Tag: Fat

Stop Thinking of Skinny-Shaming as ‘Reverse Discrimination’

I have a very complicated relationship with the concept of skinny-shaming.

I’m a body image activist who attempts to work in solidarity with the fat acceptance movement, an eating disorder survivor who still harbors body and food issues, and a person of average size who talks openly about thin privilege.

Of course I have a complicated relationship with skinny-shaming.

But something that I see coming up a lot is the idea that skinny-shaming (making rude or snide remarks about thin bodies) is “reverse discrimination.”

Some say that if we want to curb body-hate, we can’t participate in body-hate.

That, I’m into.

But then there are the people who say that “skinny-shaming is the same as fat-shaming” – which simply isn’t true.

And because on the surface, that comparison seems to hold water, I think we need to examine it a little more closely to see why – when using an intersectional, anti-oppression lensit’s a false equivalence.

1. Yes, Skinny-Shaming Sucks

I want to be honest about the fact that the concept of “thin-shaming” or “skinny-shaming” is a difficult one to talk about. People who have experienced the pain of being made to feel ashamed of their bodies want to be validated and acknowledged for that – and they should be.

No one should feel like their body isn’t “good enough.”

(Side note: Your body is good enough.)

And while there are problems with the body-positive movement, something that it tries to stand for is assuring people that all bodies are deserving of love and care.

If we want to be body-positive, then we need celebrate all bodies and understand that all people are made to feel like shit about their appearance. That’s simply how capitalism (a la the fashion and dieting industries) works.

I would never argue that skinny-shaming is any shade of acceptable.

It isn’t.

Not only is it plain mean, but as social justice activists, we also should be clear that body-shaming is a tool of oppression.

Here, I talk about how because skinny-shaming is rooted in sexism – that regardless of our body types, society polices them because patriarchal structures benefit from the creation of this insecurity – it is, indeed, on one level, oppressive.

Keeping women focused heavily on their appearances has been, in the words of Naomi Wolf, “the most potent political sedative in women’s history.”

And when we body-shame anyone, we’re contributing to that violence.

But I also want to make the point that it’s necessary to take an intersectional approach to feminist thought, including in discussions of body shame.

And that is where the differences between skinny- and fat-shaming come to light.

2. Intersectionality Matters

Let’s talk about the concept of “good hair.”

If you’ve never heard of this (or have never seen Chris Rock’s documentary), it’s essentially an idea within communities of color (especially among Black women) that the closer one’s hair is to European texture (that is, straight and smooth), the “better” it is.

Clearly, we can see how this is sexist: Telling women that their hair needs to look a certain way in order to be beautiful – and that they need to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on it to make it do something that it isn’t naturally inclined to do – is a problem.

But if we want to deconstruct and examine this beauty standard, we need to address that it’s Eurocentric in nature – that it places European (read: white) features as the ideal.

It’s not just sexist. It’s also racist.

And that intersection matters.

Now, that doesn’t mean that only women of color have hair issues.

I grew up a curly girl in the 1990s when straight-straight hair reigned supreme. And I still remember my disappointment when, at twelve, I asked my stylist to please give me, as I pointed in a magazine to The Rachel, “this cut,” and was told, “There is no way your hair is ever going to look like that.”

Ouch.

That was the first time that I understood that my hair wasn’t “perfect” – that there were standards that I would never live up to. That hurt.

But while that early instance of sexist beauty standards hurt me, I didn’t experience racism on top of it.

That one stylist broke my heart. That one shattered dream of never looking like Jennifer Aniston sucked. That one haircut was a disappointment.

But the rest of the world as a whole didn’t shun me because of my hair.

Fat- and skinny-shaming kind of work in the same way.

When we talk about the difference between skinny- and fat-shaming, the difference is that while skinny-shaming may be tied to sexism, fat-shaming exists at the intersection of sexism and fatphobia.

Take, for instance, if I was at the beach with a fat counterpart, and we were both eating ice cream.

I might be calculating calories. I might be thinking that I should’ve gotten the frozen yogurt instead. I might be having a terrible body image day and feeling awful about myself.

But no one on the beach is even giving me a second look.

My fat friend, though? People might be passing her, looking disgusted. They might be giving her unsolicited diet advice. They might even openly comment on what she’s eating.

The sexist standard plaguing my mind are awful – but the rest of the world isn’t shunning me because of my body.

