Body shaming can be defined as inappropriate negative statements or attitudes towards another person’s weight or size. It’s recognisable as a bit of a ‘buzz phrase’ at the moment. Recent years have seen something of a backlash against the whole concept; however, myself and countless other people out there are finding that body discrimination is still a force to be reckoned with.
Although body shaming is often assumed to be aimed at plus size women, women at the other end of the scale also fall victim to this form of harassment. Who can honestly say they’ve never used the phrase “skinny bitch”, or silently applauded internet memes proclaiming that ’real women have curves’? Is it OK to bully someone because they are fat? Absolutely not. Is it OK to bully someone because you are jealous? Still not.
Men can also fall prey to body-shamers. Remember the Liverpudlian ‘dancing man’, Sean O’Brien, who was trolled by a group of men who posted a video of him dancing online. They captioned it “Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.” Dancing man had the last laugh, but not before he’d been put through devastating humiliation.
However, as a plus-size woman myself, it’s obviously fat-shaming that has had a profound effect on me. It has often been remarked upon, that in these times of increased tolerance and enhanced protection of minority groups, gender doesn’t matter. Race doesn’t matter. Religion doesn’t matter. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter. However, it would appear that size does matter. It matters more than kindness, generosity, attitude or talent. It matters enough for plus size women sometimes to be treated as somehow sub-human.
Consider, for example, how the media often approaches women’s bodies. Advertisements proclaim that a pear is no shape for a woman, and advocate using their products to achieve a ‘beach body’. Celebrity magazine headlines scream whenever a star gains a few pounds. For all that we have seen a bit of a backlash against body-shaming recently, women are still being sent a clear message by the media about what is and isn’t acceptable for their bodies.
Particularly upsetting for me is the regularity with which women body-shame others. You can’t have failed to hear of the recent story about Playboy model Dani Mathers, who shared a photo of a naked woman in a gym changing room, with the caption “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.” The backlash was huge, but I remain completely baffled by the fact that any woman thought this was an appropriate or acceptable thing to say about another female.
The trouble with fat-shaming is that it is such an intrinsic part of our culture, it can be difficult to recognise. Perhaps people who comment on food choices in supermarkets or restaurants, or make patronising noises at the gym, genuinely think that they are being helpful or offering encouragement; but their good intentions do not erase the shaming effects of their unsolicited opinions. In fact, more often than not, this sort of behaviour doesn’t just come from strangers; our families and friends are just as likely to throw out careless fat-shaming comments; not always with malicious intent, but rather in the misguided belief that they are being ‘cruel to be kind’.
The frequency with which body-shaming happens means that many fat people go about their lives feeling constantly on guard, always prepared for someone to make a comment or offer advice that hadn’t been asked for. I did this for years. I wore clothes that didn’t attract attention. I hid behind my hair. I avoided social situations and I NEVER ate in public. As a massage therapist and then as a midwife, I’ve worked with naked bodies for most of my adult life, quickly learning two universal truths: all bodies are different, and all bodies are amazing. I was always fully accepting of other people’s bodies. Just not my own.
However, I’ve found with age, and education – and possibly a bit of therapy as well – that I have become much more accepting of myself. Other people might have an issue with my body. But finally, I don’t. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this stage. I’ve dealt with judgemental family, friends and colleagues. I’ve battled severe mental health problems. I’ve forced myself past self-doubt and insecurities amassed over forty years NOT to have an issue with my body.
The truth is, you can’t tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. You can’t tell how much, or what they eat, or how much they exercise either. And even if you could, it would be none of your business. The only thing you can tell by looking at a fat person is how you feel about fat people.
Women. Can I ask you a favour? Don’t tear each other down. Celebrate each other. We have so much to be thankful for. Fat or thin; short or tall; young or old; none of us are beautiful if we break each other down to build ourselves up.