Saturday, 11 February 2012

The day I declare all women BEAUTIFUL, or why YOU are beautiful, full stop.

So here's the thing. This picture that's been circulating around Facebook...


...is BULLSHIT. (When did this become a blog about shitty pictures that get spread around Facebook? Oh well. I'll roll with it.) I know that not everyone who has posted this has been all "OMG THIS IS SO EFFING TRUE LOVE YOUR BODY <33333333" and that many people have used it as a jumping-off point for more critical discussion about fat shaming and such, so if you did post this, please don't think that I'm personally criticizing you. I just felt the need to jump in on this discussion. Because I get that SOME PARTS of this message need to get out there. I understand that Western society needs to understand that the average woman is a size 16, not between a size 4 and 12, and it is absolutely absurd that the fashion industry continues to dismiss the majority of women by employing "plus-size" models that are, in actuality, smaller than the average woman, and relegating women's clothing over a size 12 to speciality "plus-size" stores, meaning that most women cannot shop in "regular" stores. And that is absolute bullshit.

However, other parts of the message promoted by this image are EXTREMELY problematic. First of all, it kind of seems to be promoting the idea to women that it's okay to be a little bit bigger than your "ideal" size because men are okay with it. I'm sorry, did I miss the meeting where we decided that men get a say in how women feel about their bodies? 'Cause I'm not on board. My confidence in my body will NOT depend on whether on not the majority of dudes think I'm fuckable.

Second, putting aside the  dress sizes of these women for a moment, all three of these women fit conventional Western beauty norms. Long hair (windblown, too!), clear skin, no body hair, no cellulite, no wrinkles...and it appears as if all of their breast-waist-hip ratios fit the so-called ideal. Note that on the size 16 model, her waist is noticeably narrower than her hips, and her breasts stick out much more than her stomach. As one Facebook commenter astutely pointed out: "I actually think they're all beautiful - and I don't think that EVERYONE's beautiful." My point exactly. What if the "national average" woman had smaller breasts? What if she carried her weight more in her stomach area than in her breasts, hips and butt? What if you could see cellulite on her thighs? What if she hadn't shaved her legs or pubic area? What if she shaved her head? What if she had a unibrow? What if she had visible scarring? What if she had acne? What if the skin on her arms sagged, what if her breasts sagged, what if she was wrinkled? What if she was over thirty? What if her skin was darker? Would you still fill the comments section under this photo on Facebook with "OMG SHE'S NOT FAT SHE'S SO BEAUTIFUL!" She's beautiful because her appearance fits our cultural understanding of beautiful--and that does not include being fat, hence the tendency to say, "she's not fat, she beautiful," as if the two were antithetical. Hey, guess what--saying, "she's not fat, she's beautiful," is STILL FAT SHAMING because you're saying that if she were fat, she would NO LONGER BE BEAUTIFUL.

This leads me to my third point: the largest woman in this picture is only the (American, I'm assuming) NATIONAL AVERAGE. Which means that a large percentage of the population is bigger than the woman on the right. What about those women? They're not "ideal" nor "average" and therefore they are left out of the conversation? There are beautiful size 18, size 20, size 24 and beyond women. But we cannot talk about that because then we'd be forced to admit that women CAN be beautiful AND fat. Because, guess what--some women ARE fat. And that's fine. And that's beautiful. But this photo, like most of our conversations about body image and body acceptance, refuses to go there. And that's a problem.

