I came across the above image on Facebook, and I was immediately drawn to it. Many of the women that were deemed truly hot from the past, would not be considered sex symbols today. Marilyn Monroe for instance, was a size 14, and today at best, she could hope to become a plus size model. Today, the desired size is a 0 and thinner the better reigns supreme. Jennifer Hudson who is what I like to call a triple threat, achieved such celebration and admiration when she lost weight and it was revealed that she is now a size 0 as though she was somehow deficient at her previous body size. The moment a celebrity has a baby, the rush is on to see if she can get back into her skinny jeans in 6 weeks or less, as though having a baby does not change the size the shape of a woman’s body.
If someone is naturally thin, then they should embrace their body size and shape; however, I think we always have to acknowledge that this trend has led to a generation of women for whom starvation is the norm and food has become the enemy. Rather than something that nourishes our bodies and something that we can find pleasure in, far too many women live on calorie restrictive diets, mourning every single morsel that they ingest, for fear that it will add that one extra inch that will be too many. Being thin has become so idealized, that it is suggested that women need to lose weight before they start living their lives. The best one can hope for in a fat body is to disappear quietly into the background, so as not to offend others with our presence.
Beyond the problem of when full figured stopped being the standard, I think the over arching issue is the fact that we continue to persist that there exists some magical size or shape that makes a woman sexy or attractive. These changing norms are not solely about progress, they’re about about keeping women completely off balance and chasing an elusive dream. It also helps to feed the multi million dollar diet and exercise industry. The moment a new diet comes out, before it can even really be determined whether or not real health benefits exist, there is a mad rush to embrace it. From the Atkins (die of heart attack) to low/no fat diets ( looking at you Susan Powder) some new magical plan is always being praised as the ultimate solution to achieving the body you have always wanted.
If the diet industry doesn’t get you, the exercise industry will. It seems to me that there are constantly new videos and exercise equipment being released. Yes, in 10 mins a day, you too can have rock hard abs or a butt that you can bounce a penny off of. Every new year, there is a rapid rise in gym memberships, as women promise that this is the year that they are finally going to get in shape. This time of year, I always wonder about the gym equipment that is going to end up being a dust collector.
Lost in all of this commitment to redefine one’s body is the acknowledgement that yo-yo dieting is extremely harmful. Sure change can happen but most people regain the weight within five years plus a few additional pounds. The very idea that one should strive to be as healthy as possible, rather than struggle to squeeze oneself into a shape and size that is unnatural for you is not embraced because it would mean self contentment and a lose of revenue for the diet and exercise industry. Happy women mean a loss of money and one less thing for patriarchy to control women with.
As you may have noted from the image, all of the women featured are White and cisgendered. While discussing how body image effects women in general, all too often this is reduced to a problem of White cis women, as though this does not negatively effect women of colour or trans women. Monica of TransGriot, has written post, after post, after post about the dangers of pumping. Outside of circles that trans women inhabit, the dangers of pumping are largely ignored, even though its genesis is the idea that a strict shape and size defines what is feminine. If that sounds familiar, it should, because it is the same sort of discipline that cis women face.
Women of colour are shamed for the fact that our bodies are naturally shaped differently. We either get racist White fat activists telling us how lucky we are that our men like their women thick, or claims from the mainstream that our bodies are too curvacious or unsuitable. Our bodies are overtly sexualized, even as we are told that they are not good enough to be a part of the mainstream.
The other markedly absent grouping from the above image are disabled women. I am hardly surprised to see that we have been erased, as this is common in conversations involving women. We are often put into a separate subset, as though the fact that are bodies are constantly seen as less than simply because of the way they function makes us immune. If anything, disabled women are hyper aware of body policing, because we face it both from a gender perspective, as well as from an ableist perspective.
When it comes to body policing, there are so many issues that need to be considered. Showing a photo of all White cis women, does not even begin to really open the conversation that we need to be having as women, about the way that our bodies are constantly disciplined by patriarchy. We need to consider things like class, capitalism, gender, race and ability. Not only do we need to discuss why this is happening, but how it effects women differently based in the various isms that many of us negotiate. Targeting a specific group of women as particularly marginalized by body policing, does not solve the problem; it barely acknowledges that there is a problem.
I thought that for this thread we could talk about how body policing effects us personally, and the lengths that we have traveled to conform to an idealized norm. I would also like to discuss the ways that we police each other as women, because if we are all honest, this may start with patriarchy, but to some degree we support this as women. Please note that any fatphobia expressed in this thread will result in instant deletion. As much as possible, I would like this to be a safe space.