When the figure is not up to the norm

Anyone who looks different has to expect malice. Bodyshaming is not a new phenomenon, but it is a serious one. Of narrow standards and a positive countermovement

Fat people have terribly fat legs, fat people have double chins, fat people sweat like pigs, stuffing, eat inside themselves, "sang Marius Müller-Westernhagen in 1978. By chaining together insults, prejudices and clichés, he supposedly wanted to open up Raise awareness of discrimination and hold up a mirror to society.It was of little use. Even 40 years later, negative attitudes towards fat people are still mainstream. According to the representative Forsa survey "XXL-Report" on behalf of the DAK, 71 percent of Germans find very overweight people unaesthetic, 15 percent consciously avoid contact. And as an experiment at the University of Tübingen showed, even psychologically trained HR professionals have prejudices against obese applicants.

If someone is discriminated against or verbally attacked because of his appearance, one speaks of bodyshaming ("body embarrassment"). "The term is new, but external bullying has always existed," says Professor Martina de Zwaan, director of the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the Hannover Medical School. In human history, fear of the stranger ensured survival. In our modern world it is no longer of decisive use, but we feel more comfortable among people who seem familiar: A study by Wilfrid Laurier University in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that people in public spaces unconsciously seek proximity to similar people.

Three numbers on the subject of bodyshaming

With over 7000 operations, liposuction was the most common aesthetic operation in Germany in 2016 (source: Association of German Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons)

Slimness and popularity are related, almost 80 percent of young people believe (Bravo Dr. Sommer Study 2016)

70 percent of women and 40 percent of men feel pressured by TV shows and magazines to have a perfect body
to have (Center for Appearance Research)


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Anonymity as a risk factor

However, there is a big difference between unconsciously avoiding someone because of their appearance or actively bullying them. But what makes people "body hammer"? "This type of aggressive behavior can occur if there is a lack of competence in dealing with new things," explains Katharina Koller from the Institute for Youth Culture Research in Vienna. "And if at the same time there is a certain inflexibility in terms of personality psychology." Cultural values ​​and character traits such as willingness to take risks or low self-esteem also play a role. Above all, however, the following applies: the more anonymous the situation and the less likely the consequences, the more likely it is to be aggressive.

While verbal attacks on people with a migration background or disabilities are now socially frowned upon, so-called fatshaming, i.e. the bullying of overweight people, continues to be accepted. "The fact that severe obesity is a disease and has multiple causes is ignored," says de Zwaan. "Regardless of whether someone discriminates against themselves or others on the basis of body weight: The popular opinion is that fat people are to blame for their appearance." The results of the "XXL Report" confirm that the majority of Germans think that overweight people are simply "too lazy" and "too undisciplined" to lose weight. "Performance, self-control and fitness are the most important values ​​in our society - this is reflected in the ideals of beauty," explains Katharina Koller, co-author of the study on Bodyshaming and Social Media. While in developing countries it is a sign of prosperity to be a bit fuller, we only consider that a fully-fledged part of society who successfully withstands the oversupply of food.

Social media set standards

Teenagers are considered to be particularly receptive to ideals of beauty. Since they mainly use social media for self-expression, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube become a decisive multiplier of existing ideals of beauty. Whether we find something aesthetically pleasing or not is primarily determined by experience, as a twin study by the Harvard Medical School in the magazine Current Biology showed: Those who constantly see thin, well-trained people with flawless skin become accordingly in their self-perception and perception of others influenced.

What is more, the young social media users are used to being constantly rated, as the study on body shamming and social media shows: Those who post a bikini or no make-up selfie - because there is usually a lot of applause for such pictures -, consciously accepts derogatory comments. Nevertheless, the bullying is not without consequences: 39 percent of the 15 to 19-year-old girls surveyed felt offended by negative feedback, 22 percent were more dissatisfied with their appearance than before, and 11 percent even changed their eating behavior.

Positive countermovement

So-called "Body Positivity Activists" - mostly people who themselves deviate from the current ideals of beauty in different ways - have declared war on this development and are posting under hashtags such as #bodypositive selfies and experiences with body shaming.

Celebrities like the model Winnie Harlow, who suffers from the white spot disease Vitiligo, or the obese gossip singer Beth Ditto are in the forefront. "In my childhood I would have liked to see a body like mine in the media," said Ditto in an interview with the online magazine vip.de. "The body positivity movement enables young women in particular to have an expanded model of identification and counteracts sick, lean trends," praises Katharina Koller. However, a different kind of pressure is created here: "Not being allowed to care what others think of you can be very difficult."

The fact that under the keyword "body-positive" there are also photos of very pretty people who present themselves without make-up or with barely visible "blemishes" also takes the original idea a bit to an absurdity.

Familiar pigeonhole thinking

It is in the nature of humans to sort unknowns into a certain drawer about their appearance - stereotypes relieve the brain and enable efficient information processing. But is it still possible to switch off your inner voice if, despite all your knowledge, she's doing bodyshaming again? "You cannot prevent you from looking and thinking your part, for example when a very fat person is standing in front of you - but you can question your prejudices," said Koller. This requires a critical approach to oneself and that one leaves one's stereotype comfort zone.

Incidentally, Marius Müller-Westernhagen no longer plays his song "Dicke" at concerts and would not publish it anymore, he explained in an interview with the Hannoversche Allgemeine: "Of all people, the people I wanted to hold up to in the mirror didn't have it Got it."