Perfectly Imperfect: "Body Shaming"

by Sanjana Kulkarni 
January 17, 2021
Perfectly Imperfect: "Body Shaming"

Body shaming has reached a point where it is no longer a kind of mocking; instead, it has evolved into a social issue. Body shaming is expressing criticism or mocking someone’s figure or body shape. Body shaming does not necessarily contain only overweight people but also curvy, skinny, tall, dark, short individuals, or more. Some people who body shame believe that it will encourage the one’s shamed to lose weight, gain weight, or work out. Some simply enjoy being cruel and hurting other people’s feelings, which can be correlated to some sort of vengeance or a holier-than-thou attitude. In fact, body shaming has an opposite impact on the person shamed and can lead to depression, low self-esteem, or sometimes, even suicide. A study by behavioral scientists at University College London found that fat-shaming led people to put on more weight rather than encouraging people to lose weight.

It’s important to understand that weight is affected by more than just calories and exercise. This is not to say that these things don’t matter; of course, they do and can be one of the first things to do if someone is trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, weight problems also stem from psychological and biological factors that are much harder to control. Embarrassing them demotivates them from losing weight. More importantly, if a person is shamed for being too thin or too tall, this may even result in disastrous consequences such as self-cutting or major depressive disorder. Being too slim or too tall, and being too curvy, just like being too fat, are not things that can change overnight. It is uncivil, and not to mention absolutely unnecessary, to critique someone’s body.

Multiple studies have shown that weight criticism causes stress and leads overweight people to eat more calories. A 2019 study published in Pediatric Obesity found that teasing children about their weight is linked to increased weight gain well into adulthood, and the more teasing that kids and teens experience, the more weight they may gain. So, body shaming is positively correlated with weight gain. If body shaming children worked, all children in elementary schools would have the same, conventional body types. This is not the case. One of the most obnoxious aspects of body shaming happens to be the shamer. More often than not, the shamers have a conventional standard of beauty, depending on society’s normative trends. If thigh gaps are trending, the body shamers, usually popular among peers, often are ones with thigh gaps. This leads to other perfectly normal bodies without thigh gaps to be shamed.

However, body shaming does not come only from people. It comes through various avenues like social media, advertisements, art, or literature. Movies often portray a skinny heroine with her fat best friend, such as The Bridesmaids. The token overweight character is always the loveless character, with weird quirks. The slim heroine usually has underlying problems such as bulimia or is shown to have the perfect metabolism to absorb her food habits. Works of art use overweight women as abstract drawings, indicating that they do not have any shape or figure. In general, the entertainment industry either over-do ‘inclusivity’ campaigns that reinforce the “other body types” concept and alienate some specific categories even further. On the other hand, social media paints a stereotypical picture of the perfect couples, “beautiful” men and women, and the general clothing choices deemed trendy that only certain body types can wear with comfort.

An aspect of body shaming often neglected is that it affects all genders and not just the female gender. Body shaming for other genders, especially the male gender, is very prevalent and is equally problematic. Women these days are asked to be either curvy or slim, with an hourglass figure. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be tall and muscular and have abs. In literature, men are shown as gallant warriors, big and strong, and unfortunately, that is reinforced through advertisements, especially about condoms, perfumes, and wrist-watches. However, no matter how this manifests, it often leads to comparison and shame and perpetuates the idea that people should be judged mainly by their physical features.

There are many ways to combat body shaming, starting with introspection. The key to tackling body-shaming is realizing that our body is perfect just the way it is, as long as it is not causing health concerns. A healthy body is an ideal body, no matter what shape or form it may present to the world. Body shaming may profoundly affect those individuals who are unhappy with how they look. However, it is important to realize and recognize that society cannot dictate how people should look. If a person is truly unhappy with how they look for themselves, and not because of what society says, they can start building a plan to achieve the desired appearance. It is also helpful to create an accepting and positive atmosphere at home, conducive to that person’s fitness and body goals. Finally, joining body-positive groups, fitness groups, or seeking a psychologist to help overcome body shaming effects is crucial in determining how people live the rest of their lives.

A healthy body creates a positive and happy mind, which is essential in leading a fruitful life.

Sanjana Kulkarni,
Clinical and Research Intern,

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