The Truth About Body Shaming

An English 10B Essay

by Elise Klein

“The sick irony was that when I was at some of the lowest points in my life, I kept hearing how much better I looked. I knew I was destroying my body with my eating disorder, butthe message I was getting was that I was doing great” (Sebert). This is from an interview that singer/songwriter Kesha had with Teen Vogue. In this interview, she opened up about her eating disorder and how it sprouted from the body shaming she experienced. Body shaming is criticizing or humiliating someone based on their body shape, size, or their physical appearance. It happens every single day to men, women, boys, and girls. Today, society has set an image of what a “perfect girl” or “perfect boy” should look like. It has fed immensely into the insecurities and body shaming that occurs all around the world, and there have been major consequences.Whether it is body shaming oneself or body shaming others, the effects of it are extremely detrimental. Millions of people are affected by body shaming every day. A large portion of the body shaming that occurs today has been caused by the rise of social media. By using social media, anyone can say what they want about anyone, while hiding behind a screen. Celebrities have opened up about how their comments on their photos or videos have impacted them and caused them to shame themselves. Somehow, society has deemed a certain body type to be the“perfect body”… the body that every girl dreams to have, the body that every boy dreams to have, the body that people think everyone expects them to have. People think that if they do not have this body, they aren’t good enough. They feel that without this specific type of body, nobody will ever like them or find them pretty. These feelings are extremely toxic, and they cause individuals to hate themselves and their bodies so much that they reach the point of death. Today’s unrealistic beauty standards present a great threat to the health of individuals.

 Inevitably, most people are not satisfied with their bodies and it will always be possible to point out features that are desired to be changed, causing an immense amount of stress. Thus, the “perfect body” can never be achieved. Each person can always find one part of themselves to loathe. 15-year-old girl, Meagan, experienced this after one of her closest friends told her thatshe had belly fat. These words hit her hard, and cut her deeper than she could’ve ever imagined. She developed an eating disorder called anorexia. A person who has anorexia has an obsessive desire to lose weight and does so by hardly eating. In an interview with CNN, Meagan recalled,“I counted calories obsessively. I began to analyze everything I ate and drank and how it affected my body. I would look at myself sideways in the mirror, pulling my shirt taut. If I looked or even felt bloated, whatever I had just consumed was put on the “bad food” list. I lived in baggy clothing, ashamed of my body, trying to hide it from everyone … including myself” (Kirby & McDowell). This is the harsh reality of living with anorexia. A person cannot eat without thinking about gaining weight. There is constant nagging shame because of their body shape. No matter how much someone may want to love themselves, it can be extremely hard sometimes.The standard that has been set for society, and women especially, is slowly killing thousands of people. Carolyn Abate, a writer of self-motivating books for women, wrote for Healthline Media,“There is an established notion, they say, that a thin, “conventionally pretty” woman is what all women should strive toward — and that anything outside that realm isn’t valued or worthy”(Abate). This is a major component of the issue with body shaming and eating disorders today. It is hard for a woman to see another beautiful woman without immediately comparing herself to her. It has become extremely common to be ashamed of one’s body, to look at oneself in the mirror and want to cry because of what they see. What someone thinks might be normal, may actually be an eating disorder. Heather Widdows, a philosopher and the John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics, said “Feeling ashamed of how we look has become normal. Hardly any of us think we make the beauty grade. We might even think there is something odd with someone whois perfectly happy with how they look” (Widdows). This is the unfortunate truth about society today. People have been trained to think that there is something wrong with how they look, and that there is always something available to change about an appearance. No matter what, almost no person is ever completely satisfied with their appearance and it has become weird to find someone who appears happy with themself.

