Sunday, August 01, 2010

On body acceptance

There was that article on College Candy a couple of days back, called I Remember: My Journey through Fatness, Skinniness, and Healthiness.

The title gives you an idea of what that is all about. So I read it, and there were some painful memories about being a fat kid, and how losing weight didn't really solve any problems, and some other perfectly reasonable stuff. Then, this: "I remember finally getting the long-awaited answer to the question of why I am privileged to live in this world: it's to tell you that you, too, are beautiful." And that really stopped me dead on my tracks.

Because, as one Jezebel commenter eloquently put it, that's bullshit. Some people are not beautiful, and they don't have to be. We're so hung up on the beauty thing that by assuring women (yes, it's usually women) that they are beautiful, that we all are beautiful, we're trying to give them value. And you know what? Ugly people have value too. There are plenty of unattractive women who are still human beings who deserve dignity and respect and being treated as people, not some bullshit reassurance that everyone's hot (which is, again, such nonsense -- the very notion of beauty is evaluative, it is built on comparison, and if everyone is beautiful then no one is.) But this fake reassurance comes easier than actually treating people well.

Now, the article's author talks about her personal struggles, and in her adolescent mind she equated fat with ugliness. IMO, the two are orthogonal to each other -- there are plenty of hot fat people and ugly fat people and ugly thin people and hot thin people; yet, her belief is reflective of the larger, fat-phobic culture. And that is, again, not news; what I do find fascinating however is that every time there's some stupid online argument about fatness or models being too thin or whatever -- there're always some dudes popping up to enlighten the internet on the subject of what they personally find attractive. They really do believe that their approval is necessary -- things they find sexy deserve to exist, the rest can just disappear. It does not occur to them that simply not being an ass to people EVEN IF YOU DON'T FIND THEM ATTRACTIVE is a good place to start. Internet is an interesting laboratory of this solipsistic belief, and many fatosphere writers talked about it. My body is not your business, and it is not necessary to inform me on whether you approve or disapprove of it, whether you find it attractive or gross. Your approval is irrelevant.

And this brings me to my second point, in a roundabout sort of way. The whole my body my business thing encompasses every aspect of corporeal being. And... when someone is trying to lose weight, it's their business too. It's not a betrayal, it's not a sign that they hate themselves, it's not a moral failure. (The implication that if you try to change your body it means you don't like it and filled with self-loathing bugs me.) It's not a capitulation. It's an adult making a decision that they would like their body smaller. You don't have to support this decision, but you don't get a say. My body etc. And yet! Crystal Renn caught a ton of flak lately for looking too thin in some recent (photoshopped, of course) pictures, until it was clarified that no, she was not actually losing weight. There were also many comments on how much hotter she looked at size 10.

And it really bothered me. I have a weird shame thing admitting that I lost weight on purpose – even though I do thoroughly believe that as a legal adult, I'm allowed to do so. And I'm not Crystal Renn, so being in a public eye is certainly not an issue (and that would make it even more uncomfortable.) And yet when people say, “Oh, you lost weight” (which is another strange yet socially acceptable thing to say – it's always meant as a compliment, for one. Like losing weight is always a good thing) I feel uncomfortable and mumble something defensive. Part of this discomfort, I think, is this outside approval – the assumption that I need to hear from other people they validate my body. Another is a concern that I'm somehow failing in the whole size acceptance issue.

After all, the very same people who defended Crystal Renn as a plus-size model expressed their disappointment when the word got out that she lost weight. They cited the fact that she had a history of eating disorders – again, body policing masquerading as concern for someone's health. And I think it is important to recognize that those things are similar – even if yes, there are wide discrepancies in terms of privilege between thin and fat women, the fact that women are encouraged to evaluate each other (while the dudes offer “Oh, she's too skinny/too fat for ME” from the sidelines) is an incredibly insidious tactic of oppression. Body acceptance is only possible if we stop offering unsolicited commentary on each others' bodies.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Thank you!