Emma Woolf recently caused a bit of an internet palaver, comparing fat-shaming (society’s blatant hatred of fat people) with skinny-shaming (snide comments made by rude people). I understand her point – criticising a thin person for their weight, whether jokingly or not (“skinny bitch”, “you barely eat ANYTHING!!! God I eat SOOO much”), is an unpleasant way to behave. It’s similarly vile to criticise a fat person for existing in their body. Ms Woolf only seems to have overlooked the whole societally-endorsed-vilification-of-fat-people thing. It’s probably more frustrating to live in a world that presents your body as a w onder worthy of Channel 4’s 9pm freak show slot.
In Western society, thinness is valued, and fatness is not. The skinny-police wring their hands and wail that they’re only worried about peoples’ health. Ah, but they don’t care a bit about the skinny folks who don’t eat their greens (vitamins and minerals are not a ‘sometimes-food’). Nor do they give a hoot about all those borderline alcoholics slowly pickling themselves from the inside out because they like to unwind with a drink at 6pm. The concern-mongering is a sham.
Skinnier is just fundamentally healthier, say none of the doctors. Sure, there’s a general bracket of Good Sizes for Humans, and obesity isn’t great, but underweight isn’t the place to be, either. If you ever get into the skinny club (a club some bodies just aren’t built for and that’s fine), they tell you that ‘real’ women have curves, and wear wrap dresses like the Special K lady. Euphemistic terms like ‘voluptuous’ and ‘curvaceous’ are thrown around. Real women are delicious folds of full fat cream, poured into chocolate pots. Skinny women are puddles of skimmed milk, with cheerios for breasts. It’s like they’re breaking you down to build you up again, except they don’t build you up again.
So, I think ‘they’ want you to be very thin, with large boobs (not too large, slut!) and a nice, pert bum. Slim, but curvaceous, and then you’ll have it made. Who does that bring to mind? Barbie. A small, famous plastic doll who grown women spend an inordinate amount of time writing damning essays about, even though she’s an astronaut with a doctorate and some serious horsey talent. Barbie was made with the It Body, and we slam all her achievements because her body is too stereotypically hot. You see what happens if you live the dream? We can’t win, ladies, and I’m pretty sure weight-preoccupation is a nasty conspiracy to distract us from getting on with things.
Weight is, inexplicably, a standard thing for us to ‘compliment’ one another. Not health. If I compliment someone for looking healthy and strong, I sound like a creep, but if someone calls me a stick insect, god it’s so unfair, I’m expected to play along and laugh and offer some kind of compliment. Internally, I just feel uncomfortable and want to explain that actually I’m really prone to surprise-vomit and fainting, so, yeah, skinny is obviously my main priority.
I love my body. It respires and moves around, and it has got rid of every bout of flu I’ve ever had. But it has its everyday rebellions, and comments about my weight just make me think of which health issues I would trade out in return for a few extra stone.
Even weirder than standard weight comments is the grim consolation prize ‘at least you look good’, offered to people who publicly discuss their ill health (side effect: losing weight). Is looking good really consolation for someone who feels like shit? If you know for certain that it is, comment away! Otherwise… ‘compliments’ aren’t always welcome. I’m pretty sure it feels worse to have strangers/your mum telling you you’re going to die in a puddle of butter, though. Not that, if we were all courteous, decent people, I would even need to speculate about what would make myself or others feel more like crap.
So how do we fix this insane preoccupation with weight? It’s easy to suggest that we ladies just stop comparing ourselves to each other. Silly women, with our woman-jealousy! Only the problem doesn’t start with us. When we have billboards and TV shows and adverts and magazine covers coming at us from absolutely every angle, it’s impossible not to internalise a beauty ideal that simply doesn’t work for most bodies. Hairless. Limber. Neck photoshopped to point in a different direction from the head. Skinny.
There’s not much we can do. My apologies, dear readers, I have mentally taken on the marketing money-spinners and lost. I would wager that one passes judgement on other people’s bodies internally about ten times as often as one does externally. We can only (vaguely) free ourselves from the whole, suffocating standard if we stop outwardly indulging in this crap, because when we say it out loud, we bring everyone in earshot down. Let’s do the very radical thing of not telling people what to do with their bodies anymore.