If you’re on any sort of social network, chances are pretty good that you’ve come across the following image, or one like it:
If you’re like me, the first time you saw it, the first thing you thought was “Damn straight!” This has been the most prominent reaction that I’ve seen in the numerous comment fields attached to these images. On the image’s most recent appearance on my Facebook wall, the first response is “They don’t make them like they used to…”
I’m here to call “Bullshit.” My first reaction was an emotional one—a bit like showing one’s ass without realizing your pants are down—and the second I put any thought into it, I saw these images for what they are: another form of shaming. And this isn’t just a women’s issue.
To be clear, I’m an overweight—Ooh, a loaded term! It only took me 100 words to get to one!—guy. Anyone who knows me probably sees that I’m comfortable with my weight, and that it’s generally a non-issue. Not so, I say! Trust me, I have a good eighteen years of on-again, off-again self-loathing behind me. In fact, my relationship with my body could be dubbed an abusive one and, if I were my body, I would have left me a long time ago. (Coincidentally, as an atheist, I recognize that I am my body and nothing more; unpack that one.) Even thought I’ve come to a more-or-less uneasy truce with my body, I’m still the guy who leaves my clothes on at the clothing-optional parties.
I’m partial to and sensitive to arguments that promote the idea that beauty exists beyond the narrow (pun intended) image presented by popular media. It’s comforting to find that chubby, hairy guys have grown in popularity in gay culture, especially in young, hipster culture, thanks largely to publications like Butt Magazine and Pinups Magazine. Fighting against the pop-culture-approved limitations on beauty and bodies is a valid fight, an argument worth having.
That being said, I think it’s ridiculous that anyone thinks the best way to promote body-positivity is to insult someone else’s body, and that’s exactly what the “When did…?” images do.
“I think it’s always problematic to discuss beauty and desirable bodies as dichotomy. While the more curvaceous standard of the mid-century might be ‘healthier’ than today’s emaciated one, it was still an unattainable aspiration for many, if not most women,” my friend Jennifer wrote when I solicited opinions about the image and its ilk. “It still did not promote acceptance of a diversity of bodies, which is greatly needed.”
“I definitely think that the comparison game is the root of the problem. We make a hierarchy of appeal, and then try to subvert the hierarchy, and insodoing, we are simply engaging in a subtler form of oppression. All body types are beautiful. It is not about better than, hotter than, skinnier than, curvier than. It’s about existing in comfort with your own self, emotionally and mentally and physically. It’s about consciously rejecting the “compare-thyself” construct that we are taught to use when thinking of the self,” commented Emily, when I posted the picture on the SEX+STL Facebook Page. Emily linked me to a great article on Girlie Girl Army:
“The real question is, why must it be one way or the other? Shouldn’t we all be striving for healthy bodies? And that means a different shape for every woman. The media has us all chasing our own tails in the search of the perfect figure. No matter where you look, you’ll find a reason to believe that your body can never reach perfection. The idea that perfection actually exists is the real myth,” writes Ali Berman in “The Problem with Skinny Bashing”.
It’s true—and perfectly okay—that people find different features to be attractive. Attraction is a many-splendored thing and a largely misunderstood human brain function. Innumerable factors play into what makes us find one person hot and another disgusting even if, on paper, the two might be indistinguishable. Weight is just another factor. While it’s important to try to understand why you’re attracted to the things you are, and ethically imperative to understand how you act on those attractions, you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you find one person more attractive than another. It’s human nature. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and all of that.
The problem is the way society as a whole deals with discussions about weight and body image. The discussion regarding this image is still going on the SEX+STL Facebook page, nineteen hours after I posted it, and the responses have been varied and emotional.
“This is a very sore subject for me. I’ve had two bouts with eating disorders. The most recent, was when I met my husband. I was invisible until I was thinner. I was commended more for having lost weight than for any other accomplishment in my life. I will not disrobe in front of thin women, unless forced to do so, and likely will never vacation in a tropical setting,” commented Kathleen. “Expectations of women are distorted, and we all can’t look like supermodels. This tactic divides women and pits us against each other. I realize this with my mind, but it still hurts my heart.”
Athena added: “Media makes you feel bad about your body, no matter what your size. I have a smaller than a cup bust size, and i hate that all the images of women have huge breasts. Im sure that larger women hate the fact that all the images of women have thin legs. There is an impossible figure that is shoved down our throat every time we turn on the computer or open a magazine.”
Next time a discussion comes up that pits skinny vs. fat, try to remember that the real problem is society trying to fit anyone into any mold. We’re just not made that way. People are people. We come in all different shapes and sizes and we can all struggle with our bodies. The grass may look greener on the other side, but looks can be deceiving. Eating disorders can affect anyone, whether they’re thin, in shape, or overweight. Any attempt to shame us for being one shape or another should be recognized for what it is: shameful.
My friend Lindsey writes: “Honestly, why can’t all bodies be beautiful representations of authentic sexuality? What about women who naturally look like Twiggy and others who naturally look like Marilyn? And the millions of women in between? Body confidence equals better sex for everyone!”
And finally, fighting meme with meme, my sister shared the following image:
What are your thoughts on the issue? I’d love to see the conversation continue below!