It never fails: Any time a topic centering bigger bodies is mentioned (like Amber Rose’s new Simply Be line or not Body-Shaming plus-size people this Summer), someone has to hop into the comments to argue that skinny women have it just as bad as big girls in the body shaming department. It’s tiresome and behalf of curvy gals everywhere, I’m here to ask, Could you not?
Skinny-Shaming (which, to my mind, sounds a lot like “reverse racism” and privilege denial) is not even remotely the same as fat-shaming. Not on any level. I recognize that slimmer Black women do often get some grief about being skinny. However, the world as a whole is much kinder to sleeker physiques than it is to fuller ones. In the Black community, our aesthetic tends to favor a curvy figure. That favor only extends so far into the plus-size range, though. You can have a booty, but not too much of it–and you better have a snatched waist to set off the Coke bottle look. Otherwise, you better prepare for people to openly make fun of your frame. And if a woman gains a single ounce over the acceptable limit of slim thick, society can’t wait to tell her what it thinks she is and is not allowed to wear. There is no thought to what her personal style might be or what she may be comfortable wearing; the chief concern is whether her jiggly bits are offensive to the public.
It’s not hard to remember that obesity is one of the last few acceptable prejudices in modern society. The first insult to fly from someone’s lips when you make them upset will be about your weight. You can bet that the word “fat” will be used in a derogatory way with the intention of hurting feelings. It’s meant to be an insult. It’s a verbal put down because “fat” comes with a bunch of negative connotations like the assumption that you are unclean, unhealthy, and lack self-control. To be told that you are fat is almost to be told that you are not deserving of basic decency and respect in your daily interactions–and it’s for no other reason than the fact that you are overweight. It’s like being told that you are detestable simply because of the way you look.
There is no shortage of people willing to defend and justify unkind things said about overweight people–plus-size women especially. Folks will argue for the right to be able to fat-shame people they don’t even know; in a way, it seems like they feel it is their right to criticize fat people. It is perfectly acceptable for big people to be openly mocked in public for their size. We’ve even seen this on TV in the last few weeks.
On Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Jamaican rapper Spice had to duck a purse because she was making slick comments about Tokyo’s size. Mind you, Spice isn’t exactly a size 2, but she had plenty of shade for Tokyo, who made it clear that she had no problem with her. The first thing the artist could think to do to hurt Tokyo was to comment on her size–not the fact that her man isn’t faithful–her size. Spice later publicly apologized for fat-shaming Tokyo, but many fans of the show have made it clear that they do not see a problem with her being mean about Tokyo’s size. Some have even argued that the only thing Tokyo needs to do to avoid this type of ridicule is to just not be fat–as if that is something anyone could achieve overnight. The issue for them wasn’t Spice’s unkind behavior, it was Tokyo’s weight. Reasonable adults should be able to see the flaw in this pattern of thought. Spice did, and she corrected herself.
Showing up in a public place as a person of size automatically and visibly makes people uncomfortable. You can almost see the offense on people’s faces. You can see the unabashed disdain and disgust. To step out into public as a bigger person, one risks being publicly ostracized for no other fault than exisiting in a bigger body–and then having that hurtful behavior supported and justified. Do you want to know what is especially messed up about this? The reality is most Americans are overweight. A lot of us are fat-shaming others while also being fat ourselves.
While Forbes reports that that average dress size in the United States is 16 or 18, public spaces aren’t really designed to accommodate bigger bodies. The sample size in the fashion industry is between a size 2 and 6. That’s way off the mark for much of any brand’s consumer base, yet most designers are only creating clothes for larger people as an afterthought. That’s why it’s kind of a big deal for Amber Rose to include sizes up to 32 in her line for Simply Be, which is a brand that already caters to plus-size women. The fact that it doesn’t have any offerings under a size 6 is not that big of a deal because women that size have all kinds of other options while shopping. It’s harder for curvy girls to find figure-flattering, fashionable clothes because so much of what is available to us is cut to look like a tent.
Beyond the closet, public transportation systems of any kind in the U.S. (airplanes included) are not designed to comfortably fit the average size of their customer. The same can be said of seating at just about any sports/concert arena you go to. Amusements parks have taken to posting seat replicas outside of rides so that larger customers can see whether they will fit in a ride vehicle before they hop in line. However, some amusement parks like King’s Dominion in Virginia have also incorporated rows for seats tailored for larger guests.
Even within the Body Positive movement, there appears to be stipulations on what kind of frame people of size need to have in order to deserve having an advocate. For women, you need to have an hourglass shape. For men, dad bod is preferable. Outside of that, you’re hard-pressed to find examples of other bigger body types that are included in the expanded definition of beauty.
Body-shaming and societal stigmas simply do not exist on the same scale for thin people. If anything, people are practically killing themselves to slim down. BusinessWire.com reports that a Research and Markets study found as of last year, the U.S. weight loss market was worth $66 billion. Those are record high earnings despite the fact that there are less dieters as the body positivity movement takes hold in this country. Think about the sheer amount of time and money that people invest into trying to be skinny.
If one had to choose between being too skinny or too fat, many find it preferable to be skinny because life is a lot easier on you when you are. Skinny is the more publicly accepted physique across the board. It is less likely that anyone will question how healthy you are based on the size of your body. Being skinny is held up as the global standard of beauty. Being fat is often thought of as a fate worse than death by the mainstream. It’s almost unforgivable, socially speaking.
If skinny women had it just as bad as the big girls when it comes to body shaming, this would not be the case. As detrimental as body shaming can be to skinny women and their feelings (and their experiences with that hurt are valid), skinny-shaming largely just amounts to unkind words. And it is outside the norm of response to a person’s body. Fat-shaming, however, is hurtful and unkind words that are backed by a whole societal structure that is demeaning to people with bigger bodies. As such, skinny women need to stop claiming that these types of shaming are at all equivalent. I’m not saying that skinny-shaming isn’t as real as fat-shaming, what I am saying is that it is not even remotely on the same scale, and no one should pretend that it is.