I’m sure this opinion is not going to win me any friends, but after finding myself reading through a comment section on a Facebook post — I know, I’m an idiot — I was faced with a reality that shook me to my core. The cause of this existential crisis? The discussion of body-shaming and body positivity in our current society.
Now, normally I would jump at the chance to get in on some body positivity discourse. I am the first person who will defend your right to exist, your right to wear as much or as little clothing as you want, and I sure as heck won’t judge you for the meat suit you inhabit.
But, and this is a big “but”, as a woman of ample figure, I have also had to face prejudices and doors slamming in my face specifically due to the meat suit I inhabit. Prejudices that are not comparable to that of skinny bodies.
Fat-shaming and skinny-shaming are not comparable, and if your argument against fat positivity is that it doesn’t include skinny bodies, you’re part of the problem.
Let me preface this argument before I continue: I am not here to play the “pain Olympics” (in which everyone competes to see who hurts the most). This is not about defending my right to complain over someone else. But this opinion is coming from a place of groundedness, a foundation of existing within a world of institutionalized and systemic hatred of fat bodies. This piece is coming from a place of experience as well as fact, so whether intentional or otherwise, there will be a bias.
That said, when I say that skinny-shaming should not be compared with fat-shaming, I do not do so to denounce the lived experiences of skinny people who have been shamed for being skinny. Being shamed for inhabiting the body you have is unacceptable behaviour from anyone and should be immediately denounced no matter what. I stand with you, I believe you, and I am with you.
But I need you to be with me too. And that means realizing that fat people deserve a space outside of your narrative, and fat-shaming should not be equated with body positivity movements only.
Fat shaming is not just about being shamed by individuals for being fat. It is not entirely about hurt feelings, about the pressures to fit an impossible mould, or even about being aesthetically, or sexually, pleasing. Fat shaming is built into our very society, into the way we interact with one another and the way we see each other.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say ‘but body positivity movements glorify obesity’, or ‘fat people are lazy, they should stop trying to tell themselves they’re beautiful and do something about it’. Notice I don’t have those statements pointed at myself because the amount of times people actually direct these comments at me are few and far between. You want to know why? Because they know these comments hurt.
Why do we instinctively think that being overweight suddenly means we’re unhealthy? Why is being “unhealthy” a suggestion that we can’t also be beautiful? Why is self-esteem and health only ever attributed to each other when in conversation with fat bodies? You know the answer.
Fat shaming is systemic: it will mean less chances for jobs and less pay when those jobs exist. It means sensationalized news stories that take the humanity away from the fat person being reported on. It means being othered, being made out to be lesser, weaker and inhuman. If you don’t see the difference, you’re not looking hard enough.
This is not the case with skinny bodies in the western world. Whether our society has shifted to be more accepting of thicker bodies or not, the statistics, the prejudices and the outright hatred of fat bodies is clear; there is a difference, and that difference is paramount.
I am not asking you to stop believing skinny shaming exists. I have seen it and have maybe even perpetuated it at some point in my life (though I try to be as understanding and open as possible). But being told to eat a hamburger is not the same as losing out on a job opportunity because you don’t fit the body type that we attribute with healthy, put-together people. One is a painful lived experience, the other is institutional oppression.