The intersection of fatphobia and sexism matters, and we can’t discuss the problem of fat-shaming without acknowledging that fatphobia adds an additional layer of oppression.

3. Power and Privilege Play a Role

When we talk about fatphobia, we’re talking about the idea that we live in a thin-centric world that demonizes fat bodies, that the very structures that hold up our society prioritize the comfort and safety of thin bodies.

This is what that looks like:

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve never been asked to pay more for a seat on an airplane – because the seats were designed with my body type in mind.

I’ve never experienced a doctor dismissing my health concerns by telling me that if I just “lose weight,” all of my problems will be solved – because the institution of Western Medicine doesn’t look at my body inherently as a problem that needs to be fixed.

I can walk into a clothing store and (most likely) find items in my size – because I’m considered “standard.”

Fat folk? They don’t have the same experiences that I do – because fatphobia (which dictates the fear, disgust, and hatred that the public feels toward fat bodies) exists.

This reminds me of the thousands of conversations I’ve had to have in my life with people who swear that “reverse racism” is a thing – that stereotyping, prejudice, or discrimination of white people is “racist.”

It’s not.

It’s not okay, but it isn’t oppressive. You can’t oppress the people who have social power. That’s not how it works.

Similarly, the reason why skinny-shaming doesn’t exist as equally oppressive as fat-shaming is because there is no additional power behind it.

It’s important to understand that even if individuals shame you, love and appreciation for you is still woven into the fabric of our society.

Denouncing fat women is just reinforcing the same intersection of oppressive structures that people of size deal with day in and day out – and there is no escape from that.

4. It Can Be Used as a Tool Against Oppressive Structures

White devil. Cis scum. Breeders.

Often, as social justice activists, we use general statements against oppressive groups in order to call into question their power.

And while we have have an entire discussion – or, hey, another article written – about whether or not these pejoratives advance our movements or benefit disenfranchised groups, what I want to focus on here is this: These generalizations are often used by marginalized groups to combat the oppressive structures that they represent.

That is, they don’t actually exist to demonize the individuals in those privileged groups.

For example: White men hold social, economic, and political power. Women of color do not.

If I’m making a generalization about “white men,” I’m not talking about each and every individual white man; I’m talking about the social power that is bestowed upon white men as a group that gives them a sense of entitlement.

But because women of color are disenfranchised, when you generalize them, you actually are affecting each and every individual woman of color – because you’re participating in their marginalization, both as a group and as individuals.

The former attacks undeserved social capital and therefore has little effect on the group; the latter, however, is directly attacking a disempowered group and therefore has real consequences.

Take the phrase “skinny bitches,” for example (which is misogynistic and we could deconstruct all day, but don’t have time for in this already-too-long article). There are many reasons to rail against the phrase itself, but I want to talk specifically about its (lack of) impact.

As I’ve said before, as part of the group that the phrase “skinny bitches” is targeting, I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me feel good.

But those hurt or uncomfortable feelings don’t affect my day-to-day life on a broader level — and it isn’t because I’m magically immune to body-shaming (oh, I wish!).

The reason why a phrase like that doesn’t bother me is because it actually isn’t about me — just like the phrase “cis scum” isn’t. Rather, both of these examples are aimed at the structures (thin and cis privilege, respectively) that give me undue, unfair social capital.

When used as a generalization (rather than a direct attack), skinny-shaming can sometimes be a way to take a stand against the structure of thin privilege.

And while that still doesn’t necessarily feel good, I’m all about calling out oppressive structures.

5. Sometimes What You Call ‘Skinny-Shaming’ Isn’t Skinny-Shaming

Let’s discuss the difference between equality and justice.

When we talk about valuing “equality,” generally what we’re saying is that we want everyone in society to be treated the same – namely, well.

And that’s great.

But there’s no magic wand – no, not even feminism – that’s going to make that happen overnight. Working toward a more egalitarian society is a process.

And the process of administering this equality – in doing the hard work and consciousness raising that hopefully will make equality a reality someday – is the pursuit of justice.

And sometimes, justice looks unfair.

Sometimes it looks like people are getting special treatment. But because they wouldn’t need that special treatment if equality existed, what it really is, is a leveling out of the playing field.

Take Meghan Trainor’s summer jam “All About That Bass” as an example (putting aside the arguments that it’s anti-feminist in its approach just for the sake of this article, although it’s disconcerting).

