It seems as though every day another celebrity is making headlines for “clapping back” at their body-shaming critics. From Ashley Graham to Chrissy Teigen, these predominantly female public figures are put on the defensive against anonymous online bullies.
Although we celebrate these female warriors who wave the banner of body positivity and self-love, a new study reveals that instances of public fat-shaming have very real and negative impacts on spectators.
A new study from McGill University revealed that exposure to celebrity fat-shaming helped reinforce and compound anti-fat attitudes that thin is “good” while fat is “bad.”
By selecting 20 celebrity fat-shaming events between 2004 and 2015, researchers analyzed data from North American women who had completed the online Weight Implicit Association Test.
Data collected noted a spike in women’s implicit anti-fat attitudes after each celebrity fat-shaming scandal, with greater increases linked to more high profile weight-related news stories.
While the research is ongoing, the data reveals the impact of diet culture on body positive and the inherent fat-phobia that underlies social messages regarding self-worth, success and beauty.
In the United States, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. A 2014 Canadian survey found that 78 per cent of people report having an excessive concern about their weight, body shape and calorie intake, while 56 per cent admit to restricting certain foods out of a fear of gaining weight.
The inextricable link between diet culture and body shame has prompted the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Network to take action.
On May 6, the NEDA Network celebrates its first #NoDietDay to encourage the rejection of diet culture and the reclaiming self-love for bodies of all shapes and sizes.
NEDA ambassador Lauren Chan knows firsthand how harmful it can be to attribute self-worth to physical appearance. A plus size model, designer and former fashion editor for Glamour magazine, Chan credits her years in front of the camera for exposing the illusions of the fashion world.
“Working in fashion really helped me understand just how fabricated the body ideal and diet culture is…Even after the clothes have been made to fit them, they’re still tailored on set. Even after someone’s had hours of hair and make-up their skin is still smoothed out,” she explained to Yahoo Canada. “Being on the inside of that and realizing that it is all false made me realize that I don’t deserve to sit here every day and feel burdened and subscribe to that. Why should I feel burdened when it’s not even real for the people who are being celebrated by the body ideal?”
Understanding the machine at work behind diet culture instilled Chan with a sense of duty not only to normalize body diversity, but to help shift the focus from women’s appearance to their actions.
“When I finally landed a role as a fashion editor, I felt a lot of relief personally that my work no longer depended on what I looked like, but I also felt a huge call to action to represent people not just based on what they looked like,” she said. “One of my goals as an editor was to feature people whether or not they were models, but based on what they stood for and how their work made a difference.”
Now, Chan is preparing for the launch of her own clothing line Henning, for women sizes 12 and up. With thousands of followers online, she is just one of the many body positive advocates using her platform to encourage others to free themselves from body shame, and reclaim their power, starting with #NoDietDay.
“Thanks to diet culture, we spend so much of our time worrying about what we eat, how much we work out, what size we are, and what that says about us as human beings. And that's all because some companies want to prey on those vulnerabilities to sell us products,” Chan said. “Don't you think we deserve to take a break? Actually, we deserve to not think about that at all—but No Diet Day serves as a good way to carve out at least a day without that messaging. I personally find it hard to combat it solo, so I seek out communities and events like this to make it easier on myself.”
Click here to learn more about #NoDietDay and the NEDA Network.