A Tough Talk on Body Image

A Tough Talk on Body Image

4/26/14

Hello everybody, welcome back to Common Culture! Today I want to talk about a sensitive topic—the growing issue of body shaming in the media. The idea for this blog came from an article I read.

If you didn’t read it, the gist of it is that model Cassi Van Den Dungen has had comments made in the past about the seemingly unhealthiness and thinness of her frame, to which she responded with a few Instagram comments saying, “Why are you allowed to love your ‘curves’ but it’s wrong for me to love my ‘bones’? Why is it OK for you to call me anorexic, but horrible for me to call you fat?”

As a naturally skinny girl for the whole of my life, I know what it’s like to have people say, “I hate you. How do you just look like that? How do you eat whatever you want?” I know what it’s like to feel guilty for the metabolism you were naturally given. I know what it’s like to have doctors question how much you’re eating or to imply they know about the eating disorder you’ve obviously got. And I certainly know what it’s like seeing pictures of girls who look just like me on the Internet with captions like, “This isn’t REAL BEAUTY” at the bottom.

In a time where media is so often used to stress what the perfect life is like—the perfect clothes and hair and body—we are all caught between what we are and what we’re supposed to be. As we’ve all been told a million times, these magazines and TV shows and celebrities shouldn’t set any standard for what we’re supposed to look like. But the truth is, they often do. External forces are always pushing against us, and unless you’ve found some way to live inside a bubble, you feel it.

The unfortunate truth is that somewhere along the line, “Skinny is the look” became the mantra of those external forces. Somewhere along the line, the body I was naturally given became the societal goal for beauty. And because that somehow happened, it changed the way I am seen by others and the way I should be able to act according to their standards. It took away my right to have my own judgments on my body because others didn’t think I deserved to complain. It took away my right to be a human with her own issues to conquer and made me an object people can observe and give opinions on: “Look at you! You’re so skinny. I wish I looked like you.” These are judgments under the guise of compliments. And sometimes, it was more than that: “You’re sick. Eat more. You’re ugly; skeletal; bones.”

And suddenly I am right with everyone else—uncomfortable in my own skin, looked at as other than human, feeling objectified and criticized, determined to work on something to fit in better with what I’m supposed to be. Suddenly I’m in the same boat as anyone overweight, anyone average, and certainly with others my size. And let me be clear: I don’t, by any means, think I am perfect. My small frame may be something others wish they had, but I am not perfectly happy with it. I don’t look at myself and feel like those girls in magazines. I am just trying to love myself, much like I’m sure Cassi Van Den Dungen is in spite of continuous comments on her weight.

That’s the point that people seem to miss. No matter the “ideal body” of any given time, everyone is insecure about certain facets of themselves. We are all (or should be) working not to become what we are supposed to, but to be able to look in the mirror and love ourselves. That is what I believe in. I don’t care what you look like, and I try every day to pay less attention to what magazines are telling me I should value in myself and others.

So, in response to Cassi Van Den Dungen’s posts, I don’t think anyone has a right to comment on anyone else’s bodies. Calling a skinny person skinny can be just as harmful as calling a fat person fat. We all have mirrors. We all know what we look like and what we’re “supposed” to look like. And we’re all battling something. So why do we label? Separate the “attractive” from the “not attractive?” Those are just made up ideals that don’t matter, so why do we make it harder on each other to move past them? And why do we feel we have a right to say anything?

People do this under the guise of “concern.” They criticize others, calling them “unhealthy,” which is true in some cases. But for the majority of us, who are not in dire circumstances, we are not on the verge of death. And, therefore, our bodies are no one else’s business but our own. It’s no one’s job to tell us we’re fat or we’re thin, or we should eat less or work out more or take some vitamins or gain weight. What they should tell us is, “You’re normal. We all look different; we’re all born into different genetic situations. That’s OK. That’s life. And you know what? Whatever situation you’re born into, or that you choose to live with, I love you for it. I love your fat; I love your bones; I love you and I want you to love yourself.” That is the best way to inspire self-love in your friends and in your family. That’s something you need to tell yourself every day.

I think it’s time we just stopped talking about others’ bodies. Stop making it our business; stop valuing it as something that defines a person. Stop commenting on every single thing we see, whether or not it is ours to judge. Because we’re all fighting this battle to overcome the ridiculous expectations our world sets up for us—the least we can do for each other is create a supportive, judgment-free environment to try and do so.

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