 Alarmingly, eating disorders have been romanticized today, masking the horrible veracity of them. A new way of questioning appearances and having eating disorders has been made out to be good in today’s society. It is a common thought that having eating disorders such as anorexia is something to be proud of, because it makes someone extremely skinny. Hence, eating disorders have become extremely common as young girls and boys become more and more insecure about their appearance. Carolyn Abate, book writer, reported in Healthline Media that,“According to NEDA, in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or another specified feeding or eating disorder” (Abate).The NEDA is the National Eating Disorders Association. They are a non-profit organization devoted to preventing eating disorders, providing referrals, and increasing the education and understanding of eating disorders, weight, and body image. The fact is that every year the number of eating disorders increases. Oftentimes, people will develop eating disorders in order to achieve the unrealistic standards society has for men and women today. What people do not understand is how dangerous these eating disorders are. They are not just a “phase,” and they are not something that someone can easily get over. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders can affect a person’s cardiovascular andgastrointestinal systems, can have effects on the neurological and endocrine systems, can cause skin to be dry, and can make hair fall out (National Eating Disorders Association). These effects of eating disorders can easily lead to death and major mental tolls on a person. So, why have eating disorders become so common since the effects are so horrendous? For one, people are not aware of how detrimental eating disorders can be, and by the time the realization happens it may be too late. The reason for this is because of the glamorization of eating disorders that is occuring. This can be shown in a movie released by Netflix, a streaming service, called To The Bone. This movie is about a young girl who is anorexic and is being treated for her eating disorder. This movie immediately became popular after being released, but some were concerned about how it depicted anorexia. Writer Malvika Mahendra says, “While the movie attempted at de-glamorizing eating disorders, the depiction of anorexia as thigh gaps and protruding bones does a poor job of displaying the whole truth of eating disorders. Those suffering with anorexia don’t experience ‘beautiful’ symptoms like thigh gaps and visible ribs, but rather symptoms like lanugo (a condition where hair grows all over the body during deep starvation)” (Mahendra). This movie is one of many examples of how eating disorders have been made out to be something positive and something that is worth the consequences in order to gain the “perfect body.” This dangerous mindset is harming millions of people around the world today, especially young people.

 When unrealistic beauty standards are paired with social media, the damage is far-reaching. Throughout the past decade, social media has become immensely popular, especially amongst young people. As society develops, technology and social media does, as well. Although there are numerous positive aspects to social media, there are also a ton of negative features. It has become one of the easiest ways to bully. Through social media you can easily send a hate comment about someone’s appearance, and this is where a major amount of body shaming occurs. Additionally, through apps such as Instagram, a photo and video sharing platform, girls and boys see millions of different types of bodies. Almost every picture nowadaysis posed or photoshopped, yet when one sees a picture of someone in a swimsuit, that is not what is thought. The first thought of thousands of people is jealousy and longing. Longing to have that body that is pictured, even if it is photoshopped or posed. Megan McDowell, a woman who went through anorexia, speaks about social media in an interview with CNN, saying, “It’s a toxic environment, made all the more so by the instant, constant and persistent access to unhealthy ideas and imagery propagated online and through social media. It’s too easy to shame or bully a young girl on Twitter or Snapchat. It’s too easy for them to feel inadequate as a result of swimsuit advertising, diet programs and entertainment vehicles propagating “ideal” shapes and sizes for women” (McDowell). When insecure boys and girls are paired with social media, the result is harmful. Going on social media every day to see skinny, toned, models can cause insecurities and eating disorders to develop. Patti Richards, writer and editor, wrote through Center For Change, an eating disorder treatment center, “Young people see thousands of images on a daily basis through social media sites and use them as personal benchmarks. Unable to differentiate between the realities an actual mirror shows and the perceived reality of celebrities and sports stars, those with a negative body image look for ways to feel accepted and in control. Eating disorders are born from this intense desire to achieve an impossible standard” (Richards). The act of comparing oneself to others has developed to be common among people. With thepopularity of social media, it is almost impossible not to. Seeing what someone’s body looks like can destroy a person’s self confidence. There is a longing to change one’s appearance after beingon social media for a simple few minutes. Most celebrities have gone through body shaming from thousands of people. Many forget that celebrities are real people and have real feelings. People often tend to focus on the appearances of people in the media. The things that are said can cut deep, and some celebrities report about having eating disorders as a result. Registered dietitian nutritionist and counselor, Crystal Karges, said through Eating Disorder Hope,“Unfortunately, these trends of publicly shaming celebrities’ bodies has become the cultural norm. With celebrities often being in the spotlight for events, entertainment, etc. our society has learned to hyperfocus on perceived body flaws rather than the value these celebrities contributewith their talents and artistic abilities” (Karges). Without this negative side of social media, thousands of people could have been saved from eating disorders. The beauty industry has painted a picture of “perfection,” and millions of girls and boys believe that is what has to be achieved. The growing number of eating disorders and the growing number of users of social media is not a coincidence, it is a direct result of social media. When insecure teenagers join social media, the result of depression and newfound insecurities is inevitable.

