Nov 21, 2012 5
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.