Given we’re all confined, to a greater or lesser degree, at home once again, you might have thought it was safe to don your comfiest trackies and tuck into some biscuits. But lady, the world has other ideas.
It’s hard to know where to start with the current body-shaming epidemic. But given we have to start somewhere, and given my word count is limited, let’s set our remit to this month, shall we?
We’ll begin with Billie Eilish.
Not my responsibility
There are a lot of ways we could describe Billie Eilish. Five-time Grammy winner, for example. Youngest person, and only woman, ever to win all four main Grammy categories. You could opt for two-time Billboard Award winner, or two-time Guinness World Record holder, or – as music journalism legend Kenneth Womack opted for – “reigning queen of electropop”.
And yet, when Eilish dared to pop to the supermarket last week wearing a pair of shorts, a vest, and a body most women would describe as totally normal, some random man on the internet decided to turn her (paparazzi-captured) image into a meme, declaring “In ten months Billie Eilish has developed a mid-30’s wine mom body.”
We won’t go into all the very many and varied reasons that was a dick move – mercifully, Eilish’ fans did that for us, swiftly and mercilessly. But we are allowed to ask why he thought it funny in the first place.
Eilish is a teenager – a highly accomplished one, but a teen nonetheless. She is also a star who has gone to huge lengths to not just protect her body from public scrutiny, but to highlight the unattainable standards society holds its pop culture icons to.
She even went so far as to record a short film, entitled Not My Responsibility, for screening on her sellout tour last year, in which she powerfully tackled our culture of body-shaming, asking “Would you like me to be smaller? Weaker? Softer? Taller? Would you like me to be quiet?
“Do my shoulders provoke you? Does my chest? Am I my stomach? My hips? The body I was born with – Is it not what you wanted? If I wear what is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I’m a slut. Though you’ve never seen my body, you still judge it, and judge me for it. Why?”
Over to you, Instagram
And then there’s Instagram, which just can’t seem to put a foot right at the moment, bless it.
One would have hoped that on the back of June’s #IwanttoseeNyome scandal, the faceless bosses behind the algorithm might have got their act in gear. And yet, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen two more examples of how the platform censors anyone who doesn’t fit its white, skinny, cis-gendered beauty ideals.
On the back of the Curvy Nyome furore, American plus-size model Kayla Logan started #DontDeleteMyBody. Her aim was not just to prove how fatphobic and racist the Instagram algorithm is, but also to beat it at its own game, by asking 50 fat influencers to simultaneously share images of themselves to their grids, containing a search bar asking: “Why does IG sensor my body but not thin bodies?”
Predictably, Instagram censored their bodies, removing a host of the images outright and barring others for sharing. One particularly unlucky poster, Kalae Nouveau, had both her original and subsequent posts deleted and her account shadow-banned, meaning its visibility was restricted. The only #DontDeleteMyBody post that Nouveau was able to leave on her feed was a plain text tile reading: “I’m tired. I’ll continue to tell y’all not to delete my body tomorrow. #DontDeleteMyBody”. Sigh.
Next up, we saw the inimitable Australian comic mastermind Celeste Barber censored, inexplicably, for her latest #CelesteChallengeAccepted post, in which she mocked a nude image of supermodel Candice Swanepoel. While the model’s image was available to share freely, Barber’s own mock-up, featuring a similar amount of side boob but with the addition of pants, was blocked for sharing. The platform said the picture breached its nudity guidelines. Barber hit back: “Hey Instagram, sort out your body-shaming standards, guys. It’s 2020. Catch up.”
Which brings us to today, and to Britain, and to our government’s continuing efforts to convince the population that it is not the confusion of a three tier system, a lack of PPE or a blind insistence that we can’t live without pubs that has led to a spiralling coronavirus death rate, but the size of our collective waistlines.
Upon the launch of its Obesity Strategy, a host of healthcare and eating disorder bodies warned the government’s approach was at risk of causing more problems than it fixed. The government pressed on regardless.
Then, yesterday, in the wake of so many body-shaming headlines, body positivity movement Anti Diet Riot Club joined forces with AnyBody UK and a host of healthcare professionals to publish an open letter to Boris Johnson calling, yet again, for a rethink.
Suggesting, politely, that the government had overlooked key factors including weight stigma, social inequality and the harmful effects of promoting diets and calorie counting, the letter went on to urge the government to take a different tack.
“Our weight is influenced by over 100 different variables including our genetic makeup, our socioeconomic status, our geography, our physical and psychological health, the medications we take, as well as lifestyle choices, many of which are outside individual control.
“Decades of evidence demonstrates the deleterious impact of weight stigma,” the letter continued, going on to cite the countless ways in which higher-weight individuals are disadvantaged by a society which sees them as lesser.
Critically, the letter went on to give specific, expert recommendations for how the government could do better, from addressing health inequality and socioeconomic disparities to making healthy eating and activity accessible to all, rather than focussing on an approach which lays blame at the doors of individuals.
It’s sensible, science-based stuff. And given the climate into which it has been released, it feels more essential than ever. The big question now is, what exactly are the government, and Instagram, going to do about it?