Hey Facebook: Ditch the Body-Shaming Emoticons

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By Allison Epstein

Love it or hate it, when Facebook rolled out its new “Feelings” feature mid-2013, the nature of the status update shifted. If you were like me, you gave it some serious side-eye at first. Do we really need our social networks to express our emotions for us? Have we lost the ability to type “Feeling good today!” and have to rely on a drop-down menu instead? What’s next — if emotions are dead, will robots take over the world? Won’t somebody think of the children?

I came down off my high horse pretty quickly, though. I mean, look at all the expressive potential in the “annoyed” emoticon. It’s like it knows me, killjoy feminist that I am.

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But there are a few options in Facebook’s arsenal of emotions that are pretty troubling. In addition to your standard primary emotions of “happy,” “sad,” or “hopeful,” we also get these options: “fat” and “ugly.”

Excuse me?

The last thing we need built into our social networks is body shaming. We don’t need pre-set options to perpetuate the societal myth that we are never skinny enough, toned enough, pretty enough, good enough. We don’t need to turn our Facebook walls into the proverbial high school women’s bathroom, where we all crowd around the mirror and tear apart our appearance in order to seem less confident, less assertive, less threatening. Who is that helping? Nobody.

We all know, anecdotally if not through the hard evidence, that social media can do a number on our self-esteem. Here’s a statistic for you, to make of what you will: in a recent study by Florida State University, higher Facebook use was positively correlated with higher body anxiety, body monitoring, and rates of disordered eating behaviors in a cross-sectional survey of almost 1,000 women. It’s that “high school bathroom” analogy come back to haunt us. What better way for us to pick apart our appearance than in a virtual room with all 3,000 of our “friends”? And with Photoshopping and highly sophisticated staging of selfies and Instagram photos on the rise, it’s unsurprising many of us feel our self-esteem drop as we scroll down.

These statistics aren’t exactly hard to find, and it’s no secret that body shaming has serious and long-term side effects. So what made Facebook decide it was a good idea to jump on the body-hating bandwagon?

Because here’s the thing, Facebook: fat isn’t a feeling.

Maybe this isn’t news for you. It’s just grammatical sense, actually. You can’t respond to the question “How are you feeling?” with “short” or “brunette” without getting some weird looks in return. But we don’t need to extrapolate to figure out what “feeling fat means.” We’ve probably all said it before.

I ate too much. I feel so full, so bloated, so gross. I shouldn’t have eaten so much. I feel so guilty. I feel so ashamed. I’m having such a ‘fat day.’ I feel so fat.”

See the difference? Let me parse the sentence for you: “guilty” and “ashamed” are emotions. “Full” and “bloated” are physical sensations. “Fat” is neither of these things.

As the folks at Shape Your Culture point out,

“Fat is an adjective, a descriptive word about a physical attribute. It is not a feeling. We all have fat, we all need fat. But saying ‘I feel fat’ is shorthand for feeling unattractive, unhappy with oneself, for dissatisfaction.”

Body shaming is unacceptable. To others and to ourselves.

Some people are skinny. Some people are fat. Some people are in the middle. And that should literally be the end of the conversation.

There is no morality attached to your appearance, regardless of what society tries to say. Your weight and your body shape aren’t indicative of your worth — how sad is it that I need to say this? — and they shouldn’t shape your way you feel about yourself.

We don’t need to spend time calling ourselves less-than or not good enough. We don’t need to waste our energy beating ourselves up about how we look, and equating that with our emotional state or self-worth. And we sure don’t need a social media giant like Facebook telling us that we should.

Imagine all the great things we could accomplish with the energy that’s wasted in body shaming, negative self-talk, and worrying about our appearance. Our world has enough problems as it is. Our bodies don’t need to be one of them.

So, Facebook, here’s the thing. You have so much potential for activism and social change. Few other platforms can pull people together from all over the globe so effectively, and we’ve seen the power of social justice in action on the Internet. You can be used for good (for example, try following Adios Barbie). But you can also be used for bad, and these body-shaming “feelings” are doing just that. So nix the “fat” and “ugly” feelings, and go back to doing what it is you do best: allowing me to leave captioned photos of Women Listening to Men in Western Art History on my friends’ walls. That’s really all I’m asking.

Want to do your part to remove these so-called “fat feelings”? Spread the word — the hashtag #FatIsNotAFeeling is all over this, all over the world. Facebook has implemented these body-shaming emoticons in international versions of the site as well, which means the fight to change them has to be equally global. London-based body positivity group AnyBody, part of the international movement Endangered Bodies (EB), got the hashtag rolling, and the conversation has since spread to other EB regions like the United States, Mexico, Germany, and beyond. Log on, speak out, and let Facebook know we’ve had enough.

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