In this tech-heavy area, many social media users post emoticons (those cute little smiley faces that can exhibit almost any expression on the spectrum) without a second thought.
But some Facebook users insist that one particular emoticon, far from being harmless, poses an extreme risk to body image and confidence in users.
When writing a Facebook status, users have the option to add an emoticon detailing what they are doing or feeling. The feeling options feature emoticons with cute faces, drawn in a myriad of expressions. There’s “blessed,” with a self-satisfied halo; “blah,” with squinty eyes and a stuck-out tongue of distaste; and even “super,” featuring a smiley face with Superman’s S emblazond on his little yellow chest. And finally, nestled within the list of emotions, sticks out one contentious smiley: an over-stuffed face, with puffy cheeks, that tells the world the user is feeling “fat.”
Users across the country began to protest the emoji’s presence, stating that it perpetuated a country-wide issue with body image. Many national campaigns and organizations promoting healthy images took up the protest. Endangered Bodies, an “international global initiative” whose purpose is to “challenge all those merchants of body hatred who turn girls and women against their own bodies,” issued a formal complaint to the Facebook offices in early March.
The organization submitted an online petition through a Facebook group, which contained over 16,000 signatures.
Facebook ultimately responded by pulling the “feeling fat” emoji, replacing it with the words “feeling stuffed” (the picture is the same). In a statement to Endangered Bodies, Facebook officials apologized for any negative impact their creative emoji updates might have had on their user community.
“We’ve heard from our community that listing ‘feeling fat’ as an option for status updates could reinforce negative body image, particularly for people struggling with eating disorders,” the statement continued. “So we’re going to remove ‘feeling fat’ from the list of options.”
The statement continued to note that Facebook officials continuously look to their users for insight and feedback about their creative content.
Though the issue of an emoji may seem small, the results of the protest might have far-reaching consequences.
One blogger on Endangered Bodies noted that Facebook’s decision meant a step in the right direction for those with troubled body image.
“I think this is incredible… that people are starting to understand that the word “fat” is an adjective and not an insult,” said Laura, an Endangered Bodies blogger from Columbia.
Many people suffering from eating disorders or unhealthy eating and exercise habits profess themselves to be adversely affected by the media. In a world where every model is stick-thin, TV shows are stuffed with women who eat poorly and look fabulous, and popular music extorts the need for women and men to be beautiful, it only takes a tiny trigger to set off disordered behavior. For some social media users, that trigger could be as tiny as a Facebook emoji.