Why fat-shaming is still a really big problem
When celebrities are fat-shamed, it has a ripple effect across society as females begin to worry even more about their own bodies, a study shows
Celebrities and academics are speaking out against fat-shaming, echoing a new study’s findings about how it affects society.
Fat-shaming is one of the “last socially acceptable forms of discrimination” and has reached an all-time high thanks to social media, according to the researchers at McGill University in Canada.
They found that when celebrities are fat-shamed, it has a ripple effect across society as females begin to worry even more about their own bodies.
Model Lesego “Thickleeyonce” Legobane, an advocate for body positivity after being fat-shamed on social media, said most SA celebrities are “conventionally attractive and have small bodies”, and that this lack of beauty diversity was part of her shaming.
“It was such a culture shock to have someone that looked like me that didn’t cover up or wasn’t the funny fat girl or whatever stereotype fat famous women have,” she said.
“A lot of people felt I didn’t deserve my followers or popularity because I wasn’t attractive for them. I didn’t look like the norm.”
While the public claimed it did not want celebrities “airbrushed”, when they were not “people are quick to point out their flaws”, she said.
SA has had its fair share of other celebrity fat-shaming events, including the trolling of pregnant politician Thandile Sunduza on the State of the Nation address red carpet in 2014 – an experience that resulted in her physically collapsing.
The McGill research, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looked at 20 fat-shaming events, including Tyra Banks being photographed in her bathing suit and Kourtney Kardashian being criticised by her husband for her post-pregnancy weight.
Such events led to a spike in women’s implicit anti-fat attitudes, with more “notorious” events producing greater spikes, said lead author Amanda Ravary.
Prof Hlonipha Mokoena, a researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, said messaging on thinness was pervasive, with terms such as “skinny jeans” encapsulating the relationship between the media, fashion and diet industries, while clothing store mannequins were the “perfect barometer” for what people were expected to aspire to.
Mokoena said social media allowed anyone to share “whatever bigoted and cruel statements pop into their minds”. And while they were “at home on the couch Netflixing and chilling in their pyjamas”, they expected celebrities to be “beautiful, thin and fashionably dressed”.
Fat-shaming does not inspire people to lose weight, and can even have the opposite effect. Jasmin Kooverjee, a clinical psychologist at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, said: “It is bullying. You are insulting the next person and not empowering them, which is why we find negative consequences arising.”These were apparent in schools. “We find that many youngsters are teasing each other and more intolerant of each others’ body differences,” she said.Kooverjee said there were positive ways to support those who feel they are overweight. “[They] are not always unhappy with their bodies, but if they are, or it is a health issue, always ask how can support them rather than negatively commenting on their looks,” she said, adding that “family support, diet and lifestyle” were crucial factors.For example, there was no point in a family member encouraging someone struggling with weight to engage in a healthy lifestyle if everyone else in the family carried on with unhealthy habits.