While we might not want to admit it, body image and our perception of other bodies is a part of our everyday life. Our decision on what to wear, what to eat, how we interact, and how we perceive others is all dependent on body image. Our perception of bodies, regardless of if it’s our own or if it’s someone else’s, affects how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. If an individual feels they have a more “ superior” or “ attractive” body, they may treat people with “ lesser” bodies poorly and vice versa. People with “ lesser” bodies will compare themselves to people with more “ desirable” bodies and thus, treat themselves worse, which can lead to mental health issues. The idea of “ desirable” and “undesirable” bodies has caused a rift in today’s society that has led to discourse concerning body image, health, and acceptable treatment of ourselves and others. The need to mend this rift and remove the stigma of “ lesser” bodies is an integral part of women’s studies, regardless of the gender identity of those affected. I, myself, am a Women’s Studies major that’s fully aware of the effects of body shaming, both direct through individual shaming, and indirect through societal expectations.
When people think of Women’s Studies, they assume it mainly focuses on women and women’s issues in terms of legality and society; Women’s Studies topics include discussions on body image and perception that has been used to oppress people of color, overweight individuals, and those with physical disabilities. The standard of beauty that’s seen throughout the world is one of a pale person, usually white, that’s thin/skinny, and has desirable traits, rather that’s large breasts and butts on women, or large muscles on men. I should note that cisgender individuals are the ones that are included in this eurocentric beauty norm. Anyone who doesn’t fit this tight mold is at a social disadvantage from the start and the society isn’t too forgiving to those outside any of these “ beauty requirements.” Plus size women are often at the forefront of this hostility, though they’re not the only ones affected. There’s a general expectation for women to be skinny but curvy, with the only large parts of your body being your chest and bottom. Any stomach or body fat makes you the target for sexist attacks from all directions. Non skinny women are also at a disadvantage with the simple need of clothing. Almost all mainstream fashion brands that are affordable don’t carry sizes that are considered “ plus size” aka sizes 18-30, and if they do, it’s a small rack in the corner of a store compared to the 0-16 sizes that are catered to all throughout the store. Any brands that cater specifically to plus size individuals are usually minimal and expensive, excluding those who cannot afford $60 dresses and $40 tops. I can only think of two brands, Torrid and Lane Bryant and both I can’t shop at often, as their prices are way out of my budget. While I’m fortunate enough to have a body that’s somewhat easier to shop for outside those two brands, it’s still not as easy to shop for compared to a size 10 body.
Understanding body perception and image is key to not only advocating for different types of women, but advocating for men and others who are affected by cisgender, eurocentric beauty expectations. Women’s studies isn’t exclusive to women, it includes anybody affected by gender expectations, including men. Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, regardless of gender identity and ties into body image for masculine individuals. Men or male presenting people are “ required” to have large muscles and a chiseled body, which is a hard body expectation to achieve, especially if you don’t have access to that sort of equipment.
Body image is integral to everyday life and how we see ourselves and others can even affect our daily lives, for better or for worse. Many who aren’t satisfied with their body are able to change their body but those with mental health issues and physical / mental disabilities may not have that ability, so we need to make room for those who aren’t able to turn their lives around to fit either their own expectations or society’s expectations.
Association, American Psychological. Women’s Embodied Self : An Introduction.