Body shaming is one of the most prevalent forms of disrespecting others, often disguised as “just joking around.” Victims of these “jokes” often feel pain, negativity, loss of confidence, embarrassment, self-consciousness, and even depression due to the hurtful teasing from those around them.
The prevalence of body shaming
Body shaming, or also known as “fat-shaming,” is one of the most troubling issues nowadays because it can happen anywhere. Simply put, it is the act of using words or phrases with negative connotations to describe a person’s appearance, making them feel uncomfortable, hurt, and damage their self-esteem.
For example, when walking down the street, one person sees another with a larger body size and says, “How can someone that fat have the nerve to walk outside?” Or a girl with buck teeth is teased by saying, “Did you use your teeth to peel fruit?” Or someone with darker skin is told, “You will disappear in the dark.” These are clear examples of body shaming that can occur anywhere.
It should be understood that Body Shaming is not constructive criticism, as the comments that are evaluated as insulting to one’s appearance are often provocative, mocking, and aimed at the other person’s physical weaknesses. However, these offenders always justify their bad behavior by saying that it is “just a joke” or “feedback to help the person improve,” leaving the victim feeling powerless to resist.
Especially in the current era where just a clip or viral image can suddenly grab attention, the phenomenon of Body Shaming has become extremely common on social media. One can easily use fake accounts with fake names and pictures, giving them even more freedom to use the harshest words to criticize someone online.
KOLs, singers, and actors are often easy targets for attacks on their appearance through public comments on their personal pages. For example, volleyball player Kim In-hyeok was shamed all over social media for being a man with fair skin, big eyes, and red lips like a girl; rapper Bobby (iKON) was labeled the ugliest Kpop idol.
Many people are secretly photographed and recorded in situations where their appearance is not suitable, and these images are uploaded to the internet where thousands of strangers spread the mockery and ridicule using vulgar language to the point of causing panic. Social media users often feel they have the “right” to freedom of speech and defend themselves by saying that “if it’s posted online, it must be accepted” or that it is just “normal joking.
There is a common joke in the workplace that the more attractive someone is, the more likely they are to be given easy tasks, while those who are less attractive are given more difficult tasks and must do things like fetching water and taking care of errands because no one wants to help them. This is another form of appearance-based discrimination in the workplace.
A survey conducted by the Independent (UK) showed that nearly half of adults surveyed had experienced appearance-based discrimination, while in the US, 94% of women and 64% of men have also experienced similar situations. Almost all celebrities surveyed reported experiencing body shaming at least once since becoming famous.
Even more troubling is the prevalence of appearance-based discrimination in schools, where students should have a positive and supportive environment. Students have created groups to criticize the appearance of a female classmate who is deemed “too fat,” saying that she has “made the class lose face” because she is “too ugly.” A survey showed that over 56% of students have experienced body shaming.
Recently, a shocking event occurred in Hollywood at the 2022 Oscars when MC Chris Rock made an insensitive joke about Will Smith’s wife’s hair loss due to illness, causing Will Smith to slap him live on air. This further demonstrates that appearance-based discrimination is prevalent and can occur anywhere.
Forms of body shaming
Anyone can become a victim or perpetrator of body shaming towards others. And the victims of body shaming can be celebrities, ordinary people, men, women, the elderly, or children. Even with someone who appears perfect, someone else can still find a tiny flaw to criticize or ridicule.
Some common topics of body shaming can revolve around facial features, skin color, body shape, weight, hairstyle, clothing style, and any physical imperfections. Generally, any issue or flaw on the body can be commented on, criticized, talked about, or ridiculed.
Common forms of body shaming include:
- Shaming others: This includes publicly criticizing others on social media, mocking them in person, or gossiping behind their backs. Those who engage in this behavior often do not acknowledge it as body shaming, instead thinking “what’s wrong with saying it?” or “it’s just a joke.”
- Self-shaming: Many people live in negativity due to their own negative self-talk and self-body shaming. For example, looking in the mirror and saying, “I look so ugly” or “my legs look like tree trunks.” They constantly fear being judged and ridiculed by others, leading to increasing self-doubt and insecurity. This is also a form of body shaming.
