Over the course of the semester we have talked about the act of body shaming quite frequently in class, and I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of it for my final project. Body shaming is defined as the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about someone’s body shape or size. For my project I wanted to interview students here at Old Dominion University to see if they had any prior knowledge of body shaming or personally experienced it themselves. My interviewees were students who were of African-American and Caribbean descent, because I know that body shaming and is almost somewhat normalized in both cultures. Through conducting these interviews I noticed that family members participating in body shaming was common. Body shaming is something that we see happen almost everyday on social media sights, but someone’s family continuously shaming them for their appearance can lead to the same lifelong problems. People can develop conditions like body dysmorphic disorder, a condition that causes a person to obsess over their “flaws.” This condition is said to develop in adolescence and it affects only about 2% of the population. Through psychiatric help one can get over this condition but some people have it but never get diagnosed for it. I was also able to identify the differences in male and female body shaming with these interviews. It was obvious that body shaming was less serious amongst my male participants while my female interviewees knew exactly what body shaming was and personally experienced it themselves. The male participants either knew what body shaming was but never experienced it or never heard of it but had experienced it. There seems to be less of an emphasis in body shaming in the African-American and Caribbean male community whereas the females are constantly shamed for their bodily appearance. I honestly was not surprised by this because women are supposed to live up to much higher standards for some reason. When I asked where was body shaming most commonly seen the answer was the internet or social media almost every time. The same thing can be said when I asked where the idea of health comes from, we as a society are looking at people on social media and using them as the standard. I think people typically associate personal appearance with health which is why people are so obsessed with how they look. The exercise was one of my favorite parts of the interview and I think that it was extremely relevant to class. My exercise was a visual representation of the power that people’s words carry. I gave my participants a sheet of paper and told them to fold it or crinkle it every time I said something that might offend them or someone else. I used some pretty common phrases that people use which can be considered body shaming and watched them react to my statements and questions. I could tell when one of my remarks hit close to home by the way the participant looked or how aggressively they distorted the paper. I also thought it was interesting to hear how people who experienced body shaming personally felt afterwards. One of my participants told me that she would cry because of her family’s comments about her weight and size which really broke my heart but she told me that’s just how she coped with it. All my participants told me that body shaming made them feel bad, but they all realized later on in life that they could be healthy and not have a slim waist or six pack abdominal muscles. They made it a point to acknowledge that health comes from eating right and exercising not just appearing to be healthy. Overall this was a worthwhile experience and I am so glad that I got the opportunity to do this as my final project. Body shaming seemed to be the most recurring topic in class but this project was much more personal and gave me so much more insight. As a male body shaming does not happen to me very often but I felt empathetic towards my participants that had to constantly go through the embarrassing questions and judgemental statements. This class overall has given me a totally different perspective of our society and how harsh it can be but I strive to better understand why and hope to fix it as a future human services professional.
Kendall Barksdale is a twenty-one year old African American male from the city of Danville Virginia. He studies human services and minors in psychology. He is an extremely goofy individual and loves making people laugh and listening to all types of music. This semester he is taking two women studies courses in order to learn more about women in order to empower them as well as to learn more about his own cultural identity.