13 Jul Calling Out Kayla Itsines
A pesky Facebook ad pops up telling me that over 1 000 000 women like Kayla Itsines “Bikini Body Training Guide.” On Instagram, a petite friend posts a photo of herself hiking up Table Mountain with #KaylaItsines in the caption. Another captions a picture of a bowl of oats, a gym selfie and – the absolute worst – a before-and-after pic. I can’t help but wonder whether 1 000 000 women voluntarily support body shaming or whether they’ve been morbidly misguided.
In a recent interview, fitness sensation Kayla Itsines was asked how she amassed such a huge social-media following. Her answer: “Rather than being a weight loss guide, it’s about helping people gain health, happiness, and confidence. It’s not about losing massive amounts of weight in an unhealthy way. It’s more about fat loss and being lean… As a woman, I understand how women feel. I wanted to help steer women away from the feeling of discomfort with their bodies.”
One can assume that Kayla believes that the best way a woman can feel comfortable in her own skin is by having less of it. Unfortunately, much of the media endorses her viewpoint, implying – occasionally even declaring – that being fat is something that needs to be fixed (if you want to fit in, look good or be happy, that is).
While I don’t disagree with self-improvement, I certainly do not endorse the self-hatred and body dysmorphia which stems from the fear of being fat. Society’s beauty standards are ever changing; if you’re going to depend on them to validate your confidence, you’re going to have a hard time.
Bear in mind that there is nothing wrong with leading an active lifestyle and promoting healthy eating; however, using the term bikini body supports what is known as body shaming. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, let’s explore it for a moment.
Victoria Secret was very recently put in the hot seat for showcasing a series of six-foot tall models with 0% body fat behind the headline “The Perfect Body”. Soon after the campaign, a Change.org petition demanded that Victoria Secret apologise for its irresponsibility, saying: “All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty… It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.” This is what body shaming looks like, and it’s precisely what Kayla Itsines is doing – albeit unintentionally.
Let’s take YouTube star and fashion-blogger Loeylane: after posting videos of her bikini-clad bod on social-media she was shamed for being “too fat”. Instead of immersing herself into a weight-loss regime to impress her followers and gain self-acceptance, she released a powerful video dismissing anyone’s right to dictate what she, or anyone else, puts onto their body simply because it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. Like Loeylane, I too believe that bikini-body haters have no right to tell me whether or not I should sport a swimsuit.
Ask yourself when last you saw a fat or even marginally fat woman portrayed on television – one that’s confident rather than desperate, lonely or annoying? I can count them on my hands. Even the plus-size models of today are barely a size 12, making anyone who actually is larger than average feel like a total alien. Now, call me crazy, but shouldn’t we be teaching women to love their bodies regardless of their weight?
While overweight people aren’t formally prosecuted in society – i.e we can still get married, vote and find employment – these things are all the more difficult for us because we are regarded as abnormal.
Ezra Klein, writing for Vox, notes: “Researchers at Bowling Green University found that individuals with a high BMI were less likely to be offered admission to a graduate program when the application involved an in-person interview”, while another study in the International Journal of Obesity revealed that “resumes with pictures of obese women were rated as showing lower leadership potential therefore deserving smaller starting salary”. These are just a few of the many examples of size discrimination – a very real and very relevant problem within today’s culture.
As a fat person, I can attest to the fact that the worst thing about being overweight is neither physical nor medical but rather, the way in which society views and reacts to my body shape. While being morbidly obese is unhealthy, so is being chronically anorexic. People are quick to dub anyone who promotes fat acceptance or fat positivity as an encourager of bad health. This is really confusing when you consider to what extent the media glamourises being underweight and few seem to have qualms about that.
The fashion industry caters almost exclusively for bodies possessed by a rare few. Although a good portion of the world is fat (at least 30% according to statistics) it seems that in the year 2015, being fat is more of a taboo than ever before. Yet, most of the women I’ve met hate their bodies whether they are fat or not. It’s also worth noting that many of the women who send Kayla their before-and-after Instapics are by no means chronically obese. So I am going to assume their plight for thinness is an aesthetic one.
The Kayla Itsineses of the world reveal a deeper problem in society: the belief that there is only one kind of body which can or should wear a bikini – the fatless kind. For them, having an excess amount of body fat is not only unhealthy: it’s unsightly, and no fashion-conscious woman should dare expose her grotesque rolls in public without shame. Fat women only get permission to feel confident if they hide their fatness beneath layers of clothing and carefully wrapped sarongs – or get rid of it.
The truth is this: self-acceptance is what has to come before bodily transformation in order to truly love oneself. As Naomi Wolf says: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”