THE BIG BAD BODY SHAMING ISSUE

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BODY SHAMING

The evil called Body Shaming

“Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vein, jealous, boring, evil or cruel? Not to me.”

                                                                                      -J.K Rowling

Shreya is nine and sadly a victim of Body Shaming. Nowadays she does not feel like going to school. Every morning when the school van comes, she finds excuses like stomach ache, headache. Her mom scolds her and some days forces her to go to school. After reaching school she finds the corner seat. She eats alone during lunch break. In her nightmares she hears her mates mocking her and calling her ‘elephant’. She hates to look in the mirror and wishes she was someone else.

From time immemorial ‘physical attractiveness’ of a person is regarded as one important determinant of acceptance and respect from the society (For example, goddess are always beautiful). Not only we have preferred people on the basis of ‘physical attractiveness’, but also we have set a template of ‘beauty’ and we criticize those who do not match up to that. ‘Body Shaming’ directs our attention to negative experience of both appearance and function. Although the behavior of body shaming is centuries old, the mention of this topic and study in this area has begun recently. McKinley and Hyde (1996) have defined body shame as the tendency to experience shame when one has not lived up to the internalized, culturally-prescribed norms of body size or weight. There are so many cases where people have shamed others suffering from physical deformities or rare diseases. You might want to look at the comment section of YouTube videos of people suffering from rare diseases to read the most inhuman insults ever! Enough of our insensitiveness! We have shamed the obese who are suffering from thyroid issues; patients of psoriasis, acne and even victims of burns or acid attacks.

Society as looking glass

There are handful of theories that shows how the perception of society plays an important role in self-concept of a person. For example, Looking glass theory by Cooley holds that self-concept of a person is dependent on how people perceive him, therefore, society acts like a looking glass. Although one does not need a theory to understand the very apparent matter that if society criticizes you about something you don’t have control over, you are very likely to develop very negative self-image. And it’s needless to mention that if one does not feel confident enough, it will affect his/her confidence, quality of life and performance.

Self esteem and body shaming

Self-esteem is the evaluation that we make of ourselves. We are concerned with what we are like but also how we value these qualities. If a person has higher self-esteem, he thinks well of himself, sets appropriate goals, use feedback in a self-enhancing manner and copes more easily with difficult situations. Therefore, a certain level of self-esteem is required for general well being in a person’s life. Now how one perceives his own body constitutes a large part of his self-concept. Children who are victims of regular body shaming are very likely to have a lower self-esteem which certainly effects their confidence and general performance as well as overall happiness of life.

Sexual life and body shaming

When a person is victim of regular body shaming, he/she becomes so self-conscious that it may even affect his/her behavior and pleasure in bed. The cultural objectification of women’s body is internalized by individuals so much that it may lead to sexual dysfunction. One may become so conscious that it may remove the sensual experience during sexual interaction with one’s partner. This is especially true for obese women as our society and culture have developed a notion that only thin girls are sexually desirable.

Judgmental staring

We are so sensitive to difference that sometimes a body which is slightly different from our defined norm, we find it difficult to accept. Even when we don’t make a comment we may give a very judgmental look unintentionally which can sometimes spoil the person’s day. He/She becomes so self-conscious that her confidence and happiness is entirely lost. And, what if this happens to a person, every single day? That individual is likely to resort to social isolation and avoid meeting people, and will stop enjoying life which we all deserve to live.

Body shaming and health

When a person is body shamed every day he/she puts all his/her effort to look a certain way which is seemingly more acceptable. Sometimes these efforts may actually damage one person’s physical health. For example, inorder to become thin sometime girls skip lunch and dinner or may even develop severe eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa etc. Plastic surgery has become so common these days and some have even become addicts to plastic surgery in order to look a certain way. The human barbie, cat woman, the human Ken doll etc. are only few examples where people have spent entire lifetimes and savings to perfect their look.

Body shaming and Psychological well-being

It is found among adolescents and children that often they develop some mood related issues as well as anxiety. They feel guilty, even may develop a social apprehension and the fear of social evaluation. They find it difficult to have friends, trust people. The fear of criticism, bulling and rejection will always haunt them. They isolate themselves to find peace or at least to avoid judgemental stares. Body shaming tends to have detrimental effects on children’s development when parents show some implicit or explicit references, concerns and worries.

Enough is enough! Stop Body Shaming!

How barbaric it is to stigmatize one part of our society on the basis of their physical appearance! A society should not claim to be a civilized one if it cannot provide opportunity to live life without discrimination, stigma and ostracism.

  1. It’s time to teach our children as well as ourselves that a person’s beauty lies beneath the skin. One “fatness”, wrinkles, shortness, “thinness” or acne scars cannot stop oneself from being beautiful if she has a beautiful heart and a productive brain.
  2. Stop and criticize those who are shallow enough to judge others on the basis of appearance. Sometimes we agree with others only to conform to. But even such small things help this stigmatization process to continue.
  3. Forget others, don’t even criticize yourself when you have hair fall, acne, pimples, when you can find two or three wrinkles on your forehead or some grey hair. When you can convince yourself that beauty (in socially acceptable manner) is not a scale of judgement, only then you will be capable enough to take on the responsibility of removing body shaming.
  4. If you are a victim of body shaming, raise your voice and protest. It is high time to make them aware of their shallowness.

Let’s appreciate kindness rather than physical beauty, let’s compliment a beautiful heart rather than a beautiful skin. Let us hope that beautiful day is not very far from us. Here is a lovely message that will help you choose to thrive in this difficult world!

 Read More: Is Your Teen Showing Signs of Depression

Read More: The Fairness of Being Unfair

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Sucharita Maji
Sucharita is a Research Scholar in Department of Psychology at IIT Kanpur. Her research interest lies in the field of Social & Health Psychology; with focus on gender issues, women & mental health. She enjoys Ravindrasangeet, cappuccino and a good read in her leisure time.

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