Yesterday one of my friends on Tumblr posted a link to a Kickstarter campaign that was so ridiculous, I had no choice but to start laughing when I opened it up. But as I read through the, er, creatively-written content on the campaign page, my amusement turned to befuddlement, and then anger. See, the owner of the campaign feels a war has been declared against fit, thin women, and that we live in a society that is pressuring people to become fat. Her plan is to publish a book that will feature “a collection of images of women standing up against a society that protects fat culture while bastardizing thin and athletic women.” Yes, the woman actually believes that this is the society in which we all live.
Now, I’m not going to link to the actual Kickstarter campaign for two reasons. First, because she’s evidently getting a lot of nasty mail which she is taking as validation of her somewhat incoherent position, and second, because, well, because I’m kind of embarrassed for her, as she clearly does not have a single friend who is familiar enough with the English language to explain to her the proper use of commas and spacing. You can find it pretty easily if you want, though.
So as another thin, fit, athletic woman, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to say that I think the Kickstarter campaign is, quite frankly, full of shit. I have been thin my entire life, and I have never once been asked to “apologize for my metabolism.” I have had people tease me about being skinny and flat-chested, and since I took up running in earnest, I’ve had a couple of comments about how I probably shouldn’t lose any more weight. The comments are annoying, yes, and I’d rather not hear them, just as I know women who are naturally thin would rather not hear people speculate about whether they have eating disorders. Comments like that can be very hurtful, there’s no doubt about it.
But a few comments here and there is not exactly like living in a “fat culture that bastardiz[es] thin and athletic women.” Not even close. Take a look at television, at magazines, at movies, at pretty much every aspect of pop culture. All you see are thin and athletic women! Not only are thin and athletic women held up as the standard by which all other women are measured, but we are also considered more virtuous in our culture, as our bodies are seen as signifiers of things like “work ethic” and “discipline.”
Clearly this is not the case for fat women. As Lindy West wrote on Jezebel the other day, in her post about being a fat woman in the gym, “It’s entering a building where you know that every person inside is working toward the singular goal of not becoming you.” Bajillion dollar industries exist with the explicit promise that they will either keep their consumers from becoming fat, or they will make their fat consumers not-fat. Fat bodies are either seen as instant comedy (no punchline required) or a public-health scourge to be eradicated lest they destroy apple pie and moms and everything else that is great about America.
I mean, we aren’t exactly talking string theory here. This shit is out there and it is blatant and it should be obvious to anyone who has a halfway functional brain.
This whole conversation calls to mind white people who hear about affirmative action and start freaking out about “reverse racism” or men who scream “MISANDRY!” in response to Ladies Night at the local brewpub. So many people with privilege seem to expect to be at the top of the ladder, and when someone who they think should be happy on the rungs below speaks up and demands respect for themselves as a human being, they take it as a personal affront. Like, how dare someone who is fat ask that you not treat them like a disgusting monster! The audacity of such a request! Clearly by treating a fat person as a human being with inherent worth that is not derived from the numbers on the scale, we are telling all the thin people of the world to suck it.
Respect is not a zero-sum game, y’all. Recognizing the humanity of one group of people and treating them with respect and dignity does not suddenly mean we have to treat another group of people like shit. There’s plenty of respect and dignity to go around.
And it’s not like there isn’t a battle to be fought. After all, we do live in a world where women’s bodies – of all shapes and sizes, not just fat ones or thin ones – are considered public property, available to be commented on and groped and ogled and legislated. I’m not interested in fighting against mythical “fat culture” any more than I am interested in fighting against fat women. I’d rather we all teamed up to fight against the misogynist culture that tells every single one of us that we aren’t good enough. Can we do that instead, please?
Perhaps this is what she was going for, albeit in a misguided way: “After all, we do live in a world where women’s bodies – of all shapes and sizes, not just fat ones or thin ones – are considered public property, available to be commented on and groped and ogled and legislated.” We live in a world in which women’s bodies are seen as objects (see: the male gaze). Publishing a book glorifying one body type over another, and putting women’s bodies on display once again will not fix that. But for the record, I grew up very thin and not very fit, and doctors and others on more than one occasion hinted that they thought I had an eating disorder (knowing nothing of my diet!). So the shaming does go in both (in all, really) directions.
Thanks for the comment, Rosemary. Like I said in my post, I know that thin people do hear some pretty unpleasant comments about their bodies, but I have hard time with attempts to draw an equivalence between those comments and social attitudes towards people who are fat.
Also, equating women who feel they are shamed for being thin to men calling “misandry” or people of a dominant racial group , “reverse racism” I don’t feel is an adequate comparison. Because women, thin or not, fit or not, remain in many ways second class citizens. I would not call being thin (and a woman) an unquestioned (and at times “invisible”) position of power in the sense that sex (male) and race (white) are. Women of all body types deserve attention being paid to their grievances with a society that sees them as objects.
