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Quit the shame

By: Natasha Archary 

The Oxford dictionary defines body shaming as: The action or practice of humiliating someone by making critical comments or mocking someone about their body shape or size.

Perhaps a better definition would be the inappropriate way of subjecting someone to your own warped ideal of “perfect”. Why are human beings so obsessed with perfect? In a previous post, Beauty in the eye of the beholder I touched on this need to conform to societies expectations. Physical attractiveness, sex appeal, beauty it’s all subjective anyway and yet everyday there are women AND men who are under constant scrutiny for looking “different”.

Why is different such a bad thing? It isn’t, it’s just that we’re caught up in the hype of living upto Instagram standards so we view everyone under the same microscopic lens of vanity. Body shaming is so devastatingly detrimental to someone emotionally that it leads to depression, humiliation, low self esteem and social reclusiveness.

I remember the first time I was body-shamed, I was sixteen, in high school crushing hard on a guy in matric. He walked past me one morning before assembly and I melted, his comments on his way past left me flushed with embarassment the rest of the school year, “Oooh someone’s boobs are finally coming in!” How dare he! Sure, I was a late bloomer but just the nerve of him! Needless to say, I didn’t find him attractive at all after that. Yes, he was good looking but such an utter jerk that he lost his appeal to me. Isn’t that just the irony of objectifying someone? We are attracted to their sex appeal, physical attributes, height, looks, abs, legs, features etc. no where on this list do we focus on WHO someone is!

Those weren’t the only comments I have received throughout the years and whilst I am far from the flat-chested 16 year old, I am still so self-conscious of my breasts that I constantly cleavage check. This hurtful comment was made seventeen years ago and yet the after effects are still there. This is how serious body shaming is.

Celebrities are always speaking out against body shaming and more and more people are being called out on social media for bullying and cyber-shaming individuals for reasons unbeknown to others. In an age where media and the digital world of social media place a strong emphasis on idealised beauty, it’s easy to see why people succumb to the pressure of living up to somewhat unrealistic expectations.

Body shaming is a form of bullying and it can lead to short and long term psychological and other health related issues. Apart from cyber-shaming there are other forms of body-shaming:

  • When you are critical of yourself ,
  • When you criticise someone else in person,
  • And when you criticise someone else behind their back.

For years the issues around body image has traditionally been associated as a female concern but there has since been an increase in focus around how it affects men as well. Professor Harrison Pope, at Harvard Medical School, Psychiatry and co-author of The Adonis complex: the secret crisis of male body obsession, says, “More than ever, men are struggling with the same enormous pressure to achieve physical perfection that women have dealt with for centuries.” From compulsive weightlifting to steroid use, hair implants, chest augmentation (yes men too), excessive grooming, cosmetic surgery, laser hair removal; the number of men on the quest for perfect muscles, skin, hair and nails has increasingly moved from normal to pathological obsession.

Here’s what we’re missing when we decide the onus is on us to let someone know they’re not perfect…empathy! My weight has always fluctuated over the years and more recently over the past three years I went up a dress size each year consecutively. Nothing changed much in terms of my diet and I would workout as often as I could manage so why was I gaining such a ridiculous amount of weight? The problem was identified earlier this year, I was INSULIN RESISTANT. A chronic condition which went undetected at each annual check up because it would not register on a normal blood glucose test. Basically, my insulin levels were extremely high which meant that I could eat an entire slab of chocolate, red velvet cake and drink a can of cold-drink and my blood glucose levels would still test NORMAL. This hormonal imbalance was causing me to gain weight and despite attempts to lose it, be unable to drop ANY of it.

I had no control over my own body! None of us do and that’s my point. We feel it’s okay to say something that is so toxic to someone and never stop to think about the internal war they may already be battling. It was tough to come to terms with my condition, which now meant I was pre-diabetic. My diet would have to change, I would need to pop a pill everyday to regulate my insulin levels and gradually I lost all the weight I had accumulated over the last three years. The emotional strain that a chronic condition gives you is not easy in itself and then you still have to deal with society’s standards and criticism? Nah, something has got to give!

