A five-year-old girl walks into her kitchen one morning and sees one of her mother’s magazines lying on the table. Out of curiosity and a desire to feel like a “grown-up,” she decides to indulge in what she sees so many other women reading around her. Inside, she finds images of tall, stick-thin women, half-naked, modeling the latest lingerie to “keep your man interested,” articles about “dieting success stories,” advertisements for “how to lose forty pounds in three easy steps,” and “tips for hiding your imperfections.”
At this moment, a five-year-old girl learns that she should feel ashamed of her body if it doesn’t look exactly like the “perfect” women in that magazine.
Fast forward ten years and this same little girl is now a depressed teenager who feels completely isolated from her peers who tease her about her “muffin top” without ever realizing that she skips breakfast (and sometimes lunch) every day in an attempt to flatten her tummy. The media tells her that she is “overweight” because she’s not a size double zero and, though she weighs a healthy one hundred and twenty pounds, when she looks in the mirror, she sees an obese blob staring back at her. Her parents justify her behaviour by saying “this is just how teenagers are; this is just a phase.” Little do they know, their daughter’s “phase” will soon turn into her becoming part of the statistic that one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
So, why do we do it? Why do we enjoy reading article after article about how to lose the most weight in the least amount of time or watching TV shows where the overweight character is the butt of most of the jokes? Why do we instantly judge another person the second we lay eyes on them based on the size of their body? Who are we to decide who is “too skinny” or “too fat?”
Why are we addicted to the idea that “sexy” and “beautiful” are only achievable when our ribs are showing? Why do we willingly offer up our hard-earned money to the newest control-top jeans and the latest celebrity-approved diet pill? Why do we say, “that person must not care about their appearance; they don’t even have the self-control to manage their weight”? When did “plus-size models” become women with a little bit of curves and a larger bust? Why do we have to compete with each other and constantly make each other feel self-conscious about our perfectly normal bodies?
In this new age of technology, it is easier than ever to shame women about their “imperfections.” We are all guilty of it. With a few taps of a button, we have posted a comment about how “that outfit makes her look like a beached whale,” screenshot a picture of said outfit, and started a private conversation with our friends, making fun of her misfortunes – all from the comfort of the glow from our phones.
It's like second nature to us; the evolution of social media has warped us so much that we don’t even realize that we are bullies. The media makes it so easy to separate ourselves from the people we are degrading so that we don’t have to feel any guilt for making someone else feel bad. It has become a bonding experience with our friends to criticize aspects of our own bodies that we don’t approve of. We have been told time and again that we are flawed, so we search for any kind of flaw in everyone else in order to bear living with our own “blemished figures”. We believe that we’re only teasing – “how was I supposed to know she was actually self-conscious about her disproportionate nose?” – and it’s all fun and games to us, but when did it become a fun pastime to humiliate another person for things they can’t control?
So let’s end it now; let’s focus on self-love rather than self-mutilation. An incredible article from the Huffington Post came to my attention a few months ago that started with the line: “How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.” The essence of the post was ultimately telling parents, don’t say anything about her body – good or bad – and don’t talk about other women’s bodies either; instead, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body. Don’t talk about how much you hate your own body in front of her and never allow her to believe that “carbs are evil.”
If we, as strong, confident women, take a stand and stop investing so much of our time into TV shows and magazines and self-help guides that only make us feel worse about ourselves, the industry that was created to steal the money of the insecure would become obsolete. Maybe it’s too late for our generation – we’ve already been so influenced by social media and the people around us that we can’t reverse the “diet mentality” in ourselves – but maybe it isn’t.
Maybe instead of making each other feel awful about ourselves, we decide that we are going to help one another find peace with the body we’ve been given. I hope that one day I can say I was a part of the last generation of body-shamers. We need to instil in every little girl the belief that she is perfect exactly the way she is. She was created to climb mountains or save lives or carry children or all of the above or maybe none of the above. How about we make a pact to ourselves and to each other that, instead of focusing on all the things we don’t like about our bodies, we decide to just love everyone – wholly, completely, and unconditionally? Let’s work to create a world where no five-year-old girl ever feels ashamed of who she is meant to be.