I’m sure we’ve all heard and said it before: “She’s not that fat.” I know I’ve said it in an attempt to deconstruct the strict body standards that women disproportionately face. However, in examining the role language plays in dismantling injustice, I feel certain sense of unease when I hear these statements.
Whenever we say, “Oh, they aren’t really fat,” “She’s only a size 8,”³ or the oft-maligned “Marilyn Monroe was a size 12,”³ the implication, however subtle, is that at some point there is a size threshold that makes it acceptable to mock someone’s body. Although well-meaning, framing the discussion of body-shaming in terms of whether not someone is fat sidesteps the core issue: that being fat in itself is still a negative. The subtle implication of such statements is that at some point, it is acceptable to malign someone’s weight because they are that fat. Whenever I would hear or express this sentiment, deep down inside I would feel a certain measure of sadness because I was still giving myself permission to hate my body because I WAS that fat.
This is not to say that I don’t find it despicable that our beauty standards are so skewed as to make young women feel that they are something they’re not. It is abhorrent to me that women have their self-worth tied up in their appearance. However, instead of working to reassure women that they are acceptable within that framework by shunting “unacceptable” bodies aside, shouldn’t we work towards restructuring the framework? Shouldn’t we shift our focus towards fashioning a culture that celebrates all bodies?
The focus on body image issues that women face should not be about whether or not they are fat, but that it’s perfectly acceptable to be fat. Nobody deserves body-shaming, whether they weigh 100 pounds or 400 pounds. I spent a good time during my conversations with women in my life reassuring them that they are not fat, while internally writhing at the cruel irony that I am convincing people they are not like me.
Do I blame women for this? Absolutely not. We live in a culture that fosters bodily dissatisfaction in women and encourages them to hate their bodies. Body hatred functions as a common thread that ties women together and rather than using this as a means to attack each other, we should use the shared experiences against the common enemy and focus on dismantling the social and cultural constructs that engender bodily hatred in the first place. We shouldn’t need to seek reassurance that we aren’t fat. Rather, we should work towards creating a culture that reassures us that our body does not reflect on who we are as people.
(A version of this appeared on my blog.)