By Natalie Jovanovski
Since 2013, Facebook has caused controversy by using “fat” and “ugly” emoji’s as part of the “feelings” feature of their status updates. Critics of the feelings feature argue that “fat” and “ugly” are not feelings, but rather, judgemental descriptions of women’s bodies. Indeed, as Allison Epstein points out, “You can’t respond to the question, “How are you feeling?” with “short” or “brunette” without getting some weird looks in return”, so why is it acceptable to say that we feel “fat” and “ugly”? In response to online criticisms generated by AnyBody.org and our very own Endangered Bodies, the hashtag #fatisnotafeeling was launched, inviting much-needed discussion about how cultural understandings of “fat” and “ugly” promote disordered eating and body image concerns.
Unfortunately, Facebook hasn’t been listening. Not only have they kept the feature as a regular part of their emoji selection, but they have also failed to address criticisms that these emoji’s contribute to a culture of body-shaming.
Here at Endangered Bodies Australia, we believe that “fat” and “ugly” are not feelings – and that they shouldn’t be promoted by Facebook as such. Instead, we see “fat” and “ugly” as judgements used against women from the outside. According to Susie Orbach, one of the founders of Endangered Bodies London, the diet and beauty industries are the most obvious culprits in reinforcing the idea that “fat” and “ugly” are feelings, convincing girls and women that our perfectly healthy bodies are somehow flawed and in need of fixing. But sometimes the culprits aren’t as obvious.
Sometimes this body-shaming rhetoric is found in everyday language, and in something as “innocent” as a Facebook emoji.
In the West, the words “fat” and “ugly” are used to scrutinise and evaluate women’s bodies. “Fat” is used negatively to describe women’s bodies and to make assumptions about their personalities. As sociologist Samantha Murray explains, the word “fat” represents a range of negative characteristics in women, such as laziness, greediness and a lack of good health. “Ugly” is also a word that carries strong, culturally-derived meanings. Reinforced by the multibillion dollar beauty industry, “ugly” is anything that doesn’t conform to the thin, hairless, blemish-free ideal.
“Fat” and “ugly” are, thus, descriptive words that are imposed on women from the outside. They are not feelings that originate from within.
When we hear somebody say that they feel “fat” and “ugly”, what they’re actually saying is that they feel sad, anxious, fearful, disappointed and embarrassed that their bodies don’t fit the unrealistic, culturally-reinforced ideal. This negative self-evaluation is evidence of our cultural obsession with supposedly “perfecting” the female body.
Unfortunately, the body-shaming culture we live in has real effects on girls and women. In Australia, eating disorders affect up to 1 million people, with body image concerns constituting one of the biggest issues faced. When we take into account that Australia’s population is approximately 23 million, this is a significant number of people experiencing body image concerns and disordered eating behaviours.
But you can do something to change the body-shaming messages promoted in our culture!
Rebecca Guzelian, with the support of Endangered Bodies Australia, is launching a change.org petition to remove the body-shaming “I feel fat/ugly” emoji feature from Facebook. With the help of people all over the world, we aim is to collect as many online signatures possible to let Facebook know that we’re not going to stand for these messages – especially when they’re conveyed in something as fun and cute as an emoji.
Together, we can work towards a culture that respects women and our bodies. Sign the petition at change.org/fatisnotafeelingAU and share this article to all your friends and family. If you have twitter, use the hashtag #fatisnotafeeling to spread the word. Let’s stamp out body-shaming messages one signature at a time!
NB Images sourced from Shape Your Culture