Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thin Women and the Body-acceptance Movement

A while back, I posted something on my Facebook about how not being thin doesn't mean you're fat. It was, I thought, a really basic, relatively unoffensive comment. I mused that, years ago, Megan Fox and Marilyn Monroe would have probably been considered equally smokin' hot. But now, even if people admit that curves are acceptable, there seems to be this general understanding that Megan Fox's body is, at least, preferable. She has a flat stomach, after all. She probably works out more often. She's tonedWhile everyone agrees that trying to be underweight is a bad thing, it still seems like the thinnest version of 'healthy' is considered the most attractive. That was all I said. I didn't post that ubiquitous picture of the Dove models vs. the Victoria's Secret models. I wasn't bashing skinny girls.  And yet, the first comment was posted by a petite friend of mine complaining about how, while she understood my point, she was also sick of always being judged and resented for being thin. She said she was naturally thin, and she was tired of people talking about how 'real women' have curves. And I totally understood her feelings. I think it is wrong to claim that only a certain type of woman is a 'real woman' and I think it's wrong to resent other women for their bodies. However, that had absolutely nothing to do with my post. I never said anything about skinny women being less attractive, I never claimed that all thin women had eating disorders, I  never argued that all women should be pudgy (and for the record-- Marilyn Monroe was definitely NOT  pudgy; curvaceous as she may appear, even she was actually at the very low end of the BMI scale). All I said was that maybe all versions of healthy should be considered equally attractive. Body-positivity should never be interpreted as a threat. Her comment made me feel like I couldn't say anything about what is actually healthy or actually normal without offending that handful of girls who do happen to effortlessly fall within the ideal body category. And so, I want to say, once and for all, to naturally thin girls everywhere: Those posts are not about you. 


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This picture has been posted all over the internet lately...

I understand that a lot of the pictures and rants on the internet relating to weight resort to a sort of ad-hominen, all-or-nothing, “You think THIS is attractive, but actually it’s UGLY and THIS is more attractive!” or “She’s only skin and bones! She’s not a REAL women!” approach…which is obviously problematic, and, understandably, upsetting to naturally thin girls everywhere. But not every body-acceptance message is so polarized or aggressive. Never-the-less, I've noticed that almost every time any image pops up promoting acceptance of more diverse (and yes, often more realistic) body types, there is this counter-cry of purportedly naturally thin women shouting “I can’t help it, that’s just my metabolism, stop judging me!” 

This is frustrating because these women seem to be missing the point. Those pictures of Marilyn Monroe or the Dove models are about the pressure EVERYONE feels to be thin-- they are about the majority of women who are made to feel insecure because they aren't that thin, or the very thin women who did get that way through eating disorders, obsession with calories, or ridiculous and oppressive fitness regimes. Sometimes, those women shouting “I’m just naturally thin” aren't actually 'naturally' thin; they are thin because they eat salad for lunch and turn down dessert ninety percent of the time– not because they don’t like dessert, or because one piece of cake would wreak havoc with their health, but because they are trying (harder than they may realize or admit) to maintain the body shape that society deems most attractive. Just because not all thin women have severe eating disorders doesn't mean that a large number of them aren't affected- oppressed even- by damaging pressure to conform to ideals. And when those same women excuse that cultural pressure or pretend it doesn't exist, I think that’s a problem. And as for the girls who really, truly are naturally thin, the girls who can eat cake and Doritos and never put on a pound...they need to just pipe down for a minute-- unless, of course, they want to contribute to the discussion instead of suppressing it. They need to let this conversation take place and give other women room to fight back against the rigid ideals that not everyone fits into so easily. And I say this as a  relatively thin woman. When other  women complain about feeling pressured to be a size two, I don't stand up and say "Hey now! I am a size two, and I eat cookies, and I even write a body-image blog, so stop complaining," because that is obviously not helpful. Because not every woman is in my same situation. Because there really is too much pressure to be thin, and not as much of a problem the other way around. And because I want them to keep talking about it.

