The toxic world of body shaming

When I was in highschool, I decided to go on Weight Watchers. 

For those of you who don’t know about it, Weight Watchers is a program that helps people regulate their food intake by creating a point system for daily food consumption. Let’s see if I can remember: I think a piece of toast was two points, a handful of popcorn was three and a cup of pasta was four. I was “allowed” about 30 points a day. Essentially, it was a very problematic program for a growing, young and active girl.

As a six foot tall 15-year-old, I took up a lot more space than my dainty little friends. I wanted to be smaller because well, smaller is better. Smaller means you’ll get a boyfriend. Smaller means you’ll get a job. Smaller means you’ll look like people on television. Smaller means no one can ever make fun of you and all your problems will evaporate. Right?

A tale of an insecure teenager is nothing to write home about. If you were confident at 15, then I’m truly happy for you, but you’re also probably lying. There are a million reasons why you would feel insecure at that age, so my body issues felt temporary. In 30 years, I wouldn’t have to deal with this. I’d picture myself as a business woman with bigger things on my plate, strutting around in fancy blazers and a mature, but very hip short haircut. I thought my body was undesirable, but who didn’t at that age? I’d grow out of it.

One day I was at my friend’s house eating dinner and her mother (a blazer-wearing, short-haired queen) came down the stairs. She asked us what we thought of her new shirt. We smiled and told her she looked beautiful, and what happened next really stuck with me. She spent the next five minutes telling us how insecure she felt, saying the shirt made her look fat and ugly. I couldn’t believe it. There was no age limit to this bullshit? I was going to have to deal with this my whole life?

These questions of physical insecurity and self-esteem seem impossible to answer, but I think it all comes down to one thing: our society perpetuates the narrative that small is good and big is bad.

Lindy West, a writer and comedian, has been writing about fatness for almost 10 years. With charisma and wit, she has navigated the world as a fat activist, answering ignorant, damaging and repetitive questions about living in a larger body. According to an article she wrote in The Guardian, a recurring question she receives is, “By promoting fat acceptance, is there a risk that you are also promoting obesity and all its risks?”

West explains,

The question itself is an assault: it validates the idea that fat people’s humanity is one side of the debate, that our bodies are public property.”

Research shows that weight, contrary to popular belief, is not a health indicator. It is unacceptable and hypocritical to deny the rights of fat people by saying that this is encouraging their health problems. West writes, “If you claim to care about fat people’s health but do nothing to fight fat stigma, you are a liar.”

When my friend was in Grade 6, she had the flu and didn’t eat for 10 days. When she came to school the next week having lost weight, she received countless compliments about her body. How do you think that made her feel about how she looked before?

You might not see a link between my body insecurities and the dehumanization of fat people, but they are completely intertwined. What I need to understand is that even though my thoughts about my body are valid, the moment I voice them in hope for validation that I’m skinny or small enough, I am part of the problem. The moment I complain about my weight, I am insulting anyone around me that might be bigger than me. This is not because I’m calling them fat, but because I am alluding to the fact that, in order to be worthy and to be seen, we must be smaller.

Every time we compliment someone on losing weight, or we comment that someone looks “great” because they are smaller, we are demeaning the person they were before and anybody that’s bigger than them. It’s an implication that has demonstrated time and time again that we do not understand.

We are so invested in the idea that if we lose weight, things will get better. You might even notice that you are having an aversion to these statements right now. This is easier said than done. The notion is pervasive. The sooner we understand and attempt to push back, the better things will get because we simply cannot fight something we cannot see.

There are just so many more things to worry about. After all, we are all very busy, very important and Australia’s on fire. 

Graphic @sundaeghost


Snapchat filters and selfie dysmorphia

How social media apps that include filters influence us to desire a face different from our own  

TW: Body Dysmorphia

I wake up in the morning and my skin is completely clear. My eyes are swimming pool blue, my cheekbones are higher than Montreal on legalization day and my lashes are longer than Canadian winters. As I smile, glitter sparkles around my head. I close Snapchat and head over to brush my teeth. Staring back at me in the mirror is my face. The face that’s been with me through thick and thin, tears and laughter, and all my meaningful moments. My window to the world. And yet, I’m disappointed.

