Culture

Chadwick Boseman’s Death Proves That We Need To Stop Commenting On People’s Weight

The internet called a slimmer-looking Chadwick Boseman 'Crack Panther' for months. Then he died of colon cancer.

Chadwick Boseman weight comments death

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On August 29, Chadwick Boseman’s family announced his death through the actor’s social media channels.

Informing fans of his passing, Boseman’s family shared that Chadwick had been silently suffering through stage III and IV colon cancer for the last four years of his life. During this time, Boseman had managed to complete eight films — including his most notable role as King T’Challa in Black Panther — all while facing numerous surgeries and chemotherapy sessions.

At just 43-years-old, Boseman’s strength, bravery and tenacity through the last stages of his life were noted by his Marvel colleagues, celebrities and fans through tributes online.

However, as this outpouring of support made its way online, people begun to remember just how different the discourse around Chadwick Boseman was just a few months prior.

The “Crack Panther” Jokes

In April, Boseman posted an IGTV video speaking about Operation 42, an initiative that aimed to donate medical equipment to the hospitals treating Black communities in the coronavirus-affected areas. Despite the four minute video touching on important issues, most could only focus on Boseman’s appearance as he looked to be noticeably slimmer.

While some expressed their concern for the actor’s health, as he “looked different”, the majority of people took the opportunity to poke fun at Chadwick Boseman’s new thinner frame. Playing on his iconic role as the Black Panther, people started calling the actor “Crack Panther” and joking that Boseman’s new catchphrase was “Crackanda forever”.

The comments under the IGTV video itself also pried into the actor’s private life as fans questioned why Boseman looked the way he did.  As some speculated the actor was slimming down for a new role, others noted how “shocked” they were by how he looked.

Fighting his cancer battle silently, Chadwick Boseman decided to deal with the comments by hiding the Operation 42 video from his main feed to avoid questions over his health and appearance. This move followed Boseman’s decision to delete numerous photos from his Instagram feed and turn off comments as people constantly discussed his appearance.

To make matters worse, Chadwick Boseman couldn’t live his last days in private either.

During his rare ventures outside during COVID-19, paparazzi constantly captured photos of the actor doing menial tasks outside. Following his unexpectedly controversial IGTV video, The Sun published an article that featured paparazzi shots of Chadwick Boseman literally buying an Apple TV at Best Buy.

The article, titled ‘SAD CHAD Avengers’ Chadwick Boseman looks glum as he runs errands after fans worry over his dramatic weight loss’, used puns to comment on the actor’s frail frame.

Similarly, when describing Chadwick’s new size, The Things published an article titled ‘Chadwick Boseman Was Always Skinny, But Now He’s Scary Skinny’. In the piece, the author describes Boseman as “deathly skinny” and “unhealthy skinny”.

We now know that Chadwick Boseman was in fact “deathly skinny” as a direct result of his stage IV colon cancer treatments in the last few months of his life. But The Things didn’t know that when they used such careless descriptions to describe a man battling a deadly disease.

While it’s a fair assumption that the authors of these articles weren’t aware of Chadwick Boseman’s health issues at the time, this proves exactly why people shouldn’t comment on the appearance and, specifically, weight of others.

But because the internet continues to consume this exploitative tabloid reporting that relies on paparazzi images for clicks, this invasion of privacy will continue. This toxic online culture of poking fun at people’s weight will never end until we stop fixating on the way people look.

Chadwick Boseman Wasn’t The First And Won’t Be The Last

Body shaming in the industry is nothing new.

Over the last year, Lizzo was subject to a slew of online memes about her size, which likened the singer to whales and an atomic bomb. The body shaming against Lizzo even became so common that it sparked its own TikTok trend, where people would poke fun at the singer’s size in any way possible for simply being comfortable in her own skin.

In one of these TikTok videos, one user compared Lizzo jumping into a pool to the tsunami scene from 2020: The End Of Days. In another, someone implied that the singer skydiving is what causes massive craters to form on Earth.

But after the constant harassment by people online over her size, Lizzo quit Twitter in January. “Yeah I can’t do this Twitter shit no more,” she tweeted. “Too many trolls. I’ll be back when I feel like it.”

