There is no question that we are waging war against our own bodies. We are constantly fighting against our thighs, our glutes, and our stomachs. But this war is not always overt; we don’t always talk about it, and we don’t always discuss it directly. This war is most aptly defined as fat-shaming.
What is fat-shaming? Fat-shaming is the sociocultural assumption that being fat is something to be ashamed of. It is a perspective which assumes that an individual who is overweight is gluttonous, lazy, and unmotivated. It also assumes that individual is unsuccessful because they are larger than the socially acceptable weight.
This can’t possibly apply to me or how I think. I don’t harbor any prejudice against someone who is overweight. In fact, I have dear friends and family members who are overweight, so there isn’t any way that this fat-shaming could be applicable to me. There’s no way I could participate in it, I would know… right?
One of the most unfortunate things about fat-shaming is that we assume it happens thanks to entities over there: over there in the magazines, over there on the television screen, and over there on other women’s bodies. However, there are two truths to this matter: The first truth is that fat-shaming is actively perpetuated by everyone on their own bodies and the bodies of others; not only the advertisers and marketing strategies encourage this system to thrive. The second truth is that fat-shaming in the media is not distinct from fat-shaming from one individual person to another. In order to break down this assumption that we do not perpetuate it and to start taking responsibility for our own thought processes, we need to think about how ingrained this is in our daily lives.
This year, I embarked on a challenge to begin loving my body. The first thing I did was get rid of all of my size4 bottoms that I was able to fit in as a high schooler but could no longer pull up over my size 10 hips, ass, and thighs. I told myself for years that I was holding onto those clothes because they were in such good condition and I didn’t want to waste money buying myself clothes when I already had a perfectly adequate wardrobe. Wrong. I was holding onto them because I was certain that if I wished hard enough, stared at food without eating it long enough, cut out soda and tried to exercise more, that I would be able to get myself back into those size 4 bottoms. One day I had an epiphany: I couldn’t love my body wholeheartedly when I was remembering wistfully the body I had eight years ago.
Once I cleared out my closet of clothes I couldn’t fit into anymore, and replaced them with garments that were the correct size and complemented my body’s shape, I felt much better about myself. Before, I would go into department store dressing rooms full of hopes and size 6s and come out in tears because I didn’t look the way I used to. Now, I found flattering styles and patterns that still looked like the me I envisioned but that also came without making me feel like a fat ass who couldn’t control how much her butt grew, no matter how little or how much I ate or exercised.
This new outlook (embracing the body that had become instead of wishing for the body that had been) helped me recognize other damaging fat-shaming behaviors I participated in. That, in turn, brought to light others’ fat-shaming behaviors toward themselves and toward others, and I saw that I, too, participated in fat-shaming others even though my own self-image had improved. I saw it everywhere, and I began thinking about how harmful it was and ways to show others and work with everyone to slow it and stop it.
There are plenty of times throughout the day that we engage in fat-shaming, sometimes consciously or subconsciously. We see a young woman wearing short shorts and we count the number of dimples on the backs of her thighs: one is too many. We see a gentleman running with his shirt off and we recoil at the sight of his gut hanging over his gym shorts. We see our ex has put on enough weight to effectively alter their appearance and we feel a sense of satisfaction wash over us.
Our reactions to our exes might be some of the most poignant examples of fat-shaming because they can be the easiest to dismiss, especially if those relationships ended on decisively negative terms. This might also make our reactions most memorable. I’d be lying if I said there aren’t two or three of my own exes at whose expense I have been pleased to discover they are considerably fatter than when I dated them.
The perspective with which we view people we have pursued romantic relationships with in the past can be one of the clearest indicators not only of how we deal with change and stressful situations, but also of what we think about others and ourselves.
There is this idea that in break-ups there can be a clear winner and a clear loser. It’s easy to see how this outlook takes root, considering that the Westernized culture we call home currently runs rampant with binaries.
Breaking up seems like a competition: Who can beat who? Who can enter into a new relationship first? Who is perceived to have moved on the soonest by mutual acquaintances? The list of how to win and lose in a break-up goes on.
Furthermore, a huge way we often determine a winner or a loser after a relationship’s termination is whether or not there has been weight gain or weight loss with either party. You win if you lose weight and you lose if you gain weight.
This is an important phenomenon to be aware of because when we derive satisfaction from the weight gain of an ex, we are ascribing ourselves to a thought process in which you actively participate in fat-shaming. The thing is, no matter how you slice it (portly, chubby, fat, rotund, husky), we’re still judging someone else’s bodies by standards that are not necessarily my own, but standards I ascribe to every time I look someone else in the eye and every time I look myself in the mirror.
So if this fat-shaming is really a system in which there are many interacting factors (i.e. media, advertisers, body image), can we even fight it? Yes, we can. By actively participating in this system with our thoughts about ourselves and others, se can also be aware of our participation and make an effort to remove the stigma about being fat and overweight from our though processes. After making those moves on a personal level, is there any fat-shaming we can’t change?
Written by Emily Vrotsos
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