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The Real Problem With That Comedian's Tweets About Zendaya's Weight

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HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 14: Actress Zendaya Coleman arrives at ABC's "Dancing With The Stars" 300th Episode Celebration at Boulevard3 on May 14, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 14: Actress Zendaya Coleman arrives at ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” 300th Episode Celebration at Boulevard3 on May 14, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

I had the recent displeasure of reading an article about comedian Julie Klausner’s tweets shaming fellow actress Zendaya about her thin body after watching her on the Kids’ Choice Awards. She insisted that Zendaya must not be eating enough and that her appearance would encourage young girls to develop eating disorders in an effort to look the same way. Usually I think it’s best to just roll one’s eyes over celebrities acting out like this, but the story highlighted some harmful misconceptions that continue to be reinforced in society that I believe need to be put to an end.

First off, just because a person is thin does not mean he/she has an eating disorder. There are women and men suffering from eating disorders who do not fit this body stereotype, and perpetuating this idea may put up barriers to their getting the treatment they need. You do not need to be “thin enough” to have an eating disorder. The skinny body = eating disorder sufferer myth oversimplifies the dreadful disease that disordered eating is: not just a certain BMI but a set of destructive thought patterns that interfere with daily life, which can manifest themselves in a variety of ways (not just anorexia and bulimia). Perpetuating stereotypes about eating disorders only adds to the problem. Instead, people need to educate themselves about the issue, reading both research findings on the subject and people’s stories of struggle and recovery.

What’s more, this assumption can put pressure on women who are naturally thin to be critical of their bodies or lead misinformed people to direct judgmental comments towards them about their appearance, as Klausner did. Some people are naturally on the thin side even if they eat plenty. Some people have health conditions that make it hard to retain weight. And thin girls can have body image issues too, particularly with the thin-shaming that now goes on, purportedly to further the cause of battling eating disorders. At the end of the day, calling people out for being thin is not promoting a culture of healthy body acceptance but perpetuating the idea of body judgment, which leads me to my next point.

Body shaming does not help people but rather perpetuates a culture of obsessing about how one appears to others rather than loving how one
feels in his/her own skin.
 My question is this: How are venomous insults going to encourage people to change their ways or get help (if the person is indeed struggling
with a problem)? If you are genuinely worried about a person’s well-being, then you would not publicly bully them, but express your concern to them in private and offer support to help them towards healing. It is sadly not uncommon to see thinly veiled insults dressed up as concern for people’s health or, in this case, concern that the person is setting a poor example for others because of her body type. There may be the rare person who finds this sort of shaming to be a motivator for them to change an unhealthy lifestyle, but I think it’s safe to say most people find being insulted about their appearance insensitive, hurtful and upsetting.

Even confronting a person respectfully about their health should be done with the
greatest care and concern because, when it comes down to it, we have little idea what people are going through and how our words might affect them.

For all Klausner knew, Zendaya could have been in recovery from an eating disorder and her comments could have easily served as a trigger to send her into remission. (I am not saying this is true, as I don’t know Zendaya, but it is something to consider.) Even if Zendaya is unaffected by these comments, Klausner’s words will reach the
ears of many beyond her own circle and have the potential to hurt people who are in a tender place in terms of their relationship with their body. Words we may think harmless can wound deeply depending on a person’s current situation
and previous struggles.

All in all, while Klausner claims she was acting out of concern for girls growing up to look like Zendaya, the message her actions really send is that it is OK to bully other people about their appearance without regard for their life situation or what impact their words will have. Klausner is essentially undermining her intended message that women shouldn’t feel pressured to look a certain way by enforcing that, yes, women do need to worry about what bystanders will tweet about their appearance when they go to an event to receive an award for their non-appearance-related accomplishments.

Overweight people don’t deserve to be targeted. Underweight people don’t deserve to be targeted. Neither does anyone whose weight falls anywhere in between. We all need to stand by each other and foster a loving environment where we all work to lead happy, healthy lives, where we can focus on chasing our dreams and building our character rather than worrying about what other people think of our appearance.

Body shaming is bullying. Bullying is not OK. Love is. Encouragement is. Praise is. Positivity is. These are the things that will help prevent and heal eating disorders and body image issues.

Words can hurt. Let’s be careful how we use them.

Originally published: March 22, 2016
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