In mid-October, 19-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish was a subject of online body shaming when she was spotted out and about in a more revealing and tighter clothing than her usual baggy, covered-up style. Photos of her circulated on Twitter with people throwing negative comments about her body, in which one particular viral post made by a 29-year-old man said “in 10 months Billie Eilish has developed a mid-30’s wine mom body”. Some have come to Eilish’s defense, while others added more fuel to the fire.
This incident with Eilish is merely one of the many instances of body shaming that have happened to various people in our society. In an online survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation and YouGov in the United Kingdom in March 2019, there are 20% of adults and 31% of teenagers who felt shame after having been body shamed. Meanwhile, according to ZAP Beauty Index 2020, around 62.2% of Indonesian women have experienced body shaming throughout their lives. These statistics show that body shaming is a prevalent issue not limited to age or nationality.
I myself have also been a subject of body shaming, even though I have never experienced online body shaming like Eilish or countless others had. Reading this news about Eilish triggered the awful and hurtful memories which I have tried so hard not to remember of the comments people have said about my body, from people telling me that I was too skinny and that I should eat more to comments about me gaining weight. These comments somehow made me lose track of what is “ideal” anymore and made me wonder about why, in this day and age, is body shaming still a thing?
One of the major factors that contributes to the existence of body shaming is body image representation in the media. The media itself has long been known for its unrealistic representation of body image. From beauty and fashion advertisements to children’s shows, the media often portray various images of men or women that depict or promote unattainable standards. Celebrities and influencers oftentimes would “enhance” their appearance through beauty treatments, photo editing, and even plastic surgery to achieve a certain look. These unrealistic images in the media could lead people to feel concerned and pressured with how they look, which could affect their well-being and lead them to being shamed for not looking like how “ideal men and women” are supposed to look like.
People often argue that they do not mean any harm when criticizing someone’s body or appearance as they feel like they are just giving advice out of health reasons or even preventing them from being criticized by others. However, having people such as my family members making comments about my body did not feel like they did so out of care for my health, but rather because they like to pick on my appearance.
Regardless of the motive behind people’s comments about others’ bodies, there is no denying that body shaming could cause many harmful consequences. In an interview for Here & Now’s “America on the Scale”, Rebecca Puhl explained that several studies have examined that people who have been body shamed, especially those targeted because of their weight, are likely to experience mental health problems such as anxiety and depressive symptoms. Moreover, people are likely to develop eating disorders, the second deadliest mental illness after opioid overdose with at least 9% of the worldwide population is affected by this illness. It is also reported that around 26% of people who suffered from eating disorders have attempted suicide.
These data show us the real and fatal consequences of body shaming to us people. We should be aware of the words that come out of our mouths or the words that we type on our keyboard because at the end of the day words truly do matter, be it a statement, critique, or compliment regarding someone’s body. We will never know what others might think and feel about the comments we make, thus we should be mindful about what we say. Most importantly, we should start to appreciate and embrace different bodies. It is wonderful that right now we see more social media accounts and activists that promote beauty in everyday men and women, and their cause should be supported by all of us. If we want to strive for an inclusive society, we should stop normalizing unrealistic bodies and start normalizing real bodies, as simple as starting from the words we say.