This post could be triggering for people who struggle with body image.
Or maybe not. That’s the question.
My Body Gallery first appeared on the internet sometime around August 2011, judging by the number of posts written about it on other websites during that time (see: Jezebel, The Hairpin, NY Daily News, Yahoo, and more). The basic idea is that women upload pictures of themselves and then categorize them based on their height, weight, pant size, shirt size, and perceived body type. Other women can then search the site by their height and weight, and to see what that looks like on other women. According to the website, the point is to allow “other women to see that the world is not a place of cookie cutters,” because women “are all different in our body shape and size as well as our place in our journey to loving our bodies exactly as they are, not as we (or others) think they should be.”
Initially, though I recognized that the site obviously had its problems, and that it could be difficult and triggering for people who already had a history of or an inclination to compare themselves to others, I found the site interesting. It could be helpful for people who have an “ideal” weight to see that their ideal might be different in reality. There are not a lot of people of my height and weight, on this website or otherwise, especially considering the number of people that uploaded pictures for, say, 5’5″ and 120 pounds. I like knowing that there are other people who look like me (and, notably, all of the people in that category appear to be white). If sleeves are never long enough and pants are rarely made in your size (and, when they are, they’re never labeled “regular”), or if you have to order your shoes from a niche company who makes them large enough, or you have to shop in a “special” store, or you’re always hitting your head or ducking, or you’re not tall enough to ride the roller coasters, it can be comforting to know that you’re not the only one. But good luck if you’re 5’5″ and 360 pounds. Apparently, there is no one else like you.
So that, then, is one of the problems. Even if the site continues to exists for several more years, even if people continue to submit their pictures to it by the thousands, it will never encompass the entirety of bodily experience. It is possible to search for any weight by an interval of ten pounds between 100 and 500 pounds. That’s a decent range, but there are not many people in the larger or less frequent categories. They are possibly the people who would benefit most from knowing that there are others with similar bodies. On the other hand, seeing that there are no pictures in your category- but plenty that are 5’5″ and 120 pounds- only reenforces those feelings of deviance.
Then there’s the fact that the pictures are almost entirely of white people, which in part reflects the general whiteness of representation on the internet.
And the fact that, even though women are not “cookie cutters,” they’re still trying to categorize women into categories of weight, and more tightly into categories of “body type,” which is apparently limited to pears, apples, bananas, and hourglasses. I have never personally met anyone shaped like a banana. If you do identify as banana-shaped, I certainly don’t want to deny your experience, but I imagine it would be hard to stand, and harder to walk (Have you ever tried to stand a banana up? All you get is bruised bananas.).
And then there’s the thing that bothers me most. This site is for “real women.” The is an alarming amount of shaming of skinny people within the “body positivity” movement, and plenty of dialogues that replace current beauty standards with other beauty standards- for example, that “real women have curves.” Worse, the site appears to be only for women, and since whether or not a picture is of a woman is decided by how other members “judge” it, I worry that the site is only for ciswomen.
So, what do you think? Is this more helpful than harmful? Do you plan to upload your picture?