It is important to note that not all comments on physical appearance are negative, hurtful, or intended to shame. Sometimes, they may be disguised as humor or come in the form of a subtle message. This is why body shaming victims often hesitate to speak up, as their tormentors may use “just joking” as a defense.
Why does the behavior of discrimination against appearance appear and become increasingly common?
Throughout the process of formation and development, humans create what is commonly referred to as “social norms.” For example, a child is praised for being obedient when they greet adults at home; a person is evaluated as intelligent when their family displays many certificates. We often rely on external appearances, something that can be seen with the naked eye, to assess whether it conforms to that “norm” or not.
Meanwhile, appearance is the most easily perceived and evaluated aspect with the naked eye and there are always certain standards for it. For example, girls are considered to have a standard appearance when they have an hourglass figure, fair skin; those with beautiful faces have large eyes, a straight nose, and heart-shaped lips; and men should be over 1m70 tall, with a muscular physique…
We all seem to assume that these are the standards of beauty, and anyone who does not meet any of these criteria will be considered imperfect or ugly. And when someone does not fit into these predefined criteria, they are often criticized, ridiculed, and negatively judged, making them a victim of appearance-based discrimination.
On the other hand, appearance-based discrimination is a personal issue because not everyone relies on these standards to criticize or “attack” others with words. People who often engage in body shaming others often exhibit the following characteristics:
- People who overly prioritize appearance: Some people love beauty, tidiness, and perfectionism, so they tend to evaluate others based on their appearance. These individuals always prioritize appearance, and they also tend to associate and work with people who share the same preferences. When the person they are facing does not meet the beauty standards, they may feel uncomfortable, annoyed, and use negative language to criticize and exclude others.
- Distorted perception and personality: In fact, a person who frequently uses foul language to shame and belittle others is directly related to their personality and thinking. Not everyone who loves beauty will shame those with imperfect appearances. People who are inherently arrogant, negative, self-centered, and lack tact are often the ones who enjoy scrutinizing, criticizing, and body shaming others.
On the other hand, in today’s society where individual freedom is highly valued, many people have also created their own “freedom of speech” rights. They believe that criticizing or evaluating someone’s appearance is completely normal, seen as a joke, and even consider it as “feedback” to help the person improve rather than accepting it as body shaming or cyberbullying.
There are even people who cannot meet their own standards of beauty, yet are still willing to go online and criticize a singer when they see her gain weight. This is due to the negative and distorted mindset of that person, which allows them to feel entitled to make judgments about others.
The environmental and social factors surrounding an individual can greatly influence the development of this personality trait, especially in children. For example, when a child is exposed to social media early on and sees posts and comments that criticize others’ appearances, they quickly learn and apply it to their own friends.
Statistics also show that the growth of social media has become one of the factors contributing to the increase of body shaming today. Scrolling through Facebook, Tiktok, or any other social media platform, we will undoubtedly see at least one comment criticizing someone for being too fat, advising someone to lose weight, or suggesting that they “go get a facelift” along with a host of other ugly and sarcastic comments.
On the other hand, it is evident that society seems to be increasingly emphasizing beauty. A beautiful person is always given priority, easily finds a job, and has fans. All of these things make people crave and value physical beauty even more. Therefore, those who have less-than-perfect appearances are more likely to be devalued, ignored, or even isolated.
The consequences of body shaming
All of us, including those who don’t care about appearance, desire to have a beautiful and attractive appearance. It’s clear that when we look good, we tend to feel more confident in all aspects of life. However, an individual’s appearance is related to many other factors, such as genetics, which not everyone can choose.
Victims of appearance-based discrimination always have to live in shame, insecurity, and hesitation, avoiding social interaction and being their true selves. Particularly for those with weaker mental health, who are often criticized and bullied for their appearance, negative psychological effects can lead to despair, depression, and even suicidal behavior.
No one likes to be ridiculed, especially for their appearance. Being the constant center of gossip makes them anxious, scared, and tense, having nightmares and isolating themselves from society to avoid hearing those frightening words. They gradually lose themselves, feeling hopeless and desperate with life, even rejecting themselves from society.
Appearance-related insecurities have hindered these people from achieving their dreams. Many have a good singing voice but never dare to perform because they assume singers should have a beautiful appearance; they remain silent at work, not daring to express opinions for fear of being judged and isolated.
