Body Shaming in Modern Culture

By Carie Levy |

It wasn’t until I heard it from my seven year old sister that it really hit me.

“Carie, does this shirt make me look fat?”

At first I was puzzled. Here she was, a little girl, flawless in all the innocent and wonderful ways that young children always are. I chuckled.

“Of course not, Beth. You can’t look fat in anything.”

“Yes I can.” She insisted. “I am fat.”

“Don’t be silly.” I said a bit more sternly. “You’re beautiful. You are not fat at all.”

She shrugged, unconvinced, and walked away.

That was not the last time she asked me that question, and each time it seems to bother me a little bit more. Why would a girl who is at the age where the most worrisome thing in her life should be what doll to play with that day or what color crayon to use be so concerned about her appearance? I know why, and that is the worst part.

I caused it.

No, I may not have directly caused it, but perhaps I, along with the constant images and pressures of modern culture, likely inspired such behavior. Ever since I was in middle school I have been flooded with images of what the “perfect” body looks like. Whether it was from television, celebrities, magazines, or posters of Victoria’s Secret models in the mall, I knew very well exactly what the so-called ideal body was. I knew for a fact that it didn’t look like me.

I became overwhelmed with the need to present myself in a way that would fit these standards. Sometimes, I would try to exercise, and if I did not, I would often try to skip a meal or eat less. If it wasn’t for my parents forcing me to sit down with them for dinner each night, there would have likely been days that I would have chosen not to eat at all. I racked the internet for different diets I could try that would produce results the quickest. This could have been a good thing if I didn’t already have healthy diet. There is substantial benefit to eliminating foods that are very high in bad fat from one’s diet; however, that was not the kind of diet I was looking for. My family and I already ate just about as healthy as anyone could. Our diets consisted of mostly vegetables and healthy grains, all of which were organic. I wasn’t seeking to make my diet more nutritional. I didn’t care about that. I just wanted one that would help me “get skinny fast”, regardless if it was healthy for me or not.

These fad diets never worked, and I was always left disappointed. No matter what weight I was or what I looked like, in my mind, I never looked like “her”: the superficial image of the ideal woman plastered in every crevice of my mind.

“Do I look fat in this?” Became one of my most frequently asked questions to my parents. Their answer was usually something very similar to how I responded to my sister when she asked me. Somehow, though, I never really believed them. I was convinced that I did look fat and that I was not beautiful.

That is why my sister’s question hurt so much. I am her role model, her big sister who can do anything and everything in her eyes. If I was so worried about the way I looked, shouldn’t she be as well? I delight in her copying me for most other things. I love being the one she looks up to. When I started taking a sign language class, she wanted to learn sign language. When I began singing in church, she asked to sing alongside me. And unfortunately, when I began speaking negatively about the way that I looked, she began doing the same.

Girls of all ages are being faced with this problem. We cannot escape it. There is no way to hide a young girl’s eyes from the constant imagery of what she is expected to be. There is no uniqueness. There can be no celebration of the features that make each and every individual uniquely them when society is trying to force them into a mold in which they were never meant to fit. Beauty cannot be defined by a strict set of standards. Who looks at a daisy and says that it is not beautiful because it does not look like a rose? Nobody! Why then do we do that with our own kind? Shouldn’t beauty be displayed amongst people in the same vast variety that it is accepted amongst flowers? This seems like it would be obvious, but unfortunately in the modern culture of artificiality, it is not.

Society wreaks of negativity in this regard, which can only be changed by people breaking the mold and deciding, “You know what, I am beautiful just the way I am!” True beauty should be discovered in individual uniqueness and the realization that there is no one out there that looks quite like you.

We can never all look the same, therefore, I will fight a losing battle if I continue striving for such conformity. My sister made me realize that not only was I allowing my thoughts on body image to be conformed by society, I was also contributing in the pressure.

By allowing myself to be influenced by what modern culture says beauty is, I was pressuring those around me as well. I should cherish and take pride in my own original appearance, not just for my own sake, but for my three younger sisters, friends, and others I know as well. I was so caught up in being disappointed in my own appearance that I neglected to realize what harm my negative attitude was doing to those around me. Perhaps, if I make a conscious effort to display positivity about my own self image, there will be less seven year old girls looking in the mirror and asking, “Do I look fat?”

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