See, I believe very much that thinness in this culture is a privilege, and like all privilege, it is so insidious because it feels invisible to those of us who have it. I don’t think it’s impossible to critique a system that reduces women to their bodies while acknowledging that the same system privileges certain bodies over others. In fact, I think that kind of nuance is demanded if you want to effect any sort of real social change.
And I do think there is a lot of similarity between a man who cries misandry and a thin woman who thinks “fat culture” is out to get her. Just because a woman might be oppressed in one way, it does not mean she is not capable of being an oppressor in other contexts.
This thin privilege checklist seems pretty accurate to me: http://heyfatchick.tumblr.com/post/1296446884
Thinness is definitely a privilege. As a fat woman who is close friends with many thin women, I see first hand how strangers will treat my thin friends vs. me- I am often invisible, treated with disdain, or as if I’m “a bother”- countless times I’ve had a man interrupt a conversation I’ll be having in a public place with a “conventionally attractive” friend in order to hit on her, and when I say “excuse me, we’re talking,” I’m treated as horrible cockblocking bitch when, yanno, maybe my friend doesn’t want to get macked on by a stranger? I don’t know if this specific type as situation counts as “privilege,” but studies have shown that people who are conventionally attractive (and that includes thin) are consistently treated better. It’s called the “halo effect,” the assumption that if you are attractive, you must be a nicer/better/kinder/more likeable person. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect)
Just because a person isn’t privileged in one regard doesn’t mean that they can’t be privileged in others. Let’s use me as an example: I’m a woman, which means I do not have the privilege of being a man. I AM privileged as a white person, as a straight person, as a cisgendered person, as a native English speaker, as a middle class and educated person, as a person without obvious physical or mental disabilities, and as a relatively slender person. Being a woman doesn’t cancel out all of the other privileges that I enjoy. (And being aware of my privilege doesn’t negate the fact that I am still operating within a patriarchy.)
I also was asked about ED behavior as a teen due to my weight. Now I’m on the slimmer side of average and not the recipient of much comment one way or another. But I do have friends who are very thin, some athletic and some not. Some of them get crap from time to time. But there is no denying that their bodies conform more closely to what our society deems ideal. The snide remarks or whatever that they may encounter in certain situations pale in comparison to what people who are overweight or obese encounter. Fat shaming is cruel and systematic in a way that picking on slim people just isn’t. I think that thinking of it as an analog to racism is illustrative. Racism requires power. Ergo, reverse racism isn’t a real thing here in America. It requires the backing of systems of power that simply don’t exist. Bigotry against white people is a thing, but racism isn’t. Similarly, individuals can behave badly towards slim people. But there is no societal, systematic slim shaming. It just doesn’t happen. And study after study bears out that fact.
I disagree. Strongly. The first thing I thought of when I started reading this post was how it’s exactly like other groups with privilege who seem to selectively lose their ish when a group that has been traditionally underprivileged starts to make gains. Including white people who can’t stand the idea of a black president and so-called men’s rights activists.
Is it okay for people to comment negatively on thin women’s bodies? No. Is there ANY COMPARISON between occasional comments on a thin woman’s body and the kind of discrimination – yes, discrimination – leveled at fat women? As someone who’s been on both sides of that fence, I can tell you there’s no comparison at all.
I strongly agree with you, Rosemary. Furthermore, I think the comparisons to white privilege are WAY out of line, for reasons I shouldn’t have to explain to people who consider themselves feminists.
This is not the oppression olympics. I’m not aware anyone has said that the treatment thin women receive is worse or even comparable to what fat women get. Furthermore, there is a lot more going on than just the occasional negative comment, depending on how far from acceptable a thin woman is. Some extremely thin women are harassed every time they step out into public, and that is not simply “not okay”. It’s something that needs to be talked about.
As feminists, we know that in a sexist culture assumptions are made about every woman based on her body size. Thin women are perceived as being shallow and self-centered. Is that as bad as a fat woman assumed to be lazy? No. But thin women still need to speak out against the sexism they experience. Just because someone else has it worse doesn’t mean we should shut up. Talking about it helps all women. Women with large breasts are seen as promiscuous and (I think to a lesser extent) so are women in the normal BMI range. This is because women’s bodies are viewed as accessories. Men think we grow large breasts and/or manipulate our body size FOR THEM and also to get attention. Take that a step further, and we’re “asking for it” when we’re raped.
A woman in the normal BMI range is often considered snobbish or uppity solely because of her body size. If she’s not, then people say, “She’s so nice, she has the personality of a 300-pound woman but looks like a model!” This is clearly an anti-fat comment, but also telling about what we think of thin women. It means “she ain’t too proud”. And we all know that if a woman is thin, she will be conceited. She can get by on her body and therefore doesn’t have to be a nice person. But a fat woman will be ashamed, know her place, and have a winning personality to compensate for not being thin. Both are harmful stereotypes (but more harmful to fat women). My point of this example is that body shame hurts all women and the experiences of all women should be heard.
