Body-shaming has long been a part of the Mauritian culture. Whether it is done intentionally or unintentionally, no one should feel self-conscious about their weight, clothing size, skin colour, or physical form just because they do not have what society considers to be “the ideal body type.”
As a result, unrealistic cultural ideals and unfavourable media depictions of body image negatively impact not only a person’s self-worth and self-esteem but also their mental health. Social anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues that might arise. Therefore, tackling body-shaming is one of the ways to improve mental health in Mauritius.
Body-shaming occurs when someone critically or disrespectfully comments on someone’s physical appearance to humiliate them. It includes people making criticisms directed to themselves or others, either in front of that person or behind their backs. It can hence, be done either in person or through the media, internet, and social media platforms.
Therefore, body-shaming is a type of bullying which is also known as cyberbullying when done online. Even if fat-shaming is the most common way of body-shaming, people of all sizes and shapes can be victims of this bullying. Being “too fat”, “too skinny”, “too tall”, or “too short” are among the common criticisms that are usually said.
Additionally, body-shaming can be done both intentionally and unintentionally. For instance, in Mauritius, it is common for people to make jokes such as, “don’t you eat?” or “you eat like a bird.” They usually assume that telling someone that they are skinny is a compliment. However, these words can be harmful if they are said towards people who are already self-conscious about their weight.
Five ways to tackle body-shaming:
1. Increasing awareness and encouraging healthy eating and exercise
One way to tackle body-shaming is to raise awareness on this topic and teach people how the cultural norms in Mauritius related to physical appearance can be harmful to many people. This may help create a less shaming culture by encouraging people to promote more open and realistic cultural norms around physical appearance. Also, healthy eating and exercise should be encouraged in society. Research has found that doing physical activities and eating healthy can reinforce a positive body image. However, those who exercise to improve their appearance usually have a negative attitude toward their body, thus increasing the risk of body-shaming. Therefore, increasing awareness about all the benefits of exercise and healthy eating can help to promote a positive body image. Moreover, while raising awareness, healthy eating and exercising should be emphasized for all individuals, regardless of their weight, rather than focusing on weight as the primary message.
2. Teaching and supporting children to have positive body image
Due to the prevalence of body image problems among children and adolescents, programs that teach and encourage all students to have a positive body image may assist in preventing body-shaming issues from emerging. Programs could be organised in schools to educate them about body-shaming and other related topics such as media literacy, self-esteem, and peer pressure. Children and adolescents may feel more confident about themselves after learning about body confidence. They could also be taught to respect everyone regardless of their appearance, develop strategies to cope with body-shaming, discuss their feelings about their body, and express their emotions.
3. Supporting positive body image for people with long-term conditions and disabilities
People with long-term conditions and disabilities are also likely to experience body-shaming due to many of them usually having negative body image. Supporting them and making access to services such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help tackle body-shaming. CBT can help people with chronic physical illnesses such as cancer to improve their body image. It can also help individuals with longer-term mental health conditions who must deal with the negative impact of medications on their quality of life, body image, and self-esteem. Furthermore, movement therapy impact on body awareness and wellbeing can help those with learning disabilities and an autism spectrum disorder.
4. Supporting positive body image in the LGBT community
Due to poor self-esteem and stressful life events, people in the LGBT community are most vulnerable to experiencing body-shaming. It is therefore essential to support them and to help them to boost their self-esteem.
5. Supporting positive body image in the media and social media platforms.
Another way to tackle body-shaming is that the media could promote a more diversified physical ideal through advertising. People should also be encouraged to report comments or images as “inappropriate content” if they witness body-shaming online.
Mansi Thaneswari Hursahye, YUVA Intern and Psychological Science student at Curtin University (Mauritius)