I’ve heard people saying that while they’re glad that the song celebrates bodies that “ain’t no size two,” the fact that the lyrics center around “bringing booty back” are problematic – just because they don’t address the “All Bodies Are Beautiful” mantra.

The argument is that anything that purports fat bodies as worthy of love are inherently skinny-shaming because they don’t include skinny women or because they posit thick bodies as somehow “better than” thin ones.

But here’s the thing: Because disenfranchised groups – in this case, I’m talking about groups who have systematically been left out of consideration in the definition of “beauty” – need to be empowered and lifted up to even get to the level that privileged people are.

That’s like if someone uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and someone responds with “All lives matter!”

No shit.

Of course all lives matter. Of course all bodies are deserving of love and praise.

But only some lives – and only some bodies – are given that privilege as a birthright. Everyone else has to be louder in order to get even close to that status.

If we were all equal – if all bodies experienced body-shaming (and even body appreciation!) in the same way – then the argument would hold water. But we’re not, so we don’t, so it doesn’t.

Something can be body-positive and at the same time, leave thin bodies out of the conversation. Because eradicating oppression sometimes means decentering the conversation from around the oppressor.

If we want to work together in a movement to end body-shaming, we all need to be on board with the idea that no one should ever be made to feel bad about their bodies.

But I also think that if we want to stand in solidarity with fat acceptance, we need to critically analyze the ways in which skinny- and fat-shaming differ.

Because if we’re not prepared to do that hard thinking and work through our own privileges, then we’re not doing the movement any favors either.

Fat Thin Women

*Originally published on Everday Feminism.

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For The Formerly Obese, Stigma Remains After Weight Is Lost

Carlos Romero’s apartment is marked with remnants from his former life: a giant television from his days playing World of Warcraft and a pair of jeans the width of an easy chair. Remnants of that time — when he weighed 437 pounds — mark his body too: loose, hanging skin and stretch marks.

“I lift weights and work out and work hard, but there’s lasting damage,” says Romero.

Yet for all the troubles he had dating when he was obese — all those unanswered requests on dating websites — shedding weight left him uneasy about how much to reveal. “If you were to say to someone on the first date, ‘I lost 220 pounds,’ you’re indicating that you had a very serious issue at one point and that you may still have that issue,” he says. “So it’s not something I put on a dating profile because I don’t want people to judge me for it.”

The stigma of obesity is so strong that it can remain even after the weight is lost. Holly Fee, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, has conducted some of the only research on dating attitudes toward the formerly obese. In 2012, Fee published her findings in the journal Sociological Inquiry.

She found that potential suitors said they would hesitate to form a romantic relationship with someone who used to be heavy. The biggest fear, Fee says, is “they believed these formerly obese individuals would regain their weight.”

The prevailing belief is that people who have never been obese can control their weight, and those who’ve been heavy have less willpower, says David Sarwer, a psychology professor and the director of clinical services at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Physicians and the general public tend to think that obesity is “a moral failing, and that they can’t push away from the table, ” Sarwer says.

For men and women who have lost a significant amount of weight, excess, hanging skin can hold them back from dating and being intimate. Health insurance almost never pays for costly plastic surgery to correct the problem, which can be uncomfortable and embarrassing.

“I think they can be particularly self-conscious about this issue and be worried about the first time the partner sees them undressed,” Sarwer says. “How are they going to respond? Are they going to be grossed out?”

It wasn’t sex or romance that sparked the big change in Carlos Romero two years ago. That’s when, at age 28, he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Romero knew if he didn’t lose weight, his condition could worsen quickly. He stopped eating pizza and ramen noodles and drinking soda and began exercising. Then, a year ago, after he had dropped a number of jeans sizes, he tried Internet dating again. Romero updated his old profiles and pictures and started sending out messages.

“It was amazing at the time,” he says. He got responses from girls he never thought he would hear back from. “I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is so different.’ It felt like a whole other world had opened up.”

Now, Romero spends many nights on dates with his new girlfriend, Kate Rowe. They met on OkCupid.com after he sent her a message. He looked “smoldering and broody” in his profile picture, Rowe says, “and I was like, ‘Why not?’ ”

Their third date was on Romero’s 30th birthday, and he decided to tell Rowe about his weight loss, which he thought could be “a potential deal-breaker.”

