Positive representations like Anchilee are desperately needed in the Thai media
Anchilee Scott-Kemmis became a huge source of hope for many Thais, by being declared Miss Universe Thailand 2021 back in October, and having a social impact by breaking existing beauty ideals, which women and young girls have felt pressured to meet for way too long.
It was, however, a surprise when the Thai-Australian beauty queen and “curve” model didn’t make it to the Miss Universe finals, which was held in Eilat, Israel.
-#RealSizeBeauty and its social impact-
Even before she entered the competition, Anchilee had been a strong advocate for body positivity and diversity with her #RealSizeBeauty social movement, which has attracted more than 530,000 tweets and more than 26,000 posts on Instagram.
Drawn from her own experience of being body-shamed when she was a teenager, the key mission of Anchilee’s social movement is to encourage people to “celebrate” their individuality and embrace who they are regardless of their body type, and what they can achieve beyond their size or shape.
Although body positivity has been discussed before, it was restricted to only certain groups and is often ignored by mass media. It was not until her crowning during the Miss Universe Thailand competition that the topic resonated.
Most users on social media have shown support, by posting photos of Anchilee and sharing her best quotes. What’s more important is the discussion about how she has made an impact among people on body positivity and how their body image has changed in a more positive way because of her.
-Idealistic Beauty Standards-
For so long, Thailand has held unrealistic views of beauty, emphasising fair skin, doe-eyes, an “ant-waist”, being tall and slim and the list goes on. Whoever does not fit such beauty standards became the target of bullying, discrimination and prejudice.
All of this often leads to women and young girls having a negative relationship with their body and, in the worst cases, developing mental health and eating disorders. Asking people about weight-gain (and telling them to lose weight), which has been ingrained in people’s daily conversation for ages, puts extra pressure on Thai women.
Among those women was Thai-Italian singer, Pavida “Silvy” Moriggi, who released “XL” to encourage women to love themselves, regardless of their size. Silvy has experienced body-shaming since her career began, when she adopted unhealthy eating habits after being told by many adults in the entertainment industry to lose weight or else she won’t succeed as an artist.
The media plays a huge role and carries a responsibility for how people perceive beauty and continues to contribute to the body shaming culture in Thailand. How often have we really seen body diversity on Thai TV, be it in Thai soap operas or commercials?
We have often seen women with larger bodies being “victimised” in commercials related to diet supplements or food products that are deemed to be “healthy options”, to imply that losing weight is the only option to be beautiful.
Actors and actresses who do not fit the typical beauty standards are often portrayed as either a clown or a villain, but rarely play a leading role. If they do get a leading role, it’s still a repeat of the misleading stereotypes, namely that fat girls are always clumsy, eat unhealthy food, are often bullied and then make drastic changes to their appearance to wow other male characters.
“So, if you force one aspect of beauty, you get almost brainwashed into thinking that’s what it is, when it’s not,” Anchilee explained during her interview with us prior to the Miss Universe Thailand competition.
-Who says it can’t change?-
To paraphrase Plato, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. What’s considered beautiful to some may not be considered beautiful to others. Regardless of this, beauty standards and trends change all the time, and who has the right to say that women, who do not fit the current beauty standard, will never succeed?
The only way to achieve this is through more positive representations of women of different sizes in the Thai media, not just in beauty pageants. We need more representations like Anchilee, Ashley Graham, Lizzo or Rihanna, who can inspire Thai women and young girls to love their bodies and their own curves, regardless of what people consider as flaws. We should also teach people to respect each other, despite differences in age, gender, skin colour, body type, accent and so on, which is still lacking in Thai society.
But to make this clear, body positivity doesn’t mean you have to ditch your morning exercise and binge-eat unhealthy treats. That’s not the point. Body positivity is about loving your body just the way it is, without the need to fit into these unattainable beauty standards in order to be accepted in society.
#RealSizeBeauty is definitely a good start in creating such awareness of body positivity and diversity, especially in Thailand. We hope this momentum will continue, no matter what.
By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World