Conscientious Objector In The Weight Wars
I was actually tossing this topic around in my head for some time, trying to decide if I had anything to say that hadn't already been said. There is almost as many words out there on women's weight and associated issues as there are actual women, and I wasn't sure that my point of view was something that really needed to be added. However, when I put the word out on Twitter and Facebook that I was looking for input, the response was pretty overwhelming - which at the very least convinced me this is something that DOES actually need to be written. I've tried to wrestle as much of it into a post as possible, but it's a huge subject to try and condense down. I described writing this as being like wrestling with a kraken made of feels, and now it's done, I totally stand by that. But really, the core of what I'm trying to say is simply this; how about we women try being kinder to each other about our bodies, and save the vitriol for the institutions that actually contribute to making our lives harder?
There are so many reasons we come up with to resent each other - She does feminism differently to me, she’s thinner than me, she’s fatter than me, she’s physically disabled, she’s not as educated, she’s over educated, she likes things I don’t like, she’s got a penis, she doesn’t earn any money, she earns too much money. Legitimate criticism is one thing - if someone says or does something hurtful to other people, then I firmly believe they should be called out on it. But what I'm talking about is the vitriolic little lies we have buried in our heads, disguised as truth. There are a million ways we find to tear each other apart, and I could write an entire book about it if I tried to cover them all. But what I want to talk about specifically today is the growing gulf between those of us on either end of the weight scale.
Curvy/voluptuous/fat women have long been at odds with thin/slim/petite women. (Just a little note - I'm going to go ahead and just use fat and thin for these categories from now on so this is actually readable. Feel free to insert your preferred term in your head) Historically, those of us on the bigger side of the spectrum didn't have much of a voice - but with the rolling momentum of the fat acceptance movement, that is starting to change. But there is a downside to this. Bigger girls have been silenced for so long that now we are finally speaking up for ourselves, sometimes we can react to anything we see as silencing with anger, lashing out at the smaller women who seem to have it all to our eyes. We are told over and over again that being thin is best, being thin is everything, if we were thin our lives would be perfect, if we were thin we would be happy because all thin people are happy. When we see thin girls complaining about their bodies, this looks to us like billionaires complaining about not being able to afford a third yacht. Even if they don't complain, sometimes we hate them anyway; just for being something we are not, for being a shape society values higher than our shape. This anger and resentment can curdle into lots of hateful little "truths" we tell ourselves. Thin girls get all the nice clothes. Thin girls don’t know what it's like to have people police their food. Thin girls don't eat anything. Thin girls are arrogant. Thin girls hate fat girls. Only assholes and pedos will date thin girls, because Real Men like women who look like Real Women. Thin girls can't be sexy. Thin girls need to 'eat a sandwich'. Thin girls don't know what it's like to REALLY hate their bodies.Thin girls don't have any personality. Thin girls get all the attention. Thin girls can get away with being bitches, because they're thin.
In return, thin girls have also often looked at fat girls with equal disdain. I'm sure part of this negativity is in reaction to the vitriol aimed at them by fat girls. I don't know many people who enjoy being called a "skinny bitch" outside of a very specific kink setting. But I think a larger portion is simply channeled disgust from the rest of society towards fat people, fat women in particular, and it forms itself into hateful little "truths" just as insidious as those that fat girls tell themselves. Fat girls are lazy, because if they weren't lazy they would be thin. Fat girls eat whole pizzas, and entire tubs of ice cream by themselves. Fat girls are always eating. Fat girls 'do everything', because they can’t get laid any other way. Fat girls hate thin girls. Fat girls are all miserable, and hate their bodies. Fat girls' bodies are vulgar. Fat girls are disgusting. Fat girls are loud and obnoxious. Fat girls are just jealous. Fat girls have no one to blame but themselves. Only someone totally desperate/ugly/stupid would date a fat girl. Being fat is unnatural and fat girls are all unhealthy.
I'm just as guilty of hating other women for totally irrational reasons as anyone, by the way, in case you think I'm trying to pretend I don't. It's not something I'm proud of, and I’ve been making a conscious effort recently to try and refrain from negatively judging women that I see as thinner than me. It turns out it’s really fucking hard. This attitude of "us and them" is so deeply ingrained in the way I see other women it's a real task to try and dislodge it. But do you see how insane this rift is, when you lay it all out side by side? Do you see how many of the same "truths" are just reversed on either side? We're taking all this hatred out on each other when we could be taking it out on the elements of the society that surrounds us that LIKES us hating each other. Just take a minute to think about what the beauty and fashion industries might look like if thin and fat women weren't taught to hate each other. If we weren't all convinced that our happiness is totally and directly tied to our waist size, how much more difficult would it be to sell us crap we don't need? What if all the people obsessing about being thin realised they could actually be happy a couple of kilos heavier? What if the naturally thin women stopped feeling like they have to be a certain size to be "real" women? What if every fat woman realised her happiness probably WON'T actually increase in direct proportion to the weight she loses? I hate to use the word because 9/11 deniers have made it into a laughing stock, but this circle of fat and thin hatred is actually a conspiracy. Think how many less products women would buy if they were ALL happy with the way they looked. Back smoothing bras, weight loss shakes, girdles, padded bras and knickers - all these things are marketed directly at our self esteem. This situation is total bullshit. We're ALL being taken for a ride, and a fucking expensive ride at that.
So what do we do about it? All this philosophising and grandstanding is all very well, but how do women on both ends of the weight spectrum start working together to short circuit this self esteem destroying cycle? I crowd sourced a bunch of input from various people, as well as my own thoughts, as to what both sides can do for the other.
