Body Terrorism: 5 Ways to Fight Against It
Fat shaming: making fun of someone who might be considered overweight.
Skinny shaming: making fun of someone who might be considered underweight.
No matter what you want to call it, body shaming and name-calling is damaging, wrong and harmful. This recently popular ‘movement’ is being referred to as body terrorism, and is being openly practiced everywhere in today’s society—social media, hospitals, schools, the legal system and the workplace.
We know that discrimination (more so with overweight individuals) is high in the workplace. Studies show that overweight adults are more likely to be fired or suspended, less likely to be hired in the first place, earn smaller salaries in comparable positions, and receive fewer promotions for comparable job performance. Doctors have reported that they believe physicians should have the right to withhold treatment from “overweight” or “obese” patients. You read that horrifying sentence correctly: of these professionals who have taken an oath to heal, more than half think that it’s perfectly all right to deny healthcare to people seeking healthcare!
Being thin/skinny/whatever you want to call it—is seen as a beauty standard in the world today. It’s a very false gauge of good health, wellness, energy, cleanliness, ambition, intelligence and morality.
A recent Canadian study shows that “when a thin person is seen lying down watching television, people assume they’re resting. But when people see an overweight person relaxing, it’s automatically assumed they’re lazy and unmotivated.” Does anyone else see a problem with this?
What’s now being referred to as ‘thin privilege’ in my opinion, is just as bad as fat shaming. Thin privilege is the fact that strangers at restaurants have never felt the need to comment on the amount of food on a ‘thin person’s’ plate. It is the fact that they can find clothes in their size anywhere and everywhere. It is the fact that no doctor has ever looked at them and thought “diabetes,” “high blood pressure,” or “high cholesterol.”
If you are a thin person reading this and you feel offended, you might be centering your feelings. I’ll put myself under this category, as I have been targeted (more so on social media) for being skinny or ‘too thin.’ I understand that thin people experience shaming as well. Yes, I have felt disgust and discomfort with my body. I have been self-conscious and self-deprecating. I have looked in the mirror and winced at what I saw. I have heard snide comments from people who think that they have the right to advise me to gain weight, or my favourite one, “go eat a burger.” (Uhm, do you know who I am?) I have heard rude remarks from people who think that it’s acceptable to say, “you can use a few extra pounds.” Yes, I wholly understand the frustration and irritation of body shaming comments and I absolutely believe that campaigns like “Real women have curves” can be seen as problematic. These things are body terrorism, too. However, it is a fact that skinny people are not dealing with prejudice at the same level.
So, if you feel that you are someone with thin privilege, and you want to commit to fighting body terrorism, here’s a few things you can do:
Educate Yourself about Health
Modern classifications of “overweight” (over what weight?) and “obese” are derived from the Body Mass Index scale (BMI). Physical activity and nutrition do positively affect good health—but body weight does not! You cannot tell how much someone exercises or how nutritiously someone eats by their body size. Remember that you cannot make any assumptions about anyone’s health or lifestyle by looking at them.
Re-assess Your Intentions
So, you can’t make assumptions about people—but even if someone were unhealthy, why is it your business anyways? It is not true that weight is an indicator of health or that obesity is an “epidemic” that needs a “cure.” But even if it were true, overweight people still deserve to be treated like human beings. People who fat-shame very often defend themselves by saying that they have the best intentions; that they just want to help; that they care about healthy lifestyles and the well-being of others. I’ve actually had people tell me that before, that they are just concerned about me if I’m “too thin” for their liking. But think about this for a moment: If you really, truly wanted to help someone make a healthy lifestyle choice, do you really, truly believe that shaming them and dehumanizing them will work? Get off your high horse. Someone else’s body, even someone else’s health, is never your concern! You have no right to shame them. You don’t get to define their value. Ever.
Call Out Concern Trolling
Continuing from the above point, concern trolling is fat-shaming commentary poorly disguised as good intentions. Some examples:
“I’m just concerned about your health!”
“You would be so pretty if you just lost/gained a few pounds.”
“Obesity is a huge issue in our community/society, and I think it’s important to address it.”
“I don’t hate fat people, but…”
Or any comment that hinges on a “but.” These comments are not only unhelpful but also quite harmful. If you hear someone trying to concern troll, intervene where you can. Ask them if it’s any of their business, and ask them why they are being so rude and narrow-minded. Throw out some health facts that complicate the picture because human health is complex and never binary. Let them know, especially if they are someone close to you, that what they’re saying is oppressive.
Understand the Intersections
Fatness is stigmatized on all bodies—but on certain bodies, it adds a greater burden. People who struggle with eating disorders may feel that the words “thin privilege” are galling because it is not a privilege to experience downgrading from an eating disorder. This is where we must again remember that oppressions are intersectional. Privilege in one form does not cancel out oppression in another form. Oppression in one form does not cancel out privilege in another form.
And most of all… Humanize!
It all comes down to this: how do you think we, as human beings, should treat one another? Do you think that arbitrary definitions of health or misconceptions about where our tax dollars go are more important than someone’s humanity? Do you think that a privileged person’s biases trump a marginalized person’s humanity? We should always treat one another with empathy, compassion, and respect.
Reference: Julie Feng, September 2016