We would all like to believe that the society we live in today is one that facilitates acceptance and tolerance, but in reality, that is not the case. The social control of women is inherent in our society today, despite these patriarchal ideas being less obvious at first glance. Initially appearing harmless, ideas that undermine women are embedded and effectively hidden in the language surrounding body image as seen in the media. Popular hashtags include #bodygoals, #fattofit, #whoworeitbetter and #revengebody. These seemingly harmless phrases all embody the negative rhetoric towards women by suggesting that the female appearance is ideally carefully manicured to suit societal ideals and or to please men, which it is not.
Body related discrimination manifests in social media culture through various platforms. Instagram is especially guilty of this, as there is a fitness culture with unrealistically formulaic steps to targeted weight loss within the trend of achieving the “perfect body.” The prospect of having what is effectively a blueprint to changing one’s bodily appearance produces immense pressure in individuals to meet wholly unrepresentative standards of beauty.
Body shaming, whether targeted at fuller or lean figures, is one of the forerunners of the toxic psychological impacts of body transformations. Body shaming mirrors a society that capitalizes on the disunity of women. That is, women are expected to endure unhealthy competition on the basis of appearance, and be valued directly in relation to the way they look. This comparison may occur at any stage of life and is catalyzed by social media sensationalism.
For instance, the fact that Blue Ivy and North West are being compared in terms of beauty before they had even reached womanhood is evidence of a society with an underlying toxicity surrounding female body image and beauty standards. Additionally, women are criticized for not returning to their body shape before pregnancy, a horrific indicator of the immense pressures to which the female body is held. Furthermore, the constant comparison of women to one another is symbolic of the objectification of women. We must reject female objectification to empower women by highlighting the fact that appearance is not an indicator of self-worth.
The truth is that skinny is not a universal symbol of health, despite being portrayed as ideal in a world of fat shaming. But it is interesting and important to attempt to identify social expectations that fuel this false notion. What undermines the position of women significantly is the incessant way in which people comment on their weight and shape. This culture of unsolicited advice concerning body size, from anyone from friends and family to your hairdresser needs to be questioned so that we can celebrate all bodies for their diversity and individuality. If we are able to reject the idea that all bodies fit a specific profile in their ideal state, we may eventually eliminate the negative ideas that may reinforce social perceptions that could worsen the condition of those with psychological disorders relating to diet and bodily size.
We have all seen the Instagram posts with ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, usually tracking a bodily journey towards weight loss and presenting losing weight as something that is almost always positive. Such posts assert the flawed notion that there is something fundamentally unattractive about not being thin. In this way, body transformations feed into the toxic psychological impacts of Instagram culture by enabling a negative feedback cycle in which people are made to feel inadequate.
However, many are conscious of the unhealthy process of self-loathing associated with Instagram culture. Individuals have opposed the negative role that body transformations play in an age of seeking validation of personal appearance on social media. Many women have provoked conversation about body image, for instance by posting reverse body transformations, evidencing their defiance of social perceptions of weight. Additionally, many brands including Aerie for American Eagle, have been forward thinking in promoting body positivity. Their recent swim campaign, #aeriereal, with no retouched photos whatsoever, is indicative of an improving counter-culture to exclusive and unrealistic standards of beauty.
The phenomenon of body transformations is unhealthy because it reinforces negative body ideals that police women and keep our bodies under scrutiny. It is important that we all acknowledge the underlying toxicity behind body transformations. If we leave them behind, we may defeat an aspect of misogynistic culture that has limited women for so long: normalized body shaming.
Written by Funmi Lijadu