It is the new year. Everybody and their dog is on a weight loss mission. Diet, Intermittent Fasting, new exercise regime…you name it. Every supplement, powder, shake, vitamin, gym membership…is on sale! It happens every year, this cycle of eating from October through December and then vowing to do better starting January first (because swim suit season is only 5 months away…sooner if you’re participating in spring break festivities). What I am also seeing a lot of is a new body image trend: fat shaming.
Fat shaming is tricky to define or explain. Some explanations: 1. A term made by obese people to avoid the responsibility to actually take proper care of their body and instead victimize themself by pretending they’re discriminated against like an ethnic group; 2. A bullying tactic, singling out, or making fun of a fat person, under the guise of helping them realise they need to lose weight. Billboards showing chubby kids and encouraging exercise and weight loss have been pulled, accused of “fat shaming” children. The First Lady’s fitness and nutrition goals have even been accused of fat shaming. The media is all over it, comparing magazine layouts of the larger woman and thin woman, highlighting actresses based on body type, not talent, inserting themselves in twitter remarks and other conversations about weight. Keep in mind that it seems fat shaming is a sexually biased issue (unless it is directed toward children…it seems once a boy reaches maturity he is free to be fat unless he reaches the point where he has to be cut out of his house…then he is the fodder of comedy).
I am having trouble with the latest buzz about “fat shaming”. I am a naturally slender woman over 40. Weight, at least too much weight, has never been a problem for me. Because I am a woman though, I have endured constant criticism from within and without about my appearance. We hold up super thin women to a standard most women can’t attain. As a result people resort to fad diets, drugs, starvation, surgery, etc., in an effort to get what nature didn’t give them, often at great expense economically, emotionally, physically. A world has been created wherein “beauty” is defined by an ideal…a fantasy really.
We all (well most) buy into that ideal and then complain about it as if someone is forcing us to buy into it. Or worse, so many are taking acceptance and pride to the other extreme. Embracing one’s self is one thing. Purposely shining a light on unhealthy eating is another. The middle ground seems to be people who want to see more “realistic” size models, actresses, etc. However, when the larger woman shows up in TV programs, films, magazines a big deal (no pun intended) is made about her larger size. The thin woman is allowed to joke on talk shows about how her “guilty pleasure” is 15 donuts at a sitting (REALLY!!? YOU have an unhealthy relationship with food woman!!) but otherwise she is a health nut…especially if she has a photo shoot (smh…). Everyone laughs. If a woman over size 16 were to say something like that people would think it criminal.
We in the USA have become a nation of sedentary, obese people who are offended by the word “fat”. Some people are fat…period. If they are uncomfortable with the word or what they think it infers, then they should get over themselves or get healthy. It seems that instead, some obese people are embracing fat to the extreme. There is at least one woman who is on a mission to get as fat as she can. Another who boast how large (and I mean large, 7′ wide) her bottom is.
To me, all big people are NOT fat people. I know some who are big, strong, healthy people. I also know some fat people. I don’t like them any less. I don’t “fat shame” them. I don’t know if fat shaming is really possible. It seems to be like offense…taken, but not given. I’ve always thought that if I feel shame about something, that is MY issue. No one can make me feel shame. If someone makes a crude comment about my body, then how I react to it is my problem.
But fat shaming in the public eye is usually against people who aren’t even really fat!! It is used to keep a woman “in line”. A woman who used to be thin and/or sexy 15 years ago, but now has matured, had children, changed her lifestyle and perhaps gained a few pounds, lost some muscle tone…they are fat shamed. Because to fat shame an actual fat person…well that is just rude. Fat shaming a woman who is heavier than her ideal is where vanity flourishes and wins. That is not a good thing.
Who is to blame? That is a good question. We all are. Women are never happy with themselves 100%. It keeps the beauty industry in business. In every aspect this is apparent. Health and Beauty products are the most shoplifted. Plastic surgery is a booming business (even in this economy). I taught teenage girls for a decade. If you really want to see the manifestation of our “beauty problem” and “fat shaming” start with our children. My four year old son fat shames Honey Boo Boo!! But isn’t that show all about allowing us to fat shame and laugh at others’ misfortune. I know parents who put low-calorie/low-fat snacks in their kids’ lunch…these are average size kids who easily burn off 2000+ calories a day!! And what about “The Biggest Loser” !? If we were really concerned about their health, wouldn’t the show be called The Biggest Winner? (We like the not-so-hidden message that these obese people are losers…even when they win.) Viewers pretend that they watch for the uplifting message. Ha! I contend viewers watch to know that they are not alone in their struggle (even those who aren’t really trying). They want to confirm that losing weight is so HARD…that’s why they don’t do it. And the emotional struggle. What would that show be without the tears. And pay attention to the sponsors: diet plans, fitness centers, etc. All this money spent, when most “diets” fail…miserably. Individually, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to fat shaming.
Maybe instead we should health shame people? Well that would be difficult because we can’t tell how healthy someone is by looking at them. Additionally, if you’ve made your money by selling your appearance, then perhaps your weight/body is your currency, thereby giving it value to yourself and others.
I fear with the plus size model we may end up glorifying obesity…the same way we glorify anorexia by having such super thin models. I want to see “realistic” models. I am a size 00…a thin woman is realistic to me…but she is also 5’6″, not 5’11 and she has B cup breasts, not DD…and doesn’t constantly walk on her tippy toes and sport a trout mouth, huge Bambi eyes (with 3″ lashes), chiseled abs, perfect hair, cheek bones of the gods…etc. We look at models, actresses, Barbie dolls, video vixens, mannequins in the mall and we say “that is not real…I wish they’d promote more realistic body types”. Really?? Do you?? Your shopping habits, TV viewing, food choices and other factors say otherwise.
People want to judge others without knowing their situation. sure, it is easy to point out who is fat…to some extent that appearance is obvious. What to do? Accept our HEALTHY selves!! If you haven’t seen him/her in a while (or ever) try to find that person. Because we are alive, the opportunity for healthy change is alive as well. Be proud of who weare inside: generous, smart, funny, etc. But if your body needs improvement, work on that so you can continue to flourish and be proud of both what others know AND what they see. Don’t try live up to some made up standard of beauty. Period. Don’t be over critical of yourself or others. Fat shaming is some kind of shadenfreude (finding pleasure in others pain), but is also directed at our own body issues.
Do we really want to see men and women who look like our sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors?? NO!! We don’t!!! We want to see the ideal. And that is our problem.