After receiving violent threats and a stream of near constant abuse for weeks after my interview on NPR, I had promised myself that I would never, ever, ever blog about “All About That Bass” again. My interactions with fans of the song have been so overwhelmingly negative, to the point of having to contact law enforcement, that I can’t even stand to hear a few notes of it as I scroll on past on the car radio.
However, when someone has a dissenting opinion, and it’s presented reasonably and without threatening myself, my family, or my pets (Yes, even my pets deserved to die painfully because I didn’t care for a song), then I’ve got no problem hearing it. So, when a blogger wrote her own post about why she disagreed with me, I read it.
Warning: Before you go any further, I feel obliged to warn you that if you’re a woman size six to size fourteen, there’s a high likelihood that you will feel that I am unfairly excluding women of your size from the body positivity or fat acceptance movements, or singling you out, personally. If this post makes you feel that way, before you get too angry, I’d like you imagine what it feels like to have that happen in every conversation about body positivity that you’ve ever been involved with. And if that doesn’t work, just think of the last time someone asked you for a favor, despite never doing one for you. That will help you understand my point of view and the frustration I feel a little bit better.
I’m hesitant to link the post here; I know that my regulars are awesome people, but I get a lot of hits these days, and I can’t possibly vouch for everyone. Since I don’t know if someone out there is going to rage and attack her the same way I was attacked for my original posts, I’m on the fence. So, I’ll just excerpt the part I really want to talk about:
“My first criticism of this post is of the quote “This girl is not a fat girl. This whole concept of not-fat women believing they need to call attention to their not-fat bodies in order to promote body acceptance baffles me.” Firstly, I agree, she is not a fat girl. As far as the media is concerned, however, she would be considered plus size. A plus size model is often defined as anyone over a size 8, and sometimes even over a size 6. While not fat, Meghan Trainor is clearly more than a size 8, and I would bet just about anything that in the comments of her video many people have called her fat. And just because we do not consider someone else to be fat, does not mean that they don’t feel fat. Our opinions do not control other people’s feelings, and it is incredibly self righteous of you to believe that your opinion that Meghan Trainor is not fat would make any difference to how she feels. Moving on…”
On my original post, someone stated in the comments, “Fat is not a feeling.” That struck such a deep chord with me. For years, body positivity or fat acceptance seemed to be centered around making women who “felt” fat recognize that they were more beautiful than their thin counterparts. All this did was create a new standard of beauty in a particular category. Plus-sized models are often “all the right junk/in all the right places” models; their stomachs have some jiggle, but are mostly flat, their waists are nipped in, and their heads could have been transplanted from any industry standard-sized model, with well-defined cheekbones and not even a hint of double chin:
Remember when these women would have just been “models,” and not “plus-sized” models? It was called the 1990’s:
This is what “plus-size” has become. Cindy-Crawford-in-a-Pepsi-commercial bodies have become what we identify as “fat,” and it’s brainwashing women who aren’t fat into believing that they are.
Is that horrible? Yes. Should we be combating this image of the size 6 – 10 “plus-size”? Absolutely. The blogger has a point about the media making women feel like they’re fat. Just compare those photos again. And yes, if a woman is told that her perfectly fine body is “plus-sized,” she’s going to take a self-esteem hit for no reason, since we’ve all been told that “plus-sized” equals fat (when in reality, plus-size is merely a merchandising conceit). She’s going to “feel” fat. And that’s supposed to be our main concern: reassuring women larger than a size four, but smaller than a size twenty, that she isn’t a fat person.
But some of us don’t “feel” fat. Some of us are fat. We don’t have “all the right junk/in all the right places.” We have junk that magazines tell us they don’t want, as well. But our “junk” isn’t the stuff celebrated in songs written specifically to make us feel good. Where’s the anthem to the double chin? Where’s the song about back rolls, or fat aprons? Cellulite? Bingo wings? The message the media conveys to average-sized women is that they can be “fat” and still beautiful and valued, so long as they’re only “fat” in culturally accepted ways. But what do women who aren’t “fat,” but are actually fat, get out of this? More body shame, not for being fat, but for not being a thin-enough fat woman with an attractive hip-to-waist ratio, and plenty of derision from those mid-sized women who feel under attack any time discussion of body image turns to criticism of the things that make them feel good.
We’re so concerned with protecting the women who “feel” fat that we steamroll right over women who actually are fat. So many comments I received on my original “All About That Bass” post insisted that the song wasn’t for or about people like me, and that the lyrics absolutely are body-positive because they help women feel better about their bodies. Better how? By insisting, “Don’t worry, you’re not fat.”
As a fat woman, I want to know why I should celebrate a song–or at least, why I should “stop looking to be different by choosing to be offended” by it, as the blogger suggests–because it reassures women by telling them that they don’t look like me? That they don’t look like women who are larger than me? “Don’t worry. You might ‘feel’ fat, but you’re definitely not, so you’re beautiful.”
As the blogger points out, the media does celebrate women who are slender. But the tide has started to turn. Runway shows are banning size zero models–the group that seems to take most of the heat for making women “feel” fat–from their catwalks. “Curvy” women like Christina Hendricks, Kate Upton, and Beyoncé are being held up as a standard of beauty, and a number of songs recently praised the rear-facing assets of women who don’t wear a size two. The persecution of average-sized women in the media is reversing; the stigma of actual fatness is not.
While average-sized women are concerned with not “feeling” fat, fat women are facing challenges that affect their lives far beyond damage to their self-perception. Plus-size clothing stores Lane Bryant and Torrid only sell clothing up to a size 28, at prices prohibitively expensive for low-income women. Buying clothing in a physical store is, if not impossible, then highly unlikely, for women who exceed the “plus-size” category.
Our health is at risk, too, and not just from the obesity-related illnesses we’re warned about; we’re faced with bias from the medical community that puts our health, and potentially our lives, at risk. Obese people face rising weight-based discrimination in the workplace, women especially:
“10 percent of overweight women reported weight discrimination, 20 percent of obese women reported weight discrimination and 45 percent of very obese women reported weight discrimination.”
I’m sure that to some, it seems like I’m blowing things out of proportion. Only one state in the US (Michigan) has a law against weigh-based discrimination. But surely, forty-nine states offering no legal protection for obese people facing discrimination is far lower on the importance ladder than making a woman who doesn’t like the look of her average-sized body feel sexually attractive? Those who face that discrimination–which is perpetuated by the continued celebration of the “right” types of bodies–shouldn’t be told to sit quietly and support those who “feel” fat while their shapes are currently being glorified.
Do I want average-sized women to feel badly about themselves, just because they aren’t 250 lb. or larger? No, of course not. I want all women to feel good about themselves. But we should no longer tolerate women who “feel” fat to be at the center of the body politics conversation. We should no longer allow a woman’s “feeling” of being fat to be placed ahead of the reality of being fat. We cannot “get over” our feeling of marginalization or ignore the cultural attitudes that perpetuate it, just so a woman who will never face that same size-based discrimination can feel beautiful.
Yes, we’re all women, and we should all stick together, but some of us are no longer content to offer support that requires us to “get over” the perpetuation of attitudes that contribute to discrimination against us. Especially not when we’re asked to “celebrate” at a party no one has any intention of inviting us to.