05/16/2013 09:51 am ET Updated Jul 16, 2013

The "Big" Problem


The issue of bullying has been addressed and readdressed to teens with an almost repetitive frequency. Multiple stereotypical portrayals of bullying depicts an "uncool" kid getting dumped in a trash can or stuffed in a locker by a much larger group of kids. However, what many of these anti-bullying campaigns fail to address is the rapidly growing role of bullying in the form of severe body criticism.

This month I was shocked to find an act of bullying happening before my very eyes. It all happened when a young man decided to comment on a classmate's weight in front of a few friends. He asked her, "Why did you do that to yourself?" And to that she replied "Do what?" He then said, "Let yourself get fat." I then saw her calmly compose herself from the harsh blow as she said in a hurt tone, "I am happy the way I am." I sat there in disbelief as he kept pursuing the subject by criticizing her and soon, all women for "getting fat."

While one might question why I did not attempt to stop the bullying, the answer may be disturbing to some: I didn't realize it was happening because it seemed so normal.

Over the past few years, negative body criticism has become a societal norm, habitual practice, and even a bonding mechanism among teens. The causes for this are everywhere -- in ads, media, books, our family and friends, and most dangerously, ourselves; we are surrounded by a sea of criticism forcing us to equivocate the concept of physical perfection with happiness.

This stressed belief has led to many people taking part what experts call "size prejudice." This concept is a series assumptions made about a person's characteristics -- including work ethic, friendliness, health, social status and beauty -- based on physical size. Under size prejudice, a "fat person" would be labeled as careless about their appearance, unfriendly, lazy, poor, and unattractive while a "skinny person" would receive the opposite of these assumptions. This idea gives life to the negative connotation that weight gain has been given, deeming it as a degradation of one's own being. It is when this idea takes the form of rude body criticism or as a justification for verbal abuse that this form of bullying comes to life.

The truth is, ignorance is the main benefactor in this issue. Many bullies fail or refuse to understand that human biology has just as big of a role in a person's weight as their eating habits. For example, women require less calories per pound daily then men and naturally have 6 to 11 percent more body fat. In addition to this, hereditary factors and genetics should also be taken into account as possible deterrents in someone's weight -- regardless of sex. Because of this, the issue of weight management may be more difficult for some individuals than others. Finally, the most antagonizing form of ignorance would be in a person's failure to realize that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Beauty, in the end, is subjective and unstable due to its constantly shifting definitions within society. Therefore, to hold someone to such a temporary definition of what is socially acceptable is severely limiting and degrading to its victims.

Bullying takes many forms and this is just one of them. By promoting body peace and acceptance, we are promoting an end to one of the worst and sly forms of bullying among us today.