We need to break cycle of body shaming

We need to break cycle of body shaming.
We need to break cycle of body shaming.
Image: 123RF/ majivecka

It happens at corporate parties, in social circles, and in the family - skinny, large, short, tall, or somehow different from the 'ideal' others have in mind, leads to body shaming.

It's not just against others, however. Consider what's the thing you like least about yourself. Most likely it's related to your appearance. We are unreasonably hard on ourselves and others in this way.

Knowing the stresses weighing on people today, why do we still have such high expectations? Perhaps two main reasons are that we lack awareness, and that we are 'trained' by the media and society from a young age to criticise ourselves and others.

Advertising and celebrity culture are much to blame. Idolised body forms are daunting, and they are highly exploited in the media. Society thus pressures us to be this or be that. We need to choose to defy these unrealistic notions and help others feel comfortable around us, no matter their physical characteristics.

A world of diversity is much more interesting, valuable and productive than a world of carbon copies.

Let's look at this problem from the inside out through an example.

Mandisa grew up in a home where there was little money, even for food. She begged on the streets for something to eat from a young age. Often, the only time there was happiness at home was when there was food on the table. Her parents could be abusive, but never when there was food.

As a result, she developed a difficult relationship with food without realising it. Mandisa began to see food as a comfort, as a sign that all was well with the world, and that she could relax and not be afraid.

Mandisa developed a sugar addiction, and though she knows people judge her for her weight, she can't help turning to food because she sees it as a source of security, sometimes her only friend.

People are highly critical about body types, likely because we are such visual creatures.

A critical question is: what do we do when we see someone isn't responding to 'advice' to change their body? Do we nit-pick at the issue or treat the person badly? Some people may even punish the person for not complying.

But does this really have any chance of helping them when they are already fighting a battle against an underlying health problem they may not even know about, battling stress and emotional scars, or their weight has changed because of medication, allergies, surgery or for many other reasons?

If you are struggling with these problems, and they are affecting employee satisfaction and performance in the workplace, it needs to be taken very seriously and addressed. Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us delves into these issues and offers practical solutions to problems surrounding body diversity, as well as other diversity issues that can hamper organisational progress and cause deep hurt to individuals if not handled with care.

The book looks at overcoming instant separation magnets (ISMs) in the South African context, and how to manage diversity so that everybody wins.

Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us by Devan Moonsamy is available from the ICHAF Training Institute.

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