“I don’t want to like this girl any more than I already do without having her know,” he remembers thinking. “I said, ‘I have to tell you this thing. Please don’t judge me.’ ”

Romero knew the risk he was taking. He thought, “What if she doesn’t want to be anywhere near me?” Instead of being repulsed, though, Rowe says she was inspired by his hard work and commitment to good health.

If she had seen Romero’s old profile back when he was bigger, she probably would not have responded, she says. But now he is into rock climbing and being active, and they have things in common.

For Carlos, there are still physical and psychological hurdles to being in love. It’s difficult for him to be intimate. He says shyly, “She’s seen everything.” And when he looks in the mirror, he still sees a 400-pound man. His mind hasn’t quite caught up to his body.

beforeandafter

*Article was originally published on NPR.

I’ll Take 1 Man To Go: Tall, Funny & Smart But Hold The Muscles

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like to write about my experiences in the gym. Click here to read more about that. Even though I haven’t worked out that much this week I’d still like to share my latest observances –

  • Why do men have big arms but skinny little legs? – We’ve all seen men who have very muscular arms but toothpicks as legs. Why aren’t men as vigilant about working out their lower body as they are their arms? I know the arms are one of the most visible parts of the body but don’t forget about your legs too
  • The gym is a good place to ogle & not feel bad about it – The point of working out is to improve your body (and your health too). So if I can’t enjoy the results of your hard labor, men, then why bother? The gym may be sweaty & funky, but it certainly offers a nice view. =)
  • Two grown men shouldn’t work out together – There should be a minimum amount of weight required to lift before you need a workout partner. If you are doing bicep curls you do not need a partner. Bench press yes, bicep curls no
  • If you’re in the gym wear gym clothing – Why do some people show up with cargo pants on? The gym is a place to wear comfortable, loose clothing so you shouldn’t be wearing anything that involves a zipper
  • If you’re going to wear gloves you should be lifting some serious weight – I’ve seen men lift 50 pound weights with gloves on. Why? Fifty pounds is not really heavy (at least for a man, it isn’t) so if that’s all you can lift, preventing calluses should be the least of your concerns

gym 7

Don’t Call Me Skinny Unless It’s Okay To Call You Fat

Growing up I was always called “skinny” or “bony” and HATED hearing those words. These words made it sound like I was sickly. Of course little kids didn’t know that those words were mean but there was nothing wrong with me. I just had really fast metabolism even though I ate everything in sight. Most people think that calling someone skinny is a compliment, but they’re wrong. Maybe if you’ve just lost 100 pounds and you’re proudly showing off your new figure but if you’re naturally thin like me, it’s not.

Why don’t I like to hear that dreaded “S-word”? Well, for one it makes me sound like I’m borderline anorexic. Just like my height, I can’t do anything about my metabolism so don’t talk about it.

I also hate having to justify going to the gym. Is going to the gym only reserved for people who are overweight? Exercising has tons of other benefits aside from losing weight.

Another thing is that people assume that I don’t eat a lot.  That’s so not true. I do eat! Trust me, don’t let the slender frame fool you – I eat.

Also, it’s hard for me to talk to others about my weight because most people aren’t happy about their own weight.  What am I supposed to say when a group of women are complaining about their size then act like I can’t be a part of the conversation because I’m “skinny”?  I can try to be compassionate but my opinion is invalid since I’m the “skinny” girl, so anything I say would just seem condescending.  So although I am a part of the conversation, I can’t really contribute.  If you’re not happy with your weight, fine, but just leave me out of it.

Now if I were fat, commenting on my weight would not be appropriate, right? If I
was fat, obese, overweight (or whatever you want to call it) and someone said anything about my weight that would be considered rude.

Here are some “skinny” comments that I wish I could reverse (hypothetically):

Them: You’re skinny

Me: You’re fat

Them: You’re so skinny, you can eat anything!

Me: You’re so fat; you shouldn’t be eating much of anything!

Me: I’m heading to the gym.

Them: Why? You’re skinny. You don’t need to work out

Me: Yeah, well you should probably come with me

Them: You’re so skinny, you can wear anything!

Me: You’re so fat; there are a lot of things you shouldn’t wear!

There is NOTHING wrong with being slim, slender or thin. Unless fat people want me to comment on their (over)weight, I suggest they leave their comments about my weight to themselves.

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