Purely a figment of your imagination

What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

Skinny bitch

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In our culture, we’re all taught that the shape of our body really matters.

Two separate issues

It starts early. I remember complaining to my mum that my thighs were fat, when I was about 8 years old. How absurd (because they weren’t, and what a ridiculous thing for a child to be worrying about), when I look back, but I remember how I felt at the time and it was serious. It’s a pretty constant battle for most women trying not to scrutinise our bodies day after day – this obsession can form the basis of debilitating illnesses.

Childhood obesity is also of course a real problem – that parents cannot afford or do not have sufficient education to feed their children healthy food that doesn’t put their lives at risk is a tragedy, and a huge challenge for public health measures to tackle. It’s important for us to maintain a healthy weight for a variety of reasons; it lessens the risk of heart disease and cancer for starters. We all want our friends and families to be happy and well, so if people are trying to lose weight or bulk up to address this, great.

But there’s a difference between weight-related concerns that focus on health and another category of scrutiny; one that is far more shallow, cultural and full of underlying hatred and insecurity. People (and I cannot exclude myself) make negative comments on other people’s bodies all the time. We’re taught that it’s OK, that it’s our business, it’s just humour, and so on.

The ugly side

The women’s magazines (and the men’s for that matter), just about everything on television, the tabloids and many of the people we interact with daily – they all think it’s acceptable, appropriate, or even some sort of duty, to monitor fluctuations in how fat people are, or are not. I won’t get into the issues around having babies and what the media does with that, it’s a bit of a separate topic.

My problem I suppose is the kind of language that surrounds all of this. “You’re so skinny, you bitch” – it comes from a variety of people, people who are close and loving, people who are acquaintances and really have no right to comment. It’s seems to be based on the idea that it’s so important for women to fit their bodies into acceptable forms, and what this does to us – whether we realise it or not – concerns me. Obviously men face these things, too – “fat-shaming” is not exclusively directed towards women.

A particularly high-profile and shocking case of it has occurred this week and came from Abercrombie and Fitch. As most of us are aware, the USA’s obesity rates are shockingly high, and most shops will stock American sizes 0-14 and sometimes above. A&F, however, are very unlikely to do so, as Robin Lewis revealed of their CEO:

“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people… He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”

So apparently you have to be thin to be hot and cool – oxymoronic vocabulary quirks aside, I’m sure most people would disagree with that. Personal tastes are one thing (I am attracted to people of a similar slim build to myself, for example – and I have friends with exclusive preferences for bigger builds) but they vary hugely between individuals, and one cannot criticise anyone else for that. But this retail policy from a company CEO does sound prejudiced and extremely insulting.

On the other hand, they are a company and are permitted to choose their audience and which kinds of customers they want their products marketed towards. If you specifically choose some subjective categories like “good-looking” and include “thin” within the entry criteria to that category… well, it’s offensive. Is it wrong? I’d say it’s ill-advised, much like I dislike sexist marketing for MAN CRISPS. Is it worse, or not, than that?

Fighting the tide

As I grew up I heard my dad call Lisa Riley on You’ve Been Framed a “fat cow” and say she should get off the TV as a result. Or he’d say “your fat friend…” instead of using their name (partly because he didn’t know it, but that always upset me). It’s easy for those of us who can maintain a low body weight relatively easily to point at and accuse people who cannot, but it would be nice if there were some more consideration around.

Going back to the health issue, a lot of conditions can cause people to become overweight, or to have extreme weight fluctuations. Medications can affect this, too; whether it’s a kind of birth control or steroids… how would you feel if that person whose weight you just criticised were undergoing cancer treatment? Sure, we make our little in-jokes quietly to ourselves and each other, but like street harrassment this too often spills over into unwanted and upsetting interactions.

Women with large breasts face an added level of this, with barrages of comments ranging from what people mistakenly think are compliments  to accusations of being too slutty by showing a lot of cleavage (often something that’s difficult for such women to avoid without always wearing some variation of a sack) and an assumption that they should be grateful for what they are “endowed” with.

This is a sad state of affairs for many reasons. For starters, no woman should be judged on the size of her bust; with “flat” chests in my family it’s something I’ve seen the flip-side of, too, and have even received such comments myself (somewhat in error!!) based on strange men deciding it’s something worth using as an insult when I didn’t want to talk to them on a dating site.

As someone pointed out on Twitter this morning, one of many problems with Page 3 is that it perpetuates an idea about breasts, aspirations and attractiveness, which can be really damaging. Mastectomy is tough enough to deal with, without a daily reminder that women are only (desirable) women when they have (big) boobs. While the debate on page 3 is extensive and multi-faceted, if you do want to sign the petition against it, it’s here.

In addition to that, larger ladies have a lot to contend with: health issues such as back pain and possibly breast cancer risk; the inability to find clothes that fit, not to mention them actually being affordable.

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All angles

But it’s not just fat-shaming. A friend who deals with multiple health conditions posted the picture on the right this morning and sparked a little debate around it (which prompted me to write this).

