“YOUR ARMS, my god. They look like they are about to break. Have you been fasting lately? You are as skinny as a stick!” It is an average Tuesday afternoon at the bodega.** The lady by the counter starts yelling, and I simply nod, pretending to listen. I shove the rubbery heads of my earphones furtherinas I try to focus on the lyrics of the song blasting sharply against my eardrums. My eyes probe around the room, searching for something I can fix them on. Yet, I can’t help but read the lips of the old woman, who is still shouting. Her wrinkly, fuchsia-lined lips draw words I have been trying to ignore for the past few years. “Bony.” “Gaunt.” “Anorexic.” These names pierce my ears as I reach for the volume button of my phone hidden in my back pocket. The music grows louder, but I can still overhear the lady’s judgement of my body. Her comments, my body. I sigh, thinking, if only people could understand that these comments are not appreciated. If only people could understand that this is, nonetheless, body shaming.
It’s more common than you think
Everybody knows that body shaming is wrong. It is pure common sense and ethics, but that does not mean that it is rare. Body-shaming comments, both explicit and implicit, are continuously being spread across media and in our everyday dialogue. “You should go on a diet” and “fat girls are lottery tickets not yet scratched”*** are all comments many — Koreans especially — say on a daily basis. And most of the time, we are not aware of the level of damage they cause to the listener.
I, myself, am a victim of this harmful behavior. A few years back, I would unceasingly hear comments such as “you would look so much better with a few pounds off.” These were the exact words of my relatives and friends whom I cared about and loved the most. They did not, however, realize that their words killed. As a sensitive person easily influenced by comments directed towards my appearance, their ignorant criticism felt even more drastic; because they were the people I trusted, their words stabbed and bruised.
Consequently, I starved myself to the point where my legs became twigs and my ribs jabbed out of my flesh. Every day I raced on the treadmill for hours, hoping to run away from the criticism that haunted me like shadows. And as soon as I saw the digital 45 kg light up on the scale, I thought I had finally reached the end.
But soon, I realized that shadows do not vanish. What used to be “have you considered dieting” now became “why aren’t you eating.” Most of these comments came from strangers — people who had no idea that I have, in fact, transformed drastically from one extreme to the other due to judgment similar to theirs. And surprisingly, the current form of criticism is being expressed much more frequently; it is ridiculous, really, to see that now that I have become closer to the ideal “slimmer” body, I am being followed by more explicit judgment. It seems like it is easier for society to harshly criticize slender figures. People appear to feel less guilty about skinny-shaming compared to fat-shaming. Both are wrong, but many are blind to this frustrating reality.
Body shaming is never okay
It is not an overstatement to claim that our constant exposure to media and its toxic influence is one of the principal factors that influence our standards of beauty. The level of severity of body shaming in media is disgusting. We are so often exposed to images of skinny models and pop artists. We are bombarded with advertisements of diet pills, “v-line makers,” and corsets. Korea, especially, has this collective fantasy and idolization of slim celebrities; such is evident in TV entertainment, for instance — Produce 101 and Korea’s Next Top Model — two shows that glorify slender figures. With this obsession, skinnier people automatically seem “more privileged.” Just like how it seems less “wrong” to criticize the wealthy than criticizing the poor, people assume that it is “relatively okay” to censure the “advantaged.” Whether rich or slim, those who appear socially advantaged by current standards are society’s usual targets of blame and resentment.
Many often use the excuse that the intentions behind the comments mentioned above are to compliment, rather than to harm. However, these people have to realize that comments such as “you look so skinny” and “do you even eat” are not words of admiration but rather, of ignorance and disrespect. These comments are verbal abuse; I get hurt, I feel deep frustration, and I am tired of being explicitly objectified. It is so easy to overlook that words can, in fact, severely harm and even kill.
*Title inspired by an anonymous blog-post that went viral
**Small market/convenience store in Latin American countries
***Korean phrase describing curvy individuals as people with the “potential” to become a miracle, like a lottery ticket with the “potential” to be the one leading to the jackpot.