Many victims have either attempted or contemplated suicide due to long-term appearance-based discrimination, which has proven the serious impact of these behaviors. Recently, volleyball player Kim In-hyeok committed suicide after being body-shamed online, and many students have committed suicide due to being bullied and ostracized by their peers for their imperfect appearance, which is a clear warning sign.
Appearance-based discrimination is often justified under the guise of “joking” or “offering advice for improvement, not with ill-intent”, making it difficult for victims to resist. Despite their suffering, they must still smile and let the matter pass in the face of mocking words, leaving deeper wounds in their hearts.
To overcome the feeling of being discriminated against based on appearance, some people choose to undergo cosmetic surgery. However, some individuals may abuse this option or seek out low-quality, cheap clinics, which can result in serious disfigurement, even risking their lives or leaving lifelong consequences.
Moreover, some victims who have endured prolonged ridicule and mockery due to their appearance may develop a desire for revenge. Many individuals have attacked or engaged in violent behavior towards those who have mistreated them, as they become overwhelmed with anger and other emotions. The victim then finds themselves in a legal quagmire due to their uncontrollable anger.
So, how can we overcome the feeling of being discriminated against based on appearance?
In reality, the impact of being judged by appearance will vary depending on each individual’s psychology. Some people may easily brush it off, while others may be haunted by the comments for a long time. However, depending on how we deal with and accept ourselves, we can even turn our weaknesses into strengths.
It is essential to understand that there is no global standard for beauty in this world. Each of us has our unique beauty, a distinctive feature that not everyone possesses.
Even the person considered the most beautiful in the world can be criticized for a flaw by someone to prove that their beauty is not perfect. Therefore, we cannot pursue perfection in our appearance. Instead, we should focus on developing our own unique characteristics to stand out in our own way.
So how do we overcome negative, hurtful comments when it comes to body shaming?
Filter Relevant Opinions
Acknowledge what is genuinely constructive criticism and ignore rude, insensitive comments. Some people may have good intentions to help you improve, but they may not express it in a tactful way. You need to filter out opinions that can actually help you improve rather than just focusing on provocative comments.
You know, there are people who feel that the pain of others becomes their happiness, so the angrier and more defensive you get, the more they will enjoy it. Especially when social media allows the use of fake accounts, these people are even more rampant, so you should never spend too much time arguing with them.
Even celebrities and famous people who often face body shaming have shared that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to negative comments. When you ignore and don’t give them attention, over time these people will become bored and stop caring about you.
Turning Negative into Positive Achievements
If you follow Kpop, you probably know Hwasa (Mamamoo) – one of the top unique and beautiful icons of South Korea. Her appearance completely goes against the beauty standards of Korean idols: dark skin, full figure, slanted eyes, quirky dressing style. Therefore, she has always been talked about and discriminated against for her appearance since her debut.
However, her unique and distinct beauty has made her the most attractive name, completely changing the perception of beauty for many people. Her talent and the attraction from her breakthrough and boldness have turned her imperfect features into a factor that makes her more outstanding than other idols at the same time.
Instead of trying to change to fit the standards of beauty, why don’t you turn yourself into a new standard? Nothing is impossible if you are confident, have a positive perspective, and love yourself. Human standards are created by humans and can be changed by them. We are entirely pioneers in doing this.
Another way to easily face negative comments about your appearance is to discuss your flaws with the person who makes the comment. For example, if someone says “a girl with legs as big as a pillar,” then you can joke that “big thighs and a belly full of fat indicate wealth.” Or someone criticizes you for being “skinny as a skeleton,” you can say “I’m saving money on clothes.”
Instead of getting angry, being comfortable with your own flaws will surprise the other person and leave them at a loss for words. However, if this happens too often and intensifies, it is necessary to seriously assert that you do not like or want to be addressed on this issue with a mocking attitude.
Changing for Yourself
Every day we are on a journey of learning and improving ourselves, and the act of beautifying ourselves is also aimed at this purpose. However, it is important to remember that you are changing for yourself, for your body and your health, not because someone else is body-shaming you. Of course, body-shaming comments can serve as a motivator for you to try harder, but ultimately the goal is for yourself.
