Body shame is not limited to how skinny or fat you think you are. When we think about it, there is an ideal of beauty for almost every part of our body. So we might be comfortable with our body weight, but we might be ashamed of our nose, our eyebrows, our legs, our feet, our nails, our eyes, our cheeks, our butt, our chest, or any other part of our body.
Body shame is the result of a years-long series of marketing campaigns that benefit from the idea that we are not pretty enough, that we need a certain something to look pretty.
The problem with body shaming in the fashion industry (and in our society as a whole) is that it can be challenging to measure quantitatively how much the industry has moved away from it and how much it is still being promoted through campaigns, size ranges, and visual components across social media platforms, catalogs, dress forms, and store displays. A similar phenomenon is happening with sustainability, because fashion companies might claim to be sustainable when it is hard to measure progress made.
Body shame doesn’t always look the same because fashion is changing constantly. Beauty standards may emphasize cheekbones for a couple of years. Then everything is about having strong looking abs. We’ve also been through the era when small breasts were considered attractive, and things changed after a couple of fashion weeks. Some people are constantly aware of these beauty ideals and may modify their body in order to meet these standards. From bleaching their hair and their eyebrows to getting plastic surgery, many of these decisions come from a place of not feeling pretty, special, or attractive enough to be in a certain place.
Body shaming affects us all because of the continuous change of ideals of beauty. Some folks are more vulnerable than others, especially when their social circle shames their body. Several studies have found that kids’ insecurities about their bodies, more often than not, are a result of conversations happening at home. “Hey, kid, you gained a couple of pounds this summer.” “Your legs are so skinny that you look silly.” “Your breasts are too big for a girl like you. Cover them so that boys don’t try to kiss you”. There are about five things wrong in the last example, but the goal is for us to understand how broad of a concept body shame is and how it can affect people of all ages and folks of all backgrounds.
We don’t need a person in front of us telling us that something is wrong with our bodies in order to be victims of body shame. In our world, there are several microaggressions that are part of our daily routine. We’ve ended up normalizing some of these microaggressions as part of the way things work, but that doesn’t mean they should be this way.
When we sit on a train or a plane, the size of the seat establishes the standardized size of a body. Folks who don’t fit on these seats feel bad about themselves, and those who sit next to them feel uncomfortable as well. When we go to a clothing store, a specific size range is already pre-selected for us, claiming that there is something wrong with our body if none of these sizes fit our body. Some folks have managed to find their go-to places that carry plus-size fashion and fit their body nicely. But there are others who are not as lucky and have to get their clothes made, or they end up doing it themselves.
These are the kind of aggressions that are often clearer to understand and recognize. Social media has facilitated the traffic of insults against several groups of people, including plus-size models, celebrities, and other social media users. Prejudices against this group of people include the misleading idea that all fat people are unhealthy and that all of them are fat because “that’s what they want to be.”
Another form of macro aggression is being rejected from a place because of your body type. This can be a trendy club, a restaurant, a store, a spa, a waiting room at the airport, or any other space. Unfortunately, it’s very common for fat folks to get rejected after applying for a job due to their body type. Especially in jobs where they focus on impressing the customers with a very specific image. Some of these jobs would be sales associates at clothing stores, receptionists, bartenders, tour guides, etc. Body diversity is still a very small topic in a lot of industries.
Fashion Weeks & Fatphobia
The last New York fashion week, from February 10 to February 15, had an interesting twist. The plus-size fashion models that walked on the runway in previous seasons, and gave hope of a more body-inclusive future of fashion, were gone. With the exception of a few fashion shows, it seems as if the last decade pushing boundaries for body inclusivity didn’t happen.
Fashion is cyclical. Trends go in and out of style. The standards of beauty that were relevant in the 1990s are no longer relevant. So if diversity and plus-size fashion started to be relevant in the second decade of the 21st century, does that mean they are no longer relevant in today’s world? Has the progress towards body diversity accomplished in the last decade been left as something that is “no longer cool”? What does that mean for emerging plus-size fashion designers and for plus-size consumers?
Celebrities & Beauty Ideals
In the last year, the entertainment industry has been elevating a movement celebrating weight loss. Remember how Kim Kardashian shared proudly that she lost 16 pounds in three weeks to fit in Marilyn Monroe‘s dress at the Met Gala in May of last year?
Kim was once a leader who opened the doors in the fashion world for curvy bodies. Through her shapewear line, she is still a huge advocate for this matter. However, if she loses a considerable amount of pounds in a short period of time with the goal of fitting in a dress, fans and followers may follow similar actions. Weight loss is being glamourized and compensated with praises and celebrations, even if we don’t know how healthy or unhealthy the strategies to make this weight loss happen.
Another important aspect to consider is the increased popularity of weight loss drugs. The market for weight loss drugs is growing significantly because celebrities celebrate through social media the consumption of weight loss pills. Whether there are sponsors behind these stories, or it’s simply a genuine attempt of recommendation, people of different ages are seeing their favorite celebrity on social media taking pills to lose weight. And if these social media users are tempted to lose weight due to body shaming in their social circle or peer pressure to “fit in”, it’s very likely they will end up consuming these pills with no prescription or awareness of what this process entails.
The problem is that one in three American adults fit the definition of obese. There are people who need these pills for health reasons, but the demand for weight loss pills triggered by vanity reasons is making the supply of these drugs.
The word “fat” still carries a lot of stigmas. Some folks see it as an insult. Some others are reclaiming this concept stating it describes their body type and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that.
There’s also the misconception that being fat is always related to being unhealthy. But following this logic would mean that every skinny person is healthy, which we know it’s not true.
Rebecca Pujl, the deputy director of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and her colleagues, state that weight is the primary reason why children suffer bullying in school. The study finds that the bullies are not just classmates but also teachers and for some of the kids, their parents. We cannot control every message that comes from out TV, but we can select the channels we watch. We cannot change what the magazines say or suggest about our bodies, but can be more careful about the magazines we choose. Similarly, we cannot control what the ideals of beauty are out in the streets, but can pay attention to the conversations family members and friends are having with us at our dinner table. Sometimes the messages that we internalize and that carry the most weight in our brain and our heart, is those messages that come from the people who we are the closest to.
We cannot make body shame disappear in one day or from one fashion week to the other. But what we can do starting today is raise our voices as consumers about this political matter in fashion. Body shame is political fashion, and the best and most political fashion statement to make today, is to be comfortable in your own skin despite what the people around you are implying.