This week, two of my favourite blogs talked about (sort of related) issues around body shaming. On Fit, Feminist, and Almost Fifty, Tracy blogged about the Yale student who was almost suspended over suspicions that she had an eating disorder (see the original story on Huffington Post). On The Great Fitness Experiment, Charlotte wrote about Kirstie Allie’s fat shaming (of herself).
I know that there are plenty of people who think that “fat shaming” gets too much attention. While I think the way we frame fat is a big deal and something we need to keep talking about until we don’t have an issue of stigmatizing, shaming, etc. to talk about any more, we also need to look at it for what it is in a broader sense: body shaming. And this is where I’d like to see our attention go. Fat shaming, skinny shaming, any kind of shaming based on appearances…they’re all along the same lines.
Full disclaimer: I’m guilty of this on a personal level. At times, particularly when I’ve been unsure of my own body (Is it okay to be this size?), I’ve convinced myself that my body is the way to be by making the case against all other body types. So I think the problem we have as a society has to do with people, uncomfortable with their own bodies, taking it out on other people. The muscular woman who says “strong is the new skinny” and pokes fun at runners or ladies who talk about wanting to be toned, the skinny person who assumes all fat people are lazy overeaters who don’t exercise, the fat person who thinks skinny people should eat more food…they’re all alike.
Going back to that Yale student who was told (based on her BMI) that she was too skinny to go to Yale is a case of body shaming. It’s harder to think of instances where thin people are bullied outright–especially women, because skinny applied to a woman carries a different connotation than it does applied to a man–but this case is body shaming on an institutional level. The story really bothers me because it also strikes a chord on something else: eating disorders don’t look a certain way or weigh a certain amount. The girl they’re after was healthy–but I am sure of the fact that there are TONS of people at Yale who are having a hell of a time loving their bodies and who just might realize that they have an eating disorder. What a waste of time, energy, and money to police BMIs, Yale, when universities are filled with people who are legitimately struggling with disordered eating. But I digress…
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think “strong is the new skinny” is great because it makes skinny–something some people just are–wrong. Subtle shaming happens all the time on the internet though. Consider these photos from a quick image search for “quotes about body shaming“:
Fat shaming is easier to find–if you look for it. It’s so taken for granted that fat = out of shape = unhealthy = lazy = [insert adjective here] that I think people are starting to become numb to it. We see article after article about how to lose weight, so obviously carrying weight must be bad. The Biggest Loser, with all its extremes that seem ridiculous from a health standpoint, still flies and people love it and think of it as an inspiration. We look at photos of fat bodies without heads and make judgements about the people who we are so eager to forget are more than just their bodies.
The message it always comes down to?
“Your body isn’t right (and it makes me uncomfortable because I’m not sure mine is either). Fix it.”
Your ideas about my body (and your own body and everyone else’s) are wrong. Fixing the ideas is a heck of a lot harder than trying to fix other people’s bodies. It requires us to be okay with our own bodies and the ways that they might be different from other peoples’, which won’t be easy. But I don’t see body shaming coming to an end until we start to examine the way in which we allow ourselves to comment on, judge, and try to control other people’s bodies, often based on our own.
I’m not better than you because I’m muscular, or because I’m thin, or because I’m fat, or because I’m whatever. If I’m confident in my body and let it be what it needs to be, rather than try to fit it to what I might think it “should” be, I think it’s easier to accept other people’s bodies and realize there isn’t a “better than” to worry about. It isn’t unfair that a girl is naturally curvy, so long as you don’t have an issue with being lanky. It isn’t unfair that a man is big, so long as you don’t buy into the notion that men should be big and bulky.
I hope this makes sense. When we stop believing all the messages about the way our bodies “should” be, we can stop worrying so much about what they’re not. We can give ourselves space to appreciate and celebrate it the way it is. And without all that energy and fear about our bodies being wrong, we can stop taking it out on other people.
Where do you see body shaming?
Do you ever catch yourself shaming other people based on their bodies?