Thin privilege is more like class privilege. When a woman hits the glass ceiling, a part of us might think, “Oh poor little rich girl, she only gets to be Executive Vice President instead of CEO!” We recognize the privilege, but then still call out the sexism. We don’t expect these women to shut up. We get behind them. But it’s not exactly like class privilege because thin privilege disappears if a woman is “freakishly” thin. Class privilege doesn’t disappear the richer you get.
Did anyone tell her that women who are heavier tend to be hired and paid less but discriminated against and stereotyped more? There was an interesting study done at the University of Manchester showing that obese women have far less career and leadership opportunities.That’s hardly an environment that support or encourages them. Claiming there’s a war on thin, fit women is like insisting there’s a war on Christmas. :p
Haha! Great analogy.
I love the War on Christmas analogy!! haha. I understand some of her point of view, however, some people just have a thin skin for sure.
So very well said! I never leave comments or remarks but for this I couldn’t help myself! I was a personal trainer, I am a step mom, a business owner and a woman. I think that to say women fall into categories is ridiculous, we are all woman whether we be gay, straight, big, small, short or tall, we are all still women. For a long time I watched woman who had larger frames be intimidated to step onto the gym floor, afraid to look stupid or make a mistake with the weights or the equipment and so they would let gym memberships go to waste. As a trainer I never found more joy than helping someone be it male or female feel confident on the gym floor, to feel comfortable in their body, to focus on the strength and or speed that they had gained and not the inches and pounds they were losing. Who cares what size you are, what really matters in life is who you are on the inside, not who you are on the outside!
Man, I bet you were an AWESOME personal trainer! I have a wonderful trainer now, but I had to try quite a few before I found one that wasn’t all about getting the fat off of me. It makes such a difference to have someone helping you that doesn’t look at you as a disaster that needs to be fixed!
This was a great post! The Jezebel article focused mostly on the gym so it got me thinking about this issue in the racing world:
I love participating in and watching races and even with all the good things about those events, there are always moments that highlight the hierarchy of the fitness world. After you get past the elites and the people whose physical appearance suggest they’ll do well, there are subcategories of people who, seemingly, deserve extra cheer. The extra-young, extra-old, the people with prosthetic arms/legs. I’ll admit, when I’m watching a race, I’ll tear up when a hunched-over elderly woman crosses the finish line.
Where that point gets confusing for me, and probably many others, is if we should cheer extra hard for a larger racer. In the comments of the Jezebel article, someone mentioned how she and her husband got lots of condescending “way to be out here!” comments when they were out for runs. I can absolutely see how that would get old fast. Unlike the visibility of the young/old person or the person with prosthetic limbs, a larger person’s outward sign of “hardship” in this case is, simply, their size. Do they deserve/want/need extra encouragement?
To that degree, I’m torn about the Athena/Clydesdale division in triathlons. My first impulse is “hell yeah! Badass division!” But then isn’t the existence of that division labeling weight as a “handicap?” Isn’t my own initial reaction based on the premise that people with higher weights have a harder time? Then again, it’s voluntary! So if someone wants to compete in that division, maybe they do want extra cheers or recognition. Or maybe not!
PHEW. This was a long comment but I was inspired by the post! 🙂 Keep up the great conversations!
This is a great post! I feel as if I see this from many sides. I used to weigh about 210 lbs. When I was 21, I was quite sick (my doctors are still not sure what was wrong with me but they suspect a virus) and I lost a lot of weight very quickly (about 70lbs). I was an active teen and young adult (swimming and weight lifting) but people automatically assumed I was lazy and that was why I was overweight. After I got sick, people assumed I was extra virtuous because I had seen the light and shed the pounds- even though I was so ill I could no longer work out or do any of the physical activities that used to make me so happy. The praise that was heaped upon me, especially by family. for a change that was, for me, uncontrollable and painful, made me very resentful of cultural conceptions of bodies and weight.
Women are caught between two extremes- too fat or too thin. Those that fall in-between these extremes are either overlooked or taught that they actually fall into one of these groups by unkind words and simplistic assumptions.
For me, these extremes were made worse by a medical system that rarely allows a woman to walk into a visit without commenting on her weight. I was consistently derided for my weight when I was overweight, and usually praised for my weight loss even after they read my chart. Having lived in both worlds (although I am by no means ‘skinny’ nor will I ever be) I do find it hard to believe that there is a war on the slender. I agree though, it is a war on the physical bodies of women whatever their weight. Thank you for the great post!