I’m also reminded of the Beautiful South‘s song, Perfect 10 (that I alternate between enjoying and not):

The anorexic chicks, the model 6
They don’t hold no weight with me
Well 8 or 9, well that’s just fine
But I like to hold something I can see

I have trouble saying that this is any more acceptable than unsolicited comments towards overweight people instructing them to eat less or run more. It’s a song, sure, and it’s about a couple of big people enjoying each other, but for some reason that strays into insulting others.

Women are often swept along by the misogynistic undercurrent and say incredibly horrible things about other women, as well as judging themselves harshly. I put on weight in my late teens and I lost it in my early 20s, partly due to illness. The amount of comments I have received on this over time is only now beginning to overwhelm me, and when this picture came up suddenly a number of instances came to mind.

I wish my friends, or their friends whom I barely know, didn’t feel the need to call me a bitch for getting back to my normal weight – I’m a small person. I feel more comfortable in myself having lost the excess. But it wasn’t exactly fun getting to that point – as is the case for many people, I’m sure. I didn’t do it for anyone else, or to spite anyone, either. I don’t want to feel like I should apologise just because I fit into something, or it’s too big for me. Being ‘skinny’ shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of all women*, and we shouldn’t be at each other’s throats about it.

When I was eating dangerously little and people kept telling me “Hey, you look great!”, that didn’t exactly spur me on to healthier behaviour. Weight loss and gain is a complicated seesaw and you’re unlikely to know the facts behind it for people you don’t know very well.  It’s also never about one person, or one comment; It’s the frequency and ubiquitous nature of it. Just like one guy inappropriately touching you in a whole lifetime would make no difference, it’s the constant barrage of little things that turn it into a problem.

No stone unturned

Too fat, too thin, ‘real woman’ this, curves or bones that – it seems no one is immune.

*I haven’t touched on fad diets, why I hate gyms or pretty much anything regarding the health & fitness industry. But this article just appeared in my timeline courtesy of a couple of excellent friends, so you can read that for some great commentary on how women in politics are described, some links to what I’ve written above and the writer’s experience of finding a job in fitness. One of the take-home messages being:

I wonder how my life would have been different if people had encouraged girls (me) to be strong instead of skinny”

And wondering what we can do for our young women today, to spare them some of this crap we’ve grown up with and are now trying to get over!!

“I became a more capable, energetic, independent, and mentally focused person once my focus shifted from what my body  looks like to what my body can do


 

Links

– Jun 2014: American Apparrel CEO & founder fired. Here‘s an interesting take on misogyny in hipster culture.

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

13 thoughts on “Skinny bitch

  1. Thank you! I have spent my entire life being subjected to criticism because I am “skinny” (what a loathsome word). Accused multiple times of being anorexic, despite eating like a pig. Called a bitch, unhealthy, ugly, too thin (for what exactly?).
    It has left me paranoid and with a serious self-image problem. I no longer trust the few compliments I do get, which hurts my husband who does love my body.
    If you are incapable of feeling good about yourself without tearing down another woman, weight is not your biggest problem.

  2. I feel we still live in a world that privileges thinness (if you’re a naturally very slim woman, you can see thousands of people like you in leading roles on TV, in film, in magazines, modelling etc – if you’re a naturally fat woman, people who look like you are rarely featured anywhere, and often when they are, they’re the butt of a joke. Some exceptions, but not many). That said, I notice a lot of thin-shaming as well as fat-shaming, and I think they’re both utterly unacceptable.

  3. I blogged something with similar sentiments a few months ago, but this is a really well-articulated piece.

    I really dislike the fact that we have allowed women to turn on other women, rather than on this notion that dictates that BODY IMAGE, and that being sexually desired by a bunch of strangers is so damn important. Rather than accepting that we all come in different shapes and sizes, we condemn one another for being bigger and having bigger breasts or hips, or for having the “runway model” physique. In doing this we shift the blame entirely from the real perpetrator: Patriarchy.

  4. Sadly my niece is only five and has bought into the notion of ‘skinny’ being appealing and something to be relished. While I offer no judgment on whether it’s better to be thin or bigger (because I don’t think any one is inherently better), it’s awful to know she’s imbibed the attitudes about weight that her family members inadvertently put into her mind by discussing weight around her all the time. She’s latched on to ‘skinny is better’, and has a poor diet (not helped by her parents who could learn how to cook nutritious food instead of feeding her takeaways several times a week), and rarely eats regularly. She’s five. She doesn’t get much encouragement from her parents that there’s something more important in life than your beauty or weight. I help where I can, but fear it’s a losing battle in the end.

    • That’s a very sad thing to have to witness :/

      I think it is important that people *can* talk about weight as a health issue, which I hope came across in the post, because it is something that we can sometimes have control over, particularly in terms of parent-child relationships. Living a healthy lifestyle has lots of benefits and the kind of habits you describe above can do the opposite.

