Once upon a time, I was a thin woman.
I didn’t actually consider myself “thin,” because our culture is so very fatphobic that no one except the very thinnest of women is allowed to consider herself thin. But I was a thin woman.
My thinness afforded me massive amounts of privilege that I was able to completely ignore because that is how privilege works. And I moved through the world, considering myself “normal size” (not realising how totally messed up that was) and also considering myself a great ally to fat people.
It was mostly really great! I mean, I got to shop literally wherever I wanted because, unless it was a company exclusively for toddlers, everyone made something in my size. People hardly ever asked me invasive questions about my health. I enjoyed eating literally whatever I wanted to with minimal backlash, and pretty much all public spaces were sized appropriately for me.
But, every once in awhile, someone would make a comment about my thinness.
I don’t mean to be flippant! Often times, those comments could be really painful. I had people suggest that I must be starving myself to maintain my weight, while others suggested that thinness came so naturally and easily to me that I was oppressing them simply by existing in my body.
On one memorable occasion, a friend who was much larger than me held up one of my T-shirts for a room full of people (all larger than myself) to see and said “oh my gosh, look at this, this looks like it’s for a child! How could anyone ever wear anything so tiny?” and then she laughed. That hurt my feelings. That hurt was very much real. (Post continues after gallery.)
At the time, an acquaintance posited that the problem with the fat acceptance movement was that it didn’t make adequate space for thin people. She claimed that thin women had just as hard of a time loving and celebrating their bodies as fat women, because of the patriarchy. I wasn’t totally sure how to feel about that, but I definitely felt like I had struggled with self-image and often needed support. I wondered if maybe she was on to something.
Fast forward a few years, and I got fat. The transformation started out slow, and left me in what was effectively a brand new body. And in that new — fat — body, I found that a lot of my privileges had disappeared. It was traumatic, and it led to a lot of really confusing feelings about how to exist in the world.
But — and this is the part I want to talk about today — along with the loss of my thin privilege, I also lost all of the thin-shaming I had previously been subjected to. Older women no longer pinched my waist and asked “how do you stay so skinny, dear?” and I was no longer assumed to be anorexic every time I didn’t gulp down my dinner at lightning speed.
Instead, my brand new body was now shamed for being fat. It was still body shame, but it was also a totally different experience to what I had encountered before. And because I’ve been on both sides of this, I am here to tell you, once and for all and based on no science whatsoever, which one is worse.
It is worse to be fat shamed.
Watch: The trailer for Embrace, the body image documentary everyone needs to see. Post continues after video.
It is worse to be fat shamed because, while both thin women and fat women are shamed for their bodies, fat women deal with the shame on top of discrimination and downright oppression. We aren’t just told that our bodies are bad, we’re told that our bodies are bad and then we also have less options in life and literally make less money than our thin counterparts.
It is worse to be fat shamed because, despite what many believe, there is just so much more fat shaming than there is thin shaming. I was thin shamed by maybe a handful of people, and I was thin for a long time. In contrast, I’ve only been fat a few years, but I’ve been fat shamed by my family, my coworkers, my doctors, my kid’s doctor, complete strangers, servers in restaurants, the list goes on and on. In less than a handful of years, I’ve encountered more crap for being a fat person than I ever did as a thin person.
It is worse to be fat shamed because thin shaming is often just fatphobia in disguise. Let me say that again for the people in the back. Thin shaming is often just fatphobia in disguise.
Yes, my body was mocked when I was thin, BUT IT WAS MOCKED FOR BEING DESIRABLE. It was mocked often out of a fear that my body met standards for social acceptability that the person mocking me couldn’t hope to achieve.
I was, essentially, being ridiculed for winning. That is deeply different than being ridiculed for losing.
Thin shaming mocked me, and then demanded that my body never get any larger. Fat shaming mocks me, and then demands that my body immediately get smaller.
This is not to negate the experiences of thin people! Absolutely no one deserves to have their body mocked and ridiculed, everyone deserves to love their body and feel comfortable and confident in their own skin. But fat shaming works in tandem with our whole fatphobic society, it helps hold up fatphobic policies and emboldens those who wish to treat us poorly because of the size of our bodies.
I’ve had people stop talking to me because I’m fat, strangers literally glare at me when I eat in public, and medical fatphobia keeps me in constant fear of going to the doctor. And to pretend that that is somehow the same as the jabs that I got about my weight as a thin person is insulting and silencing.
I’m not trying to win the oppression olympics here, I still have plenty of privilege and I’m doing just fine, fat and all, thanks. But when I hear people speculate that thin shaming and fat shaming are equal but opposite, just two sides of the same coin, I need them to know that isn’t the case. I need you to know that some of us have actually been through both, and can tell you what the difference is, and why that matters.
The assumption that thin shaming is “really just as bad” is often used to justify microaggressions against fat people, and contributes to a society that is openly hostile to fat people while simultaneously engaging in the doublethink of refusing to acknowledge that. And that doesn’t help any of us. Because we can’t deal with general body shaming until we deal our virulent hatred of certain bodies, and the bodies we hate are fat.
This article by Katherine DM Clover first appeared on Ravishly.com, your first stop for feminist hugs.
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