tales from urban dilettantia



I don’t think I’ve ever written a body politics piece here before, and certainly not one about my personal experience of body shaming. It isn’t my area of expertise, and I’ve noticed that writing body politics posts tends to end with one’s entrails smeared across the wall. My somewhat narrow view of human attractiveness suggests that having one’s entrails smeared across the wall isn’t a good look.  Nevertheless, let us start bluntly.

This year, I lost ten kilograms.

(I wonder what you thought when you read that? That’s so unhealthy. That’s so healthy.  Go you. For fuck’s sake, how uninteresting. Something else?)

Backstory: this year I took up rock climbing. It transformed my social life, my experience of the outdoor world, and my body. It stripped a layer of fat from my body and put on wiry muscle where I’d never had muscle before.  I’m as strong and fit as I’ve ever been. I can climb a tree, swing from one arm if only for a brief moment, and I’m on my way to doing the first chin-up I’ve ever done. I find myself liking my physical form for what it does, rather than what it is.

But here’s the thing.  Many of you haven’t seen me in person, so you won’t know what I look like.  Perhaps you’re imagining someone around average size dropping ten kilograms.

In fact, I’m five foot four. I’m very lightly built. I have tiny wrists and hands and ankles.  A year ago, I was an Australian size ten – the second smallest size one can generally buy. Today, I’m at the lower end of a size eight. I am skinny.

Culturally, I have the mammoth privilege that comes with being thin. Cheap, pretty clothes. Doctors diagnosing my illnesses, rather than telling me the only problem is my weight. Tiny airline seats fitting me. Hell, this year I’ve found I can shop in the children’s section. And most significantly, I’m not on the receiving end of widespread bigotry and condemnation.

Great. I know how fortunate I am, to the extent that anyone in such a position of privilege can ever truly know such a thing. And so, when I talk about being on the receiving end of body shaming, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not dismissing my privilege. Shaming someone for thinness is not ‘exactly the same’ as shaming someone for not being thin. That’s bullshit. It is not equivalent.

However, there’s a belief that feeds discrimination, and a behaviour that heartbreakingly crops up from time to time even in my most feminist of social circles. It’s the belief that it is acceptable to pass judgement on my shape. On anyone’s shape. Boobs and thighs, belly, arse, ribs are all fair game for comment and criticism.

Too often I’ve seen people – feminists, activists, smart and caring people in almost every way they can be – point at pictures of skinny women’s bodies and decry them as ‘Horrible’. ‘Ugly’. ‘Disgusting’. ‘Urgh’. ‘Needs to eat a cheeseburger’. Bodies just like mine.

I may be as privileged as hell, and may not generally be on the receiving end of a cultural barrage of crap because of my body shape, but you know what? I am not okay with you posting pictures of women who look like me and commenting on how hideous they are. It is absolutely unacceptable.

The enormity of the social problems we face when it comes to physical form is beyond overstatement. We exclusively, pathologically market our clothes as displayed on the bodies of women far to one end of the bell curve. We objectify and idealise a single shape amongst the multitudes. We encourage self-loathing and self-harm. We are the architects of a society of shame.

Now, when those of you who really ought to know better post a picture of a woman’s body – of anyone’s body – and tell me it’s disgusting, you’re promoting the acceptability of linking physical form and shame. I’d like to say my feelings aren’t hurt when I see you saying my shape is wrong, but that wouldn’t be true. It is always going to be personal, just as it is always going to be political.  And, besides, it doesn’t help fix a single thing.  It simply reinforces the insidious idea that there is a ‘right shape’ and a there is a ‘wrong shape’.

I’m not wrong. I’m not ugly. I do not have an eating disorder.  I’m not sick or vain or brainwashed or setting a bad example. I’m just me, a rock climbing, skinny bitch.

