On body shaming

Why we shouldn’t impose our preferences on others

Ariel Pontes


Source: Body shaming is more dangerous than you think (2020, The Jakarta Post)

A few weeks ago, George Buhnici, a Romanian blogger and podcaster I had never heard of, went viral after making some pretty nasty remarks towards women during an interview at the beach. Some of the most controversial comments were the following:

We come to the seaside to see skin, and I would like that skin not to have stretch marks. So, if you would invest in a gym membership as much as you invest in tattoos, I think we would all be better off. I encourage everybody to drop by the gym every now and then. Why? Because if you want to come to the seaside, you will show me your skin and, if you want to be friends with me, as you surely do, you should convince me with something more than cleavage. […]

I’m lucky I have a wife who looks like an underaged girl. Look at her! How old would you say she is?

As should be no surprise, he got a lot of negative attention. What should also be no surprise, however, is that there were also those who came to his defense. At this point this is a recognizable dynamic of the culture wars: somebody says something offensive, they get a lot of backlash, but others always come to defend them from the “woke leftist PC police”, no matter how horrible their remarks. In progressive circles, the tendency is to dismiss these people as intrinsically bigoted and irredeemably immoral. But I think things are a bit more complicated than that.

I think one reason why people defend him is because they share his preferences and they feel shamed and guilt-tripped by the left-leaning progressives who criticize him imprecisely, focusing on his preferences rather than his actions. Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe Buhnici deserved most of the criticism he got, but when thousands of people debate about a viral event, it is inevitable that some arguments will be bad on both sides, and I think we should always criticize bad arguments regardless of whether they’re coming from our side or the other. I know it’s hard, after all humans are tribal by nature, but in order to avoid polarization I believe it’s important to resist our tribal urges and focus on arguments. Criticizing a bad anti-Trump argument doesn’t make you a Trump supporter. We should always keep that in mind. So how should we criticize body…