“I can’t believe you don’t have a thigh gap": #everydaylookism and why we should be ashamed to body shame.

Fat shaming is the most prevalent type of body shaming – so common that some argue it’s OK, ‘it’s for your own good’, or suggest that it should make a comeback (like it has gone anywhere). In a visual culture where our bodies are ourselves, a claim I make in Perfect Me, body shaming is people shaming. Body size and shape is something we worry about to the point of obsession. Many of us struggle to be thin, with most of us (84.1% in a study of 9,667 Western women) “wanting to be thinner” according to the YouBeauty survey (Swami, Tran, Stieger, Voracek & The YouBeauty.com Team, 2014, p.705).

So dominant is the ‘thin ideal’ that 59% of girls between 17-21 feel they should lose weight (Girls Attitudes Survey, 2016). And this figure is higher according to some studies, with the Body Image Center, reporting that “89% of girls have dieted by age 17”. That we feel shame of our size is clear, so ashamed that we admit to lying about it; 8% of UK women admit to having “lied to [their] partner about [their] actual dress size”, saying it is smaller than it is (YouGov, 2012). 

But it’s a certain type of thin which is required – thin with curves being globally dominant – and many who are thin are dissatisfied too. Fat and thin are contested concepts. We are in an age of obesity: “28.7% of adults in England are obese and a further 35.6% are overweight,” according to a recent House of Commons briefing paper (Baker, 2019, p.4). Yet at the same time, we have a dramatic rise in the number of eating disorders. Approximately “1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder” (Beat, n.d.). And these figures are rising. Hospital admissions for eating disorders have more than doubled “from 7,260 in 2010-11 to 16,023 in the year to April 2018” (Guardian, 2019).

Body shaming and bullying is part of this, and 15% of 12-20 year olds who were “bullied with the last 12 months developed an eating disorder" (Ditch the label, 2018). The pressure might be particularly acute on young women, but it is not only the young who feel this pressure - “as many as 8% of women have bulimia at some stage in their life” (Anorexia & Bulimia Care, n.d). This is a significant proportion of women, and the figures are only going one way. Fat shaming is cruel, but very familiar, and is the most commonly shared set of stories on #everydaylookism.












































A variation on a theme – you could be pretty if you only weren’t fat.

And this isn’t just strangers or people who want to hurt you. Sometimes it’s from loved ones:


 And in case you thought it was just fat shaming that was an issue – you could not be more wrong. In a world where ‘thin with curves’ dominates, the ‘you can’t be too rich or too thin’ mantra isn’t true. Look at some of these #everydaylookism stories:
 

 

 And this starts really really young. One study shows that “by age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.” (Smolak cited in National Eating Disorders Association, 2012). Our stories bear this out:
These #everydaylookism stories show just how extensive body shame is. Size and shape are the most common stories we receive. Too thin or too fat, we can be shamed. Body shaming is not trivial, unimportant, banter or fun. A look at the #everydaylookism stories shows this clearly. Shaming is deeply distressing, it stays with you and can be defining of who you are. Body shaming is people shaming. In an age where our bodies are ourselves, body shame is literally being ashamed of ourselves. Shaming who other people are is not OK, and this is what we seek to call out in the #everydaylookism project.

Ending body shaming won’t instantly stop us feeling like we don’t measure up or can’t make the grade. But it will help. It will reduce our fear of being embarrassed and ashamed in public. This will reduce the pressure. It will put the shame where it belongs – on the perpetrator, not the victim. We think those who make sexist comments are wrong and should be ashamed, so should those who make lookist comments.

One by one, each #everydaylookism story helps to pile on the pressure to end body shaming. Alone every individual experience is sad and uncomfortable, together they are powerful and a call to action. Together they show how prevalent body shaming is and how important stopping it is. It should be unacceptable to make negative comments about appearance, irrespective of context or intention.

Join your voice with ours, share your stories with the #everydaylookism campaign. Don’t be sad, kick back against lookism, let’s show just how devastating body shaming is. Share your stories with us at everydaylookism.bham.ac.uk and share the campaign. Together we can make a difference.

Heather Widdows, Author of Perfect Me and Professor in Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham
Jessica Sutherland, Research Assistant and Global Ethics PhD student at the University of Birmingham

Bibliography:
Baker, C. (2019) Obesity Statistics. House of Commons Library Briefing Paper no. 3336. London: House of Commons Library. [Online] [Accessed on 18th December, 2019] https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN03336
National Eating Disorders Association, 2012. What Are Eating Disorders?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/ResourceHandouts/GeneralStatistics.pdf [Accessed 18 December 2019].
Swami, V., Tran, U. S., Stieger, S., Voracek, M. & The YouBeauty.com Team. (2015) Associations Between Women’s Body Image and Happiness: Results of the YouBeauty.com Body Image Survey (YBIS). Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(3), pp. 705-718.

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