Body Shaming: Should We Be Defining Beauty?

Artwork By: Andrea Orozco

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

1. My Cousin

My cousin, a sweet, innocent little angel, is ill.

“She often looks at celebrities in magazines. They are thin and beautiful, and she just wants to be that kind of star,” my uncle told my mother on the phone.

“She started not eating, and was recently diagnosed with mild anorexia.”

I thought to myself, “Isn’t anorexia a rare disease or something? After all, who would want to lose weight by eating nothing at all? And my cousin, of all people?” However, a study from Heather Gallivan illustrates the astonishing severity and frequency of situations like my cousin’s: more than 50% of Americans are dissatisfied with their current weight. Over 80% of 10-year-olds fear gaining weight. 53% of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies, which rises to 78% by the age of 17. In secondary schools, 40-70% of girls are dissatisfied with two or more body parts.

Striving for the thinnest possible figure is dangerous when health is placed below body image. Some people will use unhealthy methods of weight control, such as over-fasting or inducing vomiting. And this could lead to severe eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Anorexia is a terrible disease. The disease caused my cousin to suddenly lose massive amounts of weight and kept her life on a knife-edge. It kept my cousin in the hospital for nearly half a year, during which time she had to be injected with drugs for nourishment. I hope she can accept herself and overcome her illness.

2. The “Beauty To-Do List”

Somewhere along the way, society got caught up in the craze of defining beauty by creating a series of beauty standards- a “to-do list,” if you will. Some infamous criteria for beauty are: the face should be as small as the hand, the legs should be as thin as chopsticks, and the waistline should be the width of a piece of vertical A4 paper. Anything else instantly gets a big, fat, red label with the word ‘UGLY’ on it. Where does this “beauty to-do list” come from? Why do people get so caught up in it?

People are told: you’re not good here, you shouldn’t eat this, you need to fix this. You have to become like many of the stars on the magazines, and you eventually convince yourself that those changes will result in a “better” life. There is also a group of people who haven’t been directly told but who absorb beauty standards from their surroundings. They feel even more sad and self-abased and are anxious about their body. They will tell themselves that they are not beautiful and should get rid of all “not beautiful” things.

Body shame is inextricably linked to consumerism. Many brands are now focusing on products aimed at skinny girls. Brandy Melville is a fashion brand known for selling S size clothes. As a result, a large number of people can not find clothes suitable for their body shape. Brandy Melville instils a sense of superiority in consumers by insinuating that it is a fashion brand that only skinny girls can buy. It creates a false narrative that skinny girls are superior to fat girls. Brandy Melville increases their sales by making its customer base feel exclusive. From an economic perspective, this may be a successful marketing tool. But for our society, is the body shame, sizeism, and stereotypes really worth the economic benefits?

In his book “The Crowd: a Study of The Popular Mind,” author Gustave Le Bon argues that one of the most striking features of the modern age is the replacement of conscious behaviour by unconscious behaviour in groups. He says that individual rational people in a group do not necessarily change the overall behaviour of the group. This can explain why people can unconsciously believe in sizeism and fatphobia and rudely judge others’ bodies.

3. Our Society and “Bad” Bodies

Heavy Craving, a movie recently released in China, directed by Pei-Ju Hsieh, tells the story of a fat girl who constantly receives exclusionary and discriminatory comments. On her birthday, her mother buys a weight-loss class as a gift for her. In my opinion, this is no more than the typical excuse for sizeism: saying it’s “for your own good.” You need to lose weight for your own good so you can wear beautiful clothes like the other girls. You need to build muscle for your own good because that is what a man usually does unless you are a sissy. You need to cover up your acne for your own good, so people would not laugh at you. These arguments are deeply steeped in condescending fatphobia and rarely spoken out of true medical concern. After all, weight is not necessarily a reliable predictor of health.

Later, the heroine in Heavy Craving discovers a boy who enjoys cross-dressing and is afraid of his secret being exposed. In this film, the reason that “fat” girls fear social discrimination against their bodies and little boys fear being exposed for “feminine” behaviours is that they fear people judging them. They fear their families trying to change them “for their own good” rather than accepting who they are.

Self-confidence is by no means unwarranted narcissism, and what we call anti-body shame is not a call to abandon self-care. What we should glean from the cultural trend of body shaming is that judging and shaming is an absence of human care. We should be more accepting of ourselves and more respectful of others. We need to respect our bodies, respect our differences, appreciate all skin tones, all body shapes, and all self-expressions. Choose what you want to choose, accept what you have, and live for yourself. Authentic identity should come from what we feel within ourselves, not from the judging mouths and eyes of others.

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