Let’s Stop Body Shaming and Start Body Loving Ourselves

Image from Eachbodysready Facebook page
Image from Eachbodysready Facebook page

If everyone in the world were a product, some people would sell out before others. This is a result of body shaming. The beautiful, the impressive, and the “ideal” would sell before the awkward, the odd, or the outcast.

Take a jean rack for example—if someone knows they are a size 26, why might they still try on a size 25? Why would they always hope the jeans fit, rather than accept their actual size?

The answer is simple: we treat ourselves and each other like we treat the jeans. We instinctively pick people out of a crowd based on looks, based on size, based on external qualities and when certain people are chosen first, others are left to sit on the rack. The media tells us what size to be, our community tells us tell us what size to be, and we each tell ourselves what size to be. Size has become something of a competition, which has gotten us to view skinniness as the norm.

Thin Privilege exists. Of course, there are numerous ways in which people are also discriminated against for being too thin, but privilege for those without fat rolls, and for those who can treat themselves to a cupcake without thinking twice, is always there. I mean to discuss this kind of discrimination, not to undermine any other kinds of discrimination (which I do recognize and respect).

I will not deny that I am writing this article from a privileged perspective myself—usually, I’m someone who is able to have that cupcake. But even though in the eyes of society I am viewed as skinny, I often don’t feel skinny enough. If it is inherent for me to constantly be aware of my own weight, to constantly feel like I want to be skinnier, I can only imagine what it’s like when the rest of society is aware of your weight, too. When they are also asking you to be skinnier and campaigning against you.

In her article, Let’s Talk About Thin Privelege, Melissa A. Fabello does an incredible job of identifying the huge differences between “grievances,” which are defined as being shamed for the way you look, whether that means being called too thin, too fat, too short, too tall, and being “oppressed” for your body weight, something that almost exclusively happens for plus-sized people.

Fabello goes on to explain that grievance and oppression are separated for four main reasons: oppression is “pervasive,” oppression is “restricting”, oppression is “hierarchical,”and those who are members of the dominant group (the skinny), “have the power to define and name reality.” She writes, “Take a look at (almost) any store window’s mannequins or fashion magazine. If thinness is heralded as the status quo, then that continues to put thin people in positions of power when it comes to determining what “average”(or “preferable”) is.”

I agree with Fabello’s distinction of the two–both grievances and oppression are harmful, and painful, and in all honesty, cruel, but only oppression is restrictive. Only oppression prevents someone from partaking in every day life in the same way as those around them. As Fabello says, anyone is capable of disliking their bodies,” no matter whether it’s because they feel too skinny or too fat, but only one side of this equation receives discrimination from the rest of society in addition to their own self-criticism. Only one side is oppressed.

As Shannon Ridgway explains in her article, 22 Examples of Thin Privilegewhen you’re not overweight your “health insurance rates are not higher than everyone else’s.” Your “friends don’t describe you to others using a qualifier (e.g. ‘He’s kind of heavy, but REALLY nice, though’),”and “airlines won’t charge you extra to fly.” People do not look at you and notice your weight before everything else.

Once we can understand that Thin Privilege is out there, we can move on to discussing the way the media distorts our view of what “thin” is, undermines what it actually means to be “overweight,” and makes being skinny a goal to be achieved.

Society and the media could not be more explicit in telling us how to look. Subway ads ask me if I’m beach body ready every time I commute to school.

Protein World's controversial ad campaign for fitness supplements
Protein World’s controversial ad campaign for fitness supplements

Pop Chips tells me to eat their product because it won’t make me gain weight, and that gaining weight is something to be avoided. Gaining weight is “sinful.”

Ad from the Katy Perry Pop Chips Ad Campaign
Pop Chips Katy Perry Ad Campaign
Ad from the Pop Chips Katy Perry Ad Campaign
Pop Chips Katy Perry Ad Campaign

A store I shop at called Aritzia carries not only a size small, but a size extra-small, and a size extra-extra small. Every time I go there, it seems like they’ve added another “X.” Stores like Brandy Melville carry only one size with the motto, One Size Fits Most. Sometimes I fit into these clothes, sometimes I don’t—like I said, I am writing this from a position of privilege.

But these experiences always make me wonder who the hell fits into a size XXXXXS? Why are they implying that anyone is or anyone could be? “One size fits most” is another way of saying: one size fits the skinny, and we want our buyers to be skinny. XXS is another way of saying: even if you’re a size extra-small you still have work to do, this can be your measure of success.

The messages that ad campaigns and commercial stores send us is so damaging, and the insecurities and self-hatred they produce is widespread. Buzzfeed does a good job of summing up how one size does NOT fit most in a video that I’ve pasted below. With these real life examples, it becomes even more visible that the idea that one size could ever fit all is not only ignorant but flat out wrong. More than anything, it sets unkind standards and impedes self-love, making shopping a burden and size an embarrassment during moments where there shouldn’t be any self-hatred.

