My kind of body positivity is not exclusive.
The body love that I promote aims to encompass all body types: skinny, slim, curvy, fat, plus-size, voluptuous, male, female, gender-fluid, I don’t care what your sexuality is or what colour you are, you are fully entitled to love your body. That said, I feel that there is a subject that is rarely acknowledged within the body positive community – skinny shaming. Skinny shaming is vastly different to fat shaming. Slimmer people are predisposed to an easier and more privileged experience in society, they haven’t had to undergo the extreme and widespread prejudice that fat people have suffered. The two phenomena are not tantamount; we live in a society that systematically privileges those who fall on the thin side of the spectrum, and marginalises those who do not. There are an abundance of societal benefits that smaller people are privy to and comparing fat shaming to skinny shaming would be like comparing chalk and cheese. Having said that, it is still something that needs to be acknowledged – although many may assume that thin people are fully integrated into society, it is not necessarily the case, we need to end the us VS. them mentality and start a conversation about skinny shaming.
Such is the attitude towards slim bodies, it is rare to ever see the media discuss them from a negative vantage point. The only few times that thin bodies come under fire, is if they have put on weight or begin to take a step towards an unacceptable social aesthetic – not only this, but music artists have begun to use skinny women as an accessory to boost their own body love. The likes of Meghan Trainor and her ‘skinny bitches’ lyric and Nicki Minaj who exclaims that we should ‘fuck the skinny bitches’ further encourages skinny shaming . But where many see gym culture and clean eating as something to be applauded, and thinspiration & fitspiration hashtags in abundance on social media, there is a dark side to being smaller that is yet to be taken seriously in society. For if you are thin, you must be happy, right? Well, this isn’t always the case.
Gina (@nourishandeat) suffered from anorexia for over three years, and whilst she was dangerously and unhealthily thin, she was never persecuted about her size by anyone other than herself. “Yes I was dangerously thin, but no one assumed I had an eating disorder. Yes my hair fell out in clumps. I ate less than 600 calories and exercised for over 2 hours every day. I had constant panic attacks and anxiety and I had absolutely zero social life. I would black out on exercise equipment. I didn’t have a period (despite being on regular birth control). My body was shutting down and yet, because I was thin, people applauded my determination. My exercise ethic. My ‘clean eating’. They would tell me they envied my figure, and asked for workout tips, but they had no idea what I was doing to myself. Because skinny is ‘in’, that’s all I wanted to be”. Sadly, this can often be the case – as a fat girl with former self-esteem issues, I can identify with idolising slim women and putting them on a pedestal. It didn’t matter if they were a bad or mean person, if they were unpleasant and critical or if they were suffering from an ‘invisible’ health issue, because they were thin and as Gina says: thin is ‘in’.
In a culture obsessed with physical appearance, the deep rooted desire to be skinny can be highly detrimental to someone’s mental health and self-esteem. For if you are small, are you small enough? If you have a thigh gap, is it wide enough? You have a flat tummy, but are you toned enough? Danielle (@chooselifewarrior), who has been on her own journey of ED recovery, suggests that “if you see a thin person their health doesn’t come into concern because they look healthy. You don’t see a lot of ‘yeah you look great but are you maintaining this weight in healthy manner? Is your mind healthy? I’m glad you look like societies standards but maybe think about what you’re promoting on your healthy dieting page!”
Women who don’t fall within the ‘accepted body image’ need to recognise that skinny women, as well as fat women, muscular women, thin women, curvy women – ALL women – are all privy to body images issues. To discount one body type from having a conversation about the way they feel about their body, because you don’t feel that they have the right or because you are envious of their body, is foolish. That is what the body positive movement focuses on: advocating love and acceptance of your body and all other body types.
But, as invested as I am in the body positive community, it doesn’t come without its own set of body misconceptions and judgements. “For someone like me,” Gina says, “whose body is smaller than the majority of the body positive collective, we can become outsiders. Yes we may say the same things, spout self-acceptance and positivity and inclusion until we’re blue in the face, but we will never be quite the same. Why? For two reasons: 1) because our bodies (for the most part) are already deemed socially acceptable. We have not experienced the same kind of degradation and prejudice that the plus size community has. We cannot possibly understand what that feels like and 2) because some people don’t believe us. They don’t believe that someone who fits into size 2 jeans could possibly have self-esteem issues”. Just because someone is born into a body size generally accepted by society, should not mean that we undermine their experience of having low self-esteem – they are just as privy to the unrealistic beauty images that the media perpetuates every single day, and we can’t expect skinny people to be unaffected by these.
Thin people do have a more positive social experience with regards to body image, but that doesn’t indefinitely mean that the relationship that they have with their body is positive too. Those who are outside the realms of acceptance can often feel slighted when a slim woman speaks about her body in a negative manner or states that she has self-esteem issues. For a collective that has had such widespread injustice, it can be painful to see someone complaining about their body type when you’d give anything to live in their shoes for a day.
Once again, though, we need to do more to end the us VS. them mentality. Although fat shaming and thin shaming are incomparable, we are still fighting against a wider society that sadly perpetuates body ideologies: those who are involved with the body positive community and movement are “the recovered, the recovering, and the struggling”. We need to extend the same support to all bodies whether they are thin, fat or anything inside or outside of those descriptors. There is nothing more powerful than solidarity and declarations of love, and it is not just misconceptions about fat bodies that need to be unravelled, the same courtesy needs to be extended to skinny, slim and thin bodies too.