As children, we’re generally in harmony with our bodies, and how we perceive ourselves. As we grow older, for better or for worse, our friends, our families, society, and the media start to shape how we view ourselves. What happens when these external parties negatively shape how we view ourselves and our bodies? And beyond that, what happens when they actively tell us our bodies are not good enough? That we’re too fat, too short, too dark, or otherwise less than “perfect”, and that we should be ashamed for not meeting this standard of “perfection”?
This was the topic discussed during “Eloquence: Say No to Body Shaming”, a webinar organised by Rotaract Club of Athugalpura and the Interact Club of Girls’ High School Kandy, with a panel of respected personalities weighing in on the issue. The panel consisted of fashion designer and creative consultant Jude Gayantha, model and content creator Amandha Amarasekera, and Interact District Council 3220 former ILT Chairperson Nileshi Harasgama.
Why is body shaming so prevalent?
The panel spoke about why body shaming is so prevalent, with Gayantha explaining that as a society, we Sri Lankans are very comfortable making comments about the appearance of other people, whether people we know or strangers. The act of posting a simple photo on social media is now an opportunity for people to criticise and body shame you, Gayantha noted, adding that our society has not yet reached a point where we can collectively and consciously decide to refrain from unwelcome commentary.
The panel also commented that it was important to understand that, in many cases, this unwelcome commentary is initiated by people who themselves are unhappy and insecure with their own bodies, and this is often part of why they comment on the appearance of others.
The impact of body shaming
Each member of the panel shared that they had all struggled with their appearance and weight in their younger years, and that the consequences of being body shamed at a young age can often have a far-reaching impact.
In Amarasekera’s case, as a teenager, he was overweight, and while this didn’t bother him personally growing up, body shaming first crossed his mind when he approached a girl for the first time and was rejected for being too fat – an instance which led to over 12 years of struggling with body and self-image issues, despite making an active lifestyle change, pursuing fitness aggressively, and going on to become a successful model, even winning the title of Mr. International 2018.
Being body shamed creates emotional wounds that are very difficult to heal, with Gayantha sharing that every day, on some level, we hear it from ourselves, or from someone who doesn’t need to be weighing in that our bodies are not good enough. This does have a significant and long-lasting impact on how we view ourselves as adults, he pointed out, adding that when styling clients, their biggest concerns are always along the lines of what other people will think of their style choices, and if they look fat.
The panel shared the consensus that it is normal to feel insecure about your body as an adult; even if you say you don’t care about what people say, an unintentional comment can still very much impact how you feel about your appearance, even in the short term.
Body shaming vs concern: Where does the line get blurred?
The panel also discussed how often (but not always), when it comes to body shaming, the person making a comment is attempting to convey concern about someone’s health and encourage a healthier lifestyle, or general improvement in appearance, but this can often be misconstrued.
Amaeraskera stressed the importance of understanding what kind of message you’re trying to convey when commenting on someone’s appearance. It’s also up to how the other person receives it. Often, comments are made out of spite, and are also received as such, and it is up to the person receiving these comments to make that call and decide if the message is malicious, or one of concern, noting that sometimes it does take a word of concern from someone close to help you realise you need to make a change.
Harasgama, speaking on girls and unintentional body shaming, shared her opinion on hurtful comments, explaining that there is a thick line between advising somebody, and shaming them to the point where they want to change how they look. She added that if your comments cause someone to fall out of love with themselves and feel uncomfortable in their own skin, it’s never acceptable. She encouraged people making comments to think about how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them, before proceeding with imparting the message.
The panel also discussed the other aspects of body shaming, explaining that body shaming is not simply limited to fat shaming. It extends to colourism and the shaming of dark skin, portrayals in media and advertising of the largely unattainable perfect body or face or hair, the misrepresentation of reality bred by social media contributing to feelings of inadequacy, and also to gender roles, with the panel vocally stating that shaming people who present themselves differently, particularly in terms of their sexual identities, is a very serious form of body shaming that needs to be addressed immediately.
Dealing with body shaming
Overcoming body shaming is a difficult road. Amarasekera shared that it is vital that everyone be their own biggest supporter. This being said, it is also important to not be in denial, and to be able to understand when there is, in fact, an issue that you need to work on. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are major health issues that should be avoided, and if your health is at risk, then it is necessary to take a lifestyle change and actively fight the problem.
The panel also stressed empathy to those who perpetrate body shaming, explaining that this negativity comes from a place of disturbance within the perpetrators themselves, and that you, as a victim, can choose to rise above, see the truth if there is any, and better yourself – or just ignore the attempts at shaming altogether, and refuse to give other people the power to hurt you.