Feminist in a fat-shaming world

*Trigger warning: Eating disorders and body image

For some reason I have not been able to escape the topic of body image and fat-shaming this week. Does the arrival of summer have us all on the collective edge? Does the change in seasons bring with it the baggage of eating disordered thinking and issues with our relative failure to attain the impossible “beauty ideal?”

Fuck that!

Yesterday I stumbled into a Facebook discussion after my friend Annette posted this piece about how Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries hates fat people. The company does not stock anything above a size 10 (or medium) for their women’s clothes, while going up to XXL on the men’s side. And Jeffries is unapologetic about it:

In a 2006 Salon interview, Jeffries had spoken about his company’s marketing strategy and explained his target audience.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” Jeffires told the website, not too bothered about losing customers.

He called the companies that try to cater to all categories of consumers boring. He said: “Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

It’s not about fatties, silly. It’s about being cool. Because only people, correction, women below a certain size threshold are cool or beautiful or sexy. Got it. And so do countless young people who are getting contaminated with this kind of toxic thinking.

According to Jeffries world-view, I guess that means I’m doomed to die alone. No one could ever love my size-14 ass, let alone find me sexy or cool. Memo to Jerffries: You can rest assured my husband finds my post-baby, “fat” ass, “fat” thighs, and everything else quite pleasing, thank you very much.

And you know what? I’ve never even stepped foot in an Abercrombie & Fitch. Maybe it’s because I grew up in Alaska or maybe it’s because Jeffries exclusionary branding is working, but I only heard about A&F from some gay guy friends in college. And then I thought it was only a men’s store. Then again, I was a punk kid shopping thrift stores and pretty much not giving a fuck what pricks like Jeffries were spewing or selling. Indeed, Alaska is not really an A&F kind of place. And for that I am thankful. In many ways, I got to avoid so much social indoctrination of damaging body image issues that get force-fed to girls, in particular, but everyone in general. You spend so much time in Alaska just dressing to keep warm, that it’s kind of openly mocked if you spend too much time on your appearance or try to look to fashiony. Alaska is a very function over fashion kind of place, by necessity. That made it very liberating for me as a girl. But I was not completely immune from the misogyny of the beauty myth. After all, we still had TV, movies, and magazines.

Look, I’m not without my own internal body-critic monologue that I have to constantly shush. Now that I’m a mom, I feel it’s more important than ever to be modeling the body-positive behavior of a strong, confident woman, even if I have to fake-it-til-I-make-it sometimes. As a parent, I feel like the stakes are high. And I feel like it’s my job to give my kid the tools to dismantle all the negative, fat-talk, body shaming imagery and messaging she will get as she grows up. You know, like the kind that Mr. Jeffries is selling.

It’s because of assholes like Jeffries and a so-called beauty and fashion industry with an agenda to make us feel bad about ourselves in order to sell us shit we don’t need (or want) that people get eating disorders and young people hurt themselves to try and be “cool.” Fuck that!

Look, I have vanity just like anyone else. I color my hair. I wear clothes that suit my moods and style sensibilities. But it’s important to keep things in balance and perspective. So many people are using products, falling for dangerous diets (or even succumbing to eating disorders), hurting their bodies to wear “fashionable” things, and more. The bottom line is: Who are you doing these things for? Yourself? Peer pressure?

And what would you let go of if you stopped doing those things for other people?

There’s a surprising liberty in casting off those things that don’t make us happy. It makes the other things — like the pleasure I get turning my blonde hair red — all that much more delicious. Not to mention, our hearts and minds get to take a break from the constant war drumming of bad messages that make us feel bad.

This is probably why so many people have been sharing this around the internet:

BodyImage_FBstatus_2013How to get a bikini body: put a bikini on your body. Love it!

It reminds me of this article by Jenny Allen that I just read in More Magazine. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to the entire article. (Sigh) So I will transcribe a portion here:

I’m going to sit here and daydream about the time I went to the beach in Italy. I assumed that the women over 40 would show up in more stylish versions of the boring skirted one-piece suit I was wearing. What I saw ere dozens of women, in their fifties and sixties and older, almost all of them wearing … bikinis.

Bikinis! I couldn’t believe it. Their breasts drooped, their thighs jiggled, their flesh hung loose and crepey, and yet they sauntered along and lay about at perfect ease, as if they had the bodies of teenage girls.

