Many blame celebrities and celebrity culture for promoting unrealistic beauty standards, and that criticism is valid in many cases. But there are some celebrities who have used their large platforms to share their stories about body image to help relieve the stigma. Celebrities like Euphoria actress Sydney Sweeney and TODAY Show host Jenna Bush Hager have been vocal in recent months about the body image issues they experienced in their preteen and teenage years. While they received praise from women who could relate, the backlash they also received proves that we have a long way to go regarding destigmatizing the conversation around body image in young women.
Sydney Sweeney Felt “Ostracized” for Developing Breasts before Her Peers
In an interview with The Sun, 25-year-old Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney spoke about her relationship with body image, which she traces back to her middle school years. She said, “I had boobs before other girls, and I felt ostracized for it.”
She revisited this experience when her Euphoria character, Cassie, was sexualized by audiences, some fans taking it as far as tagging her family members in sexual screenshots from the show. She continued, “You have a character that goes through the scrutiny of being a sexualized person at school, and then an audience that does the same thing.”
While plenty of women related to Sydney’s experience, many were quick to mock her for sharing her struggles with body image. In the comments section of an Instagram post by the New York Post, some comments included, “Omg how traumatic,” “only reason why she’s famous,” “stop crying about your perfect rack,” and “please show them to help us understand.”
However, one Instagram user wasn’t afraid to call out the toxicity of the comments. The user wrote, “The comments under this are so disgusting. I wonder how y’all would feel when ur daughter develops DDs in middle school and gets told her future career should be porn. Y’all are forgetting she probably was being sexualized as a child/teen which is not the same as an adult and completely terrible for a child to experience.”
The last comment has an excellent point. Research shows that the sexualization of young girls can lead to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders. This issue is nothing new, so why are so many mocking Sydney for sharing such a common (and often traumatic) experience?
As someone who also developed breasts earlier than my peers, I couldn’t help but feel for Sydney sharing her body image struggles. There’s something about feeling the need to cover your body as a preteen or young teenager to avoid sexualization that sticks with you. I know plenty of women who have the same experience. Seeing the comments mocking her was disheartening, but she’s not the only celebrity to recently experience this type of backlash.
Jenna Bush Hager Opens Up About Body Image Struggles
Jenna Bush Hager, granddaughter of President George H.W. Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush, and host of TODAY with Hoda and Jenna, recently brought up her experience with body shaming in middle school. In a discussion about Ariana Grande experiencing body shaming, Jenna chimed in with her own experience. Jenna said, “I had a boyfriend in seventh grade that broke up with me after we went swimming together, after he saw me in a bathing suit.”
She continued on about how some of these experiences as a preteen and teenager still affect her today. “I feel great – three kids, three C-sections, I feel really in my body, and I think of it as a beautiful thing. I’ll walk in a pool and I’ll have a moment of, like —” she sighed before continuing, “and there have been times when we’ve done this show where people have written about our body, and it takes you back to that moment.”
While the comments on the TODAY Show Instagram post covering the story were mainly positive (compared to the one about Sydney Sweeney) and included women sharing similar stories of their own, there were still comments mocking her. One user wrote, “Jenna puts her whole life on Instagram lately if it’s not with the obnoxious show… and wearing clothes that are way too tight, she’s just asking for it.”
The comments were worse on an Entertainment Tonight Instagram post covering the same story, mainly telling her to move on from something that happened back when she was in seventh grade. What’s interesting about these comments is that they completely miss the point that Jenna was trying to make – that the experiences we have with body image when we’re younger often continue to affect us as adults. Research shows that body image issues and experiencing sexualization as a child can indeed affect you as an adult, alongside other negative childhood experiences like childhood trauma (which is why you hear about the importance of healing your inner child all over social media).
Young Women Experiencing Body Image Issues Is a Societal Problem
Teenage girls experiencing body image issues is a tale as old as time, but social media has only made it worse. According to The Guardian, “Two in five girls (40%) aged 11 to 16 in the UK say they have seen images online that have made them feel insecure or less confident about themselves. This increases to half (50%) in girls aged 17 to 21, according to research by Girlguiding in its annual girls’ attitudes survey.”
After a recent report from the CDC showed that mental health in teen girls was in a steep decline, NBC News interviewed nine different teenage girls to get to the bottom of the problem. One 16-year-old girl spoke of how a trend on TikTok that encouraged girls to show their side profiles led to body image issues. She said, “I didn’t even know what a side profile was until TikTok. There are other trends and a lot of things on social media that really make people, girls especially, feel insecure about their appearance.”
Not only does social media present images for constant comparison, but it also draws attention to body parts or perceived “flaws” that girls were not even aware of before – and therefore couldn’t feel insecure about them.
This is why it’s absurd to mock famous women – who have huge platforms with the power to influence teen girls positively – for opening up about their own body image struggles from their preteen or teen years. I have yet to meet a woman who never experienced issues with body image, proving that this is a societal problem that will likely never go away – but it could be made easier on teenage girls if our culture were more empathetic and supportive.
Celebrities often contribute to the toxic cycle of normalizing unrealistic beauty standards for young women to follow, contributing to millions of women experiencing self-esteem issues. While our culture is well aware of this issue, it simultaneously seems to mock celebrities like Sydney Sweeney and Jenna Bush Hager, who try to counter this cycle by sharing their stories of struggling with body image in their preteen and teenage years. If our culture truly cared about helping young women, it would normalize women with influence sharing their stories to shed the stigma of body image issues instead of mocking them.
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