It's a waste of time if Will Smith's slap only regarded as another showbiz drama

March 29, 2022 | 12:42 am PT
Cam Ha Communication expert
Although being quite confident about my body, I still get asked "are you pregnant" from time to time.

After a year of reduced physical activity due to Covid lockdown, I have decided to get back to exercising again, partly to improve my health, but probably after receiving too many comments about my appearance. "You got some big news?" tactfully asked one person, implying that I look pregnant; and "How did you get so fat?" asked another more directly...

With a BMI of 21, I don't consider myself overweight. I don't pay much attention to people's appearance. Once at a meeting, I was chatting happily with a female participant without knowing she was about to give birth. Having worked with a colleague for almost a year, I didn't notice she had a nose job while everyone said: "Just look at it". I tend to focus more on what people say than their bodies, so I often don't notice their changes.

Body comments or, more seriously, body shaming is generally believed to be more common in Asia, where people are more inclined to follow society's standards. Therefore, unusual changes are more easily noticed. The need to post photos on social media combined with the Korean-drama wave featuring gorgeous actors and actresses likely contributed to a compulsive obsession with looking perfect. Never before has the beauty camera apps market developed with such growth over the last few years, especially in countries with the highest number of internet users like China and India. One of the top popular filter apps, which has been identified as malware or spyware, still had over 300 million downloads.

But in reality, body shaming is not a problem in only one region or continent. In 2020, YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, interviewed nearly 10,000 people in Europe on the topic. Nearly 36 percent of respondents said they had suffered from such discrimination more than 10 times.

Almost half of adults in the U.K. have been unpleasantly body shamed because of their weight, hair or even the size of their feet. Even in Italy, regarded as the world fashion capital, 43 percent of people feel conditioned or pressured due to society's standards of beauty.

Body shaming has become the overnight talk in the U.S. following a never-seen-before slap at the Oscars. Will Smith had a physical confrontation on stage with presenter Chris Rock for joking about his wife's shaved head. This is considered one of the most disrespectful body-shaming incidents in Oscar history as the presenter made rude jokes about another's appearance. Will Smith's actions then raised a series of questions for the showbiz world and ordinary people: when being bullied, how should a celebrity "politically correct" react at a public event, and if "a smack" could be accepted as a solution to radically solve the problem of body shaming?

In fact, most victims of body shaming remain silent or offer a forced smile to avoid offending people who comment on their appearance. Ironically, unpleasant jokes and comments often come from friends and colleagues. Grown-up people can easily ignore them, considering them innocent habits or a kind of socialization form. However, for younger people, stigmatizing their appearance can deeply hurt their ability to socialize, destroy their self-confidence and even drive them to suicide.

I practice self-assessment and self-reflection each time I accidentally make comments about a relatively private issue of others. So, to me, it's a waste of time if the incident at the Oscars is only regarded as another showbiz "drama". I saw a very clear line between jokes and taunting others.

Any one of us could become the victim of hurtful pranks one day. It may not be limited to appearance comments but also touch on sensitive and more complicated issues such as cultural differences, personal happiness and dignity.

Violence is never the solution to problems. On the other hand, preventing any form of personal attack at an early stage, including those excused as "a joke", is still the right thing to do.

*Cam Ha is a communication expert. The opinions expressed are her own.

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