Why terms like ‘plus-sized’ and ‘size zero’ need to be buried

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It’s time women learn to love their own bodies and shun the practice of body shaming once and for all.

In a recent blog post, singer and popular icon Rihanna was slammed for being fat and making it a new trend. In the writer’s exact words, Rihanna had been “enjoying that good room service a bit too long,” leaving him wondering if she was “going for Ashley Graham's spot on the plus-sized hierarchy” in a tone that only suggested his disdain for the same.

Rihanna responded to the blog in her characteristic don’t-mess-with-me style, and the outrage over the post meant it had to be pulled down.

British singer Adele too had long ago told off body shamers by saying her singing was all that mattered.

However, the only reason the masses even recognised the ‘wrong’ in body shaming was that it was directed at celebrities, who themselves mostly stand as the ‘ideal’ of what is acceptable for a feminine body.

In simpler terms, celebrities too adhere to a definition of a ‘perfect body’, which they propagate through themselves. However, when icons like Rihanna and Adele begin to change this norm, even in the slightest way, the impact of speaking out against body shaming can indeed be huge.

Body shaming isn’t just restricted to celebrities—all of us have experienced it at some point or the other. A lot of us may relate to ‘casual’ body shaming that sometimes even our closest friends and family subject us to without realising the impact it has on our mental health. Some of you may even be shaming yourselves.

What most people don’t realise is that when they indulge in body shaming, they wreak havoc on one’s self-worth and self-confidence. The most agonising part of all of this is how normal it has become.

Women face it more than men

According to research, women are more likely to be subjected to body shaming than men. In addition, women, especially those with a BMI of 30–35, are three times more likely to report discrimination against their weight in comparison to male peers of a similar weight.

Why do women fall for it?

Since childhood, women are drilled into their heads the need to have a certain kind of ‘feminine’ figure, which will entice men.

The entire ’36-24-36’ concept just goes to show how society, as directed by men, has arrived at what the ‘ideal woman’ needs to look like. Recently, a controversy over a CBSE textbook citing this figure as ‘ideal’ for women invited severe backlash with the Delhi Police filing an FIR against the publisher.

What is body shaming?

Body shaming is the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size. That is how the Oxford Dictionary defines it.

In general, body shaming has often been considered synonymous with fat shaming, almost exclusively. As a result, however, the fight against it has mostly been restricted to women being ruthlessly called ‘overweight’.

While campaigns fighting slurs against curvy or large-built women have become quite popular, within the media as well, the same have barely been orbited around women occupying the other end of the spectrum.

In fact, with celebrities like Kim Kardashian making popular the idea of women with ‘big booties’, the world has become a tad bit more tolerant of women who do not meet society’s requirements of having the right kind of ‘slim’, though far from accepting it readily.

On the other hand, women are often told that they are ‘lucky’ to face jokes on being skinny because it’s so much better than being called fat. But for women who have often had their bodies compared to those of men, or worse, sticks, the psychological impact is substantially the same. Just like a woman should never be made to feel bad about being ‘overweight’ by society’s standards, she should definitely not be made to feel any lesser for being ‘underweight’.

How to combat body shaming coming your way

According to a survey, about 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting, and 80 percent of these women state that the media portrayals of women with ‘perfect bodies’ make them feel insecure about their own.

The first step towards stopping body shaming is to start with yourself. Research suggests that when individuals are confident in their own bodies, they are less prone to judge others on the basis of the same. This is because we tend to judge others when they have failed to meet our own set expectations. So when your ‘unfit’ aunt chides you on your weight or lack thereof on the pretext of “only looking out for your health,” it is possibly because she has failed to meet her own expectation of this body standard as well.

“The society today is very singular in terms of its beauty standards. To be able to match certain beauty/body standards, people face immense physical and emotional stress which can trigger mental conditions ranging from low self-esteem to depression to eating disorders, compulsive exercise regimes, etc. A stigma attached with mental health leads to denial of these disorders as well as people directly agreeing to such insecurities, as they fear judgement by others. One should be able to talk about their insecurities openly or at least consult the right professionals in order to get beneficial suggestions. The key is not only self-acceptance but also to adopt a healthy lifestyle for oneself and not to please others,” says Vandana Cecil, a student who recently completed her master’s in psychology.

Social change

While we challenge body shaming and deal with it at the personal level, it is also important to address it at the societal level.

“The media and society promote unrealistic body expectations. Social media, especially Instagram, has become a platform for encouraging a body image that is probably only possible to achieve through surgery, tons of makeup, or Photoshop. But it’s managing to generate insecurities. As long as someone’s healthy, their physical appearance should not matter. So many young girls and boys are bullied and find it difficult to love their bodies because others are telling them they aren’t perfect,” says Nikitha Sattiraju, 22, who recently graduated from XIC, Mumbai.

People need to stop promoting society’s idea of the way a woman should look, and the easiest way to do this is to reach out to the developers behind the ads, movies, magazines, and television shows—the greatest mass influencers—to help promote and celebrate women of all shapes and sizes.

A 2015 study found that 40 percent of teenage females have eating disorders—including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating—on account of wishing to attain the ‘perfect body’ or eating their frustrations away when they can’t.

To counter this, celebrities, brands, and trendsetters should use their social media platforms to speak out against body shaming and celebrate women of all colours and sizes.

While the idea of changing popular culture to promote and celebrate men and women of all sizes equally is ideal at best, the real change needs to begin with the individual and their own mindset. Stop shaming yourself based on the judgement of others.

Consequently, stop judging others based on the standards you have set for them or yourself. Stop cracking fat jokes, or skinny jokes, on the pretext of ‘good humour’. Stop comparing yourself to the Instagram models that pop up on your homepage and do not set them as your ideal for the perfect body. Love yourself and your body, every perfect imperfection of it. Look in the mirror and feel good about what you see, because it is you, in all your unapologetic glory. Be yourself and shut down those stereotypes, because you’re perfect #JustTheWayYouAre. And don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

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