“You’re so brave for wearing that”, “Did you lose weight?”, “Eat a burger”, “You have such a pretty face for your size”. These are words that have echoed through the minds of thousands of women because of their body size. Hence, a lot of women have become insecure about their bodies because of the way society prescribes they should look. This has led to numerous women going to extreme lengths to look good. Some even feel left out of society, have no friends, go through depression and possibly commit suicide. This has become very dangerous because of the negative self-worth image instilled in women about how they are “supposed” to look.
It is on this foreground, that this article seeks to present, discuss and criticize the effect of negative body imagining on women. It also, examines the greater effects negative body imaging, will have in future, if these issues are not addressed and more effort is not put into changing the society’s orientation as regards the subject. This will be achieved by explaining the history of women and the change of their appearances. Likewise, it will discuss the historical differences of what was considered attractive during the olden times in contradistinction to what is considered attractive now. Furthermore, this article will focus on the strong negative influences caused by societal variables including social media and the fashion industry. This paper, will also highlight how these factors can cause the average woman to view herself poorly. As compared to the perfect and unrealistic versions of beauty that society desires. Also explaining how this can lead to mental and physical effect on women to fit societies view of perfect and how there needs to be a better equal ground for body imaging and how women are displayed to society as a whole.
Body shaming can be defined as shaming someone because of his or her body type or how that individual looks. Society has always had an effect on women and how they view their bodies and body imaging. Likewise, a major invention in the 21st century was technology. The technology that society has today, has ensured every person in today’s day and age has a cell phone. Which is nothing less a miniature computer screen or T.V. that is filled with all different forms of social media. These images are repetitive and practically impossible to avoid in the everyday life. If an individual is struggling with things such as negative body imaging of their own bodies, the presence of social media makes it harder to accept their body for what it is. On the other hand, women who manage to be confident in their skins are met with a plethora of comments and insults about their size. So much so that, it is now an established form of bullying and, as well as being humiliating, it can lead to short and long term psychological and health related issues. Body shaming occurs in three main ways, criticising yourself, criticising someone else in front of them, and criticising someone else behind their back. In an age where media and social media are easily accessible, there is a strong emphasis on idealised beauty on platforms such as Instagram, twitter and magazines. When seeing celebrities and models who are thought to have “perfect bodies”, plus size women start to become critical of their own bodies and succumb to the pressure of living up to somewhat unrealistic standards. In contradistinction, slim women are taking drugs and eating to stupor to be “thick”. For celebrities, despite their celebrity status, some have still had to deal with body shaming. For example, on 29 August the Daily Mail reported that Miss UK, Zoiey Smale, handed back her crown after being told she was too fat for international pageants and was told to lose “as much weight as possible”. Its high time we come together, as all body types and learn to inspire and bring each other up.
In history women have gone through all different types of extremes to fit society’s idea of perfection for their looks and body appearance. To have a good grasp of the history of body shaming, one has to be aware of the natural human’s internal need for hierarchical determinants of power. Status was determined by so many factors like money, houses, slaves and even body size. As an illustration, In the book Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat body in American culture, fatness was considered an admirable trait. Weight and size were huge indicators of one’s wealth, and even power and this was very rampant in the Renaissance time period. This association was made due to upper class families having the ability to afford the luxury of food, when the poor could not and this resulted in the heavy set to be seen as the proper body size.
In contradistinction, in the 21st century, the heavy set are perceived to be poor and/or lazy. While the slim are seen, as women who starve themselves or have disorders. Inflation, with the help of fast food, then caused a shift in our societal views. Now that lower income earners can also afford the junk food, causing their families to be overweight, the wealthier individuals can afford the organic foods, in turn making them healthier and that has now become the new standard of beauty. The determinant for a woman’s body size should not be based on wealth or society’s opinions. As social media progressed, the view of the size of a woman’s body frame grew smaller. The only time that the appearance of a woman’s body did not play such a huge role, was during times of war. Though media was not as diverse as we know it to be today. The media then could be something as a drawing of a woman, that was placed on posters for all of society to view. Unfortunately, the average woman today still has to fight with her body to fit into the new look or trend that comes along constantly.
BODY SHAMING AND ITS EFFECTS
The media and society, are causing women to try unhealthy ways to maintain the newest look that media displays to society and if they don’t or can’t, they automatically become targets of body shaming. These ways of body shamming, have led to eating disorders among a lot young girls and women. Three of these eating disorders are, anorexia which is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight and the fear of gaining weight; binge eating defined as a disorder with episodes of eating large quantities of food with feeling of loss of control; and bulimic nervosa which is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging which can also lead to purging afterwards. These are the most common eating disorders, and there are many more. The effects of societal beliefs have been leading young girls and women to go to great extremes in order to get the ideal body in society’s eyes. This should not be so.
