Like most other 17-year-old girls, Kaylee Skaggs enjoys “jamming out”, watching movies and hanging out with her best friend. But hiding behind the smile of her Facebook profile picture, Skaggs struggles with insecurities brought on by body image.
Skaggs, a junior at Brewer High School in Fort Worth, admits to thinking that others don’t like her because of her size, a thought perpetuated by personal run-ins with body-shaming bullies.
“When I was in intermediate school, I was just sitting at my lunch table,” Skaggs recounted. “This guy came up to me and told me I should lose a couple pounds. I just kind of looked at him.”
Skaggs tries to not allow incidents like these to affect the way she looks at herself.
“Why stress about people putting you down for being you and for the way that you look, when they don’t know who you are on the inside?” Skaggs said.
Skaggs is encouraged by the body acceptance movement, perpetuated by activists like Ashley Graham, who was the first plus-size model to be featured in an ad in this year’s Sport’s Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
“The more people are just proud of who they are, the more positive it will get,” Skaggs said.
Celeste Pena, junior psychology major at Texas Wesleyan University, has struggled with body image issues herself, but agrees with Skaggs’ positivity.
“Growing up, I was a really tiny kid. As I got older, I got bigger. I was conscious about it, but then I learned to love myself,” Pena said. “I surrounded myself with positive people that told me care about yourself, and don’t think about what others think about you.”
Pena has recently started focusing on her health and attending fitness classes offered at the Morton Fitness Center, but tries to remember to keep loving herself in the process.
“Love yourself,” Pena said. “If you do want to better yourself, don’t begin to hate yourself in the process, or you’re never going to be comfortable with the way you look.”
One of the classes Pena frequents is High Intensity Interval Training, taught by Alainee Cuvillier, a Spring 2015 graduate with a degree in Political Science.
Cuvillier believes that society is moving in a positive direction when it comes to body image, with movements like Mattel’s releasing of Barbies with varying body types earlier this year.
“I think that society is moving in positive direction by trying to embrace different body images,” Cuvillier said. “I feel that within the past year especially people are starting to be more aware of their health.”
Cuvillier has been on her own health journey for the almost two years, losing nearly 100 lbs. since having her son in May 2014, and advises women to focus on how they feel vs. how they look.
“As I was making every step in a progression towards a healthy and active lifestyle, I never once hated my body, I embraced my body,” Cuvillier said. “That’s what I think every woman needs to focus on – how they feel vs. how they look.”
Cuvillier, who is certified in both Zumba and personal training, embraces this concept in her own fitness studio in Benbrook by not having any mirrors or scales.
“We get so obsessed with our body image, and I think that’s driven by the scale,” Cuvillier said. “So many people want to focus on a number, instead of focusing on how they feel, inches they’re losing, or positive health.”
McKenzie Brown, senior Christian studies major, agrees with Cuvillier’s emphasis on health, and sees both the positive and negative sides of the growing body acceptance movement.
“I think the benefit that this most recent movement has is that it’s moving towards curves,” Brown said. “However, it still is moving toward ‘image’. I wouldn’t call this body acceptance movement substantial or unless it asked ‘Are you healthy?’.”
She also criticizes the growing trend of “skinny shaming,” of which Meghan Trainor was accused of in her 2014 hit, “All About That Bass,” that seems to accompany this current movement.
“I would be critical of any person who in the name of “body acceptance” shames someone for being too thin,” Brown said. “That’s the ambiguous nature of body image – there are different body types.”
Shelby Nowland, junior religion major, also criticizes the current body image movement, but for focusing solely on women, and not addressing that this is a men’s issue as well.
“We need to create awareness that it’s not just a women’s issue,” Nowland said.
Nowland suggests this begin with advertising a broader view of manhood and masculinity, similar to what Dove did for women with their “Real Beauty” campaign that embraced women of all different sizes, ages, and races.
“As a larger guy, I’m being told by advertisement and the media that the only good looking male is a guy with a six-pack, perfectly tan skin, good hair and white teeth,” Nowland said. “That’s not the average guy that walks the street.”
Overall, Nowland can agree that when it comes to body image, health should be the main focus, and weight and health are not the same thing.
“I think we’ve made a mistake in our society by saying healthy is equated to just a size or look of person,” Nowland said. “I think we need to have a bigger discussion that equates health with being a whole person and taking care of the whole person, not with whether you wear a small or an extra-large.”