So­ci­ety

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - Text: Raphaelle Elkrief – Il­lus­tra­tion: Flore Chemin

As the dik­tat of thin­ness looms over ever-younger chil­dren, the Body Pos­i­tive move­ment strikes back.

Ex­tra small Belle. The Lit­tle Mer­maid and her hour­glass fig­ure. Cin­derella who must have burnt off calo­ries spend­ing so long scrub­bing the floor. What if the next Dis­ney hero­ine were fat? That’s the ques­tion Dis­ney was asked last De­cem­ber by Michelle El­man and Amy Wooldridge, two Bri­tish blog­gers who dressed up for the oc­ca­sion as Ra­pun­zel and Snow White. Co­in­ci­den­tally or not, this ques­tion echoes last sum­mer’s polemic at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val about the ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign for Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs. On the poster a beau­ti­ful, tall, slen­der fe­male char­ac­ter stood be­side a much shorter, plumper ver­sion. What re­ally caused the uproar (and ap­palled the an­i­mated par­ody’s di­rec­tor) was the tagline: “What if Snow White was no longer beau­ti­ful and the 7 Dwarfs not so short?” It was a per­fect ex­am­ple of the body-sham­ing tac­tics used by mar­ket­ing, in­stantly picked up by plus-sized model Tess Hol­l­i­day. “Why is it okay to tell young kids be­ing fat = Ugly?” she wrote in a tweet.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion begins at school

While no­body to­day would try and deny that one can be dis­crim­i­nated against in the work­place on the ba­sis of phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, few would sus­pect how widespread this dis­crim­i­na­tion is in child­hood. And yet, even in nurs­ery school, teachers are thought to be­have dif­fer­ently with at­trac­tive and unattrac­tive chil­dren, as re­ported in France by Jean Maison­neuve and Mar­ilou Bru­chon-Sch­weitzer in the early 1980s ( Modèles du corps et psy­cholo­gie es­thé­tique, PUF). This dis­crim­i­na­tion may even con­tinue through pri­mary school up into higher ed­u­ca­tion and is al­ready at work in the home. Com­ments about weight such as “he’s so chubby” or “isn’t she a lit­tle out­side the weight chart?” or “the school can­teen must be good!” be­gin in early child­hood…

As a re­sult, some chil­dren have a com­plex about their weight by the age of 5-6, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion Com­mon Sense Me­dia (CSM), which is ded­i­cated to help­ing kids thrive in a world of me­dia and tech­nol­ogy. Worse still, 80% of ten-year-old Amer­i­can girls ad­mit to hav­ing al­ready been on a diet. “As their self-aware­ness grows, chil­dren clas­sify, cat­e­go­rize and sit­u­ate them­selves in the world. From then on, the first dif­fer­ences may ap­pear to them and the first com­plexes take root: teeth, ears, size, weight, hair colour, ev­ery­thing they see in oth­ers that shows they are dif­fer­ent, ab­nor­mal, may cause a neg­a­tive vi­sion of them­selves,” con­firms Catherine Mon­not, PhD in so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy.

By urg­ing par­ents and women to change the way they look at them­selves, we can help cre­ate pos­i­tive role mod­els for chil­dren.

Car­toons and role mod­els

While adults strug­gle as best they can to deal with an ide­al­ized im­age of the body, con­veyed by ad­verts cel­e­brat­ing thin­ness and in­creas­ingly re­touched mod­els, chil­dren are in no way spared. In 2005, a Cana­dian fem­i­nist foun­da­tion pub­lished a re­port on girls in Canada which re­vealed how, from their first years at se­condary school, they felt a form of pres­sure from the me­dia. For its part, the or­ga­ni­za­tion Com­mon Sense Me­dia made an in-depth study of pop­u­lar Nick­elodeon and Dis­ney chil­dren’s/teens shows and found that 87% of fe­male char­ac­ters aged 10 to 17 were un­der­weight. And those who fit­ted the con­ven­tional def­i­ni­tions of beauty were ac­corded the most pos­i­tive traits. The heroes of th­ese se­ries are well aware of this. In Au­gust 2017, Raven-Sy­moné, child star of Dis­ney Chan­nel’s That’s So Raven (2003-7), ap­peared on the talk show The View and con­fessed to hav­ing been the vic­tim of body sham­ing and to how much she still suf­fered from that ex­pe­ri­ence even to­day. “[They said] I was too big to be do­ing an hour and a half con­cert. ‘I don’t know how she can dance be­ing that big.’” To­day aged 31, she said: “I wish I was liv­ing now as a younger per­son. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have so many men­tal is­sues.”

Birth of the Body Pos­i­tive move­ment

For things have slowly evolved since the days young Raven-Sy­moné burst onto the screen in the 2000s. Thanks to ac­tivism by plus-sized mod­els, celebri­ties and anony­mous sup­port­ers, the Body Pos­i­tive move­ment has be­come a me­dia phe­nom­e­non. Its goal is to give vis­i­bil­ity to “real” bod­ies and to urge women to love them­selves as they are. Its pop­u­lar­ity may have spread thanks to Instagram, but the move­ment was ac­tu­ally founded in the United States in 1996, when Con­nie Sobczak and El­iz­a­beth Scott de­cided to take a mil­i­tant stand so that their kids could live in a world in which they wouldn’t have to feel they had to change their body at all costs. The orig­i­nal mes­sage is cur­rently resur­fac­ing via so­cial me­dia. “By urg­ing par­ents and women to change they way they look at them­selves, we can help cre­ate pos­i­tive role mod­els for chil­dren,” ex­plains Laura Cherfi, head of the French col­lec­tive Les Chahuteuses. “Adults who suf­fer from a lack of self-es­teem to­day were mostly chil­dren who were not made to feel self-con­fi­dent.” Sally Berge­sen, di­rec­tor of the sports­wear brand Oiselle, agrees. Last May she launched the hash­tag #TheySaid on Twit­ter with: “Keep eat­ing like that and you’re go­ing to be a but­ter­ball. My dad when I was 12.” The ex­er­cise went vi­ral and turned into a fo­rum that showed how the most triv­ial crit­i­cism can have dis­as­trous con­se­quences for a child. A mes­sage that holis­tic health coach Al­li­son Kim­mey also wants to get across. This Amer­i­can blog­ger and body pos­i­tive mil­i­tant has posted pho­tos of her­self in a two-piece swim­ming costume on the beach with her daugh­ter on Instagram (she has over 180,000 fol­low­ers). “It mat­ters how we talk to our daugh­ters about our bod­ies,” in­sists this woman who, when ex­plain­ing her “shiny and sparkly” stretch marks to her daugh­ter, said “Aren’t they pretty?” “A body-pos­i­tive at­ti­tude may prove nec­es­sary to coun­ter­bal­ance the flood of im­ages to which chil­dren are sub­jected,” con­tin­ues Catherine Mon­not. All the ex­am­ples of fem­i­nin­ity close to lit­tle girls en­able them to put their re­la­tion­ship with their bod­ies into per­spec­tive: one can be loved and ful­filled with­out ac­cept­ing the codes of ideal fem­i­nin­ity as pro­jected by mag­a­zines.” So you know what re­mains to be done.

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