[I’ll start this off by offering a trigger warning for anyone with weight or appearance ‘issues’ (though I hate that I’m calling them that). But for all, this may be a bit uncomfortable. It’s certainly hard to talk about for me.]
I’ve recently noticed a distressing trend. Well, not recently. This issue isn’t recent at all: it’s been an ongoing battle for years, but only now does it seem that people are truly taking notice with this issue. My various feeds are filled with articles talking about it, and I hope this means that more people are truly taking notice to the effect that it has on our society. This week in particular seems to showcase the issue more than I’ve seen before, so I decided to write about it and not get too “preachy”.
I’m talking about fat-shaming here. A slew of articles have popped up about how prevalent this is in our society and the extent of its reach. I, personally, would say this issue increased with the explosion of social media, especially with people going to such extremes as getting plastic surgery to look “selfie-ready”.
Many people are guilty of fat-shaming without even fully realizing it. A friend of mine recently did a study at university about assumptions we make about people because of their appearance as either thin or fat, and I was, honestly, a bit shocked to find out that even by that study I was considered prejudiced. A lot of people do it to themselves.
I include myself in that group (and yes, as that study made clear, I still judge others). The media especially offers unrealistic expectations upon the youth in this country, and growing up aspiring to look like the models I saw on Teen Vogue or actresses in Twist, I was one of the many who fell ‘victim’ to the trend of skinniness. I was constantly determined to have a flat stomach, and I still have that as a goal of mine in the back of my head, especially when I’m back on my college campus and see all of these skinny women who seem to have it all. I have spent years trying to undo the damage I’ve done to myself, un-think the thoughts connecting other problems in my life with my weight. I’m not nearly done.
Though I was always lucky to not experience the worst that could come out of intense internal and external pressure, I can’t say the same for many of my peers. It can strike anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, age. Some of my closest friends experienced the battle at a much more dangerous level, fighting body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia… and still fight to this day. Others aren’t that lucky (if you can call that luck). Many lose this battle. And somehow, we need to make that stop.
I can’t personally offer suggestions on how to change this, but I did uncover many recent articles on fat-shaming in a few of the strangest places:
POLITICS: Female candidates are judged by their appearance, and it influences their chances of winning.
CLASSIC ENTERTAINMENT: Opera singers are being judged for weight and not just their talent.
CLASSIC ART: Have we started to even fat-shame the subjects of renaissance master painters? (I’ve mentioned this one in a previous post).
GODZILLA: Seriously. Even Godzilla hasn’t escaped this.
There are many initiatives that encourage self-love and embracing your own body, which I applaud. Even though it is by no means a quick fix, it’s something. It’s a place to start.
Body image ‘issues’ (again, I hate that I’m using that word, as it seems to imply that there is something inherently wrong with us) can strike, truly, anyone. It doesn’t just hit young girls. They can develop over time. The media’s idea of what constitutes an “ideal body” affects men just as much as women. The statistics may not reveal that, because there is an association of weakness and femininity with eating disorders and the like. And that doesn’t even reflect the prejudice about mental “illness”, but that’s an entirely different issue.
If you’re one of the many people who struggle with this, and witness such fat-shaming tendencies in your life, I will say this: you are not alone. You have people you can talk to. It is not shameful, no matter what people may say. No one is going to know entirely what you’re going through, but those who love you will stick with you no matter what.
I can spout all of the most clichéd advice you’ve already heard a thousand times, but there is a truth behind it all. The struggle is real and hard as hell. But there are those who will help you through it. You don’t need to do it alone. Find something seemingly tiny and insignificant to you, that you love about yourself (which I guarantee will still be with you even on your lowest days). Your painting skills aren’t going to disappear just because you are dissatisfied with your body. You can still paint masterpieces, and that in of itself shows you are worth something. Can you recite 100 decimals of pi (or, hell, even beyond 3.14)? That’s awesome. Seriously, that’s awesome. Do you have a family (regardless of the form it takes), or even just one person who you love with all your heart? You are so very lucky. Even loving one person, regardless of reciprocation, makes you special– it shows you know what it means to love. It means you are capable of loving yourself. Revel in your individuality, and your greatness. It’s there, I promise.
So start noting if you’re fat-shaming others or yourself. It can be something small that doesn’t even occur to you. It can be embedded in actions we’ve done thousands of times, in looking at tabloid magazines and gawking at celebrities or even in going to the gym to work off every calorie you’ve eaten. And certainly, do not judge those who are skinny as being luckier or healthier. They may have issues all their own, and we should not assume that just because they are skinny, that they are happy or healthy. We have to support each other.
Those who matter will see past the stereotype and you will find each other. Just do you, and be healthy. It’s probably going to be difficult. But that makes things that much more worth it. And loving yourself– even if it just begins with embracing something tiny, like that gap in your teeth– is more important than the view of others. I’ll be right along with you, trying to figure out my own way and fight my own demons as well. The rest of the world will catch up with us eventually. But we can’t wait for them anymore. We have to be strong enough to lead the charge ourselves, and help those who are struggling at our sides.
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