Originally posted on jocelynthemaster.blogspot.com.
So here’s the thing. This picture that’s been circulating around Facebook…
…is BULLSHIT. I know that not everyone who has posted this has been all “OMG THIS IS SO EFFING TRUE LOVE YOUR BODY <33333333″ and that many people have used it as a jumping-off point for more critical discussion about fat shaming and such, so if you did post this, please don’t think that I’m personally criticizing you. I just felt the need to jump in on this discussion. Because I get that SOME PARTS of this message need to get out there. I understand that Western society needs to understand that the average woman is a size 16, not between a size 4 and 12, and it is absolutely absurd that the fashion industry continues to dismiss the majority of women by employing “plus-size” models that are, in actuality, smaller than the average woman, and relegating women’s clothing over a size 12 to specialty “plus-size” stores, meaning that most women cannot shop in “regular” stores. And that is absolute bullshit.
However, other parts of the message promoted by this image are EXTREMELY problematic. First of all, it kind of seems to be promoting the idea to women that it’s okay to be a little bit bigger than your “ideal” size because men are okay with it. I’m sorry, did I miss the meeting where we decided that men get a say in how women feel about their bodies? ‘Cause I’m not on board. My confidence in my body will NOT depend on whether on not the majority of dudes think I’m fuckable.
Second, putting aside the dress sizes of these women for a moment, all three of these women fit conventional Western beauty norms. Long hair (windblown, too!), clear skin, no body hair, no cellulite, no wrinkles…and it appears as if all of their breast-waist-hip ratios fit the so-called ideal. Note that on the size 16 model, her waist is noticeably narrower than her hips, and her breasts stick out much more than her stomach. As one Facebook commenter astutely pointed out: “I actually think they’re all beautiful – and I don’t think that EVERYONE’s beautiful.” My point exactly. What if the “national average” woman had smaller breasts? What if she carried her weight more in her stomach area than in her breasts, hips and butt? What if you could see cellulite on her thighs? What if she hadn’t shaved her legs or pubic area? What if she shaved her head? What if she had a unibrow? What if she had visible scarring? What if she had acne? What if the skin on her arms sagged, what if her breasts sagged, what if she was wrinkled? What if she was over thirty? What if her skin was darker? Would you still fill the comments section under this photo on Facebook with “OMG SHE’S NOT FAT SHE’S SO BEAUTIFUL!” She’s beautiful because her appearance fits our cultural understanding of beautiful–and that does not include being fat, hence the tendency to say, “she’s not fat, she beautiful,” as if the two were antithetical. Hey, guess what–saying, “she’s not fat, she’s beautiful,” is STILL FAT SHAMING because you’re saying that if she were fat, she would NO LONGER BE BEAUTIFUL.
This leads me to my third point: the largest woman in this picture is only the (American, I’m assuming) NATIONAL AVERAGE. Which means that a large percentage of the population is bigger than the woman on the right. What about those women? They’re not “ideal” nor “average” and therefore they are left out of the conversation? There are beautiful size 18, size 20, size 24 and beyond women. But we cannot talk about that because then we’d be forced to admit that women CAN be beautiful AND fat. Because, guess what–some women ARE fat. And that’s fine. And that’s beautiful. But this photo, like most of our conversations about body image and body acceptance, refuses to go there. And that’s a problem.
My fourth and final point is that while this photo does open up the discussion around “average”/”plus-size” women’s beauty, it also opens up a space to critique the bodies of women who fall into the size-8-and-below category. One commenter explicitly said, “I would NOT want to look like the chick on the left.” That’s totally fine–I don’t want to look like someone that’s not me either–but the implication is that she looks sickly, she’s unattractive, she’s anorexic, she’s not a “real” woman because “real women have curves” or whatever. I am not trying to suggest here that the positive body image movement (or whatever you want to call it) is like “reverse fat shaming” or anything ridiculous like that. That would be like claiming that because I’m a Hanson fan I understand what it’s like to be the victim of homophobia because when I “come out” to people as a Hanson fan I am usually openly criticized for my preferences and asked a bunch of silly questions about why I like them and whether or not I’m sure I like them and that it’s not just some side effect of a childhood trauma that has made me incapable of maturing past Hanson fandom. (I have to admit, I went to a Hanson concert in Toronto recently–but creative analogy, right?) Queer-identified people are faced with systemic oppression and homophobia, whereas Hanson fans are ridiculed but it has no lasting impact on their lives nor do it inhibit their access to any aspect of daily life. Similarly, fat women are faced with a lovely combination of fat-shaming and misogyny, whereas thin women have a lot of thin privilege, and when other women criticize them or call them “anorexic” or tell them to “eat a burger,” it may hurt, but it does not limit their access to, well, anything, really. Being too small to shop in “plus-size” stores is not a systemic issue. However, it is still problematic to open up a space where insulting thin women for being thin is acceptable and it is highly problematic to suggest that any woman is not a “real” woman. For more on this topic, go here and read Kate Bartolotta’s take on this (she actually looks at another hugely problematic photo that’s been circulating around Facebook lately and that more explicitly insults skinny women). And I’m serious. Go read it. I just spent like 15 minutes looking through my browser history to find that link.
Anyway, this photo should NOT be used as an excuse to tell any woman that she is not real or that her body is somehow offending those attempting to cultivate positive body image. A woman’s confidence in her own body should not come about comparatively–whether it’s comparing her body to the national average, to what men deem fuckable, or to what other women’s bodies look like. And keep in mind what I said earlier–all of the women in this photo fit OTHER standards of beauty. The woman on the left is conventionally attractive in ways that other skinny/thin women are not. Also, she is quite tall, so she is much thinner than most women who fit into the size 4 to 8 category (I doubt this was an accident–the taller she is, the skinnier and more “sickly” a size 4 to 8 looks). Not that I am suggesting that this is a problem–she is beautiful. The message is not.