A psychologist has warned of the negative effects of body shaming, the manifestation of which has moved largely online.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Meriam Omar Din said social media is now the easiest platform for internet users to express themselves, sometimes to the extent of setting aside values such as decency and morality.
“It’s the easiest channel for getting public attention and sparking an immediate reaction, at the very least through ‘likes’ and comments,” she said.
Sometimes, issues turn into a tussle which ends with one party body shaming the other in order to put down their image.
“Respect for others is no longer important,” Meriam said. “They curse and criticise freely and without shame.”
She said many who enjoy body shaming others are often unable to argue with facts or intelligent explanations and instead attempt to attract attention by humiliating other people on social media.
“Respect for others is no longer important.”
“Shaming others may also be a response triggered by the stress of their own feelings because they believe they are not being shown respect either.
“We should return to the culture of not insulting others or criticising them using rude words. Otherwise, we do not need to follow or befriend such people on social media.”
In the case of Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun who recently lost some weight, a photo of her new physique which went viral on social media attracted a wide range of reactions, including from those who appeared more interested in talking about her body than they were about her responsibilities as a minister.
Another woman who spoke to MalaysiaNow said she was teased as a child at school due to her dark complexion.
She said her schoolmates and even some of her teachers had made fun of her.
“I felt ashamed and insecure in front of people,” she said, asking that her name be withheld.
Edward Paul, a lawyer based in Sabah, said those who body shame can be prosecuted as it is considered a crime under Section 509 of the Penal Code.
He said the act could be seen as a form of attack with the aim of shaming or causing loss of face.
“There are two situations in which this can happen. The first is openly, in front of others such as in an office. Here, the victim can make a police report and take legal action.
Those who body shame can be prosecuted as it is considered a crime under Section 509 of the Penal Code.
“The second situation is on social media, where victims can lodge a report with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.”
But if victims refuse to speak up, he said, no legal action can be taken which would encourage perpetrators to continue heaping abuse.
“It doesn’t matter if it is in the form of mocking someone or something that could shame them,” he told MalaysiaNow.
Those who commit such offences could face action under Section 233(1)(a)(b) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Section 509 of the Penal Code and Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955.
Those who shame others on social media meanwhile could be convicted under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act which carries a maximum fine of RM50,000, a jail term of not more than a year, or both.
Offences which fall under Section 509 of the Penal Code are punishable by jail of up to five years while those convicted under Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act can be fined a maximum of RM100.