August 18, 2019 | 83° F

COUTO: We need to come together to end body shaming

Opinions Column: Through the Looking Glass

Fact: Spring break is less than two weeks away. Also a fact: Women will be slaving away at the gym and watching their portion sizes in an effort to look "fit" in a set of overpriced Victoria’s Secret bikinis. In light of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I think it’s important to have an open discussion not only about eating disorders, but why most cases occur in the first place.

It’s no secret that our society praises thinness, and personally, I believe a fundamental culprit in the body shaming epidemic is none other than the illustrious dieting industry. Every day there’s a new article on the latest fad diet, self-made "fitness gurus" are constantly shoving their unrealistic meal plans down our throats, and it’s almost impossible to watch more than 30 minutes of TV without witnessing a cringe-worthy advertisement showcasing a new weight-loss method that is likely a scam. So how does one combat eating disorders when we live in a world that profits from them?

The dieting industry is, sadly, a tremendously successful market. And while in recent years there has been a greater effort to fight against the unrealistic standards for women’s bodies (with the likes of models such as Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence speaking up about the need for representation of "all" body types), the truth is we are not even close to where we need to be. I think it’s safe to assume that most women have felt insecure about their bodies at one time or another, but am I wrong to say that — because of today’s excessive scrutinization with "the female figure" — many women’s bodily insecurities are so severe that it’s likely hindering their quality of life? I remember the first time I felt like my body was somehow wrong or inadequate: I was 9 years old, hanging out at a friend’s house after school while we all gorged ourselves on candy and ice cream. As I reached for a second helping of the sugary concoction, one of my so-called "friends"’ turned to me and said, “You know, you really shouldn’t eat anymore. Your thighs are fat enough as they are.” I felt as though as I’d been slapped. 

Even at such a young age I understood that being overweight was unfavorable not because of the increased health risks, but because it was considered "ugly." How did I "know" that? I don’t recall any preoccupations with diets and body image issues before a certain age, so how did I understand that my "friend" meant her comment as a deprecating gesture? The only logical answer I’ve been able to muster is that "the thin ideal" has been so internalized through its constant portrayal in the media that we don’t even realize how unsound it truly is. And because we live in a world where media is as pervasive as such impractical standards, it’s no wonder so many young girls grow up to believe that they are not good enough. It’s sad, really, that women’s bodies are the source of so much unnecessary debate and criticism both online and off. We are constantly told, either directly or implicitly, that our bodies have to fit a certain Westernized idea of beauty. Women are expected to be a walking contradiction: Be sexually appealing, yet refrain from engaging in sexual activities. We should be thin, but still maintain our curves. In other words, being a "real woman" according to society’s standards is basically impossible. 

While the movement for body positivity — which has gained momentum in recent years — is undoubtedly a positive development, it still places a fixation on women’s bodies. Obviously, the need for authentic representation is important to combat the negative expectations that women’s bodies have been inadequately set to, but the problem with this obsessive concentration with the female body is, in my opinion, unhealthy whether it’s a preoccupation of negative or positive intentions. With so many more pressing issues happening in the world, how have we become so self-absorbed that we’ve resorted to instructing people on the "right" amount to eat or the "appropriate" way to look? How does it help society to teach girls — half of the world’s population — that they aren’t good enough because their thighs touch or they don’t fit into a size 0? Conversely — due to the recent backlash against "the thin ideal" and the increasing support for the "real women have curves" movement — why did it suddenly become okay to shun women who, no matter how hard they try to please society’s warped expectations, are simply naturally skinny and cannot obtain the "right kind of curves?" It’s about time we stopped glorifying diets, and end this ridiculous scrutinization over women’s bodies. It’s tiring, aggravating and a waste of both time and money.

Ana Couto is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English and journalism and media studies. Her column, "Through the Looking Glass," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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Ana Couto

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