      It just seems that the lines are blurred all the time, with people taking that idea and running with it. Both slim and overweight women have comments about their size aimed at them for the same reason some people shout sexually abusive comments; the idea that women’s bodies are public property and people (men in particular) should be free to make their views known even to complete strangers.

      This does filter down to children, and it’s worrying. Your situation does also sound like a lack of basic nutritional awareness though, but I’ve no idea how you could even begin to address that. Perhaps a local service like this, but it would still need active participation: http://www.sussex.nhs.uk/services-diet-and-nutrition

  5. It’s the constant pitting of women against each other that pisses me off. No one group of women is allowed to feel good, or even just acceptable, without another group having to be punished and set up in competition with the other group. And none of us is ever allowed to feel unjudged, whatever our body type, because society deems our essential value to be based on our appearance. It’s an exhausting cycle of female body-bashing from all sides – all to win the elusive ‘Random strangers will mostly consider you attractive’ prize. And who really wants to win that? Can you imagine anything less meaningful?

  6. I think to some extent it’s part of a bigger media problem where the media caters to an audience that seems to relish people being insulted all the time. Celebrities, models and people on reality television programs are bombarded with newspaper and magazine articles and pieces on the Internet saying they can’t sing or can’t act and how they look inevitably forms a large proportion of what the insults are aimed at. If you take someone like Keira Knightley as an example, she’s a very attractive and hugely successful actress so magazines feel obliged to find some way of insulting her. That then turns into an article saying she’s dangerously thin and as such is setting a terrible example to young girls who will be driven to anorexia by looking at pictures of her. We aren’t encouraged to be like certain people, we’re told that everyone we see in the media is wrong. One person is too fat, another person is too thin. This can then lead to paranoia when people see disparaging comments about celebrities they feel they relate to. When everything they see around them is said to be wrong they must be wrong as well, but there is never an ideal right way to be that anyone can achieve. It can also be a vicious circle when people feel the need to boost their egos by being rude about others, which many people do.

  7. Thank you so much for this, Marianne! I’ve always been very thin, and have been consumed with guilt over it for being able to eat what I want while my heavier friends feel cheated, visibly suffer, and make admiring, freezing or angry comments towards me. Oddly it was at its peak when I was 18 and working in an office of people mostly in their 30s and 40s. I can’t help noticing when someone’s obese and then hating myself for noticing when their personality is far more important (not to mention that I don’t know why they are obese). I agree that open comments are like street harassment: that people feel they have the right to say things that make others uncomfortable and remove their bodily autonomy. I think a lot of people believe they’re being helpful to the heavier folks when they deride those who are too skinny . . . which is pretty tragic really.

  8. I grew up in a family that always told me beauty was only skin deep and people were to be treated on the basis of who they were rather than what they looked like. As in so many things, I later learned they taught this for our sakes, but couldn’t help thinking/believing otherwise. My favourite example being my mum telling me there were no such things as ghosts, to help me get over my fear of the dark, but confessing to me in my thirties that she was sure there were ghosts!
    She’d just said it (consistently, and behaved that way) for our sake.

    As a possible result I’ve had partners who have weighed 50 kilos and 90 kilos and have noticed that both “extremes” have had problems with pret a porter clothes. Natheless I cannot claim to have had a relationship with any woman who was not beautiful.

    It almost seems to me as though we have regressed into a world where appearance has yet again become a signifier of moral value. I have had huge arguments with female colleagues (the great Twickenham Chinese restaurant embarrassment) regarding their judgementalism on pubic hair seen in swimming pool changing rooms. To me it’s bad enough that so many of us men judge on appearance: what chance do women have if women too perpetuate the same stereotype?

    😦

  9. Thank you for this. Living the majority of my life in one of the most body conscious cities in the world, this was an issue for me. Growing up I was bullied mercilessley, my mom pushed me into modeling where you’re either fat and squat or the toast of the town. As an adult I got into the fitness/wellness and beauty industries (training & massage, hair/makeup etc on the side) and I was really lucky. There were some douche puddles, but I learned so much more about the body, how you could play with it, make it strong, keep it healthy, and overall feel really, really good. it was, and sometimes still is hard to deal with catty remarks from my peers, and street harassment still makes me stabby, but forging a good relationship with ones body. respecting it, enjoying it’s function, in my opinion, can be liberating. I wish I could explain it better and give this info to all girls/women in hopes that their suffering may be reduced. And i would give a swift kick in the ass to all their detractors, blame it on a ghost, say the place is haunted and run like hell.

  10. Yes, I hate how women and girls degrade each other, whereas we must empower and encourage each other 😦 We should love ourselves regardless of our shape! And love our sisters as well!! Skinny or bony, no difference. Men who are attracted to curves, are not “real men” in any way, and men who like “bones” aren’t dogs!!!

  11. Pingback: On supporting sexism: repeat the nonsense | Purely a figment of your imagination

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