It Works Both Ways

Published July 20, 2010 by sleepydumpling

This morning while reading tweets on the bus on the way to work, I spotted this tweet from the @PostSecret, which led me to this article from the Huffington Post.

One thing I think we have a bit of a duty to do as Fat Acceptance activists is challenge when negative language and connotations are put on to thin bodies as well as fat ones.  In the case of both the tweet from @PostSecret, and the article from the Huffington Post, while I agree we need to be questioning the body image messages sent out by these very thin mannequins, I don’t think it’s fair to refer to them as either anorexic or emaciated.  Both words imply that being very thin is by default unhealthy – and as voices calling out for positive body image for ALL bodies, I feel it’s important that we challenge these implications as well as those that suggest fat bodies are unhealthy.

In the long run, it benefits all of us, regardless of what size or shape we are.

It is important that people know that very thin does not by default equal either anorexic or emaciated.  The definition of anorexic is a person who suffers anorexia nervosa.  Not all thin people suffer anorexia nervosa.  Not all people who suffer anorexia nervos are in fact, very thin.  Likewise, the definition of emaciated is “wasted away”.  Again, not all very thin people are wasted away – or in any way unhealthy.  Instead, people who are on the extreme end of thinness can have many reasons for being so. Yes, from ill health or eating disorder, but also because they are just naturally built that way.  Like fat people, thin people have many factors in determining the shape and size of their body, from genetics, environment, to diet and activity levels.  That’s the thing about bodies, you cannot tell very much about them at all just by looking at them.

When we challenge people about the language around fat bodies, we also need to be mindful of our own language when referring to thin bodies, especially those on the very thin end of the spectrum.  For example, that old chestnut “real women have curves”.  As I’ve said before on this blog, all women are real, unless they are robots created by an evil genius, or perhaps figments of our imagination.  A woman who is thin and angular is just as much a woman as one who is fat and curvaceous.  Plus, who’s to say that fat bodies are necessarily “curvy”.  I have curvy bits on my very fat body, but some parts are pretty damn boxy too!

It’s important that we do not define womanhood by any one type of body, any one shape or size or set of measurements.  Womanhood is inclusive of all of us, not exclusive to some.

There are of course plenty of other examples.  We can’t suggest that thin people “eat a sandwich” any more than thin folk can suggest we “put down the cheeseburger”.  We can’t assume that thin people don’t have body issues because they don’t have the pressure to lose weight like we do.  We can’t assume that thin bodies are thin because they are physically active and eat less than those of us with fat bodies.

This doesn’t mean that the privilege of thinness goes unacknowledged, we all know that there are plenty of things that people with thin bodies can take for granted that those of us with fat bodies do not have the luxury of, but it does acknowledge that nobody should be judged because of their body size and shape, even those with bodies that are considered the social “norm”.

What I guess is the important message is, that if we want the world to change their attitude towards fat bodies, we need to lead by example when talking about any bodies, and squash any generalisations and negative judgements on bodies when talking about ANY bodies.
Besides, as I think it was Lesley over at Fatshionista recently said – all living things have curves, that’s what distinguishes the animal and plant from the mineral.

One type of body is not better than the other.

It’s not either/or in this situation.

It is ALL.

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12 comments on “It Works Both Ways

  • I really appreciate this post, it’s so sweet! Lots of love and hugs your way. <3

    The comments on the HuffPo article are largely positive, though I'm surprised HuffPo is going the way of lame-ass sensationalism now instead of legit politics. The models look healthy slender (you can tell by the arms) and there isn't even a story there.

    • I actually do think those mannequins create an unreachable “goal” for women, and need to be made more representative of the general public, but that is a different subject to what I’m talking about here.

      It’s the whole language that Huffington Post have used to report on this, rather than the subject of their article.

      • I think there should be more diversity, and that presenting only skinny mannequins isn’t good because that’s obviously unreachable for most people, but these mannequins look fine and should also be included.

      • That’s a little disappointing. :-/ All sorts of realistic bodies should be included when displaying clothes and beauty products—from the very skinny to the very fat.

      • Again, that is a topic for another post.

        THIS post is talking about the language we use when talking about bodies, NOT the subject of that article.

        I am not going to argue this with you because it is off topic. I’ll be removing any further off topic comments.

  • Excellent post. I’m one of those people who says things like “she’s too thin” and I’ve really been working on stopping myself from saying things like that. All bodies are beautiful.

  • This is exactly what I’ve been saying – we need to shout out against ALL forms of body shame, not just that directed against people who look like us!

  • Oh, I heartily agree!
    I think that it’s important to speak out against, for example, a modelling industry that puts pressure on employees to become or remain extremely thin through dangerously extreme dieting, drug use etc. And so I completely understand the impetus to call such bodies ‘anorexic’ – let’s face it, sometimes, they are. But I am removing ‘anorexic’ as a general descriptor from my vocabulary: unless someone has been diagnosed by anorexia and this is known to me, and relevant, I won’t be using that word. And I agree that emaciated carries connotations of ill health – we shouldn’t apply it to thin bodies, just as we would wish that we’d not be called ‘morbidly obese’ all the time!

    Like I said in my recent post, Fat Acceptance is for everyone, all sizes and shapes.

    And I think you’ve hit on something here – as a movement, we gain strength when we are inclusive and embracing. There is nothing to be gained from setting up us and them false dichotomies.

    • Yup, when we challenge the judgement of ANY body, we benefit EVERY body.

      One can challenge the notions of unreasonable expectations around thinness without using judgemental language. The reality is, the goal of that super-thin model style body is unattainable for all but a tiny few, so to hold that up as the example of what women “should” be aiming for is damaging. But that doesn’t mean we can heap judgement on those bodies who do meet that ideal.

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