I’ve been thinking about “fat shaming” and “thin shaming” lately because of the two hit songs lately, “All About That Bass,” by Meghan Trainor, and “Anaconda,” by Nicki Minaj. Both of the songs talk talk about “skinny bitches,” so I don’t see how these are feel good songs. I like the idea that at least the former ostensibly promotes, but not what it’s really saying.
One of the things that it seems everyone agrees on teaching children is that you shouldn’t ridicule others for their physical appearance. You don’t treat people differently because their skin is brown or red or pale. You don’t call them names for being fat or for being thin. You don’t judge someone else because they have a scar on their face.
But in reality, what do our hit songs teach? What do SO MANY memes that I see on Facebook teach? When I was a kid, you weren’t supposed to make fun of fat kids, but still, it happened. And it happened because there weren’t that many fat kids. What would they do? Now that skinny kids (and adults) are the minority, is it then okay to call them names and say we think their features are disgusting? With phrases like “stick figure Barbie doll,” and “skinny bitches,” and “only dogs like bones,” so common, I guess that it is okay after all.
Another thing we try to teach girls is not to judge their bodies by comparing them to others’ bodies. I agree with that. Of course we all know that it’s illogical to compare yourself with a millionaire celebrity who has personal trainers and dieticians, and whose job is largely to look good. We seem to be coming to terms with the fact that it’s illogical to compare our ordinary bodies with other ordinary people’s bodies, too, because we’re learning more and more about genetics all the time.
But even though it seems like some women and girls may not be looking at Kate Moss’s body and saying, “I wish I were thin like her,” now they just say, “I think it’s gross to be that thin anyway.” Either way a stupid comparison is being made, and either way a harsh judgment is being made as well. Is it really something to celebrate that a girl puts down someone else instead of putting down herself? For people who think so, I argue that this attitude values [supposed] self-esteem above kindness.
The reason I doubt the true self-esteem of people who have that attitude — the ones whose only praise of themselves consists of insults toward others, or statements of superiority — is because when you really love something, you talk about it. It’s true. I love mathematics, and my husband can vouch for the fact that I talk about it even when there is no one else around who knows what the hell I’m saying. If I didn’t talk about the beautiful aspects of mathematics to express my love, but instead made a lot of statements about how much better mathematics was than psychology, likely I’d come off as not loving math quite as much as I hate psychology… That is what I’ve seen all over the Internet.
When someone seems satisfied with their body, that’s believable. But when someone is really in-your-face about how much they love their body, sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to convince me or themselves. If you love your body, then you love it. If you love your body, then you love it whether or not you think it’s better than Kate Moss’s — why put her down?
I also don’t believe that it is in the nature of love to… well, hate. This could get theological really quickly, but what I’m saying is that if you’re really talking about something you love, that loves shines brightly in your mind so that you’re not thinking about the things you hate! You’re not making comparisons. You love! When my sister or my friends talk about their daughters, they’re not saying, “Oh, I’m glad she’s not good at violin anyway, because it’s better to be a gymnast.” Or “she’s so much prettier than the girl across the street.” They say, “I’m so proud of how quickly she learned to write!” or they say, “you should see her in her Easter dress.” Their love is foremost in their minds, and they can find enough positive things to say about their little girls without ever having to start making useless or mean comparisons.
I’m not sure what the general teaching is on this one, I do know how I was raised, and what I believe: that is, partly, that a girl has worth regardless of what boys think. That means a girl isn’t any better if every boy in the school wants to date her, or only a couple do, or none do. That means that a girl isn’t any better if she’s voted some magazine’s “Most Beautiful Woman Alive,” or if she’s a certifiable plain Jane. This brings up a serious issue I have with pop music, both the songs I mentioned above, and a lot of what I’ve seen being written or said by fat women. A popular thing to say is, more or less, that men actually prefer fatter // thicker // curvier // whatever-the-adjective women to thin ones. I DO NOT CARE WHETHER THIS IS GENERALLY TRUE OR NOT. Western women with their self-righteous but mistaken belief that we are so liberated! Still we are judging ourselves according to what we think is pleasing to men? I’m supposed to love my body because “men like a little more booty to hold at night?”
I’d really like to write more about this, sort out my thoughts more, but I have homework to do. I have to say that I never thought a lot about gender or sexism when I was a kid or a teenager. My mom was always a self-styled feminist, and I do remember her asserting things like, “You can do any job a man can do,” or “You could be the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby!” or “Blue isn’t for boys. Pink isn’t for girls. If you want blue, you get blue!” I always took this for granted, I guess…
After a few years in the Navy, I started to think about sexism. I ran into a couple of men who I’m pretty sure really hated women. I ran into men (and women, too) who treated male and female Sailors differently. I worked on the legal proceedings of a pretty insane sexual harassment case once. I heard lots of stories about rapes that were found not to have rapes — as well as rapes that did happen. I knew men in power who took advantage of lower-ranking women. The list goes on, but what I really noted was that for all that men sometimes to do undermine women… we women do a whole helluva lot to undermine each other. I don’t have time to describe all that right here, right now, but it’s part of what I’m seeing with this whole fat-shaming/thin-shaming. Apparently more women have body issues than don’t, so how come we’re all mad at each other instead of supporting each other? Why are we dividing ourselves into these cliques even online?
I think about sexism now that I’m a married woman of childbearing age, majoring in a male-dominant field. Can I compete? Even if women are just as good at math and science… what about the fact that our bodies grow babies, while our male colleagues (competition) can have multiple children without missing a day of work? There’s always that familiar double standard about a man being “assertive,” but a woman being “a bitch.”
I just wish all these blogs and songs and advertising campaigns that are ostensibly building women up were actually doing that. I wish women were building each other up, not tearing each other down — on the basis or weight or anything else. I wish we weren’t still deciding whether we love ourselves based on whether men seemed interested. I wish we could just say, “This is my body. If I couldn’t compare it to anything else, here’s what I’d like, and here’s what I’d try to improve.”