To shame the body of another human being is to perpetuate the behaviour that feeds discrimination and self-loathing. But beyond that, it plunders you – our best and brightest, our feminists, our activists, our fighters. There are so many battles to be fought in this arena – battles around education, agriculture, advertisting, poverty, bad science, mental health, and the way we define spaces – both public and private.  So, wake up.  Give up the pointing and the shaming.  Instead, choose your battles wisely, and fight well.

Category: feminism

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5 Responses

  1. Festinalente says:

    Fantastic post.

    I have long thought this. I read a lot of fashion blogs for ‘curvy’ women (even though I know i should embrace it I cant seem to call myself fat, because it makes me feel like total shit) and I always post in response to articles/posts/pictures that hate on skinny/slim bodies. It is unacceptable. It also always suprises me that people cant see the irony…
    Because, of course,it is the media and the fashion industry portraying skinny as THE ONLY acceptable body type, the type that is most beautiful desireable etc that is the problem. But shaming women’s bodies is not in any way ok. And as feminists we would do well to remember it

  2. Helen says:

    Thanks! By the way, there’s a ‘should’ there when it comes to the words you choose to describe yourself. Think about what you’d say to someone who said ‘even though I know I should embrace it, I can’t seem to call myself queer’.

  3. kvratties says:

    I like what you write, and I am glad that you’re able to separate your sense of worth from others’ perceptions of your body.

    Speaking as someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder, I might be able to add a slightly different perspective – the internalisation of shame, what a body (MY body) represents, and how other bodies can trigger those feelings about myself. When you posted about having lost 10kg, my thoughts were nothing like those you wrote, they were far more self-interested. Gulp, panic, what does this mean about me? Because other people’s bodies can trigger my own shame – if you have a slim/skinny fit body, then it helps highlight my total lack of worth – it triggers thoughts about the relatively slim body I naturally have, my “easy privileged” life that I am too “crap, useless and incompetent” to make anything of, the reality that I exercise less than would benefit me, that I hold myself out as “lazy” and cringe at being that way and try and hold it at arm’s length saying that it’s too hard to exercise when you’ve got a wee kid with you, that my family is my priority, that gyms don’t work for me (as I end up over-pushing and using it as punishment), that I’m not a morning person etc. The reality is that I don’t prioritise exercise for the sake of it, that I don’t have something that I love that just happens to have a by-product of keeping fit. I’ve found out for me that I exercise best and most sustainably when I blend it with my top priorities – spending quality time outside with my family feeling relatively free. Long walks are out currently as I’m over carrying C everywhere, so we’re exploring cycling as a family – taking adventures out in the open together – I’m loving it. And I’m learning to accept that IF I choose to prioritise things other than exercise then there are consequences – I AM less fit or toned than people I know who get up for a 6am run most days. I can let go of the “lazy” judgement as it doesn’t serve me and ends up being a disconnect with other people – and could so easily lead to putting down others internally or outwardly to buoy myself up. I suspect it has a lot to do with shame about self, based on a perception of how we SHOULD be and how we don’t measure up to it – comparing our inner lives with the external lives of others and coming up short, comparing our inner lives with the external BODIES of others and coming up short. The converse is when my body fits more closely with society’s standards than another person’s body and that can be the one measurable thing I can cling to that doesn’t make me ‘less than’ – of course this way of thinking that judges one as below or above ends up inevitably separating, and I really don’t want to play that game any longer.

    So, I’m glad you’ve found something you love to spend time on (your rock climbing) and also that it helps you appreciate your body for what it does. I think that’s key. I will raise a mug of coffee to you as I sit back in my chair (after Ms 3 stops using me as a climbing frame) and appreciate you for who you are, whether or not you rock climb or have sticking out ribs, and appreciate myself for who I am too.

    Love, Vx

  4. Helen says:

    Thanks so much for adding that to the post, Vix. xoxo

  5. […] by Kate Galloway at Curl. Dear fat girl, by Bri at My Scarlett Heartt. This is my body by bluebec. Skinny by Helen at Tales from Urban Dilettantia. Because I can by Craft Is The New Black (this post gave […]

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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.