are not thin enough, not tall enough, or not pretty enough. We are told our boobs are too big, or too small, that our ass is too fat or too flat and that if you do not have a toned body, you are unhealthy or lazy. And if “we” are all being told and shown this same information, who are the individuals telling us this?
Well, like most of you, I have been spending a large portion of my time binge watching television as a means to handle the ongoing isolation and pandemic stress. And the more time I spent watching tv, the more I am starting to notice less and less people that look like me. The individuals who are doing the hiring, or selecting the representations are only choosing a specific type of person to represent all of us. Usually white. Usually stereotypically attractive. Usually thin and toned. Tall. And the epitome of good looking. And to me, that has become more concerning. In my eyes, I would describe myself as a standard sized woman (although on the shorter side) and yet any woman that looks close to my body type in mainstream media is being described as “overweight” or “fat.” Am I overweight? Probably. Am I fat? Maybe. Am I a woman whose body size doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things? Yes.
And yet, it is everywhere.
We all know it. We all talk about the unrealistic expectations the media creates for society and that both men and women are constantly feeling pressure to look and act a certain way. We all fall into the social media trap where we are only posting the pictures that look nice or have that Snapchat filter. We all know someone, or love someone, who struggles with their body image and the way they view themselves, and yet nothing seems to be changing. Or if it is changing, like the “Dove Self-Esteem Project”, it is slow moving and an anomaly rather than the norm. It is a slow and steady step in the right direction but it usually gets lost in the overwhelming images that counter it.
Now, I understand that change takes time and it is through small steps or those ongoing side conversations that start making the positive change. And yet, to me, it is not happening fast enough. I am impatient by nature, but in this case, I feel like we do not have time. The young people, specifically young girls, coming up behind us are growing up in this constant criticism at an alarming rate.
Yes, I know that I am being all doom and gloom, but I see it in my nieces and I am considered. My oldest niece is 8 years old and already I have heard her use the words “ugly”, “fat” and “gross” to describe herself. She has already been called “fat” by a classmate when she was in Kindergarten. She has already spent nights crying to her mom about how she feels about herself and that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that my niece is already feeling that way at such a young age. It breaks my heart that the first insult thrown in Kindergarten is already connected to the way someone looks. And, it breaks my heart that my niece is not alone. According to Girl Guides of Canada;
- 59% of girls feel pressure from society – through the media, social media, friends, parents or teachers – to conform to unrealistic standards about what it means to be “a girl”
- 56% of girls agree that they get mixed messages about how they’re supposed to act and behave, and look and dress
- 55% report that trying to meet social expectations about how they should look or act has negatively impacted their self-esteem
As adults, I need you to really consider that. Over half of girls are struggling with their self-esteem in some capacity from the images they are being presented. These are girls who will grow up to have insecurities and hesitation in their self-image in a way that has been not seen before as we move into such a social media and “attractive expectation” world.
So, what do we do about it?
Well, firstly, and most importantly, we need to think about how we speak. How we speak to these young girls, how we speak to our friends and how we speak to ourselves. Spend time telling your loved ones compliments that are not just physically focused. Yes, when you have a colleague at work who has that gorgeous kick ass hair, tell her. But, also make a point to tell her that she is compassionate, or intelligent or kind. Do not tell that little boy he is smart and that little girl she is cute. Why aren’t they both strong and smart and cute?
Secondly, question the information you are being given. Allow yourself to spend some time watching shows or documentaries that show REAL bodies and REAL people. Read magazines or articles that show realistic images of the different types of bodies we see in the world. And, post those imperfect pictures. If you are not wanting to get off social media completely (I know that is not for everyone), then be more honest in what you are posting about. All of us have physical flaws, and it is okay to show them. It is okay to have a pimple or a hair out of place and still take a picture. And, if we all start being more honest about what we are posting, we will ALL start seeing more realistic pictures of each other.
Next, speak to yourself kinder. We all have flaws, physically and emotionally. We all have room for improvement and we all have various body sizes for a reason. If we all looked exactly the same, it would be boring as hell. So BE NICE to yourself. Stop telling yourself that you are fat or that you look ugly. Stop exercising to become more attractive but because it is good for you and good for your mental health. Stop telling yourself (and myself) that being a size 12 makes you huge. Stop telling yourself that you are lazy or useless if you can’t lose weight. Stop calling your large legs “thunder thighs” and remember that they are strong and take you where you need to go. That those stretch marks or belly fat are from growing a human. A HUMAN. You literally grew another person so good on you for those body marks. Those scars, those fat parts, those flaws make you unique and show the true nature of your body and all it can do for you.
And, finally, remember there are little ears. If you spend a large amount of your time criticizing yourself, or others around you, those little girls coming up behind you are hearing that as well. They are hearing the way you are talking about yourself and they are learning that the word “fat” or “ugly” are the quickest way to hurt someone’s feelings. They are hearing that you need to question your flaws instead of embracing them. Stop that. Talk about insecurities. Talk about the unrealistic images and what people truly look like. If we can continue to do that, along with everything listed above, then maybe, just maybe, we will start seeing more of who we all truly are.