The pains and perils of body shaming in the academe

Just one morning recently, I woke up to news about the controversial Department of Education and the news made me crumble and cringe after having gotten wind of it.

And why did I cringe?

I was appalled at the news about the module written by a teacher from a DepEd division in Southern Luzon that used actress and philanthropist Angel Locsin (Angelica Locsin Colmenares in real life) as a glaring example. In the module, Ms. Locsin was depicted as an obese woman who has a propensity to eat to her heart’s content at a popular grilled chicken chain together with her fellow endorser Mr. Coco Martin (Rodel Nacianceno in real life). To add insult to injury, Ms. Locsin was also unfairly depicted as sedentary. Moreover, there were grammatical flaws that would make language teachers smirk and spit at the module itself. The module was written for Physical Education, which is very challenging to teach nowadays due to the prevalence of distance learning.

Though the division has issued a formal apology to Ms. Locsin (and the formal apology can be considered insincere due to its wordiness and its beating around the bush), the fact that body shaming has occurred (though in writing) foments resentment and animosity. Though body shaming has been dismissed as trivial in the past, the current times call for us to be more sensitive towards people whose sizes are different from the so-called conventionally acceptable ones.

The issue being put to light now is the pervasiveness of body shaming (whether unconsciously or consciously) among members of the academe (and it includes students, lest we forget that they are part of the academe as recipients of learning). Body shaming has unfortunately been a part of every child’s growing up and has served as a very sadistic rite of passage, therefore making overweight and underweight people the butt of insipid and piercing jokes. Furthermore, it affects everyone at school and it adds fuel to the fire because body shaming induces warrantless guilt and shame.

We can never deny that body shaming has caused many students to falter and many teachers to sink emotionally, morally, professionally, and mentally. There are so many stories of overweight and underweight students alike who have been bullied outright by their peers and excluded from social circles, therefore leaving them to their own devices. Even teachers who are not of the so-called mould of society in terms of vital statistics are mocked by their students and their colleagues relentlessly.
Body shaming is a glaring reflection of what we are as a people and of how we treat other people. It is an abhorrent social disease that is undoubtedly on par with racism, classism, sexism, segregation, ostracism, and other forms of discrimination. In addition, it makes us all short-sighted because we see people only based on their physiognomy and physicality. As a result, we become more uncivilized and unmoved because we cause others to lose face and confidence.

Body shaming has also cost more careers and future careers more than ever, especially in the current milieu dominated by the internet and social media. There have been bullied students who have dropped out of school altogether or transferred to another school; some bullied students were known to have retaliated against their oppressors either through physical brutality or through a physical makeover. Countless and copious tears have also been shed, albeit mostly in secret, because body-shamed teachers and students have been disregarded despite their numerous achievements.
Body shaming has brought about disastrous consequences. First, many body-shamed individuals refuse to deal with society in general due to their tumultuous experiences. These experiences include those with egotistic, sanctimonious, and haughty professionals who could give Etang Discher, Paquito Diaz, Tita de Villa, Ruel Vernal, Celia Rodriguez, Dick Israel, or Bella Flores a run for their money. Second, body-shamed people- particularly those who are overweight- have been perceived unfairly as negligent, indulgent, excessive, reckless, sloth-like, and feckless. This baseless perception could perhaps be traced to the tendency of mass media to see overweight people as mere two-dimensional stock characters. Third, many body-shamed individuals have been driven to the brink of sadness and desolation by their unmerciful and irrepressible peers. Another dire consequence of body shaming is that body-shamed people tend to lose respect and dignity due to their sufferings.

We are all, in one way or another, responsible for the cruelties body shaming has inflicted on our fellow educators and learners. Our words, attitudes, behaviors, perceptions, and treatment towards people of sizes different from conventional ones are indelible indicators of how we see ourselves. Little do we realize that we have ruined reputations and lives all in the name of bigotry.

To learners, please do not bully your peers just because they are different from you. You are a reflection of your family values, attitudes, and perceptions especially towards others. Your discriminatory behaviors warrant sharp rebuke because these can ruin lives just like a vase being broken into smithereens in a split second.

To teachers writing modules, please do not highlight a person, especially a real, existing one, through ridicule and shame. Be as objective as possible without describing someone as very lazy and negligent. People are not defined by their body structure but by their character. To administrators, please do not evaluate a teacher’s performance based on his/her size and physical attributes because there is more than meets the eye. We must rate our teachers based on their professionalism, integrity, and commitment.

Finally, to the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, please train your eyes to spot not only glaring surface syntax errors but also semantics- and pragmatics-related ones. We look up to you as beacons of morality and erudition, so we urge you to step your game up. You are responsible for bringing hope to all learners and educators, so you must take heed of my friendly advice.

Body shaming must be halted and nipped in the bud. Without it, the academic community would be more peaceful and harmonious and all of us would be able to develop synergy and camaraderie.

Replace body shaming with body loving and bullying with befriending! #