Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Body shaming affects young people & can kill them

Zoputa Difini relays some research about students who have a negative body image in an article Thursday for Mainstream, the student newspaper at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Maryland.

The article is entitled “What’s Killing Us: How Body Image Affects Young People,” and a reading of the text reveals that the article is indeed about kids whose negative body image and the bullying and shaming they take about it from their peers lead them to commit suicide:

In 2011, 14-year-old Fiona Geraghty hung herself in her bathroom. Four years later, eighteen-year-old Hannah Carpenter was found dead in the woods. The link between the two young women is suicide. Unfortunately, this desperate act is an all-too-familiar one in today’s society.

Both of the teen girls referenced were obsessed with achieving a perfect figure before they killed themselves, and the fashion industry was actually blamed for Fiona’s death.

Any analysis of research on this subject will show that high school students who believe they’re overweight are more likely than their classmates to suffer from depression or attempt suicide. The pressure to conform to some notion of desirability is present from a young age, and when kids don’t fit into that notion, in their own minds, based mainly on media coverage, especially in the fashion industry, serious mental health problems result.

Mostly, it doesn’t go that far

A little more than 5 percent of teens develop eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, because of a negative body image, the student newspaper noted, and eating disorders kill their fair share of young women. But depression is actually a more common factor in suicide for young women: “When a young person has negative feelings connected to body image, it leads to a series of other complications including depression. … Depression and suicide are linked, with an estimate that up to 60 percent of people who commit suicide have major depression.”

More commonly, though, young women learn to cope with the body God gave them and let abuse from know-nothing peers bounce off.

The Daily Monitor is a newspaper based in Uganda and has the distinction of being one of the first newspaper websites on the African continent. In November, the paper sketched out the young life of Rhoda Musiima, a woman who felt the slings and arrows of body shaming in her teen years and overcame those barriers to happiness.

“Battling any insecurity is never a one-day thing; dealing with insecurities is not a disease that can be cured by swallowing pills thrice a day. It is a journey, one that has got a lot of bumps and victories to it. I had to embark on this journey if I wanted to be a normal person. Different insecurities need different antidotes or solutions. For my lack of self-esteem and confidence, I needed self-love and self-confidence,” she says.

“I shut the rest of the world out and focused on myself. This helped me find reasons or things about me I am grateful for. These moments of gratitude are very important in one’s self-love journey. Drawing lessons from situations helped me eliminate repetition of my mistakes in the long run: I reduced on the sad moments in my life, hence giving more time to do things that I love,” she adds.

You can help combat body shaming by understanding these important principles:

  • Body image issues often start in childhood, so parents and older sibling should focus on building a child’s self-worth, not on the physical.
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle, but don’t put the primary focus on weight or outer beauty.
  • Be careful on social media, and don’t take part in bullying and body-shaming online.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be the bully.
  • Find and look up to realistic and inspiring everyday heroes.
  • Model empathy and encourage empathy in others. Each of us fights our own battles, and there are many reasons people struggle with their weight.

Fashion industry turns in a new direction, a little

Ashley Graham, of Nebraska, became the first plus-size model to make the Sports Illustrated cover.

Partly because no paying customer actually has a body like the thin models that show up on the covers of fashion magazines and partly in response to outcry from people who would like to reduce the incidence of teen body-shaming and suicide, the fashion industry has started promoting a diversity of models in terms of body style and size.

Just this week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a fashion industry trade group that represents more than 500 men’s and women’s designers as well as jewelry and accessory designers, called on its members to showcase women of greater size diversity, such as plus-size models Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine.

“We are beginning to see signs of fashion moving in the right direction,” Marc Karimzadeh and Nicky Campbell wrote on the CFDA’s website. “Designers such as Michael Kors and Christian Siriano are casting models that defy tradition. Body positivity is important in fashion, and we want to see more designers and companies embrace this in 2019,” they wrote.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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