As social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram infiltrate our daily lives, we are continuously normalizing a computer-generated and artificial version of ourselves, curated specifically to fit westernized beauty norms. Our chance to finally look like Kylie Jenner, Marilyn Monroe or whoever it may be that we aesthetically idolize, is closer now than ever.

Everytime these social media platforms decide to alter our face by creating a filter, I believe they are conveying a message that says our face is wrong. Not only are they getting rid of our pimples, they are taking away our freckles, or our birthmark that our mum loves. We are no longer that badass soccer player with the scar above her eyebrow from the championship match, nor do we look anything like that black and white photo of our grandmother as a teen. These filters change the shape of our eyes, nose, lips, and even facial structure––some even lighten skin. With this, we become a representation of a eurocentric, unrealistic beauty standard, and as soon as our phone dies, so does that version of us. This technology is new, unregulated, and it is pervasive.

With the phenomenon of live filters comes a new term: “snapchat dysmorphia.” This term was coined by Dr. Tijon Esho, a cosmetic doctor from England, according to The Guardian. It stems from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). According to Cambridge University Press, BDD is a “preoccupation with an ‘imagined’ defect in appearance which causes significant distress or impairment in functioning.” Selfie dysmorphia addresses a similar issue, where a person wishes to look like their filtered, carefully angled selfies, rather than their natural appearance.

Our current society has not met the urgency of this rapidly developing situation with adequate concern. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that the motivation to get plastic surgery driven by the desire to look better in selfies has increased by 42 per cent in the last year alone. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reports that there was a 72 per cent increase of patients under the age of 30.

According to CNN, the CEO of Snap Inc., Evan Spiegel, made $638 million last year. Large companies like this are intentionally seeping into our realm and disrupting our sense of self. This technology is addictive because of the way it makes us feel inadequate when we are without it. This is a dangerous cycle. In addition to benefiting social media moguls, it strengthens a market of beauty products, diets, supplements, fashion, and fitness trends consumed by humans spending more money to make themselves feel adequate.

According to HuffPost, the average American woman spends $240 a month on beautification for their face alone. The National Report on Self Esteem reports that 98 per cent of American girls feel pressure from external sources about the way they look. Men are affected by these issues, but women spend far more time and money caught in this cycle of shame and consumption.

Manoush Zomordi, a journalist from New Jersey who works to hold social media accountable for its power, says education is the answer. Understanding the harmful patterns of exploitation that lurk beneath the surface of our technology gives people the agency to make mindful and intentional choices about their use. Snapchat makes money every time we relaunch the app. Every filter we use goes directly into the company’s pockets. The more we can’t show our face without a filter, the richer they become. This breakdown may reframe apps like Snapchat as harmful to our brain chemistry, rather than a fun app you use to talk to your crush while looking like a robotized, unrealistic, dystopian little bunny.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

Student Life

My personal experience with anorexia

One Concordia student talks about her struggles with body dysmorphia and self-esteem

At 14, I was diagnosed with anorexia.

It all started during the summer of 2008. My family and I often visited the Old Port and went to see movies together. During these family outings, whenever I wore a tight-fitting T-shirt, my sisters and brother would comment on my belly fat. I started to feel extremely self-conscious. “You need to stop eating junk food because you are getting fat,” they would tell me.

Thinking back, yes, I had gained a bit of weight in my stomach area, but I wasn’t overweight. Yet back then, I was disgusted with myself. I would stand in front of the mirror and push my belly in, hoping it would just disappear.

People sometimes don’t realize how the things they say can hurt someone. I felt as if there was something wrong with me because of my obsessive thoughts about my body, my weight and my physical features.

I just wanted to feel “normal,” and feel good about myself. When I started grade eight that September, I slowly stopped eating—I used to skip breakfast and lunch. At night, I would only eat a small snack, like an apple or yogurt, just so that my stomach would not growl all night.

I used to admire the models in magazines, and I wanted more than anything to look like them. I wanted to be skinny—I equated that to being pretty.

I also equated skinniness to being healthy. But at 15, my family doctor told me my skinniness was far from healthy. At 5’2, I weighed only 90 pounds. “You need to start eating or else you’ll die,” he told me. That was my wake-up call. He made me keep a food journal to keep track of my eating habits, and to make sure I was eating.

