There’s no denying I’m not petite. I’m a busty size 16 woman and I post pictures of my body in very few clothes, online, in the hope that it will encourage others to feel that while not all bodies look the same, that doesn’t mean they are any less worthy of being shown off and appreciated.
I don’t smoke, I have no on-going health issues, I don’t have any regular prescriptions, I pay privately for therapy and don’t use my local NHS Mental Health service. Yet according to online body-shamers, I’m a strain on the NHS.
However, this seems to mean a fair chunk (pun intended) of the online community suddenly become medical professionals and believe they can assess my health based solely on what I look like. There was even one woman who believed she knew my exact BMI from clicking on a single picture of me, a skill I would have possibly been impressed with had she not got it completely wrong. If it isn’t a comment about the diabetes I don’t have, the strain on my very strong and happy knees, being told I deserve to die and have my children taken away from me – it’s just unoriginal slurs and insults about being fat; filling up the comment section and my inbox.
My block button gets pressed often and I try my best where possible to filter out the negative but what’s often worse than just an unsolicited insult are the passive aggressive comments and remarks that are neatly wrapped in privilege and presented as ‘concern’ or ‘advice’.
Despite the fact we all know bullying, abusing and being horrible is wrong, I’m constantly told: ‘But you put yourself on the internet, so you should expect it’. Would you tell someone who had been hit by a car as they crossed the road safely they should expect it because cars exist? I’m not saying everyone should like my body or my online content and I’m always happy to have open discussions with whoever about whatever – including engaging in constructive debates – however, I shouldn’t be abused because of my body; no one should.
I recently started to respond to comments and ask: what is it about my body that offends you so much? Very few actually provide me with a significant answer and normally respond with something vague and immature. I believe there are three main reasons for people being comfortable body-shaming someone on the internet. The first is a deep-rooted self-loathing and a projection of their negative view about themselves onto others. The second is them perpetuating the programmed idea that people should be judged solely on their physical appearance. And last, but probably the most irritating of them all, is the fact that some people are just arseholes.
People are insulted that I don’t hate myself, that I am finally comfortable in my own skin and that – god forbid – I even flaunt it. Every belly roll, dimple of cellulite and boobs that have a very tight relationship with gravity seem to trigger people in a way I almost find fascinating. But even when trying to understand the reasons people body-shame, what surprises me most is hypocrisy of the ‘strain on the NHS’ comments. The NHS mental health services continue to be stretched and are struggling to support those effected by online bullying and the number continues to rise. The body-shaming, the abuse and the insults are all feeding this figure and there has been a significant increase in diagnoses of anxiety, depression and even suicide.
And yet people continue to abuse their right to freedom of speech to push their beauty ideals on to others, reprimand bodies that fall out of society’s expectations and make fatphobic comments. I will continue to do the work I do online because for me, the scariest form of body shaming isn’t the comments on the internet from strangers who have never met me and are making wild assumptions based on an image the size of a postage stamp, but it’s the shaming we have done and continue to do to ourselves.
I can block the messages and delete the comments and will continue to do so, but my energy and my work is not silencing the anonymous critics on the internet but the inner voice of women that tells them they are not good enough.