i’m sick and fucking tired of pretending that “loving your body” and rejecting fat-shaming on an individual level does anything to change issues relating to beauty and thin privilege, or that it has any effect on the institutions and structures that perpetuate them. it does nothing to change the fact that larger people or people viewed as less attractive are widely viewed as less intelligent, as incompetent, or as lazy. it doesn’t change the fact that larger people have worse health care outcomes or that they are less likely to be hired for jobs and, if they are hired, are often paid less than their thinner or more conventionally attractive colleagues. it does nothing to combat the pathologization of fatness. by itself, it doesn’t do anything to change the greater culture. i, along with many other people, attempt to reject that culture and participate in or create alternate possibilities, but it’s important to remember that these spaces aren’t accessible to everyone who could benefit from participation. it’s not enough.
here’s a corollary to that: while people who identify as women are inundated with messages that devalue female-coded bodies, sexualize them (in ways that are often deeply imbricated with the simultaneous racialization of such bodies), and present them as being in constant need of improvement, i wonder if the focus on body acceptance doesn’t end up being the same ideas, articulated differently. certainly, our bodies shape our lived realities, are inescapable, and must be taken into consideration in political or sociological or philosophical conversations. body acceptance may shift the ways in which these realities are enacted on some level, or at least the way realities are materialized. but, for many people, bodies can be hard to love, and i’m not sure how necessary it is that many of us “love” them in the ways that body-acceptance proponents believe we should. for my own part, my neuro-atypical, ethnically marked, formerly anorexic body is difficult to love. i generally accept my body, understand where it fits into my reality, reject family members’ offers of plastic surgery to “correct” it, live in it. it is, in some ways, a resistant body. ”loving” it is not necessarily part of that resistance, nor do i think it needs to be. a body is not an object with a concrete distinction from the mind, an object that can be separately valued and loved. it should not be devalued, and it should be free from exploitation, violence, and abuse, but it is not always necessary to love it simply because it is a body. (though i would argue that the more culturally and socially devalued a given body is, the more important it is that it is cared for and valued.)
the fact that “love your body” rhetoric shifts the responsibility for body acceptance over to the individual, and away from communities, institutions, and power, is also problematic. individuals who do not love their bodies, who find their bodies difficult to love, are seen as being part of the problem. the underlying assumption is that if we all loved our bodies just as they are, our fat-shaming, beauty-policing culture would be different. if we don’t love our bodies, we are contributing to and in effect perpetuating normative (read: impossible) beauty standards. if we don’t love our individual bodies, it is our fault for continuing the oppressive and misogynistic culture. if you don’t love your body, you’re failing, you’re not trying hard enough to love it. your body is still the paramount focus, and one way or another, you’re failing it. it’s too close to the usual body-shaming, self-policing crap, albeit with a few quasi-feminist twists, for comfort.
tl;dr not all bodies are easy to love, or lovable. challenge normative beauty-standards and fat-shaming on collective and structural levels rather than believing that “loving your body” is enough to change shit. understand how your body materializes your lived reality and respect it, because your body IS yourself, not something separate.
Age 11: a man at the pizza parlor tells me I had a nice looking ass. Sixteen years old: walking to the Metro after having found out that my best friend had attempted suicide. A man tells me I have dick-sucking lips. A couple of months ago, age 25: Two guys loudly announce that I have “awesome tits”. I tell them to shut up. Then they call me ugly. Yeah, I say, whipping around to scream in their face, I am ugly.I wish I had “a story” about being harassed on the street, as if it were some kind of discrete experience that stands out as exceptional. It’s not like that. Men say things to me all the time. I’m hot or I’m fat but they’d fuck me anyway, they’d tear me up or hit it from the back. Men touch me too. With their hands, their eyes, erections pressing into my back on crowded subways or clubs.It takes only my most primitive brain to discern what is a compliment and what is not. The men who presume otherwise, saying that women ought to be flattered by these behaviors, assume women to be simpleminded enough not to tell the difference. The difference between “Hey, awesome necklace!” and “You look good enough to get raped.” But the other thing is: don’t compliment me. Interrupting my day to tell me that you like the shape of my dress or the body underneath it asserts that your opinion about me matters. Interrupting a woman to comment on her body or sexuality reinforces that she has no right to public space, to move freely and without comment. The men who assume I will be flattered by sexual remarks from strangers do not understand the reality of living in a woman’s body, the implicit and explicit threats we experience, the keys poised between our knuckles on the way home — just in case.I wish I had “a story”, but I have thousands, and they get lost or metabolized in the space of a day. These days I set aside a nickel for every time I am harassed on the street. I wanted something to mark the occasion, to not let it simply vanish. I’m donating that money to a women’s anti-violence shelter, so something good can come from something ugly.