Thank you for this, I never understood why, and I see people on both sides of the issue doing this, people seem to think that the best way to attack the structure that makes women’s bodies into fashion accessories to be molded to fit the era, is to attack other women.
Terrific article, great links! Lots to think about! The main thing is that every woman should be able to feel good about herself, regardless of what random weight/height ratio she was born with. To be shame-free about her physical presence, so she can concentrate on her real gift: her mind!!
It’s another case of someone seeing “their” world changing in a way they don’t like and ascribing it to a concerted effort to “take it away” from them, as if the world operates solely for their benefit.
You get to be what you want. Others get to be what they want. Judgment doesn’t enter into it unless someone actually does it. Something tells me no one is judging her, and well they shouldn’t, but she is finding the merest pretense to judge others without evidence. It’s within her right, but when you open up this can of worms, you can’t expect not to take flack for it. The minute you state your position, especially on the Internet, be prepared for backlash. That isn’t evidence that you are right, it’s just the way the system works.
I love your body positive attitude, Caitlin, and this really touches on something that drives me nuts- people who derail discussions about discrimination and oppression of fat people by bringing up the negative comments thin people get. I have no doubt that thin people deal with rude comments as well- we all deal with people judging out bodies- but it’s a separate issue and makes it impossible to stay on topic and have a productive discussion. It’s akin to white people that claim they don’t have white privilege because they grew up poor (I used to be one of those people). Unlike thinness, being fat is NEVER viewed in a positive light by society, and this is a major social problem that’s deeply ingrained and highly destructive and problematic.
Fun fact: I was listening on NPR today (Diane Rehm), where one of the guests was arguing that one reason we should cut SNAP (food stamp) benefits was because of the obesity epidemic (along with the “poor people don’t want jobs,” “most disabled people are lying,” and “ZOMG, immigrants!” epidemics). As if people stop needing food — you know, at least some food on all the days of the month — if they are fat.
I’m not sure the people commenting here have ever been *severely* underweight. When my BMI was 16 due to high metabolism, I was harassed DAILY by both strangers and “friends”. People would stop me on the street, in the supermarket – anywhere! – to harass me for my body size. I was regularly told how disgusting I was. I could not even fill out a junior’s size 00 and couldn’t find a single retail store that sold clothes that fit me. I have on many occasions had to apologize for my metabolism. Quite frankly, my body offended people and they were sure to let me know. I didn’t know one single person as thin as I was. I could never look around and see people who looked like me. I was, in fact, a minority.
I have been shamed for eating healthy and exercising. I put myself on a 6,000 calorie/day diet with the hope of gaining weight just to please and fit in with other people. But it didn’t work; I stayed skinny and still had to explain my body size. Well, now I’m 38 and have a serious problem from over 20 years of overeating. I have been able to gain some weight from having children and no longer get harassed for my thinness, but I still get the “eat a sandwich” comments because I’m still pretty thin. I still have to explain to people that I go to the gym to lift weights with the hopes of getting bigger, because otherwise they will get “concerned” that I’m doing it to lose weight.
I read through the Thin Privilege Checklist and can honestly say I did not have any of those privileges when I was “freakishly” thin. Now, as a size 2, I can admit I have a whole lot of thin privilege. But that’s only after *gaining* 25 lbs (and still overeating to this day). I think people need to remember that “thin privilege” does not exist for the severely thin. It is only for the acceptably thin.
Also, I think it would be difficult to measure the shaming of severely underweight women because there simply aren’t enough of us who are that thin. All the thin privilege studies I’ve read were done on women who were US sizes 0-8 (or similar). Those people all fall into the “normal BMI” category, or just slightly below. I would like to see a study done on women sizes 00 and below. I think the results would be much different.
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“See, I believe very much that thinness in this culture is a privilege, and like all privilege, it is so insidious because it feels invisible to those of us who have it.” – You’re absolutely on the money there, and as with all types of privilege it’s so hard to realise you have it but so important. As someone whose body is probably a shape reasonably acceptable to society I only had a moment of revelation a couple of years ago when I was on a bus and a pair of drunk girls got on and started being really abusive to the driver because they didn’t have valid travelcards and they didn’t want to pay the higher cash fare. Another girl on the bus, who was a bit larger than average, told them perfectly politely to pay the fare because she just wanted to go home, and they started shouting that she must be a virgin because no one would ever want to sleep with her because she was fat. And I started laughing, because these two girls were falling over themselves drunk, with hair and makeup everywhere, insulting everyone around them with a mixture of foul language and the sort of insults a 13 year old would use, and they thought no one would ever want to sleep with this smart, pretty, polite girl on the bus? And to my astonishment the girl burst into tears and got off the bus and I realised that what I thought were laughable insults anyone would be able to shrug off must be part of this girl’s reality and really hurt. I know everyone isn’t going to have an experience like that, and I hope sharing this story will help. I really wish I could apologise to that girl too.
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