I’ve had a few posts roll through my Facebook newsfeed today about plus-size models and beauty at all sizes. Every single time I read the comments they are full of fat-shamers putting in their opinions about how ‘unacceptable’ the pictured women are.
Now, as a person who is what is deemed a ‘healthy weight’ it is easy for me to spout phrases like ‘all bodies are beautiful’ and ‘size is not an indication of health’. But I grew up in a family where the number on the scales was an ever-present spectre and everybody talked about ‘when I lose the weight’ or ‘when I get skinny’. All sorts of diets were tried and weight came and went. But the body image issues were constant.
Obesity is a huge problem in the developed world. In some countries, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Obesity and poor diet have been linked to many life-threatening health problems. Governments and food companies must take a fair whack of the blame for their misleading marketing of processed foods as ‘healthy’ and the laws that allow this. Drug companies are invested in treating the illnesses caused by poor diet. It is a hard battle to fight on a personal level when the whole system is invested in making you fat.
I might not be an overweight person, but I am not a healthy person. I have an extensive history of heart problems, and mental health difficulties on top of that. I eat with the goal of prolonging my life. But there have been times when, due to medications, my weight has threatened to spiral out of control.
The last time I tried antidepressant medication, I got to a point where no matter how I tried, my weight was climbing by about half a kilogram every week. I was probably eating half of what I am now, and exercising, but my weight kept rising. I counted calories obsessively, and even tried going all fruit and vegetables one week. Nothing worked. Until I went off the medication.
So yeah, I can sympathise with people who try everything they can think of but struggle to lose weight. I can also sympathise with people who have great difficulty eating the way they are told they ‘should’ in order to lose weight.
One thing all those fat-shamers lean on is that promoting body acceptance is the same as promoting obesity, and since obesity is unhealthy then promoting body acceptance is socially irresponsible. Think of the children, they say, growing up in a world where they are encouraged to be unhealthy because being fat is okay. They pretend that the reason they want everyone to be slim is because they want them to be healthy.
This is a load of crap. The reason fat-shamers want people to be slim is because they want them to be decorative, and we live in a world with stringently-enforced beauty standards. A world where people who don’t fit that standard are expected to cover up, change their appearance, and hate themselves if they don’t comply.
And what good does that do?
We all want to be healthy. It is easier for some people than for others. We all want to like our bodies and like ourselves. We all have ‘imperfections’. We have rolls and wrinkles and scars and stretch marks and none of these things make us less of a human being.
Even women who are not overweight are encouraged to hate their bodies. We are given a set of Rules that we must adhere to. Don’t be too tall. Don’t be too hairy. Don’t be too old. Don’t be too fat. Spend ages making yourself look good enough, but make sure you look natural. Unless you can follow all the Rules, you are not allowed to feel good about yourself. And even if you do follow the Rules, don’t get too cocky, you’re not that hot…
The idea of women in particular being decorative above all else should be stomped on, crushed and criticised every time we see it. You might see plus-sized models promoted as ‘real women’, but they too are a marketing trick. You don’t see models with cellulite or hairy legs or blemished skin.
We are all allowed to be comfortable in our own skin and happy with how we look. Whether we are old, sick, fat, disabled, hairy or scarred. We do not have to conform to beauty standards. We are good enough. We are valuable. We are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because whatever ‘imperfections’ you may have, the person who would shame you for your appearance has a bigger problem. They are probably a self-righteous jerk.
Overweight people exist. In the western world there are a lot of them. Yes, being overweight has been linked to health problems, but does that mean that every overweight person is expected to hate how they look, and if they don’t hate how they look then everyone else is allowed to do that hating for them? What does that achieve? If being slim was easy, everyone would do it, but a huge proportion of the population find it very difficult. The issue is complex. The solution is elusive. But if shaming overweight people made them healthier, we would have no overweight people. All it does is make people feel bad about themselves. People who look after their health are people who feel that they are worth it. Your weight is does not always directly correlate with your health or wellness. And none of these things represent your value as a person.
Oh, and here’s me at the beach recently in a bikini. Old, white, hairy, scarred. I don’t care. I think I look great.