social media body shaming

In early November, Dani Mathers was charged with one misdemeanor count of invasion of privacy for taking a picture of a naked 70-year-old woman at her gym.

No one would have probably known about the secret photo, except the former Playboy Playmate posted the image on her Snapchat account.

“If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” the 29-year-old Mathers wrote over the image that she sent out on social media this past summer.

The post went viral.

A few months later Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer decided to file criminal charges.

It’s an unusual move, according to legal experts. Feuer was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying the charges were necessary in order to send a message.

“Body shaming is humiliating, with often painful, long-term consequences,” he said. “It mocks and stigmatizes its victims, tearing down self-respect and perpetuating the harmful idea that our unique physical appearances should be compared to air-brushed notions of ‘perfect.’ What really matters is our character and humanity. While body shaming, in itself, is not a crime, there are circumstances in which invading one’s privacy to accomplish it can be. And we shouldn’t tolerate that.”

Mathers has since apologized for the incident. She is scheduled for arraignment on Nov. 28. If found guilty she could face up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.

Not a new thing

Body shaming is not a new phenomenon for women.

Look no further than comments made by our current president-elect.

Republican Donald Trump is on record making derogatory remarks about women and their looks. It wasn’t just during the election. Throughout much of his public life Trump has expressed disdain for women solely based on their physical appearances.

For decades the media has pushed unrealistic images of how the female body should look. This includes movies, television, and print.

In recent years, social media has taken body shaming to a new level.

A handful of companies and celebrities are working to change the narrative around what are acceptable standards of the female body.

It’s a small but growing group, according to advocates of women’s health.

A difficult challenge

Despite the growing support, women’s health advocates say body shaming is going to be difficult to fight.

There is an established notion, they say, that a thin, “conventionally pretty” woman is what all women should strive toward — and that anything outside that realm isn’t valued or worthy.

“We have to break through the model that insecurity sells,” Claire Mysko, chief executive officer of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), told Healthline.

She said tabloid magazines are big proponents of the body shaming machine. Publishing photos of celebrities that highlight and mock their cellulite through blown-up imagery is one example.

“We are learning the language [of body shaming] from this mass media culture,” she said.

Overweight characters are often the butt of jokes on TV sitcoms. This makes body shaming the norm.
Crystal Karges, Eating Disorder Hope

Television doesn’t fare much better, according to Crystal Karges, M.S., R.D.N., director of content and social media of Eating Disorder Hope.

“Overweight characters are often the butt of jokes on TV sitcoms,” she told Healthline. “This makes body shaming the norm.”

The rise of social media in the past five years has only exacerbated the issue.

Today, a teenage girl is inundated with a tsunami of “perfect” body images through their social media feeds. In addition, people comment on these images, sometimes in disparaging and dismissive tones.

Ironically, it’s also social media that is doing good work in calling out body shamers, Mysko added.

The Mathers case is a perfect example. It took only one person to look at the image that Mathers posted and realize that what she did wasn’t OK.

“You can also see how the community comes together,” Mysko said. “It’s a terrible thing that she did, but there were also consequences.”

Eating disorders, a focus

Healthy body image is the focus of NEAD and Eating Disorder Hope.

Eating disorders are caused for numerous reasons, according to Mysko and Karges.

“A person who struggles with an eating disorder is influenced by many different factors, including biological and environmental factors,” Karges said.

Body shaming can be a part of that equation.

[Body shaming] triggers the same kinds of thoughts that are driving the eating disorder and we need to condemn them.
Claire Mysko, National Eating Disorders Association

“It’s not that body shaming causes eating disorders, but it can amplify the thoughts,” Mysko said. “It triggers the same kinds of thoughts that are driving the eating disorder and we need to condemn them.”

According to NEDA, in the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or another specified feeding or eating disorder,

Roughly 65 percent of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition, according to a report by Beat, an eating disorder charity in the United Kingdom. The survey also found that 49 percent were less than 10 years old when the bullying started and many stated that the effects had stayed with them into their 40s and 50s.

Only 22 percent received help to overcome the effects of bullying.

A handful of companies and celebrities are working to beat back the bullying.

They’re doing this by representing body positive imagines that reflect what a majority of women in the United States look like.

The company Dove, designer Christian Siriano, and model Ashley Graham are some of the more outspoken proponents in this movement.

NEDA also worked closely with Aerie, the lingerie company owned by American Eagle. In 2015 they awarded Aerie its first ever NEDA Inspires Seal of Approval. The award recognizes those companies and individuals who are striving to make a difference in the body positive movement.

Obesity worries fuel concerns

Karges believes another culprit in body shaming is the onslaught of news stories about the increased rate in childhood obesity in the United States.

Almost 20 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States are considered obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“It’s very alarming to hear about childhood obesity and it causes a lot of anxiety in parents,” she said. “But that can have a domino effect.”

That anxiety, in turn, can cause parents to make comments to their children about gaining weight, Karges noted.

“Children should be free to play and eat structured meals,” she said. “Weight and size should never be part of a conversation. That creates a very chaotic relationship.”

She said parents need to do a reality check if they find themselves saying something to their child about their weight. She said often times our own feelings about our bodies can bleed into what we say to our children.

She challenges women in particular to think for a minute: How many times have you casually tossed off a criticism about your appearance? How many times have you looked in the mirror and seen flaws or complained internally about ill-fitting clothes?

That’s body shaming.

Karges said the language around body shaming is so ingrained into our everyday lives we don’t even register when it’s happening.

“I think many of us would say that we also struggle with body image,” she said, “so it starts with ourselves.”