 Conversely, some may argue that today’s society has become accepting of all types of bodies. Today, there is a movement going around called the Body Positivity Movement. Body positivity is a movement that advocates for the acceptance of all types of bodies, and strives to show that every person is beautiful, no matter their appearance. There have been advancements to this movement over the past decade, and it has had an impact worldwide. As Harvard Professor S. Bryn Austin and Dr. Tamara Sobel said in Psychology Today, “We’ve entered a time of major cultural shift, an evolving disruption and rebooting of many norms pertaining tothe body and beauty” (Austin and Sobel). As body positivity is being spread throughout society, it has challenged thoughts of what the “perfect body” is and what every man and woman should strive for. Some clothing companies have adapted to this way of thought. One example is American Eagle Outfitters brand, Aerie. In 2014, Aerie launched with a brand ethos centered on body positivity and inclusion. Aerie has models that are of all shapes and sizes, and they do not airbrush or try to get rid of “imperfections.” As said by Professor Shelly Kohan in Forbes Media, “Aerie has redefined the standards of beauty by encouraging young women to love their own bodies. The brand has struck a chord with today’s consumers who value social responsibility, body positivity, inclusion and a community that supports each other” (Kohan). This positivity provided by Aerie has impacted thousands of girls and other brands, supporting all types of bodies. Although this past decade has seen great improvement with supporting body positivity, there is still a long way to go. Every day all around the world girls, boys, men, and women arebeing shamed for their appearances. While this new way of thought has had an impact, there are still unrealistic beauty standards present that are harming millions of people.

 Overall, current unreasonable body expectations posed in society today have detrimental effects on the health of millions. Furthermore, a vast majority of individuals are unsatisfied with their bodies, and constantly point out things that could be changed, resulting in extensive amounts of stress. Additionally, the glamorization of eating disorders has become common, hiding their gruesome truth. Above all, when unachievable beauty standards are combined with social media, extensive damage occurs. Altogether, it is clear to see that the body shaming that occurs in today’s society has extremely deleterious effects on individuals. The normalization of body shaming others as well as oneself is not acceptable, and the sad truth is that it has become normal. This begs the question of Why? Why has this become the norm? Does it hurt less everytime a person is body shamed, or is everyone just used to it?

Works Cited

Abate, Carolyn. “Body Shaming on Social Media.” Healthline Media 2020 <www.healthline.com/health-news/body-shaming-in-social-media>.

Austin, S. Bryn and Tamara Sobel. “Body Positivity: It’s Here, It’s Now, But What Does It Mean?” Psychology Today 2020 <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/body-politics/202002/body-positivity-it-s-here-it-s-now-what-does-it-mean>.

Karges, Crystal. “Impact of Celebrity Fat-Shaming in Social Media.” Eating Disorder Hope 2017 <https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/celebrity-fat-shaming-social-media>.Kaye, Walter. “Common Health Consequences of Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association 2018 <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences>.

Kirby, John & Megan McDowell. “Surviving and Thriving After a 6-year Battle With an EatingDisorder.” CNN 2018<https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/23/opinions/dads-daughters-eating-disorders-kirby-and-mcdowell-opinion/index.html>.

Kohan, Shelley. “AEO’s Aerie Brand, Built On Body Positivity And Inclusion, Is Slowly Edging Out Sexy Supermodel Juggernaut Victoria’s Secret.” Forbes Media 2020<https://www.forbes.com/sites/shelleykohan/2020/06/28/aeos-aerie-brand-built-on-body-positivity-and-inclusion-is-slowly-edging-out-sexy-supermodel-juggernaut-victorias-secret/?sh=5cb2104c42ba>.

Makendhra, Malvika. “Eating Disorders in the Media Are Being Romanticized and Portrayed as‘Beautiful.’” Plano West Blueprints 2018 <https://pwshblueprints.com/life/2018/02/06/eating-disorders-in-the-media-are-being-romanticized-and-portrayed-as-beautiful/>.

Richards, Patti. “How Does Media Impact Body Image and Eating Disorder Rates?” Center ForChange 2020 <https://centerforchange.com/how-does-media-impact-body-image-and-eating-disorder-rates/>.

Sebert, Kesha. “Kesha Opens Up About Overcoming Her Eating Disorder and How She FoundHappiness.” Teen Vogue 2017 <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/kesha-essay-eating-disorder-social-media-finding-happiness>

Widdows, Heather. “Be Ashamed of Body Shaming.” Psychology Today 2020 <www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/perfect-me/202001/be-ashamed-body-shaming.>.