When Lizzo returned to social media, she used the very same platform she was bullied on to share the truth about her weight. Posting her workout routine to TikTok, Lizzo explained to fat-shamers that she had been “working out consistently for the last five years” and was doing so for her own ideal body type, which was “none of [anyone’s] fucking business”.

“Next time you want to come to somebody and judge them whether they drink kale smoothies or eat McDonald’s, or work out or not work out, how about you look at your own fucking self and worry about your own goddamn body,” she continued. “Because health is not just determined on what you look like on the outside. Health is also what happens on the inside—and a lot of y’all need to do a fucking cleanse for your insides.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Anna Faris was body-shamed for looking “too thin” in a photo from 2018, that she had to delete the post after only 15 minutes.

Fans in the comments claimed that the photo was “alarming”, “unhealthy” and a “cry for help”, despite it literally just being a photo of the actress standing next to a garbage bin. Yet, the comments were so invasive and intrusive, that Anna Faris couldn’t handle the amount of unwelcome criticism she faced in just 15 minutes.

More recently, TikTok star and literal 16-year-old child, Charli D’Amelio was forced to delete a photo of herself in a bikini because her 27 million followers kept body-shaming her over it.

As people picked apart the teen’s body for being “too long” and for not being what a “woman’s body” looks like, D’Amelio had to address her fans in a series of tweets that simply asked for people to “stop talking about my body”.

But while body shaming is usually seen for women, men in the industry have also faced unwarranted criticism about their bodies beyond Chadwick Boseman. Take Osher Günsberg for example, who openly spoke about the body-shaming he faced when images of him changing out of a wetsuit surfaced online in 2016.

Sites like the Daily Mail ran paparazzi images of the The Bachelor and Masked Singer host with headlines that spoke of Günsberg’s “Bali belly”. In the article copy, the author even touched on Günsberg’s past issues with weight, confidence and mental health, yet still decided to publish the photos to encourage conversation around, and criticism of, the presenter’s appearance.

When the article made its way online, Osher Günsberg publicly denounced the piece while on Hit 105 radio, and called it “nothing short of bullying”.

“I’ve been on television since 1999, and never once have I used my physique as currency,” said Günsberg. “If anything I’ve been really open about the struggles I have made with my mental health and with weight loss. My job is not to be the hot bloke. I’ve never been paid to be that guy.”

The Real-World Impacts Of Celebrity Body Shaming

A 2019 survey of teenagers on body image revealed that 37 percent felt upset over their body, while 31 percent felt ashamed. For adults, over a third felt anxious or depressed over the way their body looked.

With a rise in social media platforms in recent years — which gives people closer access to celebrities than ever before — it’s no real surprise that negative attitudes towards body image is so prevalent. For decades, young and impressionable men and women have looked to pop culture to form their version of an “ideal body”.

When Kim Kardashian jumped on the Atkins diet, women followed suit. When Kylie Jenner got lip fillers, plump lips became all the rage. Brazilian Butt Lifts — or BBLs as they’re otherwise known as — have become commonplace thanks to the unrealistic body shapes adopted by Instagram influencers and on fast fashion sites, like Fashionnova.

Studies have shown that celebrities getting body-shamed makes women more critical of their own bodies as it increases “women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes”.

These negative weight-related attitudes can then often lead to higher body dissatisfaction, which is associated with “poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and disorders”, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

But as we’ve seen, no body is really ever even good enough to satisfy the masses. For women, Anna Faris was too thin, Lizzo was too fat and Charli D’Amelio was too long. For men, Chadwick Boseman was too skinny, while Osher Günsberg wasn’t skinny enough.

Instead of just letting celebrities live at whichever size they please, the constant body-shaming sends mixed messages to young people who read comments. And it’s true, when young women see criticism of other women’s bodies, it’s hard not to compare yourself to what is being critiqued — especially when the celebrity had a body that you idolised and was emblematic of what you thought was “right”.

But this long-perpetuated idea that thin is automatically good and fat is bad as the standard entirely ignores people’s individual circumstances, which was the exact problem with people commenting on Chadwick Boseman’s weight prior to his death.

Always remember, you never know what silent battles people are fighting, so be a little kinder.