Body shaming: It’s about them and it’s about us

[Trigger Warning: Body policing, fat shaming, eating disorders]

It’s the middle of January and we’re coming up on the day most New Year’s resolutions fail, which is either “ditch” day on Jan. 17 or “Fail Friday,” depending on who you ask. Losing weight, getting fit, and eating better rank in the top 10 New Year’s resolutions, according to USA.gov. (Is it weird to anyone else that the government bothers to track top resolutions?)

Considering how much time we spend talking about our appearance and weight in our culture, I have no doubt that many of you are in some state of change about your diet and exercise habits. As I have said before, I sincerely hope that any motivation you have for changing your body is coming from a healthy place and not from the constant cultural chatter that judges (and polices) people about their bodies. I have serious problems with the diet industrial complex, which exists to get rich (often by playing on our fears and insecurities), not to help you achieve your goals. Regardless of what you have tried or are doing, what size and shape you are, or what any internet trolls say, I wish for you to be healthy and happy not just as a resolution but as a state of being.

But that’s easier said than done, right? Hell, I’m no stranger to insecurities. We’ve all got ’em.

This time of year, in particular, can be hard for those of us who are just trying to find some state of satisfaction — or even happiness — in our own skin. Everywhere we look there are ads for diets, stories with weight-loss tips, and magazine covers boasting the best foods for weight-loss or smooth skin or some other such beauty construct. You go to the store, scroll through your social media feeds, or watch the news on TV — diet-talk is everywhere in January!

Just breathe.

Another kind of story I’ve been seeing a lot is about celebrities and their weight. A prime example is when the internet was engulfed in the Mindy Kalig Elle cover controversy. Did the Elle editors really think we wouldn’t notice that Kalig — the only woman of color highlighted in their “Women in Television” issue — is the only one shot in a tight close-up, rather than a full-body pose? People will probably be wringing their hands about whether or not it speaks more to white-privilege or about thin-privilege for a long time. (I say it’s both and it sucks.)

Meanwhile, there was another story, about Jennifer Lawrence, patron-saint of the “fat” girls, that hit a nerve. In Jennifer Lawrence Body-Shames You More Than You Know, writer Jennifer Trout makes the case that Lawrence can get away with saying things like, “In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress, I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach,” because not only is she not fat but she benefits from considerable thin-privilege.

I’m not going to cover the fact that it’s messed up that a girl like Jennifer Lawrence has to justify her perfectly gorgeous body to every single media consumer in the world. We all know that’s messed up. Let’s focus instead on the fact that in order to appease our own self-doubt about our weight, we, the Internet, have decided to ignore how body-shaming the entire image of JLaw, “Spirit Animal” to fat girls everywhere, really is.

First of all, consider her quotes. She would rather look chubby on screen, but like a person in real life? This is a message of positivity only for people who consider themselves chubby, and it comes at the expense of women who are thin. Maybe they’re thin because they’re sick. Maybe they’re naturally slender. But when someone says they would rather “look like a person” than look thin, the message between the lines is that thin people don’t look like people.

I want to know, Internet: at what percentage of body fat does a woman earn the right to be a person?

I’m certain that some of my fellow fatties looked at that quote and rolled their eyes. We know that weighing more doesn’t grant one personhood, because our alleged lack of self-control and dignity are directly linked to that body fat percentage. Fat people are not people in our culture. They’re “fat people.” So, what does that quote do? It’s not empowering to anyone but women who look like Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not a coincidence that she just happens to be the Coke-bottle standard we’re told men should prefer.

Oh wow. No offense to Jennifer Lawrence, but I get this post. I get the kind of slow-burn rage here. I don’t know if there is a woman alive who has not faced some form of body-shaming. You’re too fat, too thin, too brown, too gay, too trans, too flat-chested, too big-hipped, too tattooed, too post-baby belly … whatever. There’s always somebody policing us — usually in some kind of horrible internet meme like the fake “bridges” meme [TRIGGER WARNING] or like the “dude-bros” who were saying shit about stretchmarks.

And then as feminists we wring our hands about whether or not our desire to change our appearance — be it weight, muscle tone, or just LASIK eye surgery — is in direct conflict with being a feminist. Can feminists use diet pills? Am I body-shaming myself because I want to lose [blank] pounds? Is my feminist card revoked for considering a tummy tuck? (Judge me if you want, but I have had this thought and what turned me away from it was not worrying about my feminist street-cred but the fact that the surgery is major and it costs upwards of $12,000.) This is a much deeper end the pool than the stereotypical feminist image conundrums like if it’s okay to wear makeup or whether or not wearing high-heel shoes is a no-no. (Seriously, are we still arguing about high heels? What a waste of time.)

Just when I think I can’t take anymore, I end up in an epic social-media conversation that goes into some really weird territory. My friend posted an innocent thought about taking up running because she keeps hearing about how it can be a stress-reliever. Suddenly, people are posting all sorts of stuff — from what type of shoes to get to dogmatic axioms like, “If you don’t go first thing in the morning, you might as well not go at all.” Maybe all-or-nothing routines work for some folks. Good for them. But there are a lot of others out here just hanging on by our fingernails. If I can manage to get my workouts in every week — whatever time of day that is — I feel like a winner. It starts with getting it done. Once you can start getting it done, then worry about maximum impact, calorie-burns, and whatever the latest hype is on whatever thing it is you’re doing. The best advice is this: Just start. As long as your body is healthy enough to do the activity in question, go for it. The rest will follow.

