Love your body, but only if… (you have one)

I’ve seen a lot of the body image stuff that’s been happening recently in the media (magazines, news, tv) and haven’t really commented on any of it anywhere. Sometimes it’s nice to digest developments instead of bashing out an immediate response on my keyboard.

I’m very happy that body image is getting more and more play in the mainstream media, because Maude knows we’ve been talking about it online for years. The tricky thing about mainstream media is that instead of getting a bunch of like-minded people discussing the topic rationally (like in our fat-o-sphere vacuum, maybe), every person gets access to the topic and has the right to bash out an opinion even if they’ve never really thought about it before. It sounds kind of condescending, but many people don’t actually question their conditioning and resort to those pre-formed notions when talking about weight, body image, fashion and health. Let me illustrate this: a magazine hires a plus size stylist to write a column about her plus-size fashion experience and many people outside the body acceptance vacuum hammer out knee jerk opinions: What about her health? Blah blah blah health insurance! Fat people are TOTES GROCE! The hoi polloi aren’t even commenting on the actual topic: fashion. Instead they are falling back on the “go to” reaction to a fat person made visible.

So we have all this cultural conditioning, but the people outside the vacuum aren’t really aware that they have it. I’m trying to figure out if the awareness campaigns are genuine attempts to make people aware of their body image conditioning or if they’re just paying lip service to those inside the vacuum. I’m actually starting to think that the media is appealing to the masses, and limiting the scope of “acceptance” in order for people to deal with such a revolutionary notion. And that’s hurtful.

I’ve noticed that many stories on body image and acceptance also have this glaring caveat: it’s a wonderful thing to love your body, but not if you’re too fat. When Ellen had an army of plus size models on her show she bought into this notion and I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. So, as a “deathfatty” I’m supposed to hate myself into an acceptable weight range and it’s only then that I can love myself? I don’t think it works that way Ellen! Not on a practical or academic level. It’s so arbitrary too, do I get a hand written invitation from some “deathfat” panel once I cross the threshold of acceptable body type? I will not, because as it stands no one can agree on that – well they can agree that slender is acceptable but where’s the line in the sand?

It sounds a lot like many stories in the media are aiming this body image talk at women who are at a “typical” body weight and are aiming thinner. Are fat people totally co-opting this body acceptance talk? If we are, I don’t think it’s an intrusion. There’s this awareness campaign I’ve been seeing here and there called “End Fat Talk” and while I totally agree with it, I get the impression it’s not aimed at people of my size, it’s aimed at people who think they’re fat. I don’t mind co-opting this message. Actually I don’t mind co-opting any body acceptance message. We have a great privilege as blog authors, internet connection users and people who can communicate ideas and as part of that privilege I get to discuss these things that matter to me, with you.

We can’t exclude anyone from the body talk, I don’t think that’s fair. It’s the reason why many in the FA movement reject the notion of the “Real Woman” and thin woman as enemy. We’re all in this together.

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  • JLopezCostume

    I would love if more fat people in the industry were given props for their contributions. You can yell about “real women” or whatever, but until those REAL real women are given the limelight in a positive way and not shoved into the background like good little hamsters on the wheel, then people will still have those opinions.

  • emilylzbth

    I feel this way a lot. It's very “love yourself….. if you're not TOO fat, that is. then diet down to an acceptable weight!” I felt this way when Dove (do they have that in Australia?) launched their campaign for real beauty and their fat model was a size 16. It felt like that was the largest acceptable size. Also, as a size 26 I can't always fit into plus size lines that stop at a 24 and I often feel like I am above what is, in anyway, acceptable. It makes the FA journey that much harder for me.

    I also agree that if we're going to accept ourselves, we have to accept EVERYONE. I remember a post over at Fatshionista quite awhile back about a reality show featuring a 500 pound woman (who is beautiful and joyful, I think, and that's mostly how she seemed to be portrayed in the show, but it did revolved around weight loss I believe.) And there were a lot of people, even in a fat acceptance community, that were like “well I'm into accepting yourself but that's just WRONG.” I think if we're going to be truly positive with each other we have to give EVERYONE regardless of how tiny/large they are, the right to feel good about themselves.