Thin women - don't talk about how lazy fat people are, and tell your fat friends how nice it must be to "eat whatever you want." Don't tell them how lucky they are to have a partner who "doesn't mind" their shape. There is no way for them not to take this personally. Of course, you should keep in mind that plenty of your friends that you don't consider fat WOULD consider themselves fat, so maybe consider not saying things like this out loud at all. Fat women - don't call thin people "skinny bitches" and tell them to eat a sandwich. "You're so skinny, I hate you" is not a funny, or appropriate joke to make to thin friends. There is no way for them not to take this personally. Again, keep in mind you might have friends that YOU don't think are too thin, who are convinced they are, so maybe just don't say any of these things out loud either. The way you view women on the other side of the weight spectrum to yourself won't change overnight - it wouldn't be reasonable to expect or demand that of anyone. But by taking a second to think about how the things you say effect other people, you can start making some headway.
Speaking of things not to say, thin women - do not ask fat women if they've "thought about" dieting. There is a 90 per cent certainty that we have, and we've already decided whether we would like to or not, thanks very much. If we want to talk about it, we will, but there is a 90 per cent chance we won't. Don't try to be subtle either - your hints are not nearly as subtle as you think it is. Don't buy us low fat anything unless we've specifically asked for it. Don't 'casually' mention that you've starting going to the gym, and that we are totally welcome to come along if we like. Don't tell us we have "such a pretty face" or "a great personality". We're not stupid, we know what you mean. Don't assume that fat women hate their bodies just because they're fat. Maybe your bigger friends thought about dieting, and going to the gym and decided they really don't feel the need. Dropping these 'subtle' hints just says loud and clear that YOU are not okay with their bodies. We fat girls already have the whole of the modern media telling us our bodies are gross. The last thing we need is our friends "helpfully" pointing out that we ARE gross, and that we should really get on that.
Alternately, fat women - don't assume thin women are totally okay with their appearance just because they are thin. There is every chance that they're not. Don't say to thin friends, "Gosh, you're so thin!" They're perfectly aware of their size, and may or may not be proud of this fact. If they're okay with their size, you're just pointing out something as obvious as them having a face, and are likely to get as helpful a response. If they're not okay with their size, pointing it out is about as helpful as pointing out a massive zit to a teenager who is heading out the door on a date. Don't say to thin women, "You're so lucky to be able to eat whatever you want." You have no idea how what they eat stacks up against what they would like to be eating. Maybe they have an eating disorder. Maybe they diet really strictly to stay the size they are. Maybe they desperately wish they were less thin, and eat everything they can to try as hard as they can to put on weight, but can't, and this failure kills them. Maybe they feel as bad about not being able to get enough flesh on them so their ribs don't stick out as some big women feel about not being able to shift their belly. If you don't want thin people to assume they know what goes on inside you from the size of your waist, you can't do it to them either. Being thin is not the cure-all that fat girls are told it is. The lives of thin girls have options and privileges that fat girls don't have, but they're not always perfect. Know that we have been lied to about the healing magic of slimness, and don't dismiss the fact that some thin women feel shitty about their bodies too.
And finally, let's talk clothes.Thin women - don't take it personally if your fat friends don't want to go clothes shopping with you. We love you and all, but going into store after store and finding nothing for you is just depressing. And please don't lecture us about ethical clothing choices - it's not that we don't care about workers rights, or that we don't feel sympathy for factory workers disabled or killed in poor working conditions. We do, we really do. But you have to understand we have SO FEW CHOICES. Trying to find things we like, that fit, that we can afford can be extraordinarily difficult and if you add in that it has to be ethically sourced as well, some of us would be walking around in one pair of pants year round. Some of us wouldn't even be able to find that. While there are more options available in plus sizes than there used to be, there still aren't nearly as many as in straight sizes. And, I gotta tell you, a lot of plus sized clothing is just AWFUL. A huge percentage of our choices consist of shapeless sacks of polyester covered in hideous giant flowers that costs a fortune. This is why, sometimes, we don't want to go clothes shopping with thin girls.
And to the fat women - if going clothes shopping with your thin friends depresses you, quit doing it. Don't go along and then sulk yourself into a furious rage. Do something else instead. Go have coffee with them, go rollerblading, whatever. Go see a kick ass movie, laugh your asses off, then go home and fill your cart up at Domino Dollhouse. If you DO go shopping with them, keep in mind that just because the majority of clothes you see will fit your thin friends, this doesn't mean they have limitless options. If a thin woman doesn't have a lot of boob, a huge number of shirts and dresses are simply impractical. If a thin woman has too much boob, just as many shirts and dresses are out. If a thin woman also happens to be trans, there's every chance she will have an absolute nightmare trying to find a dress that will fit both her shoulders and her waist - that is if the shop assistants will even let them try things on. And even if a thin woman does find an outfit that fits the amount of boob and shoulders they happen to have in proportion to the rest of them, there's every chance it will be too clingy for their taste. My mum, for example, is tiny and has taken to shopping in the children's section to find clothes small enough for her frame, that are modest enough for her taste.
The idea that the majority of women's fashion fits ANYONE perfectly is as big a lie as the idea that thin = happy. It's absolute nonsense. Women's clothes are made as cheaply as possible, in as few sizes as possible, because they are designed to be replaced frequently. This often this means little to no tailoring, and I'm sure you can see how this is a problem when you're talking about clothes for a gender that tend to go in and out to varying degrees. Tall women can never find pants long enough, curvy women can never find pants that allow for any sort of variance between hip and waist measurements, short women can't find shirts that don't come down to their knees. We're ALL fucked by the generic, cut and paste way modern women's fashion is made. The manufacturers and designers are the ones we should be angry at, instead of thinking that any other body shape has it better.
Maybe I'm being overly optimistic. Maybe this sort of change just isn't possible given the weight of messages telling us to hate each other, and to hate ourselves. But I am trying to give it a go, and I hope you will too.