My fourth and final point is that while this photo does open up the discussion around "average"/"plus-size" women's beauty, it also opens up a space to critique the bodies of women who fall into the size-8-and-below category. One commenter explicitly said, "I would NOT want to look like the chick on the left." That's totally fine--I don't want to look like someone that's not me either--but the implication is that she looks sickly, she's unattractive, she's anorexic, she's not a "real" woman because "real women have curves" or whatever. I am not trying to suggest here that the positive body image movement (or whatever you want to call it) is like "reverse fat shaming" or anything ridiculous like that. That would be like claiming that because I'm a Hanson fan I understand what it's like to be the victim of homophobia because when I "come out" to people as a Hanson fan I am usually openly criticized for my preferences and asked a bunch of idiotic questions about why I like them and whether or not I'm sure I like them and that it's not just some side effect of a childhood trauma that has made me incapable of maturing past Hanson fandom. (I have to admit, I went to a Hanson concert last night--but creative analogy, right?) Queer-identified people are faced with systemic oppression and homophobia, whereas Hanson fans are ridiculed but it has no lasting impact on their lives nor does it inhibit their access to any aspect of daily life. Similarly, fat women are faced with a lovely combination of fat-shaming and misogyny, whereas thin women have a lot of thin privilege, and when other women criticize them or call them "anorexic" or tell them to "eat a burger," it may hurt, but it does not limit their access to, well, anything, really. Being too small to shop in "plus-size" stores is not a systemic issue. However, it is still problematic to open up a space where insulting thin women for being thin is acceptable and it is highly problematic to suggest that any woman is not a "real" woman. For more on this topic, go here and read Kate Bartolotta's take on this (she actually looks at another hugely problematic photo that's been circulating around Facebook lately and that more explicitly insults skinny women). And I'm serious. Go read it. I just spent like 15 minutes looking through my browser history to find that link. Anyway, this photo should NOT be used as an excuse to tell any woman that she is not real or that her body is somehow offending those attempting to cultivate positive body image. A woman's confidence in her own body should not come about comparatively--whether it's comparing her body to the national average, to what men deem fuckable, or to what other women's bodies look like. And keep in mind what I said earlier--all of the women in this photo fit OTHER standards of beauty. The woman on the left is conventionally attractive in ways that other skinny/thin women are not. Also, she is quite tall, so she is much thinner than most women who fit into the size 4 to 8 category (I doubt this was an accident--the taller she is, the skinnier and more "sickly" a size 4 to 8 looks). Not that I am suggesting that this is a problem--she is beautiful. The message is not.

39 comments:

  1. Love love love love. Thank you for this, and thank you for saying "fat" and not some stupid politically correct term. Although I know you'd never do that. :)

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    1. Thanks! For the feedback and for your faith in me :) You know, my writing strategy is something along the lines of "What Would Gina Do?" and then I scale back the giggling and add some Jocelyn-esque cynicism and there you have it!

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  2. Oh my goodness there was a typo in that post! I fixed it, people. No need to panic. (Not that anyone else was, clearly...)

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  3. Nice post. You make a lot of good points. This is the first time I have seen this particular facebook circulating photo, but I have seen plenty others and all of them have one thing in common: They try to idealize one type of body while insulting the opposite - everything from "Look at how obese and disgusting we have become - stop obesity!" to "Looking like a stick figure is NOT sexy." Seriously, I hate both of these messages. Why can't be uplift women's bodies without trying to say one is better than the other?

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    1. Yes, exactly. Our beauty should not be determined comparatively--and moreover, our self-worth shouldn't be determined by our size. Thanks for the feedback!

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  4. Great post, and I agree with the problems you point out with the picture. I think another problem with giving people the opportunity to insult the "skinny" model isn't just that it is mean and disrespectful to thin women (which it is, and that's a problem) but also that it's counterproductive for all women. Unless we stand together and say that we aren't going to let our body size be a measure of our societal worth, we're just shifting the focal point of the exact same game.

    It makes me think of those ads for weight gain products that shamed women over their "too thin" bodies and sometimes centered on men by asking questions like "Is your girlfriend too skinny?" (HuffPo had a slideshow of some of them here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/vintage-weight-gain-ads_n_1119044.html)

    The goal shouldn't be to get bodies outside of the narrow spectrum accepted as valuable bodies; the goal should be to stop using our bodies as ways to measure our value, and I think your point about the shaved heads and body hair and chest-hip-waist ratios points to that as well.

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    1. Thank you for that link! Those ads are really interesting, and I think it is important to point out that it isn't about valuing a particular size of woman, because the "in" size does shift a lot, but it's about not valuing women solely based on their appearance or size. Although I do think that we should value our bodies, I also think that it is hugely problematic to place our value as people in our bodies. Thanks for pointing that out!

