Here's what multiple mental health pros think of the troubling trend fueled by social media.
Selena Gomez has long been open about her body image, whether she's refusing to suck in her stomach in a swimsuit or shutting down social media body shamers with humor and bluntness. Now, she's making headlines for her response to a TikTok video about her weight that insinuates it was impacted by dating Justin Bieber.
The clip includes old photos of Gomez with text that reads: "The reason why Selena is always skinny when she dates Justin." It also features a screenshot of what appears to be an old Instagram comment from Gomez, seemingly saying Bieber prefers models. Gomez responded to the TikTok with a single frowning emoji in the comments section of the clip.
Gomez hasn't clarified what she meant by the frowning emoji, but that hasn't stopped thousands of comments from people speculating about the situation. But the main issue that people should be talking about is the problem with the video's existence in the first place. It makes unfounded claims about Gomez's body, weight, and appearance, which is potentially harmful to not only Gomez but also others who see the clip. And the Only Murders In the Building star's recent experience is just one instance of this kind of speculative behavior that impacts people's body image.
Social media is a breeding ground for commentary about celebrities' bodies, despite the fact that someone's appearance is no one's business but their own. The examples are seemingly endless, including speculation about celebrities using diabetes drugs for quick weight loss and online chatter about Chadwick Boseman's changing appearance as he privately battled colon cancer for the last four years of his life. Christina Applegate even felt the need to make a statement about why she looks different in the final season of Netflix's Dead to Me amid her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. And Jonah Hill outright asked people to not comment on his body at all.
Why People Comment On Celebrity Bodies
"Society is full of anti-fat bias and diet culture, and there are many people struggling with disordered eating and body-image issues," explains Jennifer Rollin, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.-C., a therapist and the founder of The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, MD. "I think that people focus on celebrities' weight and body fluctuations as a mirror into their own issues and biases that they might be grappling with. Unfortunately, celebrities can be 'easy targets,' as they are in the public eye and often held to absurd beauty standards."
Because you don't know them personally, it's easy "to talk about celebrities as if they are not humans but rather objects," says Brandi Stalzer L.I.M.H.P., L.M.H.C., L.P.C.C., a licensed counselor and the owner of Stalzer Counseling & Consulting. Unrelenting media narratives mean celebrities are also "constantly under a microscope, especially regarding physical appearance," adds Becka Ross, LCSW, the chief clinical officer at Crisis Text Line.
It might feel so normal, you don't even realize you're doing it, notes Sloane Chmara, a holistic wellness coach. "[People] have a natural tendency to speculate about any and all bodies that [they] see, whether [they're] judging a friend's body, a celebrity's, or [their] own," she says. "Some people judge to make themselves feel better," she adds. For example, if you perceive someone to be "worse off" than you, it may give you an ego boost and make you feel better about yourself, explains Chmara.
The Problem with Making Assumptions About Celebrity
First and foremost, making assumptions about the cause of someone's weight fluctuation or weight in general is often rooted in fatphobia. "Speculating about weight puts value on a particular size [i.e., a pervasive and harmful thin ideal] being preferred over other sizes," says Stalzer.
However, bodies change throughout a person's lifetime and for many reasons, including hormonal changes, mental health, physical health, medication changes, and age, she adds. Still, plenty of people are taught from an early age "to notice bodies and to associate weight with worthiness, beauty, and health," adds Chmara.
Even a seemingly innocuous comment about a famous person's body can have a ripple effect on others who might read it, says Rollin. For instance, it could be harmful to the mental health of a person in a larger body to read criticism about a thin celebrity gaining weight.
"Celebrities are people with feelings and their own private struggles too," she explains. "It's unfair that they often face so much public scrutiny if their bodies change. Just because they have chosen to be in the public eye does not mean that they deserve to get body comments and constant shaming."
How to Set Boundaries IRL and Online
It can be helpful to set boundaries around body talk both in person and online, according to all four pros. For instance, to deal with an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation IRL, you can do your best to shut down a conversation, change the subject, or walk away. This applies whether a conversation is about a celebrity or otherwise.
"When setting boundaries, it's important to avoid judging or critiquing someone back," says Chmara. "Adding fuel to the fire won't help and is unkind."
If it's online body shaming that's bumming you out, Ross has a few helpful tips. You can turn to "positive coping skills that are unique to you," she recommends. "Sometimes that is spending time with friends or a pet, meditating, talking to a therapist, journaling, or taking breaks from social media." (Psst: Selena Gomez sets social media boundaries too.)
Also, try not to bottle up emotions inside, suggests Ross. "Communicate with friends and family about how you're feeling," she says. "Although it can be hard, try not to compare yourself to others and remember to take breaks away from social media when it feels overwhelming."
At the end of the day, "It's not right to comment on anyone's weight or body fluctuations and [it] can be highly damaging to someone's mental health — celebrity or not," says Rollin.