On Feminism: Body Politics

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I don’t normally talk about my physical appearance, because I’d like to think that there are far more interesting things about me. However, like everyone else, I live in a world where appearance is used to judge my character, personality and abilities. Broadly speaking, this is my body type in three simple words: short, skinny and small. Now, in my late twenties, I’ve come to terms with my body and with the reality that there will be no ‘filling out’ for me – I am what I am.

When I was in high school, tired of being teased and called ‘anorexic’, I went on a reverse diet: I went on a regime of deliberately eating more than I needed in order to gain some weight. It didn’t work, because essentially, I don’t have an unhealthy fixation with food. Despite nasty comments from girls, food remained for me a source of fuel and pleasure, not a psychological or emotional crutch. I gave up quickly and decided that life is too short for this crap. My mum also told me I was being an idiot, and she was right.

Food is supposed to be fun, not something I force upon myself to please some ridiculous idea of what is considered ‘normal’. Besides, now that I’m older and understand the complexity of eating disorders better from research into gender, I realise how silly these girls’ nasty comments were: they were thoughtlessly using a serious disease experienced by some women (and men) as a cruel derogatory remark that had nothing to do with me. Just as disturbing for me though as I’ve gotten older is when women comment on my weight as if it’s a compliment, or ask me what diet I’m on. I have to step back and realise they think my body, the product of nature and genetics, is some sort of achievement. That really depresses me. I consider my education to be an achievement, not my weight.

The reason I’m talking about this is because I started browsing through Kate’s new tumblr blog, Pinners be Crazy. Some of it is truly hilarious, but some of it truly freaks me out as well. Kate is understandably highlighting some nasty commenting behaviour on Pinterest. One or two examples that disturbed me the most revolved around a group of women attacking another woman’s body type and weight (I’ve sadly seen worse examples on other blogs though). There are always, I find, stock-standard lines that women like to throw around in these kinds of situations: ‘eat a cheeseburger’, ‘men like women with curves’, ‘real women have curves’, etc., etc., etc., – or should I say, blah, blah, blah. I’m so sick of this, not simply because it’s unkind to sit there and attack somebody you don’t even know, but also because it signals how women continue to perpetuate misogyny under the guise of pseudo-concern about the fetish of skinniness in our culture.

Look, we all know that the ultra-skinny body type perpetuated by the fashion and beauty industries, celebrity culture and magazines is problematic. Western societies are cultures of plenty, where food isn’t scarce. So it makes sense that our ‘ideal’ would be skinniness – and this fetishisation of the skinny female body is extreme, I admit. However, I don’t see the point of attacking every skinny woman on the face of the earth as a response. Even if a woman is not naturally skinny but suffers from an eating disorder, making nasty comments about her is attacking the end-product of our fetish, not the source of it – not the industries who profit from unrealistic ‘ideals’ or the psychological origins of the disease. Rather than challenging stereotypes, these types of nasty comments and individual attacks only feed them. More importantly, they reinforce the idea that there is only one way to be a ‘real’ woman and one way to be ‘healthy’.

What we should be challenging is the idea that all women must fit into limited ideals of body types. We don’t, we are human beings and we are diverse. How does saying a skinny woman is not a ‘real’ woman, or suggesting that she should go eat a cheeseburger (gee, that sounds really healthy – contradiction, much?), help us break gender and body stereotypes? There are no ‘fake’ women; having less curves or not filling out a bra as much as my other female friends does not make me any less of a woman. My femininity is not defined by the sum of body parts, or their size and shape. I will remain me no matter what size I come in. I don’t agree with attacking skinny women, just like I don’t agree with making larger women feel bad about their weight. Because both tactics are essentially a way of telling these women that their worth and femininity lie in their appearance alone.

What worries me about the ganging-up comments I’ve seen on pictures of skinny women is the unspoken subtext that somehow these comments are a way of questioning the fetish of skinniness in our culture. So you often find women who make these comments who think they are actually sticking up for women’s rights. I’m not really sure though how anyone can honestly say to themselves that this is what such comments achieve. Because to me, all I see is women buying into the lies we’re fed by industries who want to sell us stuff because we are essentially told we’re not enough as we are: that we must work on shaping and re-shaping our bodies into ‘types’ and ‘ideals’ – whether this means losing a few pounds, or gaining a few pounds.

These comments also feed the rather annoying stereotype of women constantly involved in catty bitch fights. I often wonder why the energy that is put into making these comments is not more productively used to challenge stereotypes about being a woman. Aren’t you sick of being told what you should look like? I know I am.

And honestly, if I hear one more comment like ‘real women have curves’, or ‘men like women with meat on their bones’ (right, because our self-worth revolves around men), I will barf and respond thusly:

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Hey, if you say something that stupid to me, or make fun of me for being skinny, or tell me what all men supposedly like (which is an insult to men as well), you must be prepared to meet the taunting Frenchman from Monty Python.

Image credits: the first image is from Pinners be Crazy. I don’t know about you, but my first instinct was to gaze at the lovely scarf by Ilana Kohn, not to attack the model. Silly me. The second image is my own screengrab from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.