Body-Shaming and Fat-Shaming: The Cultural Climate

Body-Shaming and Fat-Shaming: The Cultural Climate

Beauty standards are getting increasingly higher and higher (or should I say, thinner and thinner?). Attractiveness, by societal standards, has always relied on aesthetically pleasing features such as facial symmetry. However, what is deemed an attractive body type has changed throughout the ages, from curvy to thin, back and forth; usually, the body type that is viewed as desirable stems from the society’s absence or presence of food – in famines, a larger body type is desirable, whereas in times of culinary excess (such as now), a smaller, more waif-like body type is desirable. The desirable body type usually correlates in some way to “class” status (if your body is large-sized during a famine, obviously you have the resources to obtain a stable food shortage). The waif-like body type that is currently en vogue seems to typify a strict – some would even go so far as to say admirable – sense of willpower and discipline (in the land of plenty, how do you manage to stay so thin?).

With that being said, people’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes. The current standards for what is considered attractive naturally occur for a very small, very fortunate minority of our population. Everyone else is set to this incredibly high standard, a standard that almost inevitably they won’t be able to measure up to. Amid this high-stress environment, comparisons between your body type and someone else’s (or everyone else’s) are bound to happen. “At least I don’t look like that person”, you might say to yourself. After all, we can’t live up to the unreasonably high standards placed upon us of looking like a famed supermodel, actress, or celebrity, but we can definitely make ourselves feel better about our bodies by favorably comparing them to someone else’s body that possesses even less of that deified standard. Thus, we achieve a very temporary moment of body peace, at the risk of another person’s sense of self-worth.

This is not the way things have to be. Body-shaming of all types, including but not limited to fat-shaming, is not the way to escape this conundrum. Just because your body looks different than someone else’s doesn’t make yours any more or less worthy or desirable. These beauty standards are incredibly subjective, and moreover, they tend to ascribe benevolent characteristics to people who are fortunate enough to have the currently desirable body type, and neutral or even malevolent characteristics to the large majority of people who do not possess this body type.

Setting our own standards – not just of what is considered beautiful, but also what is considered healthy and well – is the first step toward freeing ourselves from the shackles of media-imposed cultural norms of physical attractiveness. Broadening our horizons of diversity in body shapes, sizes, and colors proves that, with so much variety out there, how can beauty be defined so narrowly?

This post barely scratches the surface of the larger message that, contrary to popular belief, attractiveness does not equate to self-worth or goodness, but this may be a good place to start. This is an all-encompassing cultural war, but it can be fought battle by battle, step by step, every look in the mirror or glance at another person.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons – Paul Chin

– Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, NCC Therapist in Seattle

2 Comments so far:

  1. Jan says:

    This is a huge issue in our society! It is sad what can happen to people’s self-esteem when they’ve been influenced by what social standards imply. We all need to be more accepting of each other just the way we are.

    • Kristen says:

      Well stated, Jan! It’s upsetting, but often anger can motivate us to be proactive and make real changes. Let’s hope this is a wake-up call for others, too.

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