Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A commentary on weight bullying

It never ceases to amaze me the excuses bullies give for bullying (#bullying #antibullying). Back in March, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) wrote a post titled, Really? Bullied for Loving Books, about a boy who was bullied for loving books. Well, I recently came across a story about 15-year-old Lizzy Howell from Milford, Delaware, who posted herself dancing on Instagram which resulted in the video going viral. In the 10-second clip, Lizzy is spinning on her toes, practicing a classical ballet move called fouetté turns. What caught my attention was the dancer was bullied because she did not have a typical dancer’s body.

The Huffpost’s article, This Teen Dancer Went Viral For Her Body Image, says:

Fouetté turns take a great deal of skill and years of practice to master. But it was not only her impressive execution that resonated with the public ― it was her size. Lizzy is overweight.

Here is the video I saw of her story. Lizzy speaks about her bullying experience.

Why would a bully target a victim because of their weight. I have to admit, I too have judged—not bullied—overweight people. Why? In a CNN article, Obese kids more vulnerable to bullies, it says:

“Children pick up behaviors from adults, so we always have to keep in mind how we’re modeling respect for others around multiple issues, including weight…Imagine how many signals kids get about weight just by hearing conversations by adults or seeing advertisements on TV. The messages are everywhere in terms of trying to control weight and be a different size than you are right now.”

I don’t remember my parents being judgmental about overweight people. I had relatives who were overweight, so I can’t imagine they would. However, I know this to be true, and I’ve said it in other posts before. I do believe society as a whole is to blame. The research supports this.

2017 study of females between the ages of 18 and 25 showed that greater Instagram use was linked to increased self-actualization and body image concerns, especially among those who frequently viewed fitspiration images. Those are images intended to inspire people to become physically fit through rigorous exercise and diet, usually with the goal of attaining an attractive body.

In another 2017 study, it determined that school-age girls are three times more likely than boys to consider their bodies “too fat,” and that adolescents who were cyberbullied were nearly twice as likely to refer to themselves as “too fat” as opposed to those who were not cyberbullied.

In still another 2017 study , exposure to thin-ideal media images was related to a significant increase in body dissatisfaction among young adult indigenous women.

YMCA research in 2018 found that more than half (55%) of children say they had been bullied about the way they looked. For 54% of those victims, the bullying had started by the age of 10. Researchers surveyed 1,006 young  people aged 11 to 16 across the United Kingdom (UK) and carried out focus groups in 12 different UK locations. It found that of those who had experienced appearance-based mocking, 60% had tried to change the way they looked, 53% said they became anxious, 29%  said they became depressed, and 24% said they had reduced the amount they ate. Body-shaming  is criticizing self or others because of some aspect of physical appearance.  Bullying centred on weight sometimes is referred to as “weight teasing,” but I will call it weight bullying. Weight bullying is a huge problem.

National surveys carried out in 2017 found among overweight middle-school aged children that 30% of girls and 24% of boys experienced daily bullying because of their size. These numbers doubled for overweight high school students, with 63% of girls and 58% of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size (source: Eating Disorder Hope).

There are many reasons for being overweight. Healthy behaviours such as a healthy diet and regular physical activity verses unhealthy behaviours is a big one. People tend to base decisions about lifestyle on their community resources. For example, if stores in your community carry a lot of processed foods, that encourages overeating. Some people experience strong food cravings or addiction, especially when it comes to sugar-sweetened, high-fat junk foods which stimulate the reward centres in the brain. Plus, junk food producers are very aggressive marketers. In some areas, finding fresh, whole foods may be difficult or expensive, leaving people no choice but to buy unhealthy junk foods. Researchers believe that excessive sugar intake may be one of the main causes of obesity. Genetic factors influence how people respond to a high calorie intake or changes in the environment. High insulin levels and insulin resistance are linked to the development of obesity. Diseases, such as Cushing’s disease, can lead to a person becoming overweight or obese. Medications, such as antidepressants and steroids, can cause weight gain.  So I ask: Is it fair to bully people because they’re judged as being overweight, when we know nothing of their circumstances? As the American Indigenous Proverb says, Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

Some advertisers, such as Unilever who make Dove products are attempting to change attitudes about body image. In Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty, It says:

We want to redefine beauty standards and help everyone experience beauty and body image positively. We care about the future generation: helping girls build positive self-esteem through the Dove Self-Esteem Project, ensuring the world they enter is removed of toxic beauty standards.

Bustle’s article, 9 Body Positive Social Media Campaigns That Are Changing How We Perceive Beauty Both In And Outside The Fashion World, lists other companies with similar campaigns. At least some companies show compassion. All advertisers and media people need to take on this philosophy, and then maybe the weight bullying will decrease or even stop. After all, as the idiom says, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the The Huffpost’s article I mentioned earlier, it says, “Like all teens, she [Lizzy Howell] hates being misunderstood.” In the article, Lizzy is quoted saying, “You don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me…You just saw a video of me dancing and you are making all these assumptions about my life.” Well said Lizzy!

Author: Sommer season all year

I am a retired school teacher. I taught high school for 35 years.

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