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Comic Launch: Celebrate Every Body! (Online Version)

Women receive messages on how their bodies should and should not look like throughout their lives. Messages from the media and even our peers and family constantly pressure women to aspire to unrealistic standards of beauty or to “improve” their bodies through practices, like hair removal, wearing makeup and dieting. It is not uncommon to hear people say things like:

“You would look so much better if you lost all that weight!”

“Wah! You still want to eat so much!”

“She shouldn’t be wearing that – she’s too fat.”

“You’re so skinny, you look like a bamboo pole.” 

While seemingly harmless on the surface and sometimes in the garb of well-meaning statements, messages that women have to “improve” their bodies or meet a certain “ideal” standard can lead to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in women and girls. It is important that we shift our societal attitudes to be inclusive of the diversity of bodies and reject the culture of body shaming.

As part of this effort, AWARE Youth and Rock The Naked Truth (RTNT) collaborated on a series of body positive comics with the affirmation that no one should ever have to prove that they are healthy enough, pretty enough or muscular enough to deserve respect. These comics acknowledge the painful reality that not all bodies are accepted or viewed equally in society. The comics explore three different aspects of body image issues. One comic discusses the issue of body shaming and how problematic it can be when individuals are judged or made fun of because they don’t meet certain “ideal” standards. Another comic touches on the topic of eating disorders and the importance of seeking help. It also emphasises supporting friends and family members who are going through them. Even though the pressure to fit a certain ideal of beauty impacts girls and women more, one of the comics also depicts the unique experiences of men and boys who are not immune to body image issues.

On 28 October, printed copies of the comic were distributed at AWARE’s Free Market. Here, we are proud to present to you the online version of the comics. Please take some time to view the hard work that has gone into the production of this comic, and do feel free to provide feedback on our Facebook pages (AWARE Youth and RTNT)! We hope you enjoy the comic as much as we did creating it!

AWARE Youth is a newly formed group comprising of youths who are passionate about gender equality. They aim to provide a space for youths to share their experience and provide a platform for them to bring their ideas to life. Their first chapter focuses on the issue of body image.

RTNT is a body image movement to inspire others to find confidence in their bodies, as well as to encourage them to take care of their body well.

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Blog Body Image Feminism News & Updates [email protected]

Social Media, Fad Diets and Body Image

By Akhwinder Kaur Chahal

I was 20 when I first came across the hashtags ‘#fitspo’ and ‘#fitspiration’ on Instagram. Usually, they were accompanied by images of toned, skinny social media celebrities in Lululemon leggings, Adidas sports bras and Nike Roshes posing with their meticulously crafted acai bowls. Upon checking the follower lists of these social media celebrities, I realised they had large followings of youth, particularly teenaged girls. Even now, when I come across such images or messages on social media, I feel sadness and a twinge of anger. I’ve seen my sister weigh almonds for dinner. I’ve had my best friend call me at 2 in the morning because she was unhappy with her body. Both disguised their eating disorders with eating clean and exercising regularly.

At what point do we draw the line between a healthy lifestyle and an unhealthy obsession? Seeing my loved ones being slaves to their bodies and their minds made me feel helpless, but realising that there were thousands of impressionable teenagers who were in the same situation made me angry. The convergence of social media and the health and fitness industry has normalised and supported an unhealthy lifestyle, raising serious questions over the seemingly beneficial influence of a healthy lifestyle on youths’ body image and well-being.

With 71% of teenagers using more than one social media platform, these websites have revolutionised the manner in which we construct and articulate our identities. On social media sites, the ‘eating clean’ movement has become synonymous with adopting a highly restrictive vegan and gluten free diet free of processed food. While substituting processed foods with fresh fruit and vegetables is undoubtedly healthy for the body, issues arise where skinny and fit social media celebrities without proper backgrounds in nutrition carve out entire careers for themselves by supporting and profiting off pseudo-science fad diets at the expense of their audience.

 

Freelee the Banana Girl is one such social media celebrity. She has over 200,000 followers on Facebook, and at her peak had over 500,000 followers on Instagram. She claims that a raw vegan diet, similar to the diet prescribed in the food pyramid she created (as shown above), has cured her of depression, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and has aided in her weight loss. On her website, rawtill4diet.com, she sells her ebook where, living up to her moniker, she advocates eating up to 30 bananas daily. In a YouTube video garnering more than 1,000,000 views, Freelee eats 51 bananas within a day. However, medical experts have linked the ingestion of large amounts of potassium found in bananas to heart ailments such as irregular heart rhythms and cardiac arrest, and have denounced this diet.

