CW: fatphobia, diet talk
I’m writing this post on an airplane, where I will spend the next 2.5-3 hours in an aisle seat. I am not able to place my computer on the seat back tray because the man sitting in the seat in front of me is reclined, not leaving enough room between the seat and my body to release the tray. My computer is in my lap, and, also because of the man in front of me, the screen is tilted severely down to where I can barely see the letters appear on my word document. The man in the middle seat beside me has his arms crossed and is manspreading something serious. My body is notably shifted towards the aisle in hopes of finding much needed free space in this cramped area. The seatbelt is fastened extremely tight around my waist, and I almost could not fasten it. Had I not been able to, I would have been required to ask for a seatbelt extender.
It is almost ironic that this is the condition I find myself in as I begin to write another article about fat bodies. I know that for many people reading this, their first response to me would be concern trolling, something about losing weight, getting rid of my body in order to fit into this restrictive space.
This is one of many ways I experience fat oppression on a daily basis. It is important for fat people to share experiences of their oppression because this type of oppression is still often overlooked in discussions about power and privilege. These are also important narratives because they expose the contours of thin privilege, an alternative (and, I argue, more appropriate) view of what some call “skinny shaming.”
Many people attempt to equate “skinny shaming” with fatphobia and experiences of fat oppression, arguing that those who experience “skinny shaming” are disadvantaged by comments like “eat a hamburger” or by messages such as Meghan Trainor’s fat positivity anthem “All About That Bass,” in which she uses the term “skinny bitches.” While I agree that body shaming, in general, is wrong, experiences of “skinny shaming” and fatphobia are markedly different: one is rooted in systemic social disadvantages resulting in body-based oppression, while the other is not.
Skinny shaming and fat shaming are not equal. Fat shaming reaches beyond just shaming a fat person because of their body. Unlike thin people, fat people experience oppression due to their body size. The beauty in Western countries falls within Audre Lorde’s “mythical norm” (see her essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”) This norm is white, able-bodied, thin, and heterosexual. Thinness is an ideal, an expected norm to which all should aspire. While a fat person may be white, able-bodied, or heterosexual, the very visible way in which they depart from the mythical norm is through body size. Because of their failure to fit into this norm, they face discrimination, which manifests in their body not being accommodated in public spaces, lost job and educational opportunities, inadequate health care, and damaging stereotypes that perpetuate these forms of discrimination and more. In many places throughout the United States, it is legal to discriminate against people based on their body size.
These are all examples of the systemic nature of fat oppression, and vividly exemplify the ways in which fat shaming departs from skinny shaming. In making this point, I am not seeking to diminish the damaging effects of body shaming among all people. Certainly, any person can have a tumultuous relationship with their body and experience shaming for not fitting into the mythical norm. Like sexuality, expectations of women’s bodies are a paradox: we must be thin, but not too “anorexic-looking” and curvy, but not “obese.”
However, it’s important not to equate inequitable experiences, and to recognize the inherent privileges that come with being thin. While we should be concerned with dismantling the many intersecting nodes of body-based oppression, we cannot and should not overlook the systemic nature of oppression and diminish the effects this has on people’s lives.