ENOUGH – The weight of society
ENOUGH is a “woke & unapologetic” space created by Simone and Giovanna that contributes to the narrative on feminism, body diversity and discrimination. They share their insights on the important topics being discussed in Italy (or not being discussed enough), here on Accento. Follow their Instagram page for more!
Women in Western societies are put under a tremendous amount of pressure when it comes to having a “beach body ready” also known as having a “bikini body”. The stress of losing weight before the summer is one inflicted by advertisements shown on TV and on Social Media and it’s dangerous because it encourages women to get on ridiculous diet plans that will never allow them to achieve the body one would need (according to our society) to be beach ready. The goal society has set for us is unattainable for most women. For years the perfect summer body was identified in having a flat tummy, thin, long legs, a round bottom and small breasts. Today, “thanks” to the Kardashians phenomenon, who have definitely contributed in creating additional impossible to attain body standards, one can get away with having thick legs, larger bottom, thin waist and large breasts. However, there’s a caveat. Either you fit in the category of the “hourglass shaped” woman – thin waist, big butt – or you are considered the wrong type of plus-size. The type of body one has, determines the type of summer outfit one should wear, since the wrong type of curvy or plus-size body shape, will most definitely receive dirty looks or giggles for daring to wear a bikini as opposed to a one piece swimsuit. In fact, many think that those types of bodies should not expose their belly fat or any other so-called imperfection. This is a notion that has been drilled in our minds for decades. How can one grow to become a confident and healthy person (and we would like to put an emphasis on mental health), if all they’ve heard throughout their life is that bodies not meeting Western society’s standards are wrong and they need correction? It’s harmful. Some of the primary school children Simone works with (boys and girls) at times have refused to remove a jumper to attend Taekwondo or P.E lessons, others are refusing to join in swimming lessons because they are embarrassed to show their “less-than-perfect” bodies. In this instance we are talking about 9, 10 and 11 year-olds who are already growing up having a complex about their looks and may develop a tortuous relationship with food. Society worries about plus size bodies being unhealthy, how is having such a negative mindset towards oneself at such a young age healthy? Why instead of promoting diet pills, bikini-body-challenges, or dangerous weight loss plans, which may not work for all bodies and ages, isn’t more effort put into promoting healthy life-styles? Having a thin body isn’t a synonym of being healthy, a balanced diet accompanied by regular exercise is what makes a person stronger and healthier, therefore thin bodies shouldn’t be advertised as the must have key to happiness.
It should be noted, that the ideal bikini body is not limited to sizes and proportions, it also includes not having body hair, stretch marks or cellulite.
How many women can or should be pressured into living up to these preposterous standards?
There are those who may argue that feeling the pressure of having to lose weight prior to travelling to a beach destination is down to our own insecurities, but I would like to encourage those people to carry out a simple web search about what it is to be “bikini ready” and they will see that they are going to be presented only with images of young, athletic, white women. For someone who does not look like that and has been depicted, even if indirectly, as someone who has the type of body that needs fixing, looking at those images can be mortifying. I would also encourage the same people to look at the comments under the Instagram posts of women who have a socially accepted body type posing in a bikini, and the pictures of women who don’t, to see what are the different responses and the abuse endured by the latter. A clear example of the double standard and of the rejection of plus size bodies on social media, are the cases of Meghan Tonjes (2014) and Nyome Nicholas-Willliams (2020). The pictures of the two women have been removed by Instagram, because (allegedly) in violation of the social network’s guidelines, and were later reinstated along with an apology. Everyday, thousands of influencers’ posts (who meet the body standards discussed above) are shared on Instagram. Often they portray proud (as it should be) semi-nude bodies, which have not been censured by Instagram, we wonder what the difference is.
Having grown up in Italy, we firmly believe that the film and television industries reinforce the idea that an ideal body exists.
If we think about Italian movies or tv shows, the plus size girl still doesn’t have her own voice and needs a makeover, or someone else’s validation to understand her worth. The majority of female TV presenters fit into the same category whereas plus size and curvy women are mainly comedians or the sidekick. On the dating show ‘Uomini & Donne’ one of the commentators Gianni Sperti keeps on putting women down by telling them what they should or should not wear because of their body shape (it is important to note that the show is over 20 years old, and it has never included a plus size woman, only recently it has included 2 curvy women who were celebrated for their beauty despite their size). Calzedonia, a major italian brand, never features curvy or plus size women in their campaigns. And the list goes on.
We weren’t able to escape from such pressure even during a global pandemic. A few weeks into the first lockdown Memes and GIFs started circulating about how much weight people had been putting on. Italian influencers started posting pictures of themselves using filters which made them look as if they were plus size women. Being plus size in our society comes with challenges and a struggle which needs to be acknowledged, addressed and not mocked or feared. The everyday woman cannot put weight on and off as if it was a filter. Yes, we should be able to laugh about it, yes we should be able to not take everything so seriously, but there was an element of truth in those memes, the fear of ruining that ideal body or the chances of achieving it, and at a time where people were afraid for their lives, the focus should not have been on “I’m going to be so fat after this”, but perhaps it should have shifted on how to remain healthy both physically and mentally.
After months of being inside trying to avoid crowded places, things are starting to change with the easing of restrictions and reopening of bars and restaurants. The focus, once again, seems to be on weight loss and on getting ready to have the perfect summer body, instead of being on how going “back to normal” will impact our mental health. Maybe concentrating on appearances is a coping mechanism people use to try to go back to how things were before the pandemic, but we shouldn’t. How can we go back to normal, and improve the normal that we know?