For the second week in a row, I have been diverted from my intention to muse on my drinking (or lack of it) by Things Happening That Are Making Me Want To Smash Other Things. This weeks’ OH FOR THE LOVE OF JUST FUCK THE FUCK OFFness comes courtesy of body shaming.
First Jamelia, vaguely-successful-pop-star-turned-panel-show-opinion-haver opinioned that having clothes available in sizes under 6 or over 20 just encouraged people to have unhealthy body shapes and that ‘they’ (‘they’ being people of a size Jamelia considers ‘not normal’) just shouldn’t be allowed nice things.
Then a company (whose name I am not going to mention, because they’ve had quite enough publicity enough thank you very much, and therefore will be referred to from now on as “Proper Wazzock”) responded to complaints about their (fucking awful) adverts for their (fucking awful) product by revealing themselves to be apparently staffed by the sort of people that say ‘bants’ without irony and run by White Goodman; engaging in a PR campaign based on name calling and bullying. Classy.
Jamelia did a half arsed #sorrynotsorry kind of apology where she basically said “I didn’t say what I said, and what I didn’t say wasn’t right, but I actually do kind of think what I didn’t say that I said.” I would have had considerably more respect for her if she’d said “I was on live TV, I said something without thinking it through, and I apologise”. We’ve all said shitty things and hurt people; when people call us on it it’s far better to use it as a learning experience than to go YOU’RE LISTENING WRONG.
Proper Wazzock haven’t issued any sort of apology and are absolutely revelling in the notoriety. Seeing as their entire business and product is based on capitalising on people’s insecurities as far as they are concerned this is the best thing ever; and if they can keep on making people feel insecure they obviously think this will help them sell even more. It might even work, sadly.
The thing is, ‘fatties’, as Proper Wazzock put it, don’t need to be ‘made to feel uncomfortable’, as Jamelia put it, by lack of nice clothes or a poster telling us our bodies aren’t ready for the beach. Our society is very good at making them feel uncomfortable anyway. There are myriad ways in which our culture polices and enforced a very narrow range of ‘acceptable’ bodies.
We’re fighting against some really ingrained ideas that people are just not willing to let go of. NONE of these ideas actually hold up to proper scrutiny.
Fat = Unhealthy? MYTH.
Thin = healthy? MYTH.
You can predict someone’s health & fitness from BMI? MYTH.
Shaming fat people will help them lose weight? MYTH.
I played an amateur contact sport for 6 years. I went to the gym 3-4 times a week. I cycled every day. And I was still ‘fat’ because that’s what my body does. That’s my natural body shape. I was always over my ‘healthy’ BMI because I am short, and have a lot of muscle. When I was regularly training I had even more muscle, so my BMI was even higher. In fact, at my peak fitness, my BMI put me at ‘clinically obese’. I was, it’s safe to say, fitter than most of my ‘thin’ friends who just had a naturally slim figure and never worked out – some of whom smoked to stay slim. I no longer compete because playing sport destroyed my knees. Playing a sport, and exercising at the level I was, impacted on my physical health to the extent that a specialist assumed from an MRI of my knees that I was a runner in my mid 40s. I was 34.
Over a decade ago I went on a calorie controlled diet. I lost loads of weight. I started getting a body which the sort of person that thinks fat = unhealthy thin = healthy might look at and go She’s healthy. She’s acceptable. She’s allowed nice clothes. She might even be acceptable enough for a bikini. And I was SO ILL. My body couldn’t function at that size/shape. I was miserable. I kept fainting. My skin suffered. I was constantly ill with colds and infections as my immune system couldn’t cope. Everyone kept telling me how good I looked except my close friends who were seriously worried. I couldn’t maintain it without basically starving myself. I still thought I wasn’t good enough and I ended up having a major mental health breakdown, and I am not the only person to have discovered that despite what society tells us, becoming Not Fat isn’t the magical unicorn answer to everything.
Nowadays I am now relatively healthy. I eat what I like, try to avoid too much sugar and cycle and swim when I can be bothered. I am happy. In the process of accepting my body something magical happened – many of my mental insecurities and anxieties melted away. In fact, learning to love the body I have now actually led me to eating more healthily. Because I loved my body I wanted to keep it well and treat it right. I started working with its needs, instead of against them. When I hated my body, I punished myself by starving it or resorted to comfort eating and ended up stuck in a cycle of self-loathing and unhealthy eating. I feel better now than I have in decades – and all because I have given up the idea that I need to force my body to look a certain way to be ‘acceptable’ and instead accept what I have.
In short, accepting my body the way it is actually made my body better.
When you go around on the internet telling fat people they look bad, or that they are unhealthy, or that they need to change their look to please you, you know what you are doing? You are making it worse. You are part of the cycle of self-hatred and fatphobia and insecurity. You are part of the problem.
Size is no indicator of health. You CANNOT tell the health of someone from what they look like or how big/small they are. You especially cannot tell the health of someone from what they write on Twitter.
So will all the ‘concern trolls’ please DROP this ‘healthy’ shit. You can be thin and healthy, thin and unhealthy, fat and healthy, fat and unhealthy. And if someone is fat and unhealthy, guess what? THEY MIGHT STILL BE HAPPY and do you know what? It’s absolutely none of your business either way.
When I first saw Proper Wazzock’s advert I said “fuck off” at it, felt a bit cross and wondered – as I often do – why this sort of thing is still acceptable. But then it became clearer that actually tens of thousands of people were equally pissed off about it. The wonderful #wearethethey hashtag appeared in response to Jamelia’s comments and it was beautiful to behold.
One of Proper Wazzock’s responses to the criticism was that “Getting ‘beach ready’ is not a new concept[…]It’s a fashion that is followed by millions around the world when they look forward to their summer holiday.” They are right, it’s not a ‘new concept’. It’s an old one. The fact that so many people are no longer willing to buy into it shows that there is a clear cultural shift against sexist objectification, cultural body shaming bullshit and unethical advertising, and a rejection of big fat myths and restrictive standards of beauty. There’s a growing sense, particularly among young people, that this shit is actually not ok, and up with it we will not put.