The fat strikes back: On #fatmicroaggressions, Victoria’s Bullshit, and more

Trigger warning: body issues, eating disorders

A few days ago a conversation about fat-shaming blew up all over twitter through the hashtag #fatmicroaggressions. And while a lot of times my twitter feed gets fractured along race lines — especially when it comes to feminist discussion — this particular conversation transcended, nay included, a broad spectrum of experiences without limitation.

The conversation got started by Melissa McEwan, aka @shakestweetz, aka the mastermind behind Shakesville, a fantastic blog from another non-East Coast outlier in the online feminist media landscape. McEwan often comments on issues related to politics, pop culture, and more. But this week, she was in rare form when it came to the topic of fat-shaming and the many ways that our society — as well as feminism — fail to offer any kind of basic human respect for people who are not deemed appropriately weighted.

When I asked McEwan why she started the hashtag, she said it was “because I was having a moment of fedupedness.”

Tweets using the #fatmicroaggressions hashtag ranged from sharing real things people said to observations about open fat-hating:

Once people started getting a hold of it, things blew up from there:

And this conversation came on the, well, heels of a rather fabulous post on Beauty Redefined calling out Victoria’s Secret for not only fat-shaming women but selling them on the idea of objectifying themselves.

This brand begs us to believe, and totally relies on us believing, that our power comes from enhancing, accessorizing, fixing, and flaunting our bodies. It relies on us believing beautiful and “sexy” look ONE very specific way — very thin, tall, young, and wrinkle- and cellulite-free — and that we must achieve those ideals by any means necessary in order to be “sexy, bold, and powerful.” If we believe we are empowered (and made desirable, happy, and healthy) by perfecting the looks of our bodies above all else, we are giving our power to an industry that profits immensely at the expense of our self-worth. What you’ll see from VS is not empowerment, but about asking girls and women to give away their power by doing one of two things in order to feel a fake and fleeting form of “power:” 1) fixing it, or 2) flaunting it. Both leave us at the harmful and stifling state of self-objectification* that hinders female progress,  health, and happiness in every possible way.

The site also monitored the flood of body-hating comments by young women on social media during the Victoria’s Secret fashion show this week.

Watch social media FLOOD with girls and women publishing their body shame triggered by the VS Fashion Show (which aired Dec. 10, 2013). “I am seriously on a juice fast starting NOW!” a teen will tweet. “I’d kill to look like that VS model. What is her secret?!” a woman will post on Facebook. This will happen to a startling degree. (UPDATE: this DID happen to a startling degree. Check out Indy Ink’s awesome roundup of the tweets here). Watch the “news” stories air about the extremes to which the VS models resort to “fix” their own bodies for their near-naked stroll down the catwalk on primetime network TV. Last year, Adriana Lima shared her diet and exercise plan, which we would publish here, but it is a complete recipe for organ failure and we don’t want to promote that crap. There is nothing “empowering” about starvation.

This is not about a Victorian view of sexuality and expression. (I do live in Sin City, after all.) The human animal is encoded with desire and there is nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something really wrong with a company making millions by selling the idea that none of us are good enough, sexy enough, skinny enough, beautiful enough … need I go on? I mean, even the models in the company’s catalogs don’t meet those standards, as Victoria’s Secret is one of the worst offenders of photoshopping out arms and legs (even boobs!), let alone undesirable qualities like fat, wrinkles, or cellulite.

So, what does this have to do with #fatmicroaggressions? A lot.

To me, this problem writ large via Victoria’s Secret is just the other side of the “fat aggressions” called out on twitter. How far are we going to go in hating fat when models for Victoria’s Secret can’t even make the cut? I mean, is it any surprise that Average Janes like me don’t run out and buy swimsuits each summer? (I actually don’t even have a swimsuit.) As smart as I am and as aware as I am about the unattainable beauty myth and the male gaze and even Photoshop — I still get stopped in my tracks by “fat” shit. These days it’s not even about feeling like I should look differently or weigh something else. These days I get stopped by the fact that I just don’t want to have certain conversations with people anymore. I don’t feel like dealing with someone saying shit to me. So I just avoid the situation.

It’s obvious that people are policing other people’s bodies. But now there is a growing ability to dispatch some disparaging fat-talk through social media, like tossing a lit match on some kindling. And yet, there is a tone-deaf response amongst the mainstream feminist community to even address fat issues outside of talking about eating disorders and that there should not be a monolithic beauty standard. (Unless you’re talking about high heels, apparently. Because we still have to have that fucking idiotic conversation about whether or not it is okay for feminists to wear high heels and lipstick.) I find this shocking. If the dominant lesson of the feminists who came before us was that “the personal is political,” then why aren’t we talking about fat politics? That is, besides Shakesville (and me, sometimes).

So here is where the political is meeting my personal. The more I learn about the ways that feminism is alienating different segments of our society — fat people, trans people, people of color — the more I get worried that I am losing the faith. I mean, if feminism can’t meet the needs of a middle-class, college-educated, white lady in the suburbs then who the fuck is benefiting? Amiright? We keep talking about how the media needs to stop reinforcing negative and impossible beauty standards. But where is the movement’s voice for the scores of people who face institutionalized shaming from doctors to prescription drug-makers to the job market?

I’ve been a lot of different sizes in my adult life — from society approved weights to obesity. Even now when people find out I have maintained triple-digit weight loss after I had my daughter, the response is a mixture of congratulations and shock. I still have a flabby tummy. My clothes are still sizes that are considered big or very big, depending on your standards. I am routinely — as in at least weekly — asked when I’m due. Because pudgy stomach = pregnant. Obviously. The worst part about it is that I lost the majority of the weight in the worst way possible; I was extremely ill. But even when I say that, people just dismiss that as a lucky break. All they hear is 110 pounds — not that it was basically starved off of me in a year of tremendous pain and illness. Context is not only unwanted, it is a cock-blocker to the collective fantasy of miracle weight-loss.

What’s that line from The Devil Wears Prada? “I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.”

In our society, fatness (or perceived fatness) is a malady to be ridiculed. It is a status to be openly mocked and policed (are you really going to eat that?). It is an adversity to overcome. It is the lazy punchline. It is a status and a lived experience of being the most invisible visible of all.

2 thoughts on “The fat strikes back: On #fatmicroaggressions, Victoria’s Bullshit, and more

  1. Pingback: You guys: On the gender of feminism | The Sin City Siren

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s