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Social Culture, Body Shaming, Eating Disorders, and Body Positivity in Indonesia

Indonesia is well-known for its world-renowned cuisine. With options ranging from rendang, fried rice, chicken satay, to countless other delicacies, it comes as no surprise that Indonesians love to eat. Food has become such an integral part of the culture of brotherhood and friendship that wherever people gather, it’s almost always a given that food would be present. Family gatherings are no different, and food is part of the fun; however, sometimes, unpleasant remarks threaten to strain the atmosphere. Some might recall an aunt saying, “wow, you gained weight”, or “you’re so plump now” in the middle of an event. Shocked, embarrassment and discomfort washed over you, and all you could do was smile politely.

With Indonesia’s development, social media inevitably entered Indonesia’s social sphere, quickly becoming popular among the youth as an outlet for self-expression and creativity. Many people post photos of themselves, their daily activities, and special events in their lives, hoping to become more popular and to expand their social circles. It’s all good, until… “Her cheeks are so chubby!” “His arm’s so big.” “Look at that belly fold.” Sounds familiar? 

These comments may seem insignificant, but they undoubtedly contribute to increasing many people’s insecurity and discomfort regarding their bodies; some people who were initially confident could become insecure after hearing these remarks. This phenomenon has a name: body shaming. 

Victims of body shaming often go to great lengths to appear attractive and stunning, attempting to adhere to the increasingly unattainable beauty standards set by society. Unfortunately, in this era, due to the ease with which information is dispersed, many people often fall into the trap of following diet plans that may be unclear in origin and are often neither reviewed nor approved by health professionals or those with expertise in the field; as a result, many end up falling even deeper into an unhealthy lifestyle, ultimately developing some forms of eating disorders.

What are eating disorders?  

According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are severe disturbances in an individual’s eating behaviors, as well as in their thoughts, feelings, and emotions regarding food. Eating disorders are divided into two categories, namely anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia, or the loss of appetite due to an excessive desire to lose body weight, is mainly caused by the distortion of one’s body image while bulimia is often characterized by binging or excessive eating, followed by purging.

What does research say about body shaming and eating disorders?

A study concluded that bodily shame, or the feeling of shame of one’s own body,  is strongly linked with an individual’s likelihood to develop an eating disorder. Lack of confidence, the feeling of not being good enough, and a perceived loss of effectiveness due to a negative body image would incite a feeling of embarrassment toward one’s own body,  ultimately leading to disturbances in one’s eating behaviors. This trend was observed among teenagers who fall within the normal range of body weights, as well as those with obesity; however, an increase in body weight correlates with  an increase in the feeling of ineffectiveness, which means that a disturbance in eating behaviors tend to have greater impact on teenagers with obesity. Due to this, childhood obesity is regarded as a significant risk factor.

Body shaming vs body positivity

Although we can’t control the body shaming that comes from others, remember that we can always train ourselves to view our own bodies in a positive light and keep loving ourselves more and more! This phenomenon also has a name: body positivity. Body positivity means loving yourself regardless of your shape, size, and looks without comparing yourself to society’s ideals of beauty. Many public figures in Indonesia are starting to advocate for body positivity, one of which is Tara Basro. Through one of her posts on  Instagram, Tara menyampaikan “Because I was so used to hearing people complaining about the negative aspects of their bodies, I began to do the same…criticizing and insulting myself. If only we were more used to seeing the good and positive side of ourselves, being grateful for what we have and making the best of it rather than focusing on what we don’t have. After a long journey, I can finally say that I love my body and that I’m proud of that. Let yourself bloom.

So, accept and love your body. Take care of yourself in a healthy way. Stay healthy and beautiful, everyone!

What Are Eating Disorders?. (2021). Retrieved 18 January 2021, from

Iannaccone, M., D’Olimpio, F., Cella, S., & Cotrufo, P. (2016). Self-esteem, body shame and eating disorder risk in obese and normal weight adolescents: A mediation model. Eating Behaviors, 21, 80–83. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2015.12.010