In losing upto 9 kgs I am now faced with comments about “over-doing it”, “slow down or there’ll be nothing left”, “don’t lose your curves” etc…which just begs the question exactly what will suffice? Too skinny, too fat, not skinny enough, ugly, beautiful, huge boobs, small boobs, big butt, no butt, implants, natural – what do you want from me? Whatever the standards of perfect are, I’m no longer trying to reach it!

The unapologetic modelling industry has been under intense pressure to change their outrageous demands for models to be under 50 kgs. Size ZERO! The ugly reality to the glamorous fashion industry is filled with models who are constantly being told they are too fat! At 50kgs? In a candid interview with British journalist Tara Brown, one international model spoke about how she felt she would not succeed as a top model without having an eating disorder. She opened about up the lengths she would go to in order to lose weight when told she was too big even at her smallest. Laxatives, enemas and eating 3 apples a day instead of 3 meals a day, those are a few of the extreme measures. Being told to get your hips as small as possible or you would not cut it in an industry that seems to hate women, what more should they do? Shave off bone?

Minnie Dlamini, Boity Thulo, Terry Pheto, J.Lo and Kim Kardashian (amongst otheres) were lauded for embracing their curvaceous, bootilicious figures and for giving us big bottomed girls the power to accept our bodies as they are. PERFECT.

So that’s what it takes? A famous person has to make it popular and the world follows suit? Well evidently, because you can never be your own “body-goals” right?

Of course you can and this is what needs to change. Give society a huge middle finger and embrace your body as is right now! For the size that it is, for the shape that your belly makes when you sit down, for all the muscles you have or don’t have, for your height, your insane legs or tiny waist, your skinny legs and huge waist…this is one instant in life where SIZE DOES NOT MATTER!

We need to collectively change the narrative that we subscribe to when it comes to visual stimulation and attraction.

How do we challenge this? How do we re-write this size zero rule-book that has been shoved our way?

The natural response when someone makes a rude remark is to shut down and not risk confrontation and this has unfortunately become the automatic response. Case in point, me at sixteen. I was so embarassed that I hung my head, humiliated unable to think let alone hit back with a response.

But if I could time travel, I would give the following advice to my teen self:

  • TAKE A STAND AGAINST BODY-SHAMING

Whether the shaming is directed at you or someone you know or don’t, stand up to the body-shamer and confront their actions, remarks and negativity. There’s enough hate in the world. We don’t need to be making enemies with our bodies because someone decided we’re not good enough!

  • IDENTIFY PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WHO ARE BODY POSITIVE

We all know someone who is so confident in their own skin that they just ooze HOT! Regardless of their size, they’re confident, fun to be around and don’t seem to care what people think about their dress sense or physical appearance. Take cues from them and practice being in awe of your amazing body.

  • FIND SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BODY YOU LIKE

We spend so much of our time obsessing about the physical features we don’t have, watching endless workout videos to get ripped that we fail to appreciate the things that make us unique. Start your mornings with a self proclaimed endorsement of the things you are grateful to your body for, eg. “Hey there, you gorgeous, almond-eyed Goddess.” It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone other than you, so just DO IT!

It is a terrible thing to be shamed, by the culture, your partner, your friend, a stranger, it doesn’t matter who does the shaming it still feels the same. Like a boxer who was just knocked out, the punch feels like a shock to the system. To this day I still hear my inner voice telling me I should be leaner, fitter, a size smaller, cover up my cleavage, not show too much leg. I’m resigned to never being able to quiet it. But at the same time, I’m a lot healthier and happier than I have ever been, finally at ease in my own skin, in tune with my body with all its’ mom-bod complexes.

Body dismorphic disorder is a condition that causes one to become fixated on any imperfection you believe you have. Obsessed really, unti it becomes the only thing you see when you look in the mirror. These obsessive and controlling thoughts can lead you to spend exorbitant amounts of money and time trying to conceal the flaw, in order to receive verbal approval of your looks. It can also lead one to have suicidal thoughts because acceptance is so important to a person suffering in silence with this condition.

Knowing this, is it really worth it telling someone that they have a flaw? That they don’t cut it in this ugly world, where the emphasis is on outward beauty? It isn’t to me, because I don’t base my acceptance on such shallow ideals. You’re ugly if you are cruel enough to hurt someone’s feelings for your own enjoyment. It’s the beauty of your actions that speak louder than your words. So stand up against body shaming and let’s set a new standard…TOGETHER!

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