As part of an online health class, the teen and her peers engaged in a virtual classroom debate regarding the societal effects of digital manipulation and whether the use of it in advertising and campaigns should be legal or not. Each of the classmates read articles as research in order to prompt their responses, and a screenshot on Twitter later revealed a comment that’s receiving more attention than others.
The comment, made by a male student in Sweetland’s class, goes beyond the intended assignment and indulged in body shaming — going so far as to call plus-size models “disgusting.”
“In a part of article 5, it talks about how Target is starting a body positive campaign, and are also using ‘plus-size’ models, which is disgusting,” the comment reads. “There’s no problem with not being ashamed of your body, but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re obese. The problem with campaigns like these is that they encourage obesity, unhealthy habits, and they say that you’ll be happy no matter your size. This is wrong, and no one wants to look at an obese model.”
The harsh critique stood out from the rest, which otherwise took a stance against Photoshopping and for body acceptance. But the issue Sweetland had wasn’t with his difference of opinion, but instead with his choice of words.
“I would like to start by saying that calling anyone’s body ‘disgusting,’ isn’t really called for, and you should be careful with your choice in adjectives. I agree with you that obesity is a bad thing, and it is a problem that our world is dealing with right now. However, I do not believe that plus size models are contributing to this disease,” part of Sweetland’s response reads, before explaining many other factors that contribute to obesity in America. “Not all plus size model are obese or unhealthy. It is possible to simply be larger just from genetics.”
In the final address to the body shamer, Sweetland wrote, “Every body type needs to be portrayed in media, because everyone needs to be represented. Lastly, I would to like to inform you that your statement saying, ‘Nobody wants to look at an obese model,’ is false. You know who wants to see a plus size model? The 67 percent of women in America who are plus sized, and want to open a magazine and see somebody that looks just as beautiful as they do.”
The impassioned response never received a direct reply, Sweetland tells Yahoo Style, but she has come to understand that her classmate’s hurtful comment might have come from a lack of experience and empathy.
“I think he just doesn’t seem to understand that people in our society are constantly comparing themselves to one another,” she says. “He doesn’t seem to see the harm in only displaying one body type in the media. I guess he just isn’t grasping the severity of the issue.”
While men are often left out of conversations dealing with body image, it seems logical that teen boys might not have a clear perspective on the topic. For Sweetland, she’s all too familiar with the subject. Growing up as what she calls a “bigger kid,” the teen ended up struggling with obesity during her freshman year of high school.
“At that time I just felt disgusting and insecure. I never took photos of myself, and I was always the one who offered to take pictures because I never felt pretty enough to be in them. I really ever only wore baggy clothes, and when I did have the occasional boost of confidence, I wanted to buy cuter clothes.”
But when she went to look online for clothes her size, she never encountered a model that looked like her. This experience directly relates to the comment that she responded to, as it disrepected the appearance of the models that Sweetland has been waiting her whole life to see.
It wasn’t until plus-size models, like Ashley Graham, made their way into mainstream media that Sweetland began to feel more confident in herself. And conversations that celebrities like Chrissy Teigen have encouraged about stretch marks and other imperfections have aided in increasing her self-esteem as well. But if these inspirational women aren’t reason enough to believe in the need for more diverse types of beauty, Sweetland is here to reassure you that there are more important things than plus-size models to worry about.
“There are a lot of bad things going on right now in our world,” she says, “but I don’t consider the change in our models to be one of them.”
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