Last week, E! News personality Giuliana Rancic appeared on The Today Show to address several current controversies, including outspoken criticism of her increasingly thin physique. In the interview, Rancic acknowledged her recent weight loss and explained that her thinness is a side effect from a breast cancer treatment medication she is taking and not a symptom of an eating disorder, as speculation suggested.
Criticism of an individual’s thin physique is an interesting development in our emerging body shaming culture. After all, our society tells us that being thin is attractive, and a very lean physique aligns with this widely accepted body ideal. You may also be familiar with fat shaming, which is overt criticism of bodies perceived to be larger than the cultural ideal. In fact, just this week, singer-songwriter Pink took to Twitter to address criticism of her weight. As evidenced by Rancic, Pink and a slew of other celebrities (including comedian Kathy Griffin) have spoken out against harsh criticism of their body shape and size, body shaming is particularly common among celebrities because their lives are under a microscope of paparazzi, tabloids and legions of vocal fans that often take to social media with their opinions about their favorite stars’ bodies. While most fans would never voice this harsh feedback to celebrities face-to-face, the internet offers a relatively anonymous vehicle for hurtful and downright mean comments.
With regard to skinny shaming, it is important to understand that there are several legitimate reasons why someone may be very thin. Genetics are always a consideration—some people are just born with thin bodies and they are very healthy despite their lower weight. Like Rancic explained, weight loss can also be a side effect of a medication or a symptom of an illness unrelated to an eating disorder. A common example is hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid produces more hormones than the body needs and weight loss results. However, thinness can also be an important symptom of an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa.
Know the difference between body shaming and genuine eating disorder concern. Body shaming is mean-spirited criticism of someone’s weight and shape, both bodies perceived to be too large and those considered too thin, and should not be confused with eating disorder awareness and intervention. Body shaming fails to acknowledge a fundamental truth of an eating disorder—you cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at their weight. While weight loss or weight gain can be an important symptom of an eating disorder, eating disorders also involve serious psychological and social symptoms related to food, eating and body image.
Understand eating disorder warning signs. Along with changes in weight, other eating disorder warning signs can include an obsession with dieting and/or healthy eating, increasingly negative or distorted body image, changes in mood, and withdrawal from work, school and social activities. If you have genuine concerns about a friend or loved one’s weight as it relates to their physical and/or emotional health, talk to a healthcare professional or contact an eating disorder treatment center. Medical and mental health specialists can give advice about voicing your concerns with honesty, compassion and a factual basis, which can help a friend or loved one acknowledge an eating disorder and access the care they need.
In a world where body shaming is becoming increasingly popular, The Golden Rule is so important to remember and practice: when it comes to commenting on the weight, shape and size of others, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t comment on the weight of others, and if people comment on your weight, tell them that their opinions are hurtful. Do your part to end body shaming and promote a culture of body acceptance.
Have you observed body shaming in today’s culture and/or been the target of fat or skinny shaming? Share your insights in the comments below.