Interestingly, Freelee herself has openly admitted to her battle with anorexia and has attributed overcoming her eating disorder to her vegan diet. That being said, fad diets such as this have not only been used by those with eating disorders who mask their unhealthy eating habits under the guise of ‘eating clean’, but have also triggered eating disorders in previously healthy individuals. According to Steven Bratman, M.D., M.P.H., raw food vegans in particular have a high potential of developing Orthorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder where individuals adopt a highly obsessive and restrictive diet free from ‘unhealthy’ foods. While motivated by health, poor self-esteem and the desire to be thin also underpin this eating disorder.

About the Author: Akhwinder is is a caffeine-fuelled sociology major from the Nanyang Technological University. She dreams of a world without walls, where everyone is treated equally. Until then, she will continue to challenge gender stereotypes.

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My Beef with Skin-Lightening

By Adila Shahrin

Last year, Mihaela Noroc’s Atlas of Beauty photo series started making its way around social media sites. The photography project, which featured local model Nadia Rahmat, caused a stir among local netizens. Although the photography project aimed to illustrate that beauty is not skin-deep, some netizens felt that she was not representative of their ideal standard of beauty. Comments such as “so ugly” and “why is Singapore like that” began to surface.   Although it is easy to dismiss the severity of this case by arguing that beauty is subjective and simply differs among people, one needs to understand the implications of such comments.

In September 2016, the hashtag #SingapuraBeauty trended on Twitter. It was a movement sparked by locals who wanted to challenge the narrow perception of beauty standards in Singapore’s society. Users, particularly those of a minority race, shared pictures of themselves and their friends to celebrate their beauty. Racial minorities here are often underrepresented, and hegemonic beauty standards such as having a fair skin tones inevitably marginalises the races that do not conform to this. This preoccupation with fair skin is not something exclusive to Singapore. According to the World Health Organisation, close to 40% of women surveyed in China, the Philippines, Malaysia, and the Republic of Korea used skin-lightening products. In Nigeria, a whopping 77% of women use skin-lightening products regularly while in India, skin lightening products account for 61% of their dermatological market.

When I was younger, mak ciks (aunties) and pak ciks (uncles) would coo over how pretty I was for a Malay girl, simply because I had fair skin. I was told that everyone likes girls with porcelain-like skin, just like the popular Malaysian singer, Siti Nurhaliza. Kalau gelap-gelap, mana lawa? (Translation from Malay: If you’re so dark, how to be pretty?)

When I was 13, I started taking swimming lessons. My exposure to the sun had a noticeable effect on the skin tone. My skin turned a darker shade, and freckles started to dot my cheeks. I was not bothered by the change in my appearance, but it became something others felt the need to constantly point out.

“Wah, you finally look like a Malay!”

“Eeee, why you look so black now?”

Even when other friends grew more tan because they spent lots of time under the sun, they were always teased for being “so black”, it’s “so ugly”. One only needs to walk down the streets of Orchard Road to see how obsessed this society is with skin-lightening products and services. Advertisements promoting these products are plastered everywhere. From bus stops to the inside of shopping malls, you just can’t seem to run away from this reality. Olay, Shiseido, and SK-II are just some of the brands we often hear of. Perhaps then, local netizens were upset over Noroc’s choice of Nadia Rahmat, because their definition of beauty meant someone with fair skin and she certainly did not look the part. When adolescent girls are exposed to these notions, they start internalising this belief that fairer means prettier from a very young age. This could have a harmful impact on their self-esteem and how they feel about their bodies as they grow older.

The prevalence of skin-lightening products and services implicitly tells those who are born with a darker skin tone that there is something wrong with their skin, that there is a need for them to change the way they look to be accepted by society. It is unjust to use one’s skin color as a yardstick to determine how beautiful they are. Beauty is more than just the color of your skin. It is more than something superficial. It is found in the words you speak, the hearts you reach out to, and the shoulders you lend. It is found in the hurdles you overcome and the new challenges you seek. It is found deep within you.

Angélica Dass, a Brazilian photographer, once said in a Ted Talk presentation that “we still live in a world where the color of our skin not only gives a first impression, but a lasting one that remains”. It is only by embracing the whole spectrum of skin colours and recognising that we are all beautiful that we can begin to cull this obsession with skin-lightening products. Only then can we truly say that we celebrate diversity.

About the Author: Adila is currently a Global Studies undergraduate minoring in Gender Studies. When she’s not busy playing with her cat, she loves devouring feminist literature. And mini Oreos.