Have you ever seen a young, spindly giraffe try to play soccer, basketball, or rollerblade? That was me for the first seventeen years of my life. While my dad made jokes while embracing me in his arms about how hugging me was like “hugging a number two pencil” (in the most endearing manner), the transition into school was a different story – hearing gossip about me being labeled as an anorexic was a norm for me due to my inherently awkward giraffe physique. In this essay I will examine the overlooked phenomenon of thin-shaming among adolescent girls in American culture through historical particularism & feminist anthropology.
Historical particularism would investigate this issue by looking at how society arrived at a point where the common assumption about very thin women is that they have an eating disorder. In the 1920’s the “desirable” woman was to have a petite, boyish figure with a slim waist. From then forward, we progressed into the hollywood ‘golden age’ which embodied the curvy hourglass figure with large breasts and a plump figure in the 1950’s. Since then we’ve switched back & forth between full figures & dainty physiques. In the 21st century we’ve reverted back to the “thin beauty” ideal, where it’s difficult for most girls to reach this type of uniquely thin physique naturally. We live in a weight obsessed culture, where people often take extreme measures, including nutrition deprivation, to fulfill this ideal. As a result, women whose bodies are inherently thin get caught in the cultural critique & are stamped with an eating disorder. The peak between being ‘too fat’ and ‘too skinny’ becomes increasingly narrow as time goes on. In the end the powerful force of the media dictates how women & men perceive themselves.
Feminist anthropology would question why men don’t face this obstacle. When we are born our bodies are gendered until the time we die, but the difference between men & women in regards to sexualization is crucial to understand. As time progresses, there has been an increase in men objectification, though not nearly to the extent that women experience. As the evolution of women’s bodies continue, any deviation from this frame of the perfect body is scrutinized. For men there are few consequences for this. The implications of being harassed or sexually violated pervade women’s lives. We live in a manipulative culture with a driving force of media behind this body shaming. In the documentary Killing Us Softly, Jean Kilbourne explains the implications of mass media advertising, “The media sells more than products, it sells values, concepts of love, sexuality… and most importantly normalcy.”
The expectation for women’s beauty becomes more complicated and intangible to achieve with each decade. In a culture where advertising profits off self-doubt, it is easy to dislike yourself. Instead of stigmatizing others for being too thin or curvy, we need to realize that ultimately our bodies are just skin made up of cells & tissue, & that they have no power over our virtue, character, or purpose in this world.