What a radical idea! Except that it makes me sad to think this is a radical idea. Personally, I have never even owned a true bikini (tankinis don’t count). I did grow up in Alaska, after all. But truthfully, even when I had what would be classified as a “good” body as a teenager, I would never have had the confidence to rock a bikini. I was way too shy and insecure for that. (I know, hard to imagine me as shy.) The funny thing is this year I have been looking at bikinis, not that I need one. I never go swimming. And my pasty white skin practically bursts into flames in the sun, so… It’s not really a practical choice in many ways. Also, there is the whole stretch-marks and jiggle factor that is happening on my torso. But for some reason, I keep thinking, “Fuck it!” Eh, maybe I will. I certainly don’t buy into the idea that I’m too old for a bikini.

This is all sort of the problem, isn’t it? We limit ourselves based on these misogynistic, ageist, ableist, and even vaguely racist beauty myths. And it is a mythology. Don’t forget that. Just as I tell my daughter she can wear anything she wants (with the exception of things that are not weather appropriate), I wonder why we allow these damaging body-image threats to tamper with our joy? Why do we let that steal our fun? Because — why not — fashion can be a fun part of life.

There will always be people like Jeffries, I suppose. We can vote with our dollars and not shop there. But we can do more than that. We can set our own agenda. We, the “fat,” un- “cool” kids can be our own arbiters of fashion and beauty. Because I gotta tell you, I have found a kind of body acceptance and self-appreciation now as a 36-year-old mom than I have ever had. Sure, I was thinner in high school. I had less wrinkles in my 20s. My stomach was without scars from surgeries five years ago. But whenever I see pictures of myself from high school and college, what I notice more than anything is the sadness in my eyes and the anger in my jaw. I was so weighed down, not by pounds you could see but by the invisible weight of so much heartache and emotional battle wounds of a difficult childhood not yet processed and healed. Sure, my forehead is a bit more creased now and there are more and more silver streaks in my hair these days, but when I look in the mirror, I see the happiness in my face and that is beautiful no matter what anyone else says. And I’ll tell you what, I have never gotten so many compliments on how I look as I have in the past year. Happiness is the best beauty product, the best fashion, you can ever have. So, I’ll keep rocking my size-14 ass. Mr. Jeffries might call me fat, but I know better. I’m a sexy mother-fucker.

Here’s The Sin City Siren beauty advice to live by:

  1. Wear what makes you happy and functions for your life. A lot of moms wear workout clothes to the park. I like brightly colored dresses. It’s all good.
  2. If you like to wear makeup, rock on. But nobody needs to wear makeup. It should be a fun choice, not a chore.
  3. Sleep is important. None of us get enough.
  4. Don’t diet. Diets have an expiration date and focus on negativity. Eat the food that fuels your body, mind and spirit. There’s no such thing as “good” food or “bad” food. Experiment with what works for you. Question what you’ve been told. And when you find a food lifestyle that works for you, make no apologies. I’m a vegan because that works for my body. I don’t care if anyone else is a vegan or if anyone likes vegan food.
  5. Weight is a number. Numbers are a construct. The BMI is bogus. Be the size and shape that feels comfortable to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, seek out ways to change in a healthy way until you do feel good.
  6. No matter what someone has told you or what the media tries to brainwash you into thinking: You are beautiful. If that feels impossible to believe, break it down into the smallest increment that you can believe. There must be one part of your body that you love. A toe. An eyebrow. Your vagina? Come on, there’s something to love on every body!
  7. Speaking of our good parts, it never hurts to show yourself some self-love. Nothing makes you look better than an orgasm. No partner required.
  8. Try to silence the judgmental qualities that we have all inherited from society. We don’t like being called fat or ugly or old. So, why do it to others?
  9. Turning off the negative messages from media and society is hard, cut yourself a break when they creep in. We’re all human.
  10. Unplug. There’s nothing that says you have to consume all this media and messaging that hurts us. We don’t have to buy the fashion magazines. We can turn the TV off. We can just opt-out of things that don’t feel good.

Stay beautiful, Sirens!

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7 thoughts on “Feminist in a fat-shaming world

  1. Thanks! I’m glad people are finding things in it that feel good. We all deserve to feel good just as we are!

  2. Pingback: Lächelzwang, Schönheitsmythos & die Orsons zu Gast bei den JuSos « Reality Rags

  3. Pingback: Top SCS posts of 2013, part two | The Sin City Siren

  4. Pingback: Body shaming: It’s about them and it’s about us | The Sin City Siren

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