What you really need to know about body shaming. (Photo: Getty Images)
Skinny Minnie, Bones and Toothpick are just a few of the nicknames I’ve been assigned over the years.
I’ve always been thin and boney. My clavicles jut out, my chest and abdomen are mostly rib cage and I have what my family calls “chicken arms.”
Growing up I was a lanky kid, moving through life like a windmill of long appendages attached to pointy elbows and knees. Now, in my late 20s I’ve filled out a bit but am still naturally slim.
When I was younger I laughed off comments about my weight, knowing that I was still growing, but now they really bother me. Instead of being greeted with a typical “How are you?” when hugging friends hello, I often hear, “You’re skin and bones. You need to eat.” This statement insinuates that I don’t take care of myself. In my mind I reply, “You know I eat. All we do is eat when we hang out. My body hasn’t changed in the five years we’ve known each other.” Outwardly I smile and move on with other conversation. After all they don’t mean to offend me. But would these same friends instruct me to consume a few less calories a day if I was curvy? Definitely not.
I’ve been skinny shamed.
I practice proper eating habits, giving equal opportunity to both clean, organic meals and junk food alike. Occasionally I work out, mainly in an attempt to build and tone muscle. After annual doctor’s appointments I’m given a clean bill of health, yet friends’ negative comments about my weight imply otherwise.
Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, emails me, “There is a range of body sizes that exist naturally in the world. You cannot make a judgment on someone’s health simply by looking at them. We are in this cultural moment when there are so many confusing messages about what is ‘healthy,’ and so much of how we’ve come to define health is linked to external measures — a number on a scale or a chart or what someone looks like. Just because someone has a larger body doesn’t mean they don’t take good care of their physical and mental health. And just because someone is closer to the mainstream image of a healthy body doesn’t mean that person is healthy.”
With no two people exactly alike, it seems archaic that society classifies one particular silhouette as a woman’s “ideal” body shape. I’ll never be curvy, just as some ladies will never be flat chested, and that’s ok. We shouldn’t create unrealistic expectations for what the perfect female should look like. Differences are what make us beautiful and diversity should be celebrated.
British personality and fashion maven Alexa Chung is no stranger to this scrutiny. In 2012 the naturally tall and slender muse took a break from Twitter and set her Instagram account to private after social media followers accused her of starving herself. Back then Chung told reporters, “[…] just because I exist in this shape, doesn’t mean that I’m like advocating it and being like, 'I look great.’ How do you know I’m not looking in the mirror and going 'I wish I could gain 10 pounds?’ Which is actually quite often the case…People that are bigger can be on the front covers of magazines being like 'I’m really happy with my shape.’ But if I was to do that, I’d be completely criticized and ridiculed. But why can’t I be happy with how I look?”
Body-shamers continue to berate Chung with hurtful words, referencing her thin frame and stating she’s unfit to be a role model.
In a recent video for Vogue, Chung explains that haters often comment on “how scrawny I look or how gross I am.” She says it’s difficult to know how to respond because “I want to be able to promote a healthy body image…I would love to look like Daisy Lowe (an English fashion model), but I don’t, but I’m happy with how I look. Equally, I don’t want to use this as an example of how young girls should look.”
In November one Twitter user referred to Ariana Grande’s body as an unsexy stick. The singer responded with a reminder for people to love and celebrate their bodies regardless of shape or size and included few choice words for the troll who insulted her.
A tweet from Ariana Grande addressing body shaming. (Photo: Twitter)
It seems that society still has a long way to go before we are able to completely look beyond a woman’s physical appearance and simply appreciate her for her talents, intellect and spirit.
Earlier this year I participated in my alma mater’s career day, providing students with insight and tips for succeeding in the media industry. After the event I asked a family member who works at the school if the students had any feedback on my presentation. She told me some of the girls said, “Wow, Noelle is so skinny.” That was it. Wait, what? The only thing some of these students took away from my conversation was the shape of my body? The response was hurtful and made me feel disappointed in the future generation and the ideologies that are being ingrained in young women’s minds.
At the time I was an editor at Lucky Magazine. A few weeks after this experience, my picture was posted on Lucky’s Instagram account to promote their online shopping platform. Most of the comments were positive, but I couldn’t help but focus one: “Does she eat anything?”
The author’s photo posted on Instagram. (Photo: Instagram)
The criticism upset me. I thought to myself, “Doesn’t this woman know that I can see her comment?” In a response that admittedly wasn’t mature, I clicked over to her account and passive aggressively liked her photos. Every single one. Honestly, I hoped to get her attention. I wanted her to realize that there was a real person on the receiving end of her negative statement.
When discussing remarks like this, Mysko told me, “It can be hard to recognize just how damaging these comments can be because they are validated everywhere in our culture. There’s a whole body shaming lexicon that is used in the name of 'entertainment.’ But shaming hurts. No matter how anonymous or jokey you think you’re being, there are real people who are victimized by these comments.”
If an individual is truly dealing with an eating disorder, statements like this can be detrimental. “This brand of concern trolling is dismissive and hurtful to people who are struggling with anorexia, a life-threatening illness that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis.” Mysko says, “If you are truly concerned that someone has an eating disorder, the most damaging thing you can do is make that person feel ashamed about her/his appearance. And of course, eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes, so the fact that very thin people get singled out doesn’t match up with the reality of who actually struggles.”
We saw this scenario in November when model Magdalena Frackowiak shut down a TMZ reporter backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. He asked Frackowiak what she was most looking forward to eating after the show. Ticked off, she replied, “What? No guys, not with this kind of questions [sic]. This is stupid. Ask more smart questions. No, you make me feel like, you make me look like, an idiot…But it seems like I’m starving myself and I can’t wait for the show to end to eat.”
This is another example of an individual drawing ignorant assumptions based on a person’s body type.
Incidentally, it’s a problem the plus-size community is all too familiar with. For over four years, blogger and creative consultant Nicolette Mason has penned her column "Big Girl in a Skinny World” for Marie Claire. While most remarks from readers are positive, she still receives cutting feedback.
“When I’m featured on Marie Claire’s Instagram, I receive a lot of negative comments,” Mason tells me. “People say I’m promoting obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle when in fact I’m the healthiest that I’ve ever been. It’s incredibly invasive and presumptuous to look at someone and think you know whether they are healthy or not.”
As an advocate for body positivity, Mason believes the fashion industry and society as a whole should explore new beauty norms. “I think it’s awful that thin women are also attacked for their weight,” Mason says. “Body shaming is body shaming whether you’re a size 2 or a size 20.”
Nicolette Mason, who pens a column for Marie Claire. (Photo: Instagram)
My hope is that society and women specifically will stop fanning the flames of the body negativity movement that has become dangerously pervasive. By simply thinking of the consequences our words can have on an individual before we post or speak them, we can take great strides in extinguishing the inferno.
Mysko says, “At the end of the day, it’s important to acknowledge that every person, regardless of weight or size, deserves body confidence.” Hear, hear.
If you or someone you know would like information on eating disorders, or to learn how to receive help and treatment visit the National Eating Disorder Association or call their live helpline: 800-931-2237 (U.S.), National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada), The Butterfly Foundation(Australia), BEAT (UK) and We Bite Back can help.