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    2. " Unless we stand together and say that we aren't going to let our body size be a measure of our societal worth, we're just shifting the focal point of the exact same game."

      OK so, let me get this straight. If a person happens to be physically unattractive (for whatever reason) they can just "decide" that this won't come into play as a measure of "societal worth"?

      Does that work with money too? If I'm not rich can I just "decide" not to be poor?

      After you made this decision did a tall, charming, handsome, millionaire that normally only dates perfect 10 fashion models magically appear and sweep you off your feet? Just curious.

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  5. Found this via Feministing. Thank you for saying things that needed to be said!

    Pictures like this always make me roll my eyes because all of the "beautiful" women tend to have the same waist-hip ratio. And yeah...thanks to whoever made that picture for telling me about the men's ideal...because that's what I REALLY care about. (BTW...I'm short and a size 12. My body looks NOTHING like the size 12 in the picture. If we're going to talk about sizes devoid of value or judgement, the fact is that I'm chubby. She isn't. So what exactly was the point?)

    Instead of "Hey guyz, we should all just love our bodies!", why not stop making at such a central focus? You know what's even better for the self-esteem than loving your body? Realizing that your self-worth is about much more than that.

    OK. End rant. Thanks again!

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    1. Yes! Thanks for the rant. I think it is hugely important to have a close, loving relationship with our bodies, but I don't think that relationship needs the input of other people, nor do I think that our value as human beings should be located in our bodies. Loving our bodies is important, but perhaps it shouldn't be up for public debate in the way that it is now. Not that we should contain our body-love to the private sphere or anything like that, but that our public body-love conversations should be more focused on how awesome our bodies are, not about what we need to change about them to be able to love them. I'm fairly certain I lost my train of thought in there. Main point: you're totally right. Our self-worth is about much more than our bodies.

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  6. I certainly don't need to add to the wonderful praise you've received here and on Feministing's re-post! You dish out a very tasty dish of gendered beauty analysis. I would like to bring up one point I think we all miss far too often.

    It’s really important to also pay attention to the race of the women in this photo: They are all white.

    The many women of color in the U.S. are completely left out of the dialogue about what’s beautiful and what’s not. This very obvious omission is following another Western convention of beauty: In order to be beautiful a woman must be white.

    I recall a group discussion on my campus a while back about women and eating disorders and, inevitably, the struggle to look beautiful. The event was attended by mostly white women, as per usual for any event at Colgate University. But women of color were present. Which made things interesting when one white woman dared to remark that it’s apparently okay for women of color, her example was Beyonce, to not have to be size 0-8 skinny. My sister of color bravely noted that women of color feel the same struggle to be skinny and beautiful ON TOP OF the sickening idea that they will never be beautiful because she is not white.

    And of course, the white woman and her friends seemed threatened of being called a racist. So like most white people she and her friends somehow created this magical vacuum where race doesn’t exist; and my sister’s confession was left unheard except for the few in the room who already knew her struggle.

    We need to add the complexities of race to our conversations about our social constructions of beauty.

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    1. Yes! Thank you! I responded to your comment on Feministing so I won't repeat myself but I wanted to show the love here too :)

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    2. Thank you, Jocelyn! I felt the need to post my comment in both forums in case people chose to look at only one.

      I appreciate your love and your writing!

      <3

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    3. I'm sorry that the women at the event you went to refused to acknowledge your friend's unique issues with body image and skin color :(

      On the other hand, though, I as a white woman have indeed felt that it is considered more okay for women of color to be of larger clothing sizes than paler women. I am not in any way saying that women of color do not feel the pressure to be thin, in addition to feeling the need to be lighter. I do want to point out, though, that many white women do feel that darker skinned women can have a larger size and be sexy, while they themselves cannot be like that.

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  7. Beauty is about whether an humans body is sexually arousing or not.

    And yes beauty can be objectively measured on average scale.

    If 60% of person A:s target group find him/her attractive and 5% of person B:s target group find him/her attractive;
    Person A has an larger pool of potential partners and is clearly more beautiful on an average scale.

