When I read the recent Elephant Journal article, Why I’d Rather be a Skinny Bitch, I was challenged by it.
A comment, even a long one, didn’t seem sufficient to express the feelings this article aroused in me. Writing an article in response seemed better-suited to express why this article kept me up last night.
Many of those who feel the need to push back against the body positive movement (or “fat acceptance” movement, as its detractors call it), seem to forget one of the primary rules of social commentary—when throwing “punches,” you have to “punch up,” as they say.
What that means is, when criticizing a group, it should be one with more power or prestige than the group the commenter represents. This is the reason most people don’t like the white supremacist, the men’s rights advocate, or the politician who suggests the poor just stop being lazy and get a better education. “Punching down” generally just makes the commenter look like a bully.
This author, however, seems to understand this concept, because early in the article she feels the need to point out that “fat has become the new black, as in popular,” in an effort to justify the views she is about to express.
Anyone who really believes that being fat is “popular” has never lived in the world I live in, where people prove all the time that fat really is the last acceptable bias.
A group of women went out to eat, and when they received their receipt, they noticed the receipt said “fat girls” to identify them. Even though this was an article that included nine other similar incidents of insulting receipts, most of the comments and jokes were about the fat girls. There weren’t nearly as many comments or jokes about the other, mostly racially-related insults. Glancing at the comment section for just a moment revealed these gems:
“This has me belly laughing.”
“It’s not her fault those pancakes just won’t stop!!!”
“Haha. Scarred for life? Possibly, but stretching your skin to the limit can do that to you.”
“I like how they were mad they didn’t get there [sic] food for free. Irony at it’s [sic] finest”
Thin is still the ideal. With very few exceptions, the people on television are thin, the people in movies are thin, and the people in magazines are even thinner. When the people represented in the media don’t look like you, you become an outsider, the “other.”
This is not to say that I believe that thin women should be shamed; I’m saying that people saying that “one dessert won’t hurt” or “eat a cheeseburger” is not the same as the vicious fat-shaming many experience on a daily basis.
People make comments and jokes about overweight people and make generalizations that would never be acceptable if directed at any other group of people. Thin people are generally assumed to be healthier, in shape, and, at worst, a little vain. Fat people, on the other hand, are assumed to lack self-control and to be lazy, out of shape and stupid. I know which assumptions I would rather have people make about me.
Most of those who fat shame claim say they do it out of concern for the health of the fat person, usually a stranger. This is because the truth—the fat shamer finds the fat person’s excess adipose tissue offensive—sounds very mean. That’s because it is very mean. But if the concern genuinely is for the health of the fat person, there are several things we should remember:
Fat does not automatically equal unhealthy. Thin does not automatically equal healthy. We cannot know a person’s health status by looking at them.
Another person’s health is none of anyone’s business besides that person, their doctor(s), and anyone else they choose to share that information with.
Most importantly, fat shaming will not help. Studies show fat shaming can actually exacerbate weight gain.
Thinness is so engrained as the ideal in our society that I remember feeling fat as early as seven years old. I was a dancer and I very vividly remember sucking in when I was measured for my recital costume so my measurements were not too big.
I feel like this point should be repeated for emphasis: When I was seven years old, I felt so self-conscious about being fat that I sucked in when being measured for costumes.
Where did this feeling come from? What did I think I was achieving? Did I think my dance teacher would judge me if my measurements were bigger than the other girls? My dance teacher was a sweet lady and I don’t remember anyone’s weight ever being discussed. Did I think smaller measurements made me a better person? A better dancer? My seven-year-old self clearly didn’t think this through. For three years in a row, my costumes didn’t fit when they arrived and my mom and grandma couldn’t understand why.
After a lifetime of self-esteem issues and negative self-talk, I just thought such self-hatred was the norm. Then I started yoga. All the discussion by teachers about honoring my body and meeting myself where I am really spoke to me and helped me to start to love myself and my body, in all of its imperfection.
The body positive movement is not about “thin shaming” or “fat acceptance.” The body positive movement is about everyone accepting and loving their own bodies, no matter what they look like, because fat people are not the only ones with body image issues. Maybe Ms. Jorgensen should look into this body positive movement, because someone who loves and accepts her body would not refer to her new, heavier weight as her “icky weight.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Kathrine Conroy
Editor: Travis May