ICU Image Consulting, Vancouver BC

Body Shaming and Sexism – A Deeper Image Issue

You may have been following the Olympics these past days, watching athletes excel in their chosen sports, pushing their limits and inspiring countless others to do the same. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to the contest and one that’s been exposed more often since the advent of social media.

Body shaming isn’t new, and neither is sexism, but both have been called out on the international stage recently, in politics and sport. If you haven’t been following the various stories, two Olympians, Robel Kiros Habte (and Ethiopian swimmer) and Alexa Moreno (a Mexican gymnast) have been called out on their body shapes, in both cases being shamed for being heavier or rounder than might be expected of other athletes in their sports. Sexism is present in the way some commentators have been describing the achievements of the female athletes, in particular American two time Olympian trap shooter Corey Cogdell and Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu. In the first case, the media referred to her as the wife of a Chicago Bears’ defensive lineman and in the second, gave all the credit for her world record breaking time to her husband/coach. It’s very similar to the way the media showed a picture of Bill Clinton on the front page when Hillary Clinton made history as the first female Presidential candidate of a major party. Being shamed for one’s body or shamed for one’s gender is a classic way of attempting to take someone down a peg or two, as if they never should have dared to strive for more in the first place. It deeply undervalues someone’s achievements.

This kind of media may not have turned heads ten years ago, but thankfully, consumers are waking up and talking back to big media. The backlash against the body shaming, sexist media and other critics was massive and fast, with many other voices expressing their disgust towards those who choose to criticize and continue to use subtle and not so subtle ways of taking down those among us who work hard to do great things. How does this all relate back to image? It speaks to how we as a society view those that are different and by extension, how we see ourselves. This larger perspective in turn influences the choices we make daily to wear a certain thing or try our hands at something that’s different. We evaluate the risk to our personal and professional lives – when the world is more tolerant, we’re more likely to branch out, call out and be less likely to engage in shaming or sexist behaviour.

The question to ask is are you contributing to the problem, or being part of the solution? If you find yourself evaluating people you meet daily or engaging in any kind of body shaming or sexist language, it’s a great time to change. Try catching yourself and reframing – here are a few examples to get you going:

Body shaming thought: “Look at that gymnast, she’s so fat!” vs. reframed thought: “Look at that gymnast, she’s so powerful!”

Sexist thought: “She swims like a man.” vs reframed thought: “She swims so well!”

It can be a tricky thing to pin down if you’ve never given it any thought, so start practicing today. The more aware you are, the faster you can be part of the solution. Not only that, but you may find this kind of ‘catch and reframe’ thinking will help you fix up your own mental tracks and give your self-image an unexpected boost.

 

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