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    1. Don't fuck up their fantasy world with reality.

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  8. Reblogged here: http://heyladyheylady.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/what-about-beauty/

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  9. This is brilliant. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. "One commenter explicitly said, "I would NOT want to look like the chick on the left." That's totally fine--I don't want to look like someone that's not me either--but the implication is that she looks sickly, she's unattractive, she's anorexic, she's not a "real" woman because "real women have curves" or whatever."

    To be completely honest, my body is shaped almost exactly like the girl on the left (except that, as you pointed out, I am way shorter!). Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that people should pity me because I'm naturally thin. I was blessed with an excellent metabolism, and I feel lucky. But honestly, people's reaction to my body type is really depressing and a total confidence-killer. Sure, in the fashion industry I'm considered "perfect," and I can go into any store and buy the size I need*. I do feel privileged in that way. But in real life, people around me can be quite offensive and make me feel like I'm ugly. When I was in high school, all I heard from people were "you're so skinny" (often said in a way that made it sound like I was too skinny) and "your boobs are so small," and on top of that I'd always hear people saying "real women have curves" and see the "male ideal" pictured in the picture and how much guys liked curves, and I honestly hated myself. People also questioned how much I ate, which really hurt. As a result, I ate way more than I should have in high school and was very unhealthy. It was like I was trying to prove that I wasn't, in fact, anorexic like everyone thought. It was so unhealthy for me. Again, not trying to say my life sucks because I'm thin (it doesn't), but in high school I had a horrible body image, which I still sometimes struggle with today. Sometimes I wish I could get a boob job so I would look more attractive. Sometimes I do feel like I'm not a real woman, only a girl, because I am slimmer than average. Thankfully, these feelings and thoughts are going away, and I am building a healthier body image of myself. I've started to exercise, eat healthy, and appreciate what I once hated. I've also found a man who loves my body exactly the way it is, which goes to show that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and should not be named by society.

    I just wanted to give a first-hand account about how a woman whose body fits fashion's notion of beauty is still able to have a poor body image. My body is naturally skinny: that does not mean that I am not a real woman, and I do not appreciate being told that I look ugly in an effort to make others feel beautiful (which, I'm sure, has good intentions, but is horribly hurtful). It took me a while to gain a healthy body image after being told that I was too skinny to be truly attractive.

    *Although I have noticed that I have increasingly found it harder to find tops that fit my boobs, especially bathing suit tops. I'll often find something that's a size 2 and fits great on my body...except that I need to take in the chest because it's too big. Finding bathing suit tops and bras that fit properly is a huge challenge as well. Sometimes I cry after I go shopping for bathing suits and bras because I feel like I'm not big enough in the chest area. It's quite humiliating to have even the smallest sizes in bathing suit tops feel a little too big on you. And my waist-to-hip ratio is actually almost the "ideal," so I don't know why I don't fit into any of the tops I'm "supposed" to fit into :(

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    1. Thanks for such an in-depth reply! It's much appreciated. I, like you, have always been tiny--closest to the girl on the left, but much shorter. It can be incredibly difficult, and people can be incredibly mean. Luckily, I've found that the older I get, the less likely people are to tell me to "eat a burger," but I suspect that's just because after high school people tend to be a bit more polite. And you raise a good point about the shopping--something that people both here and on Feministing have mentioned is that the sizing system is bullshit, too. Sure, maybe I'm about a size two, but I'm not proportioned in exactly the same way the fashion industry seems to think a size two person should be. My boobs, like yours, are generally too small, and they seem to be in the wrong place or something, because the straps on tank tops are always far too long. So the whole thing needs a complete overhaul. But you're right, it is important to remember that we do have thin privilege--it's hard not to scream out "reverse fatphobia!!!!!!!" sometimes, but I think it's unproductive. We need a complete overhaul, and we need to stop competing with one another and work together.

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  11. LOL. Yea fat chicks are hot, good luck with that.