On October 9, to mark International Day of the Girl, my high school feminism class organized an assembly that discussed the various themes that today’s feminists care about, one of which is body shaming. My class wanted to show people that body shaming doesn’t only exist for girls, that it doesn’t only apply to those being shamed, and that it exists for even the most confident of people. (Again, even if you fit into the clothes at stores like Brandy Melville, the issue is still relevant to you).

To do this, we performed an exercise with the entire school, similar to the game Never Have I Ever, in which we said different statements beginning with, “Have I ever…?” and everyone who felt that statement applied to them had to clap. One by one we listed statements like, “Have I ever gone on a diet?,” “Have I ever been called fat?,” “Have I ever been called too skinny?,” and more. We heard for ourselves how widespread issues of body shaming are by how loud the claps were and they were pretty loud. We noticed how everyone could relate to this issue, and no one is exempt from judgement and ridicule even if they don’t always show it or talk about it.

Photo taken by Steve Neiman of the body shaming portion of LREI's International Day of the Girl Assembly (from left to right: Stelle Rose Gahan, Alexa Code, Avery Kutis, Nathalie Friedman, E Jerimijenjo-Conley, Caroline Lobe)
Photo taken by Steve Neiman of the body shaming portion of LREI’s International Day of the Girl Assembly
(from left to right: Stelle Rose Gahan, Alexa Code, Avery Kutis, Nathalie Friedman, E Jerimijenko-Conley, Caroline Loeb)

The questions we asked during this exercise were of a wide variety, and each produced a loud response. Not only has the media made issues of body insecurity widespread, but it has also made us hyperaware of our bodies. It has gotten us to look for flaws in ourselves that we would not have otherwise. Whether we think our legs are too chunky or hate our “chicken legs,” we notice these things because we are told to. So is it really our fault?

I will say that most of the people who think they are fat are not fat. It seems that different levels of skinniness have formed, the first being average, the second being skinny, the third being skinnier, and the fourth being skinniest. Normal has somehow become the new “fat.”

The media provokes insecurity, it sets intense standards of beauty, but we perpetuate these norms with each other as well. People always like to say their insecurities out loud, and although it might seem therapeutic at first, it is not helpful to anyone in the long-run. Some of the prettiest people in the world refuse to admit it, and their denial of it, or refusal to take a compliment, can actually hurt the people they’re talking to.

I’ve personally stood next to so many of my beautiful, skinny friends and listened to them tell me that they’re ugly or fat. It sucks because I’m left thinking, If you’re ugly and fat then what does that make me? If you need to worry about your weight, then I guess I do too. I don’t think anyone realizes what they’re doing when they insult themselves, nor do they have bad intentions, but I do know that most of the meals I’ve skipped are because the people I was with weren’t eating.  It’s not fun to step up and say you’re hungry if those around you are pretending they’re not.

I started using my method of not saying my insecurities out loud when I was in sixth grade when my mom threw away our family’s scale. At the time, it was in style to wear these elastic tank tops called Sugar Lips, which were neon, skin-tight, and made very clear which girls in the grade were skinny and which girls were not. This was the year that I first started noticing my weight, and this was also the year that I started coming home and crying to my mom that I was fat.

Luckily, I didn’t act on these thoughts–I didn’t go to dangerous lengths to change them, but I also felt stuck in my own body and discontent with how I looked. The worst part, which my mom told me but I didn’t believe, was that I wasn’t fat. In fact, she told me that I was healthy and had nothing to worry about. But other girls were noticing their weight too, that sizes were mattering more than they used to, and their thoughts and actions reinforced my own.

When I heard a group of girls call another girl “cow legs” during PE, I became scared that I was somehow next in line for ridicule. I’d complain to my mom about my weight, I’d complain to my friends about it, and once I started saying my insecurities out loud I couldn’t stop. It became so instinctive to tell people that I was discontent that finally, my mom threw away our scale in front of me.

Looking back, I think she was trying to say that defining yourself as a number of pounds before defining yourself as a person, concretizes the feeling that there is a standard not being met. It concretizes the feeling that you have failed at skinniness.

My mom and I talked about it a lot and she gave me advice, and as I stopped saying I was discontent, the less I actually felt discontent. There is a lot to be said about the fact that I was scared of being overweight, and that I became so scared of one day being called “cow legs,” but I had been bullying myself with the scale and with my own words. It’s hard to control what other people say about you and if other people will shame you, but you should never add your name to the mix of people who can put you down. Every day that I told my mom, my friends, and myself that I thought I was fat, it didn’t matter if other people called me names because I had already been calling myself them.

I get frustrated when I see stores telling me what’s beautiful, and I get even more frustrated when I realize that I’m falling into their trap (which unfortunately happens too often). I also get frustrated when I hear skinny people, people like me who have Thin Privilege, praising skinniness and complaining that they don’t have it. Once again, if you’re fat , what does that make me? If we’re fat, what does that make the people who are bigger than we are in size? We need to be considerate of what we’re saying and who we’re saying it to.

