The GOOD Dictionary: What Does “Body-Shaming” Really Mean?

A trendy term that may actually fuel our obsession with image

This week, we kick off an online series, “GOOD Dictionary,” where we take an in-depth look at the words and phrases that become part of the conscious person’s vernacular. This week’s phrase: Body shame.

Body Shame: /ˈbädē/ /SHām/ noun

  • inappropriate negative statements and attitudes toward another person's weight or size.

Hardly a day goes by in the world without someone being “body-shamed,” or “shutting down” and “slamming” body-shamers. On Monday, the story of the day, published by Refinery29, was about a fitness instructor named Liz Krueger. Krueger had posted a photo of herself wearing a tight minidress to Instagram detailing an experience she had while at a friend’s wedding. “If only I knew that choosing this dress for a wedding on a 90 degree day meant so many women would be outrightly rude to me, and even come up behind me slap my ass as I'm standing alone,” she said. She then wrote that she was starting a women’s movement called #KruegerKindness. Refinery29 called it “An Inspiring Response To Being Body-Shamed At A Wedding.”

The problem is… What Krueger experienced wasn’t body-shame. It was harassment. She wasn’t being shamed for or about her body. Her body was being violated and objectified in a physical way. There’s no denying, either, that Krueger occupies a slim body, the kind of body we see well-represented in most mainstream media.

It’s notable that Refinery29 chose to categorize what Krueger faced as “body shame”—it’s not a phrase that Krueger herself uses in her Instagram posts. In recent years, “body-shaming” has become a popular subject for internet news headlines. Body-shaming is so clickable, it earns its own hashtag on some news sites. Body-shaming happens to celebrities. It happens to pregnant people. If you have a body that is not thin, or white, or able, you are particularly susceptible. We live in a culture that privileges beauty, and often a specific type of beauty embodied by white women.

The anatomy of a body-shaming story goes something like this: a person—usually a woman—is derided, or criticized, or otherwise made to feel shame about her body. Often the target is being singled out for occupying a body that is not thin. That person makes a social media post “calling out” their body-shamers, taking an admirable stand against bullying. If this person is a celebrity, they might do an interview about it, or release some kind of defiant statement.

Google Trends analysis of “body-shaming”

Look at the links that populate this Google Search: body-shaming is not so much a fresh cultural phenomenon as it is a media phenomenon (GOOD often covers body-shaming stories. This writer has written one or two. We also wrote a post about Krueger, though we described the incident as bullying). A Google Trends analysis says the phrase began to gain currency in 2012—with a spike in October. That was the month that local TV news anchor Jennifer Livingston went on air to publicly respond to a letter from a viewer who castigated her for her “physical condition”. Video of her retort received attention from national news outlets. That was also the same month that Plus Model magazine released it’s “Love Your Body” issue. “Body-shaming is present in our lives,” said editor-in-chief Madeline Jones, “…We see bigger women being put down for being too big but we also see men and women body-shaming smaller models for being too small.”

Google Trends reveals that online interest in “body-shaming” nearly doubled in 2014, and peaked in October 2015—that month, Ronda Rousey, Vin Diesel, Selena Gomez, Khloe Kardashian and British girl band Little Mix all made headlines for being victims to body-shaming. Even the irreverent cartoon show South Park addressed the issue in an episode about “safe spaces” in an episode that aired that same October.

“Body-shaming” as a cause is a pretty honorable one. There is no moral ambiguity here. As a society, we’ve come to collectively agree, at least in public discourse, that body-shaming is an incontrovertible sin. No one should feel bad about their bodies! And yet body-shaming, in some way, happens to everybody. If you have a body of any kind, you have probably been conditioned to feel some kind of shame about it. That’s why it’s so easy to get behind. It’s a cause that implicates no one but the body-shamer. The rest of society is off the hook. This explains why it’s become the cause du jour of any celebrity who wants to drum up a little goodwill, or free PR. It’s a cause that will offend no one but terrible people.

But the recent focus on body-shaming represents a more troubling trend of the ways in which feminist principles are sublimated into more palatable forms of popular discourse, and made toothless through their depoliticization. As the concept of “body shame” is expanded to include everything that happens to every person’s body, it becomes meaningless (See, also: Jia Tolentino on bullying).

Worse, it elides context: that certain people are made to feel a specific kind of shame for their specific kinds of bodies. That fat bodies, and disabled bodies, and trans bodies, and brown and black bodies are stigmatized and objectified at greater magnitude than thin white bodies. That certain bodies are inscribed with a kind of deviance that rouses hatred or malice. That certain kinds of bodies face a fatal kind of violence if they don’t blend in well enough in a crowd. When we center “body shame” as an issue, beauty is the right we’re fighting for. And other political priorities fall by the wayside: for example, the fact that many people don’t even have reproductive control over their own bodies. Or the fact that the state inflicts violence on the bodies of vulnerable people, including those who are incarcerated or living in marginalized communities. A focus on body shame only fuels our obsession with image, and ignores the fact that many people are unable to even ensure the physical safety of their bodies.

And that’s what’s missing here: What happened to Krueger was bad. But “kindness” doesn’t work as a political project. What we need is systemic change, and for that we have to be specific, and deliberate, about the words we choose and the violations we choose to name.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

Keep Reading Show less
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

Keep Reading Show less