Body-shamers won’t disappear if women keep debating them

By Arts & Culture Reporter

After posting a selfie of her post-baby body in underwear last November, Mel Rymill of Southern Australia became an Internet sensation and was heralded for her bravery by the San Francisco Globe when she shut down body-shamers and inspired other full-figured women to post photos of themselves.

More women are speaking out against body-shamers and being met with praise of their bravery for doing so. I am impressed with the progress society has made in accepting fuller-figured women in media and fashion, but I wonder why we are still having a conversation about this topic instead of acknowledging that all women are different and moving on. This is not something newsworthy.

Echoing this sentiment, Vice published an op-ed Jan. 6 stating that people should stop calling women “brave” for defying body-shamers. The author, Kat George, wrote: “Attributing [bravery] to women who stand up for themselves for not fitting cookie-cutter, white-washed, heteronormative beauty standards is the most reductive thing we can do for body positivity. Instead of celebrating celebrities for standing up to body shame, we should be encouraging women to ignore those who seek to reduce them by attacking the skin they’re in.”

George might have been referring to Disney star Zendaya, who posted a photo on Instagram last October comparing an original and retouched photo of her from Modeliste magazine. Her caption read: “Anyone who knows who I am knows I stand for honest and pure self-love. So I took it upon myself to release the real pic and I love it.”

According to a Feb. 6 Teen Vogue article, an Oklahoma State University student named Sherene Zarrabi, who worked at a boutique, was told by the shop’s owner to remove Instagram pictures of herself modeling the store’s clothes because she was not the “stereotypical” model size. Zarrabi responded by quitting via email and shared a screenshot of the message, which tells women, “love yourself, no matter what you look like.” 

I understand women get body-shamed much more than men, so I can see why the media portrays them as brave for shutting down such nasty behavior. But these kinds of stories have the effect of putting real curvy, plus-sized women on the defensive and suggesting that a normal body size is a fit subject for debate. It distracts from who these women are, whether they’re celebrities or boutique workers, and focuses on what women have been traditionally known for—their looks.

The media should not feel compelled to devote this extra attention to women who, like Zarrabi, do not have zero-sized model bodies. Women should be defined by more than their shape. When the media applauds women for speaking out against body shaming, it still put the focus on women’s bodies, rather than their minds or personalities.

Body-shaming is a real issue, but women should not have to speak out against it to prove something. Hopefully, one day it will stop being news, and we can start focusing on something other than what is on the surface.