Broadcaster and actor Jameela Jamil recently called out multi-national cosmetics brand Avon on their new advert targeted at women. The tag line read “Dimples are cute on your face (not on your thighs)”. The company soon apologised and withdrew the ad, saying they had “missed the mark”.
It was a small victory, highlighting a much bigger problem which will take more than a few Tweets to resolve. Our society expects people – women in particular – who do not conform to narrow standards of size/shape/appearance to feel shame. The word shame is often confused with ‘insecurity’ or ‘dissatisfaction’. There is a myth of women naturally having ‘body issues’, that it is somehow a female trait.
Unfortunately the way we deal with shame can be to hide – covering up with clothes that aren’t our preference, deciding not to exercise or socialise, or even using food, alcohol or other substances to escape. It can also involve dedicating yourself to changing the way you look to get rid of feelings of shame. This can involve negative self talk, depriving yourself of nutrients and obsessing over ‘health’ related routines. Shame manifests as fear and self-criticism and no ‘body type’ is immune.
In my late teens and early twenties, magazines and advertisers would try to profit from articles supposedly about healthy body image. However, what these articles actually focussed on was the concept of women’s bodies being flawed. It usually went something like ‘Hey, don’t worry – extremely thin women have imperfections and hate their bodies too!’. The articles tended to be accompanied by images of very young women employed in an industry that tells them their only value is thinness. This still continues and, sadly, in a much more extreme way due to social media.
We are told that the damaging consequences of body shame are normal, rather than being told that ruthless corporations and distorted social attitudes are damaging us. Shame has created a world in which seriously ill young women have been told by adults that eating disorders are just ‘part of growing up’, then stigmatised for the mental health problems which arise from hatred of their bodies.
Jameela Jamil was absolutely right to shame Avon. Companies should absolutely be ashamed of encouraging self-hatred to make themselves a nice profit. You are not a collection of flaws! Your worth cannot be measured in pounds, inches or size labels. Your life cannot be captured in a before and after photo. You deserve the right to enjoy your body without judgement.