Skinny-shaming is not okay, but neither is dismissing fat-shaming.
We live in a world where people think it’s okay to say mean things about other people’s bodies, provided they do it from behind a screen. Our mothers’ advice that, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” fell on deaf ears.
No one’s safe from having strangers opinions about their bodies rudely thrust upon them; from being told you don’t have curves and aren’t a ‘real woman’, to being called fat and having your photo posted on social media to be body-shamed; we’ve become intensely fatphobic, and critical of women’s bodies in particular.
I am someone who currently sits on the heavier side of average, and I was pretty thin in my teenage years. I had friends and family accuse me of being anorexic, and was told to “eat a hamburger” more times than I can remember. Now I’ve put on weight, those same people say things like “don’t worry, you still look good”, or “you’ve gotten bigger!” while they poke and prod at my stomach and thighs.
Both of the comments from both extremes made me feel terrible. But they made me feel bad in different ways. While the comments about how thin I was came from a place of concern about my health, or admiration from my friends who also wanted to be skinny, the comments about my weight gain come from a place of non-acceptance (read: fat isn’t tolerable, in any form). The implication of this being fat people are innately unhealthy and unattractive.
The simple fact is there is a certain privilege thin people have that bigger people don’t, and trying to take away from the fat positive movement by crying “skinny-shaming exists too!” every time we discuss what’s wrong with attacking a woman for having a fuller figure, is totally not okay.
The reality is, fat women still feel the need to justify their existence; our society defines fat as bad and thin as virtuous. We condemn fat bodies in almost every single way we can. The images we see of models in magazines, what’s at the top of our social media feeds, the clothing sizes we find in stores and even the sizes of seats on public transport are all examples of what is considered ‘normal’. If we fall outside of this range, we’re told there’s something wrong with us. This is where thin privilege starts.
Because skinny people have this level of societal power over fat people, skinny-shaming is not the same thing as fat-shaming. Even if individual people shame you for being thin, respect for your skinnier body type is still woven into the fabric of society at large. More often than not, people who cry they’ve experienced ‘skinny-shaming’ do so to the detriment of the fat-positive movement.
Raging at singers like Nikki Minaj and Meghan Trainor for including lyrics like, “fuck the skinny bitches” and “bringing the booty back” in their songs ignores the root of the issue of fatphobia. It fails to acknowledge they’re there to close a gap, not spark a competition over which group has it worse.
The attitude that we can’t possibly have a discussion about fat bodies without acknowledging the existence of skinny-shaming misses the point. Bigger bodies have to be louder to achieve the same sense of positivity and acceptance thin bodies are typically given so unconditionally.
I’m not saying the leaders of the fat-positive movement have got it perfect; by the same token, slogans like ‘real women have curves’ or ‘men prefer curves’ are equally damaging to the debate. Let’s just acknowledge we’re all real women, and try and have a meaningful discussion about body image that isn’t focused around men for once. It shouldn’t have to be said, but obviously, any kind of body-shaming is wrong. But until we understand that the fat positive movement isn’t a competition in which thin people have to assert their own struggles in order for the discussion to have any merit, we’re going to continue to devalue the conversation.
Perhaps in the meantime, if you don’t have anything worthwhile to add, you should take your mother’s advice, and keep it to yourself.
Comment: Have you ever been body-shamed?