Recently, at Harpy HQ…
PilgrimSoul: What sets me off on this topic is that today not one, not two, but three separate women, all of whom definitely weigh less than me even when the proportions of their frames are taken into consideration, complained in my presence that they were getting “chubby,” “fat,” and “flabby” and that they “needed to lose weight.” And I felt myself wanting to sink into a hole with each new statement. I understand, as a feminist, that the world is constantly policing all women’s bodies. I further understand that even women who fit some patriarchal measure of beauty – including standards dictating acceptable levels of adipose tissue – can thus nonetheless feel oppressed by body standards.
But as a woman who doesn’t follow the “thou shalt not be fat” commandment, it really kind of annoys me when I hear women who benefit from the privilege of not being alternately invisible and gawked at, who can find clothes that are at least in the realm of flattering their body shapes, who don’t have to worry about men on dating sites having opted out of anyone who isn’t “fit”, complaining about their weight. It drives me into frothy anger, actually, because not only do they not realize how fucking hurtful it is for a 170-pound woman to listen to a 110-pound one call herself “fat,” but because unlike them, my “insecurities” about my weight are not just in my fucking head. There are a million people out there who hate fat people on principle, and they would identify me as one of that class.
One thing to point out: I am what the BMI priesthood would call “overweight,” but I am not, by their standards, obese. I say this only so that people will understand that even I am privileged over so-called obese women, in that I get in just under the wire on sizing usually and don’t have to shop at stores “specially targeted” at my body size.
SarahMC: This is something that burns me up as well. I’ve been asked about my non-existant pregnancy on at least five occassions. I have a pretty small frame, but not a very fit one. I get really depressed about the weight I’ve gained since high school (from which I’ve been a graduate for almost ten years), and the weight I’ve gained since last year. I know intellectually and feminist-ically that numbers don’t matter, but whilst I have an easy time applying a body-loving, fat-accepting philosophy to others, I can’t apply it to myself.
All, and I mean all, of my friends are thinner than I am. They are not all rail-thin, but those who weigh more than I do are a head taller than I am, so their weight is spread over a larger surface. I imagine I sound like a jerk when I express these thoughts publicly, but I am aware that my body doesn’t fit the ideal, and that awareness is especially profound when I’m amongst friends. I am anxious about an upcoming trip to the Caribbean because I have to wear a bathing suit among my boyfriend and some mutual friends. I suppose they may not think about my body as much as I do, but I am jealous of those who throw on a bathing suit without a care. When people grab at a centimeter of their flab in my presence and groan with disgust, I wonder how disgusted they are by my much flabbier body. It’s just insensitive and self-absorbed. I don’t complain about my own body in the presence of women who are larger than I am, because I anticipate that they’d think “bish plz” just like I do when thinner women complain around me. At the same time, all women and girls are encouraged to police their bodies, monitor the scale, and bond re: their respective “flaws.” It’s a sick cycle.
PilgrimSoul: Yeah, the bathing suit thing really resonates with me, and nothing can get me irritated more quickly than a thin person trying to bully me into putting one on. I sometimes think that people who are in the normal body weight range don’t get that there’s a whole other level of anxiety involved. When you tell a normal-range person who is insecure about her body, “you’re crazy,” the conversation can end there. When you say that to someone who is a little outside that range, you seem to forget that everything else in society insists that she is overweight, from the size of her jeans to her “flabby arms”, rounded stomach, etc. I’d just like people who want to be “bikini ready” or bounce back to their “pre-pregnancy shape” would think of other people for whom either of those are not possible, and think about the statement they are making.
Another thing that pops up in these conversations is thin people complaining that they are insulted by slogans like “Real Women Have Curves.” To me, this is something similar to men complaining they are insulted that they are shut out of women’s consciousness-raising groups, or whites complaining that black people aren’t always nice to them. Granted that I don’t love the formulation “real women,” the honest truth is that slogans like that aren’t about thin people. They are about rescuing the un-thin from the vat of depression and self-flagellation that everyone seems to think is our just desserts.
SarahMC: “Real Women Have Curves” bothers me for a different reason. By “curves,” people do not mean the curves of plump thighs or the curves of lovehandles or the curves of big arms. The only acceptable “curves” on a woman are the curves of tits and ass. So “RWHC” tends to be an affirmation to women with hourglass figures rather than boyish figures. The slogan is not that revolutionary.
People with all sorts of bodies feel insecure about those bodies, but those with trim bodies are not subjected to the same cultural shaming and disparagement as those with fat(ter) bodies. “No fat chicks.” There’s no corresponding phrase for extremely thin women. Tyra Banks isn’t pulling stunts to see what it’s like to be a skinny lady in this world; she knows what that’s like and she knows it’s good.
PilgrimSoul: Heh, you are kind of right, curvy does usually mean tiny waist and toned arms, I never thought of it that way.
I never know how to explain our last paragraph to thin women, particularly because I understand fully that they hate their bodies too and this has nothing to do with diminishing whatever pain they feel. But I guess I would be able to feel more solidarity with the “thin” on this issue if they seemed as concerned about the pain of “actually fat” women as they were about body dysmorphia and eating disorders.