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    1. This post is the cringest thing alive

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    2. I'm not talking about you though
      i'm talking about the tard that doesn't know what attractiveness is
      I'm a chubby chaser but once you passed size 20....you are for the forklifters

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  12. "anonymous". I'm sure you know, that if you find fat people attractive, you are seen as having a perversion, or "fetish". Such is the assistance required to make slimness synonymous with attractiveness. So it seems you just need authority to get off your neck rather than "luck".

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  13. You realize that by downplaying thin women's take on this issue, you're saying their emotions don't matter, right? This whole "you look sickly", "eat a hamburger", etc is harmful to a woman's self esteem, no matter what some ass hole says. We should take all emotions and reactions seriously, and not pretend like they don't matter and try to downplay them. It's like telling a kid to stop crying because their dog died. Hey, it's only a dog kid. See what's wrong with that? Summed up, don't downplay someone's emotions. You don't know and you don't have any right to say anything besides something helpful.

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    1. I do know, actually. I'm quite thin and many of those comments have been directed at me over the years. But I understand that I have thin privilege too. Fat shaming is a systemic problem; hating me for being thin is a byproduct of that systemic problem. But you're right, it does suck having your feelings hurt. I would never deny that and I highly doubt that I did.

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  14. Huh? I don't consider any of those girls to be fat. The problem is that us guys are still being politically correct. What we should say is OBESE. I am talking about a 5 foot girl that weighs over 200 lbs. These OBESE females are the true subjects of our fat jihad.

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    1. I see you grasped the point of this point perfectly! 10 points for reading comprehension.

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  15. I bet the writer is a fatty!

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  16. I am a man, but I like the Women's ideal girl (size 8). I like only thin girls, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only. I will not date or have sex with anything less (or should I say more). I would rather play computer games all day than have a girlfriend in a world in which there are no thin girls.

    Note to girls: we men have standards too, you know! We may not care that much about how much money you girls earn or how good you are in bed, but we DO care a lot about our mates not being fat!

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  17. Fat women are disgusting.

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  18. No, fat isnt beautiful. All the fatter women are not left out of the conversation, they just fall on the ugly category.

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  19. Perhaps if you spent more time exercising and less time complaining, the complaints would not need to be complained about, because powerful handsome men would desire you. Just a thought.

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  20. Have another pastry, girls, and don't worry about it. Your cats will always love you.

    Ivar

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    Online MBA

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  22. All women aren't BEAUTIFUL, some are but none of them are fat, none of them are a size 16 and none of them are average.

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  23. Obesity is a medical issue; It's not necessarily a matter of a appearance, but more so one of health. Why should society as a whole bear the repercussions if some whale chooses to quell her sorrows with french fries and a tub of ice cream?

    Instead of attempting to rationalize why it's okay to be fat with your pathetic, pseudo-intellectual indictment of American society, get on a treadmill and lower your risk for heart disease

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  24. Retort:


    I moved abroad many years ago in no small part to avoid the rampant bullshit that one is assaulted with by feminists, politicians and the politically correct on a daily basis when living in the US as well as many other western countries. For the most part I do my best to avoid or ignore the mainstream media, pop culture and entertainment, etc. but every once and a while I have to take a peek just out of morbid curiosity. It was during one of these aimless internet surfing sessions that I came across this abomination of a blog post. This post is an absolute three ring circus full of retardation and idiocy. Don’t get me wrong, feminists and the politically correct are pretty retarded in general, but even having that expectation firmly in mind this one really takes the cake. Apparently the author thinks that weight and appearance simply do not matter and by simply declaring this false belief it will magically be so. Good luck with that.

    Besides making the insane assertion that appearance and weight have nothing to do with beauty the author spent a lot of time whining and complaining about the image below...

    http://www.singledudetravel.com/2012/05/the-fantasy-world-feminists-and-the-politically-correct-live-in/

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  25. wow, you are all so pathetic (especially this last guy... i'm sorry you traveled that much and came back still so pissed off, and i'm sorry i don't have any fancy graphs to prove my point. also, at least use the original Simpson's "no fat chicks"). also, that girl on the right is FIIIIIIIIINE. go Giants!

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