By Claire Mysko--Model/TV personality Alexa Chung shut down her Instagram account this week after a picture she posted got a stream of comments about how she looked "ugly" and "unhealthy."
"Hi, I am here. I can read...Ok everyone thanks for the teen angst discussions. People are different sizes. I'm not trying to be thinspo for anyone. I am now making this acct private. Byyyyyeeee."
We've talked before about how celebrities like Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Ashley Judd have been on the receiving end of harsh comments about how they look "too fat," "puffy," and other such nonsense. When critics call out stars for not being thin enough or perfect enough despite their arsenal of personal trainers, chefs, stylists, and makeup artists, how can we mere mortals ever expect to measure up?
“I know a ten-year-old girl who stopped eating after reading comments online that people had made about a picture of Demi Lovato," 17-year-old Jen Rubino recently told us in our Social Media and Body Image roundtable.
But what about when the snark is directed at a celebrity for being too thin? Does that make it okay?
The short answer is no. It's not okay. Bodysnarking in any form--whether it's about someone being too fat, too thin, too wrinkly, too "done," too busty, too flat, you get the picture--reinforces the idea that it's acceptable for our bodies to be objects of constant scrutiny. It sends the message that life is one big beauty competition, and we're all expected to be contestants. Except that there's no real prize because no one can ever win.
This is not to say that there isn't a beauty ideal in this culture. There is. Think thin, think young, think light-skinned. Actually, we don't' have to think about it much because it's thrown in our faces all day, every day. And the pursuit of that ideal has serious consequences, especially for young people. Would more than half of teen girls and nearly a third of guys be engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives if they didn't believe that thinness would offer some reward? There is a justifiable frustration with the blaring "Pretty=Thin" loudspeaker and the body hatred it has wrought--a frustration that is likely at the heart of a lot of the comments thrown at Alexa Chung.
Chung says she's not anorexic and the public speculation should end there. Her health is between her and her doctor. Yes, models and actors have a high risk of developing eating disorders because of the pressures and working conditions in the industry. So let's put our support behind legitimate efforts to decrease those risks and improve conditions. Let's not spend our time and energy sizing up people in the public eye (or people we see on the street, for that matter) to make completely uninformed judgments about who needs to gain weight, lose weight or get help. Name-calling will hurt feelings and deepen insecurities. And if someone really does need help? Shame is not the way to motivate a person to change for the healthier.
People are different sizes, as Chung rightly pointed out. The problem is that everywhere we look, we see only one version of beauty, one size held up as the key to happiness and success. That golden ticket is the myth that thinspiration is built on. But the solution isn't to launch personal attacks on thin people. What we really need is to see ourselves--in all our diversity of sizes, colors, and "imperfections"--reflected positively in the media we consume. We need a revolution in representation.
The good news is that with all the multimedia publishing platforms we now have access to, we ARE the media. We can and should put pressure on the old guard to change their ways, but we don't have to sit around twiddling our thumbs and feeling bad about ourselves until they do. We can make our own videos, write our own blogs, and post our own photos. We can watch, read and promote the work of others who are sending positive messages. We can change the way we talk about ourselves and each other. We can spark our own revolution.
Stamp Out Bodysnarking