So I admit that I am Facebook friends with Gene Simmons from the band KISS. While he certainly has a legacy as a misogynistic rock star, he also has moments of being a good father and very supportive and protective of his two adult children. Sophie, his daughter, has often received public flak for being a normal sized woman in Los Angeles celebrity circles where eating disorders and body image distortions are the norm. To Gene’s credit, he often talked about his pride in his daughter’s accomplishments as a professional and as a human being, while still saying she is the most beautiful girl he knows, just as she is.
So I was a little perturbed when I saw a post from Gene last week where he, or his social media people, posted a provocative, highly sexual picture of his own daughter on his page touting her weight loss and how proud he is of her. It was the undoing of the positive body image language he had professed on Sophie’s behalf in my mind, and is something that most father’s probably unwittingly do to their own children – increase their child’s value based on attaining the thin, ideal body.
Well, I had to post a little something about this. The vitriol I got from Gene’s fans, mostly men, caught me off guard. I ignored it for a week, but revisited it now that the new responses have stopped. Honestly, I have not felt this bullied since childhood. Some examples are posted below my comment. Read on:
Andrew Walen: I’m sorry you posted this Gene. As an eating disorders therapist, we see daily how weight loss focus and the never-ending obsession with the “thin ideal” body starts females and males down the path toward unhealthy behaviors and self-esteem, which can develop into the deadliest mental illness there is. Your posts about your daughter should have stayed with her accomplishments, not her body and certainly never weight loss.
M: Andrew just shut the fuck up! It’s not wrong to be proud of yourself or your children.
C: She was overweight, now she’s not!! doesn’t take a degree in fat therapy to figure it out!! People who are in shape feel better and live better! Sorry!! It sucks that people who are overweight feel bad about themselves but it’s up to them to fix it! I think she looks great! Better than before! Cheers to her.
L: Andrew, please don’t live the rest of your life with that stick in your ass.
J: That’s because women are neurotic. Over eating is disgusting in men and women.
R: Biggest bullshit of the day
M: Andrew is accepting proposals for a therapist for himself.
JT: Can’t you people ever let someone be happy about a personal weight loss goal?
C: Shut up, you cackling yenta.
MA: Don’t be ridiculous, what’s wrong with him being proud of his daughter for feeling better about herself? Just because she’s thin, does she have to be hidden for the fact that some people are not? Seriously, get a life.
First off, that one person has no idea what “yenta” means. Moving on.
The fact is we live in a thin-obsessed world, driven by social media nonsense, traditional media nonsense, and a cult of celebrity. While a couple dozen folks replied to my post with harsh words, there were an equal number of “likes” to my comment, mostly from women. What does this tell me?
- Men are less likely to talk about body image and eating disorders as other males will tear them a new one if they get out of the man-line like I did.
- Women did not stand up for a man standing up for them, which hurt, and leads me to wish for more personal agency for women to speak up and speak out about this kind of objectification.
- Liking is not enough. Only one woman spoke up for me, which is exactly what we see in young girls at our clinic who are cyber-bullied. I have a pretty strong backbone, but what about those who don’t?
Perhaps a solution to avoid bullying is to get off the internet, avoid social media, and not comment on obvious objectification of women (or men). But burying our collective heads in the sand will not make the change we need to reduce the incidence of body shame, hyper-sexualization of our kids, or development of eating disorder behaviors until they are full-blown diseases. By raising awareness and consciousness, over time we’ll see things improve. I’ll keep commenting. I hope you will too.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.