- UNITE Editorial
CYBER-BULLYING : Fat-phobia
We have all been the witness of a bullying act which now has a name: fat-phobia, for at least once in our lifetime. Unfortunately, the prevalence of social media has made bullying of such nature much easier. I lost count of the numerous posts and memes which either make some distasteful ‘jokes’ about being fat, or even blatantly shame and insult “fat” people.
These jokes are often viewed lightly. If someone were to point out that these jokes are offensive for overweight people, he or she would often be told that it is just a harmless joke. Well, these ‘jokes’ can be damaging for a lot of people, and may even lead to mental and physical health issues.
Some vulnerable and insecure teenagers, for instance, may start hating their bodies and develop eating disorders because they feel that they do not comply with the beauty norms. People with actual weight problems may feel worse about themselves. These may be detrimental to a person's mental health. In all these cases, fat-phobia ceases to be a joke.
Fat-phobia sometimes takes the shape of cyber-bullying when people start fat-shaming people online. Recently, a picture of an obese man, named Sean O’Brien, dancing in public went viral. A bunch of teenagers found the scene funny and took photos of him dancing while giggling. The man eventually noticed what they were doing and stopped dancing, visibly ashamed of himself. The post eventually went viral, and people all over the Internet were making fun of this meme.
Although this story ended well (a group of about two thousand girls from Los Angeles organised a big ‘dance party’ for the O'Brien), the same ending cannot be assumed for others who were fat-shamed online.
Now, why did those teenagers think that someone's appearance can be a trigger to bully and despise them on social media? Why do many people engage in fat-shaming?
In our society, the beauty standards can be described as follows: one must be skinny and fit, to be considered as beauty. Apart from their good looks, models have to be skinny, actors and actress have to be fit. Of course, I am not saying that every successful model is fit and skinny, nor am I claiming that being skinny is a requirement to be successful; I am just stating that a significant majority of those people are.
Consequently, most of us associate popularity, beauty, and success with a fit and skinny body. Another consequence of this association is to unconsciously consider “fat” people as ugly and incapable of success.
Some people consider overweight people guilty as they should have been responsible of their body - without hearing out what the actual reason is. They are often judged unforgivingly solely based on their appearance.
Someone overweight is spotted eating a burger? Of course they are fat, look at what they’re eating. On the other hand, a fit individual seen eating a burger would be praised, as they are able to balance having a healthy life and life's simple pleasures, such as junk food.
Fat people are considered responsible for their weight as they are assumed to be living an unhealthy lifestyle. Hence, they deserve, in a way, everything they face for having such a weight, i.e. discrimination, mocking and even cyber-bullying.
This is just a caricature of the fat phobia and cyberbullying phenomenon. But this explains quite well why such events keep happening on social media. The society's mentality on how being skinny equates to beauty is further reinforced when they observe how fat people attract insults on social media.
Last December, Lili Reinhart was body-shamed when she was spotted wearing an underwear by Victoria Secret in a scene on Riverdale. An Instagram fan account found that the actress was not as skinny as the Victoria Secret model who wore the underwear and made a comparison between the two ladies. The Instagram user posted a photo of the two and asked the public for opinion on who wore it better. The post implied that Lili Reinhart was not as skinny as the model. This was not the first time that the actress became a victim of body-shaming. Earlier this year, she was shamed for eating Taco Bell, with some Twitter users saying that they were ‘concerned’ about how her weight might affect her acting career.
But Lili Reinhart did not tolerate this. She responded quite scathingly, and was applauded on social media for fighting body-shaming and contributing to the positive-body movement that is of a growing importance.
If there is one positive thing that comes out of this, it is that minds are changing. A growing number of people are fighting against body-shaming , with influential people raising their voices against it. While social media can be a platform to spread insults, it could also be a catalyst to spread positivity.