He also advised my mom to watch me, to make sure I was eating three meals a day. At that time, I was getting bullied at school. People would say I was too skinny and ugly. Those were the darkest days of my life. I felt frustrated when my mom started supervising me. However, even though she had never given me emotional support, I knew this was her way of showing she cared about me. My brother used to call me names because I was skinny. My second sister was actively supporting my recovery, though.

The second wake-up call was when my eldest sister cried. “You are malnourished, I can tell just by looking at you,” she said. At that point, somewhere deep down, I knew I wanted to get better. I wanted to be in good health.

At 16, after over a year of following a strict food regimen, I attained a healthy body weight. I was eating healthy and exercising, so not only was I in my healthy weight range, but I was also getting fit. During my recovery, I started swimming. It was very therapeutic for me, a kind of escape.

I was proud of myself: I was eating well, exercising and overcoming the things that had been tearing me down. At first, it was hard to not hate my own body. After every meal, I felt fat. But when I started gaining a healthier weight, I looked at myself in the mirror, in a swimsuit, and I felt beautiful.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about my experience, it would be that life is short—it’s better to live a long healthy life than die young because of anorexia. You should never feel ashamed of your body. You are beautiful. Health is beautiful. Happiness is beautiful. Always remember that you are not alone and that you are worthy.

If you are feeling down about your self-image, or experiencing obsessive thoughts about your weight, body or food, please speak up or call for help.

Graphic by Thom Bell

Student Life

Exploring the healthy side with Fardad

Debunking stress eating: Tis’ the season of midterms and takeout

Midterm season is officially here, and stress is creeping up on many students. Although people respond to stressful situations differently, a lot of us have a common struggle: stress eating.

Emotional eating can happen for a variety of reasons, but this week we will specifically analyze stress as a cause.

When your body is put under prolonged stress, a multitude of physiological changes happen, namely, your body releases a hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol plays a key role in human survival—think about it from an evolutionary standpoint. Your body registers stress as a “fight or flight” situation. When your body thinks it’s in a life or death situation, it “panics” and urges you to consume calories for strength and survival, when really, all you need is a deep breath.

Needless to say, exam period is a stressful time. Seeking refuge in the glory of pizza or greasy fries when the workload gets overwhelming is something a lot of us can relate to.

While this may provide momentarily relief—due to the release of other hormones like dopamine—the underlying cause of your stress still remains.

Additionally, feelings of guilt about eating too much may enter into the equation and end up adding to your initial stress.

But how can you tell the difference between being actually hungry or just feeling stressed?

There are a few telltale signs. Here are the most important ones:

  • We usually turn to comfort foods or unhealthy foods when we are stressed. Let’s just say cauliflower and broccoli aren’t the food of choice when cramming for an exam.
  • According to Harvard Health, consuming comfort food triggers two changes in the brain. First, it stimulates the reward centre of the brain by releasing feel-good hormones. Second, it has been shown to temporarily counter the effects of the stress-producing and processing hormones. So not only does comfort food provide a “happy fix,” but it also temporarily takes the stress away.
  • According to American pediatrics doctor Dr. Mary Gavin, and many other experts, contrary to stress cravings, physical hunger isn’t instant. It takes time for the digestive system to process food.
  • According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, when you feel physiological hunger, it’s due to the gradual release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. Ghrelin itself is released over time, thanks to “feedback” provided by sensory nerve endings in the digestive tract, including the intestine and colon. So if you suddenly have a “need” for a bag of chips, take a second to reflect on how stressed you are in that moment. You might just need to relax and take a deep breath.

Here are a few things you can do to help combat stress eating during exam time: 

  • Get moving. Exercise releases endorphins so hop to it. Physical activity also releases those feel-good hormones and it gets fresh blood flowing to the brain, making you feel more awake.
  • Drink a lot of water, regularly. Dehydration oftentimes manifests as hunger. Staying hydrated helps keep your body healthy and your brain active.
  • Call a loved one or a friend—but make sure you don’t end up talking about studying or exams. The aim here is to take your mind off all the stress by hearing a familiar voice and maybe cracking a joke or two. Tell the person in advance that you don’t want to be talking about school.

Fardad is a science student here at Concordia. He wants to share his research and learning about the science field with the Concordia community.

Graphic by Thom Bell

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