  • Sarah

    Big thanks for this post, because I notice the same reactions over and over again. Fat people can't do ANYTHING without being constantly harassed about what a danger to society they are. I really hate how they get treated like ignorant children – as if they don't care (or don't KNOW anything) about what they eat and how they move.

    And then you get to the other side, where all fashion models are deemed “anorexic” or “too skinny.” I'm sure these girls get tired of it.

  • Amy

    I don't think we are all in this together.

    We are not one great hive-mind, because true acceptance and respect for all would require different manners of thought-change about different people from different people. It's one thing to not be able to fit into a Jeans West piece of clothing because they're such disgustingly small sizes, it's another thing entirely to not be able to put the tray table down when you fly because, let's be honest, fat people are the thorn in the side of all airlines. It's one thing to be a size 16 White teenage girl verging on an eating disorder because you're from Kenmore and you need to Keep Up Appearences of everything that goes along with the White culture that permeates the middle class who make up suburbs like that, anothing thing entirely to be an obese Indigenous Australian woman from Nhulunbuy who can barely afford canned products – let alone fresh fruit and veges – and who is demonised everytime she tries to access whatever meagre healthcare she can. One of the key cornerstones of FA in every piece of legitimate literature I've read – and one of the most ignored and glossed-over aspects – is the issue of race in the demonisation of fat and obesity, and Australia is no different from the rest of the world.

    There are degrees of privilege, and while there's no such thing as the Oppression Olympics, FA is falling into the same Feminist trap over and over again of sacrificing (and sometimes outright damaging) voices from people who aren't White and Middle Class for the sake of their own prettifying validation or whatever. The notion of the “Real Woman” is the most damaging for us all but I've seen very few FA sites/blogs who really go out of their way to smash through the discourses and constructs of White Femininity that make up that concept, especially the bigger name ones. And it's not just a racial issue, it's a gender and sexuality one as well. I was just focusing on race here as an example.

    So I guess this is a long way of saying I'll believe “We're all in this together”, when I start seeing that we are.

  • Lauren

    Don't forget that the base message of a lot (actually all) of mainstream body acceptance is that it's okay to be as fat or thin as you want, so long as you're fat or thin in a way that men want to bang you. Otherwise, uh, why do you even bother existing?

  • Omega

    It's a valuable point you bring up, but I am not sure it has much relevance to Natalie's post. It's fairly obvious when she said “We're all in this together”, she's very aware that at the moment, we're not.

  • Amy

    I'm aware it was more of a rallying cry than a statement of facts, but to relate it perhaps back to a more prominent point of Natalie's post – I don't see a lot of skinny women (or men) lining up to be Fat Allies, just as you don't see a lot of White FA blogs really making a stand against their – and others – racism. We're not really all in this together theoretically, because – just as with men and feminism and White people and racism – actual social change to re-humanise fat people means stripping these individuals of their privilege. So to put it simply: I'm not in it together with self (and fat)-hating Skinnies because I'm in this for me and the other Fatties, and if other people benefit from it, that's a nice side-effect, but we shouldn't have to “win people over” to the cause by bribing them with promises of better self-confidence and so on, since that undermines the original point of this being about giving respect to the people who currently lack it. Which yeah, often means making safe-spaces where those with privilege are not allowed, or really co-opting media sources and blocking out other voices in the majority who are heard all the time, nonstop, to the detrement of the minority. Whether it's having a Fats-only blog or a Black-Women only literature circle or whatever.

    And, frankly, after witnessing time and time again the way people with privilege – even those who consider themselves “allies” – react to these concepts when applied to other kinds of bigotry, I don't think the FA movement is going to be any different. We're not all in this together, and frankly, I don't want us to be all the time.

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