There’s a famous feminist artist, Barbara Kruger, whose work I feel explains the mindset we need to have perfectly: skepticism and pride. She sees these superficial aspects of society and comments on them, taking the obvious, the straightforward, the thoughts we’re all thinking when we see a shallow magazine article, and makes them deeper, more complicated, and more important than we’d first think.

W Magazine, November 2010 featuring “Untitled, 2010” by Barbara Kruger, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery. Creative Director: Jody Quon. Photo: Mark Seliger. Other type includes Benton Modern Display by Dyana Weissman and Richard Lipton
W Magazine, November 2010 featuring “Untitled, 2010” by Barbara Kruger, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery. Creative Director: Jody Quon. Photo: Mark Seliger. Other type includes Benton Modern Display by Dyana Weissman and Richard Lipton

When you look at a picture of a model in a magazine and think, “yeah fucking right…no one looks like that!”, it not only says something about you and your own resistance to society’s standards, that very skepticism is bringing society further along its path from body shaming and sizeism to acceptance and self-love.

Kruger’s work gives power to the size 26 on the jean rack and it gives your own words power against some magazine article. Saying something as simple as, “I know that’s all Photoshop” or “I’m better than this shallow magazine article,” is a form of relief.

Kruger’s work mimics that of magazine articles, reducing what magazines try to tell us, and screams back what we want to tell them. Her work parodies magazines that objectify and criticize women, so that when we call them out as unrealistic, our words don’t sounds overused or defensive, but rather dynamic and strong.

We need to resist the media and clothing stores when they tell us how to look, suggest ways to diet, or say what size fits “most.” We need to resist the urge to say our insecurities out loud to one another so often. With enough pressure from billboards and ad campaigns trying to sell glossy hair and skinniness, it’s even more crucial that we don’t force these same standards on each other. It’s not possible to make progress against body shaming until we stop saying the same things magazines do.

8 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Body Shaming and Start Body Loving Ourselves

  1. Nathalie, great work with this post! Thin privilege is not talked about enough. Sizism is very prevalent in my family and you explained it in a way that when I shared it with them, they could see how it is wrong.

  2. Your incorporation of so many little things to prove your point of Thin Privilege was very powerful. Seeing how many instances we would just pass up as normal (like the size extra extra small and the one size fits most) are filled with ridicule is impressive.

  3. before I even read the rest of your piece I was taken aback by your first line. It is so powerful and so moving and so true and I am in love with it. a little bit down your post you mention how you’re talking about this discrimination but in no way trying to delegitimize other forms of discrimination. I find it terrible that you need to point this out because it seems people have very fixed idea of what is discriminated against and everything else is just trying to make that look less important. we discriminate certain oppressions over others. the activity we did with the school was also very eye opening as you talked about. The way I didn’t know most of the school felt like this and it turns out 95% of the school does. we need to talk about this and we can’t expect other people to do it for us.

  4. Much like Alexa, I was struck by your opening line. That line remained with me as I read the rest of your piece; that line encompasses all of society’s standards and norms while sticking to your idea of physical appearance. I think it’s also really interesting to see where sizism and colorism intersect and how that plays out in media. Additionally, I think it’s time that we start to understand that fat is not an insult! Being fat should be embraced and we should try to eliminate the negative connotations.

  5. I could really relate to the section of your piece where you talk about being seen as skinny by society’s eyes, but not necessarily feeling like you’re ever skinny enough. I think that the pressures put on not only by society and the fashion industry (ie. Brandy Melville), but by ourselves as well, definitely affect the things we do. I think it’s interesting how even if you’re viewed as skinny by society, sometimes you don’t feel the Thin Privilege you have, because there’s always someone who’s thinner and somehow you feel Thin Privilege doesn’t apply to you because the girl next to you is 2 sizes smaller than you.

  6. Your post was really eye-opening mainly because I have never thought of thin-privilege as a form of discrimination. I agree that several different media outlets award thinness while they also body shame people of different sizes. You do a great job of analyzing how clothing stores, ads and media outlets impose size expectations on everyone. It is really easy to overlook simple everyday activities such as going shopping; however, your blog post gives a deeper meaning to this experience and how it can involve body shaming.

  7. I really love this blog post! I completely feel the same ways about concerns over my weight and the ridiculous extra extra small sizing. Our society is built around skinny privilege and encouraging weight lost. This a beautiful first step into redefining our cultural body ideals.

  8. Sizism is an issue that many brush over when speaking about the -ism, so I am ecstatic to see you have done a piece on it. You do a great job of articulating and analyzing the way in which society sells skinny as the superior body type. It really disgusts me that big corporations profit off of the self-hate of so many people across the world. From this piece I can tell just how passionate and devoted you are to this issue. A very well done piece!

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