Just Let People Exist: On Fatphobia & Beauty Standards
The hatred towards fat people, whether subtle or not, has always been around us. Things like celebrities’ weight losses, discrimination in the healthcare system, or just simply not taken seriously as a fat person are all signs of biases towards people of bigger sizes. It seems that fat people can’t exist without the unnecessary input from others. The stereotypes mostly associated with fat people are usually negative and oftentimes they are not taken seriously as a result of these stereotypes.
Think about all the news articles about the appearances of celebrities whenever they lose a drastic amount of weight; they are deemed unrecognisable and are often complimented for their weight loss. A person’s weight loss journey is an achievement that should not be disregarded. What makes a person happy shouldn’t be criticised by people as long as it does not harm others. However all these news articles seem to suggest that the weight loss of these celebrities is the only thing that defines them, as they are now seen as more valuable, desired and are overall looked up upon. It is as if they become a totally new person overnight just because they looked different than before. A fat person can be so many things and have many accomplishments, but there are still times where their size and weight are the only thing that people see.
Societal Beauty Standards
Many of us want to be seen as beautiful, good-looking and attractive in the eyes of others. It’s a normal desire that many seek for. However the reality is not everyone is seen as beautiful because of the ever changing beauty standards. Being attractive is definitely not the most important characteristic a person could possess but it sure does help in life. Pretty privilege helps with getting job opportunities, meeting new people and just living life in general. It doesn’t mean that conventionally attractive people are handed things on a silver platter; they have to work just as hard as everyone else but they do have something over people who are not deemed as “attractive” or “beautiful”. For instance in South Korea, job applicants who are conventionally attractive are picked over those who aren’t although they might be both equally qualified. Everyone wants to be friends with the pretty girl and good looking boy, people approach them just because they are attractive and befriend them.
People who are not conventionally attractive do not benefit from these privileges and unfortunately sometimes the way they look is the reason they aren’t treated as nicely and not given better opportunities as compared to those who fit into the beauty standard. One challenge that fat people might face is finding a job, as displayed in the earlier example given. Fatphobia could be the reason why someone is unemployed, not their abilities nor their attitude. The stigma against overweight people has made employers develop biases towards plus size people. Many still think being overweight is a choice and thus think they lack focus and skills to be a competent person. This is simply not the case — a fat person is just as capable. It does not mean they are lazy or incompetent just because they weigh more. Unfortunately it is not illegal to discriminate against those who are overweight, and so many companies still get away with it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being beautiful — it is a blessing, sure, but why do we focus on it so much? Is beauty really the be all and end all of life? If so then it is such a shallow way of thinking. Humans don’t exist just to showcase their appearances, for we are so much more than that.
Social Media & Beauty Standards
Recently, I’ve stumbled upon quite a few videos that talk about how much a certain K-pop idol fits into the Korean beauty standard. Some examples of these standards are double eyelids, a high nose bridge and of course a slim figure. Other videos that I saw which also involve the beauty standard in one way or another is the “hourglass” trend where girls showcase their hourglass figures online. Seeing these videos, I can’t help but think how life would be so good if I looked like them at the back of my mind. I know it should not matter but seeing these types of videos and posts on my social media pages really affects my mind.
The over-exposure of the “idealised” body has caused many young people to suffer from issues such as eating disorders and have a negative body image of themselves. However, social media is inevitable in this technological advanced society we live in now. It is almost impossible to avoid these social media posts that portray the perfect image of a person, especially platforms like Tiktok that are based on the algorithm. This means it will keep showing you similar accounts and videos that you have previously liked. As a result, teeangers and even kids in primary school could constantly be shown pictures and videos that showcases the “perfect” image of a person.
According to a study done in 2021, with a group of people ranging from 15 years old to 35 years old, being unsatisfied with one’s body could be correlated to the amount of time spent on social media. The more we compare ourselves to these social media influencers, the more we are dissatisfied with our own bodies. Furthermore, for those who already have low self esteem, spending too much time on social media could potentially make them compare themselves more to these social media figures. We should not forget that the pictures we see of celebrities and influencers are at their best moments with much help and support from behind the scenes such as professional makeup artists, photographers and editors who most probably use photoshop to enhance their features.
I noticed that the beauty standards that these posts and trends impose share one similarity — that being thin generally is seen as being beautiful. In East Asian countries such as South Korea and China, the ideal body is skinny all throughout the body especially when it comes to the body of girls. In contrast to Western culture, nowadays, the “slim thick” body is desired by many. Popularised by the infamous Kardashian family, a “slim thick” figure consists of a big bust area, a slim waist and wide hips. This is a huge change compared to the early 2000s aesthetic where a stick like figure was more desired. Celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears were the image of the y2k aesthetic. Many of them were seen rocking low rise jeans and mini skirts that showed off their figure.
