When I was 17, I was stupid enough to give a friend of mine who was trying to lose weight this advice “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” This was stupid for a number of reasons but the three most important ones were 1) I had always been naturally skinny and had never experienced how hard dieting really is; 2) it was unhelpful–how was me saying this going to help her lose weight?; 3) my friend was already trying very, very hard to lose weight–she didn’t need this smug reminder from a skinny girl who never worked a day in her life (at that age anyways) to maintain or lose weight.
Fast-forward 8 years and I have been up and down on the scale for a number of reasons–exams in college that led to stress eating, a deep depression after a break-up where I lost 40 pounds, moving to another country, going on and off birth-control in between serious boyfriends–basically just living life–has personally taught me my lesson about shaming other people’s eating habits or thinking that I knew or understood their struggle and had the right to comment on it. Losing weight is hard–really hard, and I definitely know that now.
Sadly, I think that popular culture and corporate America (both of which take a great interest in policing women’s bodies because there is money to be made from it) have only gotten worse about shoving weight loss down everyone’s throats. Through the use of Instagram and other social media platforms I have started to notice a disturbing trend of normalizing the moral superiority of clean eating and shaming those who fail to do so.
I don’t really like it when people go on diets to be thin and then want to claim moral superiority for it…I also don’t like — some people, not everyone does this — the smugness that goes with it. Everyone is entitled to eat as they wish. I don’t mind at all, as long as nobody stops me eating what I want. I would never interfere with anyone else’s eating patterns.
Lawson goes on to suggest that clean-eating has become indicative of a view that finds eating dirty, shameful, impure, and something to disapprove of or to fear. And while, of course the larger “health & fitness” community on social media does not intend to put others down, it is getting harder to ignore posts like this one, which prove Lawson’s statement to be true:
Posts like this one are smug, nasty, and just plain mean. There is no room to suggest that the author “means well” or is trying to “motivate” others towards a healthy lifestyle–none, zero. And while Instagram shares common features with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the image-sharing-only platform seems to be the social media platform with the most body shaming.
Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic at the New York Times, wrote an entire article on this called Instagram Has Become a Body-Image Battleground. In her article Friedman explains that social media platforms in general have become a soapbox for the Body Image issue because body shaming, on Instagram especially, has become so rampant:
It makes sense, after all, since body image, while a psychological issue, begins with optics, and Instagram is first and foremost an optical platform.
Super Model Gigi Hadid made waves just a few weeks ago when she posted this on Instagram in response to thousands of people mocking her on the social media platform after she had walked in numerous fashion shows for Fall Fashion Week 2015:
Hadid’s post was in response to comments like these:
“You gained weight didnt you, @gigihadid?”
“Why do her arms look so big? Has she been lifting?”
“Money may buy you a career sad [sic] money can’t buy you a good walk or body.”
Instagram, and the whole social media body shaming movement in general, seems to be picking up where magazines like these left off.
Ironically, it was magazine’s like these (Cosmopolitan, to be exact) where my 17-year-old self found that quote “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Not that I don’t take credit for saying those words, I do. But, I highly doubt I would have thought of them myself, at the age of seventeen where I was fortunately more preoccupied with going to school, applying for college, and just being a kid in general than focusing on dieting and mass sex appeal. I also want to point out that it was most likely magazines like these that made my friend, who was also 17 at that time, feel like she even needed to be on a diet in the first place.
My point? Social media is a powerful tool, especially for young women who are extra susceptible to the messages being sent by popular culture, just as I was at 17. I see girls as young as 10 liking my page and following me on Instagram, and I know what they see on my page or on any page impacts them more than they realize. Don’t send these young girls–or anybody– messages about how they “should” look, or how their bodies “should be.” If you’re healthy, great! Seriously, more power to you! But there is no need to put others down, shame, or act like you have experienced someone else’s struggle. Men and women are struggling daily to feel good about their bodies in a world where these very insecurities are profitable–very profitable–so don’t contribute to that cycle. Keep it positive, we’re all in this together!