No, fat shaming/skinny shaming is not analogous to racism/reverse racism
Okay, this one might be a little less agreeable to the social justice community, but I’m just going to dive in.
CW: for mention of eating disorders.
I was browsing Everyday Feminism the other day and came across this article. This section got to me:
“I’ve heard people saying that while they’re glad that the song celebrates bodies that “ain’t no size two,” the fact that the lyrics center around “bringing booty back” are problematic — just because they don’t address the “All Bodies Are Beautiful” mantra.
The argument is that anything that purports fat bodies as worthy of love are inherently skinny-shaming because they don’t include skinny women or because they posit thick bodies as somehow “better than” thin ones.
But here’s the thing: Because disenfranchised groups — in this case, I’m talking about groups who have systematically been left out of consideration in the definition of “beauty” — need to be empowered and lifted up to even get to the level that privileged people are.
That’s like if someone uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and someone responds with “All lives matter!”
Of course all lives matter. Of course all bodies are deserving of love and praise.
But only some lives — and only some bodies — are given that privilege as a birthright. Everyone else has to be louder in order to get even close to that status.
If we were all equal — if all bodies experienced body-shaming (and even body appreciation!) in the same way — then the argument would hold water. But we’re not, so we don’t, so it doesn’t.”
A bit of background: I’ve struggled with anorexia and orthorexia since a young age, and it’s something that has consumed the bulk of my life. I am naturally a small person. Not naturally skinny, but I naturally have a small frame. I have never been above 125 lbs in my life, but have, genetically, larger than usual legs that caused me a great deal of insecurity growing up. In my late pre-teens and early teens, my legs looked what could be construed as “chubby” in our kind of society, which was a great source of anxiety.
Right now, I work out regularly and walk around with thin privilege in the sense that people wouldn’t regularly look at me and find my body deviant or “gross”. Even when I was lighter during my eating disorder, I received a ton of compliments on my body. Even while undergoing extreme suffering, I, on the exterior, looked like a small but physically desirable person. The fact that my leggings were too baggy was less of a problem for people than if they were to be too tight/if I were to be too heavy for them. Roughly, this is an example of the thin privilege I had while undergoing my eating disorder.
The above article reminds the reader that all body shaming is bad. Obviously.
The reason why it’s insensitive for a white person to say “All Lives Matter!” instead of “Black Lives Matter!” isn’t just because they are derailing a legitimate conversation. It’s that, in the conversation of racism, white people are trying to frame themselves as equally disadvantaged as black people on the basis of their whiteness. But we know that while white people can definitely suffer, we also know that white people do not systemically suffer because they are white. Thus if a white person insults a black person on the basis of their blackness, it is far more offensive than if a black person insults a white person on the basis of their whiteness. This is because white people systemically oppress black people, and not vice versa.
Thin people do not oppress fat people in the same way. Patriarchy and ableism oppresses fat people, but the actual oppressor is far less clear cut than the way white people have historically oppressed black people. Eating disorder me and fat people are oppressed by exactly the same system, and if a fat person were to shame me for my body, it would certainly be offensive in a way that a black person calling a white person “cracker” wouldn’t be.
The song the author brings up has the singer bragging about how she “ain’t no size two.”
I’m a size two, and I’m happy to be. Because before my recovery, some of my size 0s and 00s were too big for me. I worked to be a size two, through plenty of suffering, learning to be okay without obsessive food restriction, and psychological treatment.
And this looks different for every ED survivor. Some become 4s, 6s, 12s… it all depends on your frame and your height and where you started, and it doesn’t really matter what size you are because you, a survivor, worked so hard on yourself to be able to fill out a healthy weight, which will look different in numbers depending on height and frame.
And when people make jokes about me being thin, even now, it can sometimes be triggering, as it is for many ED survivors, because it calls into question the work I have done. If someone says “oh my god you’re so tiny, eat a sandwich”, it can be harmful to ED survivors who can call into question if the progress they have made is not enough. For me, it makes me hyper-aware that people notice my body. That my body and my recovery aren’t private. This can trigger me to revert my attention back to an unhealthy, hyperfocusing on my body because of the obsessive nature of my eating disorder.
Literally none of this applies to race. If a black person jokes about a white person, be it about seasoning their food or liking mayonnaise, it contributes nothing to subjugating white people in the way that white jokes about black people do. But if anyone, including fat people, make any jokes to ED survivors who happen to be small, there is a large impact on 1. The survivor themselves and 2. our conception of eating disorders and the right people have to comment on our bodies. Hence, the two issues are in no way analogous.
Anti-oppressive communities tend to want to apply this class framework to everything. Sometimes it works. But in this case, it doesn’t, and that’s okay. We can still say that thin people receive this external treatment privilege while acknowledging that thin people are not the oppressors of fat people, and that it might be more complex than other top-down conceptions of oppression e.g. race, class.
Just because fat people and thin people don’t receive body shaming in the same way, it doesn’t mean that one is more of a problem than the other. To argue this shows somewhat of an ignorance towards how eating disorders operate. I’m not suggesting that all thin people have eating disorders, but I’m suggesting that anyone could, so why would you take the risk? I suppose my conclusion is that it’s dangerous to apply the class oppression framework to fat/thin for this reason. We definitely need to change the ways we view the “normal” body, but none of this is going to happen by 1. pretending it’s thin people who oppress fat people simpliciter and 2. by sloppily applying race and class framework to something that is qualitatively different.
I’m not trying to be that small person that says “but look at my problems, too!” I get it that fat people have it bad in many ways that I probably won’t experience. But we have a very complex system that we all take part in that creates this idea of normal and deviant bodies. And I don’t know if this is controversial, but I honestly believe that thin people, especially ED survivors, are harmed by body standards in a way that white people are not harmed by whiteness. I worry that to think otherwise is perpetuating the idea that people with eating disorders simply engage in disordered eating out of a vain desire to look thin and have the privilege of doing so over fat people. All this is to say that the analogy simply doesn’t apply here.
I’d much rather try to undermine the system that tries to get us to regulate our bodies as a whole rather than one that just uplifts being thin. Because if we are honest with ourselves, trends lead us to idealize bodies that are not just thin ones. Look at the recent trends of “thickness”, or having large asses, etc. I also think when we consider body image, we ought to consider much deeper underlying factors to all eating disorders (not just anorexia, but ones such as binge eating that may underlie fatness). This includes problems like trauma, anxiety, depression, and OCD. Because the root of the problem is not “thin-supremacy”; it’s the idea that there are any preferred standards at all.