The reality is that being overweight or underweight can have long-term health effects, and having dental issues such as missing or crooked teeth can affect our daily eating habits. On the other hand, it is undeniable that having a better appearance can bring many benefits. So what can we do?
- Regular exercise is essential for everyone, regardless of their appearance.
- If you want to lose or gain weight properly, you can consider going to the gym or practicing yoga for better results.
- If you are self-conscious about your skin, you can seek advice from a dermatologist, go to a spa, or take care of your skin at home depending on your skin condition.
- For example, if you have acne-prone skin, you can visit a dermatologist, while if you have dark and rough skin, you can go to a spa or follow a proper skincare routine at home to achieve good results.
- Pay attention to dressing and hairstyling that suits your appearance better. Just dressing neatly, appropriately, and cleanly can make a significant positive change in your appearance.
- Avoid negative beauty treatments such as using weight loss pills, skin-lightening creams, or starving yourself.
- Also, refrain from going to low-quality cosmetic clinics for plastic surgeries.
- Choose a healthy and balanced diet, prioritize consuming healthy food groups such as vegetables, fruits, and limit fast food, oily foods, sweets, and alcohol.
Fortunately, beauty treatments are becoming more and more popular, diverse, and accessible. Even if you do not have much budget, you can easily find tips for weight loss or proper skincare routines on platforms such as YouTube. With some time and perseverance, nothing is impossible.
Not everyone has the strength to overcome criticism and negative comments about themselves, so you can always seek help from those around you. Open up and share your struggles with someone you trust, and they will surely provide helpful advice to regain your confidence.
Especially in cases of school bullying and appearance-based discrimination, it is important to inform parents or teachers to put an end to this behavior. Many students choose to handle it themselves through violence or retaliation, which is completely wrong.
Above all, talk to someone positive, someone who can help you recognize your own value. Each of us has a unique beauty, and only when we recognize our strengths can we quickly move towards self-improvement.
Appearance is important, but inner beauty is just as important. For example, we may try to improve ourselves because of someone’s criticism of our appearance, but when our external appearance is better, we have more friends, and a better job, we may lose our good nature, passion, and enthusiasm, making life meaningless again.
As the ancients said, “virtue kills beauty,” because a kind person who always helps others and fulfills their responsibilities well will always be loved more than someone who is only beautiful but does not know how to respect others. Physical beauty may fade over time, but values such as personality and talent will always leave a lasting impression.
On the other hand, you can also use your abilities to fight and defeat those who have ridiculed your appearance. For example, in a competition, if you come first while those who teased you did not make it to the leaderboard, those around you will naturally respect you, want to befriend you, and learn from you instead of engaging with the loser.
In reality, there are countless individuals with “unique” beauty who have succeeded, music duo AKMU, and rapper RM (BTS). They are all typical examples of individuals who do not have outstanding appearances, contrary to beauty standards, but have used their talents to make those around them admire them.
How to prevent body shaming
In life, we will encounter good and bad people, and it seems to be a societal law that cannot be avoided. Therefore, we cannot completely prevent one person from body shaming another. This seems impossible, especially in the era where social media is developing and personal freedom is highly valued.
However, in reality, these issues are often overlooked and not given much attention, except in serious cases. At the same time, relevant agencies, especially the Ministry of Education, are currently paying much attention to building ethical values for each student, guiding them to positive thinking, respecting others, and not teasing others’ flaws.
Instead of trying to change someone else’s thoughts or behavior, you should be the first person to change yourself. Sometimes we unconsciously make comments about someone’s appearance, even without ill intentions, which can still hurt them. Inadvertently, we become the ones who are disliked because of our lack of tact.
When you want to give someone feedback about their appearance or any other issue, do it privately and gently, and never criticize them in public. At the same time, you can suggest appropriate solutions and never leave the problem open-ended. Another way to be more open is to vent about a flaw of your own, from which both parties can easily exchange and find appropriate solutions.
Each of us also needs to learn to stop judging someone, not only in terms of appearance but also in terms of personality and personal life. Living a good life, looking at things gently, learning to empathize, and loving yourself will make your life much better.
Body shaming is still a problem that occurs every day, and can be encountered anywhere, from within each family, school, workplace, or on social media. Just by separating ourselves from the crowd discussing someone’s appearance is enough to save the heart of someone and reduce their emotional wounds.