Why can’t more of us “love our bodies” without putting others’ down?

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.”

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6 thoughts on “Why can’t more of us “love our bodies” without putting others’ down?

  1. It’s so crucial to remember that it goes both ways. Who is to say REAL women have curves or thigh gaps or whatever? No. Shaming girls for being too skinny is just as bad as shaming girls for being too fat. We all just need to learn how to accept ourselves for the way we are and leave everyone else the hell alone. CAN I GET AN AMEN?! Haha lovely blog(: Care to check out mine? downwiththenorm.com

  2. This whole post reminds me of All this Time by Sting. It’s about the death of his father. It came to me shortly before my own father passed away, so it kind of helped me in that fashion. But the thing that stands out as years pass is how nothing lasts, but everything is held to a standard. “…All this time, the river flows, endlessly, to the sea…” Being the only fat guy in a family with 7 siblings I had to put up with the evaluations of nearly every one of said siblings and my father. Then I had to put up with the fact that my mother, who also was a little overweight, spoke up for me. Particularly cruel was my brother Steve, who never lacked for a mean word to say. I grew up flinching and intaking breath whenever he was about, only to have my father tell me once that Steve, who’d been picked on by the older two, looked forward to having a little brother to play with. It did not work out that way, needless to say.
    Recently I have had a falling out with his daughter, who insists that I have “picked on” my brother, now 50, for years, and in front of Mom, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Read that as, he wanted to kick my ass, but people who think he rushes to anger were around, so he did not. He still calls me lazy, a whiner and says my job consists of “playing with computers.” He also taught my niece to say insulting things to me when she was very young.
    Once she approached me with this nonsense, I just thought, in a hundred years, the only thing that will matter to me is if I believe in God. I don’t have to believe in people, necessarily.

    “…Men go crazy in congregation, they only get better one by one…” is the line that the song leaves me with.

    I have many issues with Obama, but one of my more seething thoughts involve his and the Democrats insistence that there is a war on Women. This is code for pro-abortion, but in the process they demean women by selling them down the river as basically a uterus that deserves to wipe out the light of another person. “What good is a used up world and how could it be worth having?” I feel the war on women is a cynical read on a more realistic truth on the whole world outside of Eden. Trading on human emotion to feed a cottage industry of abortion, all while saying its safe and rare while claiming they are being attacked whenever someone wants to clarify what rare is.

    We are insecure and we pick on others as a direct response to that feeling. I have done this, and I likely will again. I try not to, though. I will call other people, usually not as fat as me, fat. This is because I like irony, and I hope that the jape can be seen by them for the stupidity it represents.

    One of my daughters has a bit of a belly, but more important, she lately has taken to spending most of the day on her iPad and eating poorly. I have approached her only in the manner of looking at my present condition as an example. I have diabetes and neuropathy. That is to begin with. I don’t hammer the point home, but I also make sure she does know eating right and activity is a choice. In truth, I don’t know what I am doing, but I know I don’t want her to hear what my father said to me, which was, I had no will power.

    I appreciate your thoughts, as usual. And thanks for reading mine, if you could get past the Obama part.

    I leave you with this, why, because it just helps me put into perspective anyone who has been called names in the past, present and future.
    “…The teachers told us, the Romans built this place
    They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire
    Garrison town,
    They lived and they died, they prayed to their gods
    But the stone gods did not make a sound
    And their empire crumbled, ’til all that was left
    Were the stones the workmen found…”

    1. I actually like that you brought up the Democrats on this one because this is a major reason I’m not a Democrat. When I wrote this I was thinking of ‘feminism’ if you want to call it that, in terms of entertainment. I wasn’t even thinking about the messages our politicians are sending young girls. And you’re right: a big message from the Democrats (and sadly, increasingly from Republicans who are trying to gain female votes) is more or less, “You are your uterus.” This concerns me for two reasons:

      Firstly, as you said, abortion. People make that issue about “personal choice” or “privacy,” when in fact it is about ending a life. Since we agree on this issue, I won’t write much more about — except that I must admit I am not sure what to do about abortion in our culture… because the experiences of my grandmothers’ generation as well as that of women in countries where abortion is illegal show that outlawing something does not make it go away, and still does lead to women dying. The solution has to be about changing minds, not changing laws.

      But to get to the other reason I’m concerned about the whole, “You are your uterus” thing is that it is just dehumanizing. I find it offensive that politicians think my vote depends more on whether or not they support me having sex without consequences, than on, say, getting paid as much as my male colleagues.

      Anyway, I’d better not go on too much about it. I just wanted to let you know we do actually have common ground on this one, and I appreciate your comments. I will check out the song later. There is so much more you wrote that interests me, but I’m afraid I can’t respond to it all. Thank you again for writing though!

  3. Absolutely love this post. Shaming skinny girls is equally as bad as shaming larger girls. With all that, it’s no surprise that girls’ self esteem is at an all time low.
    I love your blog, looking forward to future posts!

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