So, obviously, it’s not just that we get 24/7 body-shaming messages, but we also get judgmental messages about how and why we exercise or what food we put in our bodies or even what clothes we decide to wear while doing it. I recently got into a surprisingly passionate conversation about the “booty shorts” that a lot of women wear in hot yoga. While I am not one to really favor wearing short-shorts, I have come to feel that the athletic shorts that a lot of folks wear in hot yoga — in which temperatures are 100 degrees or more and humidity is usually 40 percent — are practical. Frankly, once you get going in hot yoga, everybody starts to look a mess. It’s not a pretty exercise regimen. But it’s not supposed to be. And we could all do with a little less judgy-mc-judging during our asanas, thank you very much — regardless of what we’re wearing.

What has to be the worst conversation I’ve had recently is when I saw someone on Facebook tell a runner not to go in the morning because, “that’s when the rapists are out.” The commenter then went on to say that rapists are known to target female runners in the morning. Huh? Hello rape culture! Well, how could we have a conversation about body-shaming and fat-talk and diets and health without rape culture tagging along? Rapists did not unionize and collectively decide to attack only female runners in the morning. Morning runners being targeted is a MYTH. (Important note on that Snopes link is that it is incorrect on the time of day that most rapes occur. The fact is that the majority of rapes, 43 percent, happen between 6 pm and midnight.)

Of course, more often than not, negativity stems from the insecurities (or fears, in the case of that rape comment) of those who are saying it. People put down a certain diet because they themselves don’t like diets or don’t want to think about what they might be doing (or not doing) to contribute to their own good or bad health. People slam different exercise routines or even say sabotaging comments because they themselves can’t, don’t, or won’t exercise. In short, people often feel an implicit judgement upon them when none is made. Because I chose to do hot yoga and Couch to 5k, some others might think, “She thinks I’m lazy or fat or unhealthy because I don’t do those things.” Or worse, they are thinking, “I’m a failure because I don’t do things like that.”

Ouch! First of all, we have got to stop judging ourselves! And secondly, we’ve got to stop judging each other!

In all honesty, I give zero fucks what anyone else does as far as exercising, dieting, nutrition, whathaveyou. That’s your business. And whatever you do has absolutely no effect on me as a person. What you have for lunch or how you spend your time is just that — yours. I will speak out about fat-shaming and body policing because that is damaging bullshit that hurts everyone. I will speak out about capitalistic industries that prey on people’s insecurities — the beauty and diet industries, in particular — because we should all have our eyes open when we decide to participate in things and because the marketing of those kinds of businesses affects our cultural conversation, even among those who do not participate. But to be clear, critiquing those industries is not the same thing as critiquing you. I wear makeup, but I still critique beauty standards that say I’m ugly if I don’t wear makeup. There must be a separation between the conversations we have to critique things that aren’t working in our society and the conversations we have about what works (or doesn’t) on or in our bodies.

Here is my challenge to you: Just go one full day without doing any fat-talk, body policing, negative commenting about yourself or others. Don’t say anything about what someone is eating. Don’t throw shade at the lady who is wearing [insert outfit of derision]. Most importantly, don’t say one single bad thing about yourself. This includes “this [piece of clothing] makes me look fat;” “I’m having a fat day;” “This is going right to my thighs;” “I used to be so thin;” etc. Just go 24 hours without it.

If you can do it for one day, challenge yourself to keep doing it for a week. And then a month. Keep doing it until you don’t even notice you’re doing something anymore. Keep going until you stop allowing fat-thoughts and judgmental shit to take up your valuable mind-space. Because your mind is valuable! Do it for yourself. Do it because of the Golden Rule. Or just do it because all this fat-talk has got six-year-olds hating their bodies! Or how about the preschoolers who are worried they are too fat! (Seriously, that story makes me die inside a little.) Do it for the girls in your life or who are standing in line behind you at the store. Because our girls deserve to grow up without getting mind-fucked by fat-talk that will haunt them the rest of their lives!

I know it’s not easy. It took me three years to stop saying bad stuff about my body.

No matter what you do, what you look like, or what you are trying to accomplish in your life right now, I wish you well.

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2 thoughts on “Body shaming: It’s about them and it’s about us

  1. I love so much about this post, but I wanted to point out the whole “rapists target female runners in the morning” is unmitigated nonsense. There is not some epidemic of rapists specifically going after female runners out there! I have heard this cited as a reason why women should never run alone, and it makes me batty. Yes, there are some parts of the world where a woman is probably not going to be safe going for a run by herself but this is not some categorical fact, like “the sun always rises in the east” or whatever.

    Anyways, great post. Sorry to go off on a tangent about a single sentence in your post. It’s just one that happened to hit right in my wheelhouse.

    • Caitlin, you are absolutely right. And if you notice, I debunk that myth with the paranthetical “rapists did not unionize …”. According to the DOJ, the majority of rapes occur between 6 pm and midnight and are committed by a person known to the victim. So, it has nothing to do with running or not running. Rapes happen because perpetrators want to rape. Period.

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