We must stop equating ‘skinny-shaming’ with the abuse received by fat people. It is nowhere near as damaging.
All body shaming is wrong. But not all body shaming is equal in its destructiveness. It is also not all equal in its pervasiveness or its frequency.
The term “skinny-shaming” has been around for at least a decade, but has gained momentum in recent years. Emma Woolf, author of The Ministry of Thin, has called on people to ‘Stop the Skinny Shaming!’ and asked why it is OK to call a thin woman nasty names when fat shaming is taboo.
For Woolf, the experience of being judged as too thin is the same as being judged as too fat.
I know the experience of feeling that one’s private pain is on display, of being stared at, of feeling horribly conspicuous. I see overt parallels between fatness and thinness. I believe that out-of-control eating may operate in the same way as out-of-control starving—as a defense mechanism against the world, a place to retreat when life feels overwhelming.
Woolf even goes so far to say that some kind of body-acceptance mafia have taken over and now it’s harder to be thin because everyone is so cool with being fat:
The plus-size-sisterhood can be frightening—not unlike playground bullies. Among the messages I received (interestingly, only from women, and mostly anonymous), I was called “skinny bitch,” “body fascist,” “fat-Nazi.” I was told that men “love something to grab onto” and that “curves” are sexier than the skeletal look.
But Woolf is wrong. It is a lot easier to be skinny than it is to be fat. Sure, being called skinny or Slim or Bones or Skeletor might hurt your feelings. You may be teased and picked on. And that is terrible. But it is not a patch on the pervasive and destructive abuse directed at people who are larger than society would like.
To repeat: There is no doubt that calling someone names or judging their body is painful. But skinny-shaming is not the opposite side of the coin to fat-shaming. They are different. And yes, there is a measure of degree involved. One is worse than the other. One is more damaging. One occurs more often.
Yes, if a person is skinny, they may be called names. They may be judged. Someone might accuse them of being unhealthy and a bad role model. They might be told they have a mental illness. They might be told to ‘eat a hamburger’. These things might happen, and they will be hurtful when they do.
Similarly, if a person is fat, they might be called names and judged. They might be told they are unhealthy and a bad role model. They might be told they have a mental illness. They might be told to ‘put down the fork’ or ‘step away from the cupcakes’. But these things aren’t just things that ‘might’ happen. They will happen, more often than not.
But more than names and judgement, fat people are discriminated against. In the workplace and in society. People make assumptions about their personal hygiene, their self-esteem and their fitness. If a skinny person sits down, they are resting. But when a fat person sits down, they are lazy, exhausted, unable to keep up. They are presumed to be greedy, smelly and lacking in self-control.