The beauty standards are consistently evolving. In the last 20 years the Western beauty standard went from skinny to no curves at all to “curves in all the right places”. Nonetheless, having a thin body is still the foundation of these beauty standards. Many people, especially teenagers who are at their most vulnerable state, could feel pressured and in some cases forced to stay a certain shape because they might be afraid of being made fun of by others. It is as if we are instilling the fear of having an ounce of fat on these kids, like their worth and value are measured by how much they weigh.
A survey done by the youth Charity YMCA who gathered more than 1000 youths aged between 11 to 16 found that 62% of those between 15 to 16 years old have high expectations of their own appearances due to the influence of social media which showcases a number of celebrities and influencers in their best moment. The normalisation of photoshop used in these pictures have distorted the minds of these youths, twisting their image of what a normal body looks like. An overwhelming number of these 11 to 16 years old, 58% of them, find the ideal physical perfection are found in these celebrities. Kids as young as 11 years old could actually be influenced by these idols and celebrities.
As a young Chinese girl, I do feel the pressure of adhering to the strict Asian beauty standards which is usually just to be thin in general. In every family gathering I brace myself for an attack of unnecessary input and opinions about my appearance by a number of relatives. It usually consists of telling me to lose weight or how my face is too round. I try not to let this affect me but it is quite hard when a number of people start attacking your weight especially when the weight gain of celebrities including those in the entertainment and K-pop industries are seen as such a big deal. Seeing these idols getting criticised just because they have a bit of meat on their thighs really makes you think how harsh the beauty standard is, because if these idols are considered big, then what does that say about the rest of us?
Although most of us are not put in the limelight like them, the pressure of looking like these idols could cause a whole generation of kids thinking they are worthless because they do not look like them.
The Social Stigma of Being Overweight & Fat-shaming
Back in the 1800s, women who were more plumped were the standard of beauty. They were seen as healthier and beautiful since they were wealthy enough to consume food on a daily basis. The beauty standard has fluctuated since then; it went from a preference of heavier bodies to a more smaller frame in mid-nineteenth century England. This is due to the first published diet books back in the days. These books were mostly centred around women, pushing them to conform to unhealthy diets to achieve the “ideal” figure of the time.
Being fat is not a bad thing — in fact the word itself should not even have a negative connotation to it. It simply means that you are of bigger size, and it should not take away your attractive qualities and personality. After all, appearance is not the only thing that determines the attractiveness of a person. However, there are still some people who still think fat equals ugly which is such a shallow way of thinking. This is however not always the case.
Fat-shaming is a sub-sector of body-shaming, and comes in many forms. A fat person could be doing the same thing as a skinny person but they will get criticised for it. Something as essential as eating could be used as a way to insult fat people. A skinny person could be eating the worst kind of junk food and no one bats an eye, but when a fat person is found eating anything else besides a salad; they are immediately attacked just for doing something as simple as eating.
Fat people are nitpicked for whatever they do. They could be doing their best to lose weight everyday but have one cheat day, and as a result they are immediately told to try harder or they are not doing their best. Additionally, some people have health conditions that make it harder to lose weight such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Hypothyroidism and even hormonal changes in the body. Most of the time fat people are not bothering anyone and are just existing. As long as they do not harm others and promote unhealthy eating habits, there is no need for others to put in their unnecessary opinions.
There is a presumption that criticising someone for their weight could actually benefit them as it helps motivate people to go to the gym and lose weight. This is however not the case. Studies have shown fat shaming could link to physiological and behavioural changes. It increases the stress among overweight people instead of encouraging them to lose weight. Besides that, fat shaming is actually more likely for overweight people to gain more weight. They could also face mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. There is also evidence that show people with internalised weight bias have a greater chance of having metabolic syndrome. At the end of the day, fat shaming brings more harm than good.
Despite all that has been said, there is a fine line between existing as a fat person and promoting health diseases such as obesity and diabetes. The body positivity movement is something that has been around for years. It aims to accept all kinds of bodies regardless of size, height and shape of your body. However it does not mean that being severely overweight is okay. To promote it by saying it’s totally fine to be extremely overweight is simply just glossing over the actual issue. Yes, it is not okay for others to judge someone’s body, but it is also not okay to promote obesity and claim it as “body positivity”.
In short, just let people exist in their own bodies without the input of others. Body positivity also focuses too much on physical appearance, and fat people do not need others to constantly tell them they are brave and beautiful for just being themselves. Not only are these comments backhanded, they also perpetuate the idea that someone’s worth is based on appearance. Not every single thing on our body has to be seen as beautiful just for us to accept how we look.
Let fat people live without the criticisms of others. There is no need to mention their weight and how they could look better once they lose it. Human beings do not exist just to care about how much we weigh or how big our thighs look. Just let fat people exist without the unsolicited advice from others.
[Written by: Anne Rose. Edited by: Siow Chien Wen.]