Also, body shaming has an impact on the mental health of young girls and women. It has been proven in a study by Women’s Body Image, that after women were shown media images depicting the modern ideal bodies, women then had an increase in anxiety, depression, anger, and dissatisfaction with their bodies. The strongest predictors of negative body image, were found to be caused by the lack of parental support, negative moods and lack of support from peers amongst others. If the society, came together as a whole and learned to support young girls and women in building their self-confidence, then mental health and physical health of women would improve over time.
Furthermore, body shaming is a phenomenon that women all over the world face. Constantly, feeling threatened about their sizes and how they should look in society’s eyes. To illustrate, according to an article by Katelyn J. Gaffney , in Australia, eating disorders affect a million people and cost the economy $70 billion a year. In France legislation was passed barring advertisements promoting “extreme” thinness or dieting following the anorexia-linked deaths of several models. In Sweden, the average upper-class young women are obsessed with their appearance. Brazilians are known to overestimate the actual size of their bodies while desiring to be thinner. In Eastern and Third-World Nations such as China women do exhibit a significant fear of weight gain. In Japan women are becoming skinnier in recent years, and are very critical of each other’s appearance. While in places like Nigeria women are dedicated to helping people put on weight, offering a place where they can do nothing but eat and sleep.
Studies have found that, it was not just average to plus sized women who felt targeted but also women who fall on the smaller size side. Women with smaller frames can also feel targeted with phrases emphasizing the need to eat more. Also, the emergence of various phrases about curvier women in the music and film industry, have led some women with smaller body types to feel uncomfortable being too thin.
In recent times, there have been some efforts to fight back against the rise of social media and their effects on the woman’s mind and body. A Brazilian modelling agency started advising women to “say no to anorexia”. The beauty and cosmetic company Dove, also started a Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004, displaying a mixture of women in size and race, with no makeup or digital enhancement (Women’s Body Image). This would do a lot of good to young girls and women around the world who suffer from negative body imaging. We are not all the same and that is okay. People are not meant to look the same. We are all different in height, skin tone, and body type. If we could show younger girls and boys to love their bodies for what it is, society would not be able to affect their view of their bodies.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
At this speed, the future holds the possibility for more problems in how society views the woman’s body. Currently, no forms of regulation as to what the media portrays exist. Largely, the body types that are shown are the “accepted’ body frames. It is pertinent to note, that most of these women who are shown to society in the media have some kind of eating disorder and and/or are not healthy physically. Still, these are the same women that are shown all over the media as the perfect body type for women. Designers and companies, should also work actively in developing certain regulations for their models and how should they be presented to society through the media. In setting up this form of a regulation in the future to come, it would help to combat strong negative influences that society, the media and fashion has on body imaging. According to Katelyn, times have changed and so has the image of women, these negative effects that society has created effect the average woman more that society thinks they do and if all women were meant to look the same then we would.
There is no doubt that, society plays a big role that most people think and now in the 21st century, the media is everywhere. People carry their phone everywhere like a mini computer. Society cannot escape coming across something that will affect how they are to view themselves either. Therefore, flooding social media with images and views of unrealistically sized women, being women who are typically more a target to be judge by women have gone through all different types of appearance revolutions. Society continues to pressure women to fit into what it portrays as beautiful and perfect; these outside influences have now led to eating disorders and health issues. The focus is not just on plus sized women but also women who feel as though they are being targeted for being too slim. Coupled with the adverse orientations that the society has on young boys and men as well. These pressures from media and people influence all women around the world. Hence, society and media need to start taking into consideration the strong negative effects that they have on the averaged sized woman in the 21st century and how it will only get worse in future, if nothing changes.
About the author:
Sinmisoluwa Adesanya, currently studies law at UNILAG, Nigeria. She is passionate about law, business and women empowerment. This had led her to create her sustainable fashion company called OverDose The Label. She is also an ambassador at Politics4Her and WomenTech network where she tackles issues women face in politics and technology respectively. Likewise, her passion to help her community, led her to organize her Career Accelerator Program in 2020 where she helped young professionals get access to beneficial opportunities and serve as a Clinical hypnotherapist at rebuild my mind to help people with mental health issues. She has been certified by Goldman Sachs and Stanford University and currently attends the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.