There is an article by Marilyn Frye in which she talks about sexism and oppression, and argues that although men are occasionally at a disadvantage because of gender norms (I.E. being encouraged not to cry, not being hired as nurses as often, etc), this doesn't mean they are oppressed by sexism in the same way women are. I think, at least to some extent, that same idea applies here. I’m not saying thin women never suffer from body image issues. I'm not saying thin women are never hurt by mean-spirited comments about being "too" thin. Nevertheless, in our current culture, they are still the privileged class– and in this country, at this time, there isn't really an issue of too many women feeling pressure to gain weight. There is, however, an issue of too many women feeling pressure to lose weight. There is no epidemic of high-school girls gulping down snickers bars and weight-gain powder at lunch in order to fit the beauty ideal…instead, girls are either dying of anorexia or gaining unhealthy amounts of weight as a direct-result of self-defeating diet fads and unattainable ideals. 


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Real oppression works like a bird-cage, constricting you from all sides.

So I think the focus of these healthy body-image promotion posts is rightly being placed on moving toward accepting women who aren't necessarily as thin,  toward deeming those women attractive too. These pictures praising Dove models aren't there to say “being thin is bad;” they are there to say “the fact that all women feel constant pressure to be thin is bad.” 

Woman talking about these topics shouldn't feel pressured to censor themselves or avoid talking about serious and obvious issues, like the plummeting weights of super models, in an effort to avoid offending others. We can't stop questioning and criticizing harmful societal expectations just because some people happen to fit within them. I don’t think the people posting images of healthy women and denouncing the pictures of super-thin Victoria's Secret models (who probably aren't naturally thin, who probably do maintain those weights through abnormal eating habits) should have to worry too much about offending the handful of women who are naturally thin, totally healthy, and completely body-anxiety free…because those women were never being targeted. And meanwhile we do have a growing number of insecure and confused young girls who wonder why they don’t look the same as those models, or even the same as their naturally thin (or permanently dieting) classmates. This discussion is vital for women everywhere. Rigid, unrealistic body ideals are harmful to everyone, even those who already, effortlessly, live up to them, because those ideals pave the way for even more unrealistic expectations and more objectifying treatment of women. And all women, thin or curvy, underweight or overweight, should be a part of keeping this discussion going.

7 comments:

  1. I believe you will find this interesting :
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    1. Thanks for reading. And thanks for the great link!

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  2. When I read, "There is no epidemic of high-school girls gulping down snickers bars" it made me think. I hear all the time that there is an obesity epidemic. But I have always wondered if that is true, or if it's just people being SO obsessed with being thin that being pudgy is now considered so horrible that you're pretty much obese. Anyway, it just got me wondering if you'll be doing an entry about obesity or over eating, or anything like that. I absolutely love your blog!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I will absolutely be writing more on the "obesity epidemic" in the near future-- how prevalent obesity actually is, what really causes it, what the consequences are, and what, if anything, can be done about it. If you are interested in reading a good book on the topic, I strongly recommend Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. It seems to be true that people in America (and world-wide, as junk food continues to catch-on internationally) are, in fact, getting fatter. However, it also looks like weight-gain may be more strongly influenced by factors outside of diet and exercise than scientists previously realized. Also, it is much much harder to combat than most people think; it is not simply a matter of "having strong will power" or "just eating healthier." And finally, being overweight is not nearly as "bad for you" as many believe. In fact, what you weigh is a very poor indicator of your health, and most studies suggest that a little "extra padding" is actually good for you! It's a very complex issue, and I will definitely be writing more on it in the future.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. For my community this really isn't the discussion. Being too thin is seen as a liability. If you don't have ample T&A men do not view you as a real woman, you are seen as bony and not very attractive for that. Our problem is that women are too fat and breast cancer, diabetes II and high blood pressure that ends lives too early. Also, the increasing acceptance of fat gives some obviously unhealthy women in my community a pass to not even try to get their weight under control at all. I think the problem is the food. There's too much, it's too unhealthy, it's in our face 24/7 and access to recreation, even just a walk, is scare and/or prohibitively expensive, not to mention the way people are practically worked to death in this country. It's the culture, the media, the food they sell us and class disparities combined. I think this is an important discussion, but it's a much larger cultural discussion as well.

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