Do we really want our daughters to grow up thinking they’re not good enough because of their size?
Fatphobia, or the bizarre fixation a good chunk of our society has on being terrified of becoming/being/seeing/touching anyone or anything that has to do with fatness, hurts everyone.
As someone who identifies as being a fat woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of this negativity and I’m acutely aware of the impact it has on my loved ones. Men feel like they need to look like Superman, trans folks think that unless they go to the gym to trim themselves down to a specific size they won’t pass as male or female enough, and even people who identify as non binary feel the pressure of conformity when they look in the mirror.
But perhaps the greatest victims in our cultural obsession with our weight, are girls – elementary school age and younger. Girls who should be worrying about things like how many bugs they can fit into their pockets and how long they can get away with staying up after bed time, not whether or not they look thin in their bathers.
We can argue all we want about whether or not we were able to play with Barbies as kids and not feel like we had to look like them, but facts are facts: a recent study shows half of girls between the ages of six and eight think they should be thinner than they are. By the age of seven, one in four kids have actually dieted. That’s a serious problem.
It’s hard to deny the fact that the media plays a role in this phenomenon – we live in a world where even models aren’t perfect enough to grace the covers of magazines, and where the models themselves think it’s acceptable to body-shame other women who don’t meet their impossible beauty standards.
Young girls don’t understand the images they’re looking at are Photoshopped – wrinkles and cellulite smoothed away, arms that are considered too thick to be sold, slimmed down. The consequence is that girls grow up without anyone who matches their body’s natural look. Any extra piece they have is therefore viewed as bad, and must be gotten rid of at all costs.
It works out great for diet companies. Weight Watchers, diet pill pushers and late-night TV ab-cruncher infomercials all make money off of our insecurities. The diet industry is one of the only ones that gets better the more they fail. It’s genius, really: they sell you a product to make you thinner and better, and when you fail at it, it’s your fault. Diet companies would go out of business if everyone who followed them was successful. They have literally no incentive to deliver on their promises on any kind of long-term basis. And that repeated sense of failure filters through to the mothers raising these young women.
Mothers know they have a huge impact on how their children see the world, but often times their own insecurities, fed by our image-focused society, can blind them to the fact their children are watching every critique.
To a young girl, a mother is perfect. And if we haven’t learned to hate ourselves yet, watching how our parents condemn every bite that goes into their mouths or talk about how fat they are every time a lump or curve appears underneath their clothes is something we will absorb. Girls learn that eating these things is bad, that having a body that doesn’t look like the ones on television means they’re deficient in some way. Every comment mothers make about their bodies is one their children assume is meant for theirs as well.
So young girls learn early on that this is the way life is supposed to go. They’re supposed to hate their bodies, diet, do well for a while, and then the diet is supposed to fail. But when it does fail, it’s their own fault for not buying enough of the product, or not trying hard enough at it. So they do it again, and their weight yo-yos back and forth, something that’s dangerous enough for a full grown adult, and can be devastating to the body of a still-developing child.
Though I identify as a fat woman now, I wasn’t fat as a child. I can tell that now by looking back at photos of myself. But I distinctly remember feeling like I was always too fat and ugly. I remember worrying that I bulged too much in my bathing suit at the age of nine, feeling like I was too big to sit on a tire swing with my friends because I might break the branch at the age of 10, and spending all of my highschool years hiding myself in baggy clothes so no one would notice how hideous I was.
I was bullied a bit by others, but most of it was internal. I swallowed comments from adults about their own bodies, watched yogurt commercials about how I needed to trim down to fit into that “itsy bitsy teeny weenie” bikini and wasted a lot of time hating myself; and it absolutely affected my adulthood.
I desperately hope that if I have daughters, I’ll be able to help them think positively about themselves, but I also understand only a portion of that is under my control. They’ll still have to live in this fatphobic world.
And yes, we’re beginning to see more fat bodies in the media, and starting to have conversations about what the words ‘healthy’ and ‘fat’ really mean, and that buoys my hopes a little; but we as individuals still have to be very mindful of the things we say, and the impact they ultimately have on the next generation. Because our fatphobia and obsession with weight is hurting girls, and it needs to stop.
Image via rosslyneaglewatch.com.
Comment: Do you agree that our society is fatphobic? Where do you stand on this issue?