What is it about women’s bodies that gets people so... well, agitated? A promotional ad by Gap featuring a model in a plaid shirt caused near chaos on Twitter recently. The thin physique of the model caused distress in certain individuals, so much so that Gap formally addressed the issue in a recent press release. Still, the company refused to remove the otherwise harmless clothing ad, a decision many disagree with.
The negative comments about the Gap model’s body size began almost as soon as the photo was tweeted. Words such as “skelator” and “seriously ill” were used to describe the petite woman, and it didn’t take long before the notion of “skinny-shamming” was mentioned. Although by now most are familiar with “fat-shaming.” Its counterpart is much less mentioned in the media. Skinny-shamming is not the opposite of fat-shaming. Rather they are two sides of the same ugly problem: others judging women’s bodies because they do not fit into what is accepted as “normal.”
In their statement to the public, Gap Inc. spokesperson Edie Kissko told People that the company’s intentions were to “celebrate diversity in our marketing and champion people for who they are,” UPROXX reported. The company added that they understood why the photograph offended certain people, and they thanked the customers for their opinion but gracefully reclined any requests to remove the “taboo” photo.
Whether the model suffers from anorexia or is naturally thin is as unimportant as whether an overweight woman indulges in daily binges or has a thyroid condition. Bashing a woman’s figure actually has less to do with her dress size and more to do with the mentality of the basher.
“It all goes back to our self-esteem and we have a fundamental need to feel loved and feel good about ourselves. When we feel threatened especially by weight we unconsciously lash out at people who are thinner than ourselves,” Dr. Mary Pritchard, a healthy lifestyles psychologist, told Huffington Post Live. She explained that, in particular, taking part in “skinny-shaming” is a way to make an individual feel temporarily better about themselves.
The National Eating Disorders Association describes body image as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” How you actually look is not as important as how you perceive yourself to look. Unsurprisingly, this perception can be greatly influenced by the judgment of others.
Although criticism of one’s physique can be devastating to any woman, it can be particularly damaging to those with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder, a type of chronic mental illness. To these women, their bodies are “flawed” to the extent that even stepping out in public can seem shameful. The NEDA lists “narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes,” and stresses related to forms of discrimination and prejudice” as factors contributing to eating disorders.