You might have seen in the news or, at least, online, that ex-playmate Dani Mathers has been charged for sharing a picture in Snapchat. The picture was taken in the gym and was of a 70 year old naked woman, I assume about to take a shower. The caption she added read ‘If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either’.
The model did what any other public figure would do, apologise at the speed of light. Of course, she did so after considerable backlash, something that many won’t overlook. Others recognise and accept her apology, some saying there was ‘no malice’. I could argue for or against that point. Mathers explained she was new to Snapchat and didn’t realise she was making it public. I don’t really believe that, but that’s just me. In any case, I’m not going to stand on either side of that particular issue in this article, I just feel it’s touching on a problem that has shaped, is and will be shaping the adult lives of many generations. That issue is bullying. Because what’s body shaming if not a type of bullying?
We do live, however, in a time with a greater awareness of bullying and there is more being done today to suppress bullying than ever before. There is also a large amount of research being carried out on the subject, mostly on the effect on victims, both on the short-term and the long-term. To be honest, though, I didn’t need a study to tell me bullying had long-term effects in children, lasting until their adulthood. I see it in myself every time I have to face a new situation. I can’t help but imagine people are going to be mean to me and I prepare mentally for it, imagining how I will react or answer. I still have to encounter an occasion in which somebody is mean to me in one of these new situations. Unfortunately, the times people have been awful to me, for one reason or another, have always taken me off-guard.
This said, for all this awareness and these studies, they are mostly directed to children. It is logical and indeed the right thing to do, but it is forgetting about another big part of the population who can also be bullied and, as seen above, are bullied, adults.
I read in an article that bullying is a type of abuse and also a narcissistic sort of action (Dumbeck, 2016). The narcissistic part hit a nerve for me, especially regarding body shaming. Dumbeck, a Ph. D in psychology, continues to explain that by this he doesn’t mean every bully is narcissistic and, indeed, that it doesn’t apply to children since they don’t have the maturity to understand individual needs and differences the way adults do. So it does to adults. Indeed, I find it easy to apply this concept to body shaming. At the end of the day, if I point at somebody and make fun of the way they look, I must believe I look better, and hence gain in self-esteem by putting them down. This is, of course, a very fragile sort of narcissism, one that requires stepping over others in order to be assured of their superiority.
And body shaming comes in all flavours. There is body shaming because people are too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, saggy, ugly, old, wrinkled, muscly. We can’t pretend either that this is new, it’s just that now, with the Internet, shaming people is a public affair. Whether it’s the woman in the gym above or a mum who left her child in the car while she ran into the shop, people feel the civic duty to take pictures of these things and publicly point the finger. And they don’t care what the consequences for these people are. Some people have had to move and hire companies to bury the pictures or whatever it is that was published about them. And this tells us something else about shaming. There are bullies, yes, but these bullies have a public. This public are the online trolls we hear so much about as well as loads of people who might not point the finger themselves, but will gladly add their voice to the mass. In the Internet, like in mobs and riots, there is no individual responsibility. Or at least that’s the way people seem to think about it.
And body shaming can take even the most innocuous forms. And you might think that I am taking it too far, but hear me out. A few years ago I remember hearing a story about Jennifer Hudson. On the red carpet she was once asked how did she feel being a ‘plus size’ actress in Hollywood, or something of the sort. Jennifer Hudson, the story goes, had never given a second thought to her size and had never even thought about herself as ‘plus size’. Next thing you know, she went and lost weight, which is wonderful if that’s what she wanted, of course. But – and assuming the story is true, because it might just be that, a story – what was the need of that reporter to ask that question? Whether the story is true or not, it is easy to imagine that, for somebody with no issue with their size, pointing it out in such a public way might make them rethink their body image and make changes because of that. Or they might let that comment haunt them and become the voice in your head. After all, as Barbra Streisand’s said in the movie The Mirror has Two Faces, it would have never occurred to her that she wasn’t pretty if her family hadn’t told her so. The Internet seems to have allowed for an amount of incivility to go unchecked and unpunished.
Now, bullying in children can be helped but I don’t believe it will ever be eliminated. As adults, however, we should know better. Body shaming comes from a long tradition of pointing at people in the street and on magazines. Those magazines actually encourage it although now some stars rebel against it. Amy Schumer was included in a list of ‘plus size’ performers by Glamour magazine. She responded by doing a nude cover, later adding in a speech that her weight didn’t hinder her manhunting abilities. Good for you, Amy. What I want to know, though, is why in the name of Narcissus did Glamour magazine have to have a list of ‘plus size’ performers as opposed to a list of comedians, a list of singers, etc… Melissa McCarthy made that point in an Instagram post where she said: ‘We have to stop categorizing and judging women based on their bodies’.
And the same magazines will shame the start for being too thin. And not only women. Val Kilmer, after years of being judged for his size, lost weight. And then they criticised him for being too thin.
The bottom line is, there is no winning. You are going to be too fat, or too thin and since everybody has different ideas of what being ‘right’ looks like, there is always going to be somebody to point the finger. The only solution I can find is be who you are, concentrate on what makes up you as a person and not what you look like. And have compassion, compassion towards yourself and towards others. That and the golden rule, of course.