Why are standards of beauty being imposed on women, the majority of whom are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models? The roots, some analysts say, are economic. By presenting an ideal difficult to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and diet product industries are assured of growth and profits. And it’s no accident that youth is increasingly promoted, along with thinness, as an essential criterion of beauty. If not all women need to lose weight, for sure they’re all aging, says the Quebec Action Network for Women’s Health in its 2001 report Changements sociaux en faveur de la diversité des images corporelles.While this kind of shaming is a popular advertising tactic in general, it is most often directed towards women.
The American research group Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. says that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control—including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. Researchers report that women’s magazines have ten and one-half times more ads and articles promoting weight loss than men’s magazines do, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance—by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery.Thus, the message that is largely received by women and girls from magazines, television, and film is that not only is something inherently wrong with their bodies, but that these "flaws" also constitute a personal moral failing which renders them deserving of any humiliation that comes their way.
Television and movies reinforce the importance of a thin body as a measure of a woman’s worth. Canadian researcher Gregory Fouts reports that over three-quarters of the female characters in TV situation comedies are underweight, and only one in twenty are above average in size. Heavier actresses tend to receive negative comments from male characters about their bodies ("How about wearing a sack?"), and 80 per cent of these negative comments are followed by canned audience laughter.
In and of itself, there is nothing linguistically harmful about the word "fat". It is a generic descriptor much like tall, short, blond, brunette, etc. The reason that "fat" is such a loaded term is that our culture has framed fatness as practically a crime against humanity, especially if the owner of the fat is female. We're taught from a very early age that fat is not a simple descriptive term, because fat is culturally synonymous with lazy, unpleasant, stupid, unlovable, etc. This correlation is made not only by many thin people, but often by fat people who firmly believe they deserve the disrespect being thrown at them.
But what does body size and weight have to do with domestic violence?
Sandra Kiume on Psych Central wrote a letter to the editor detailing an event she witnessed where a man on the street demanded that a woman he knew follow him and called her fat along with a few other insults. Kiume's response deftly illustrates why body image is a subject central to the fight against domestic violence.
First, she wasn’t fat. But all mean kids and abusers know that the easiest way to hurt a young woman’s self-esteem is to attack her body image, especially with that cruel three-letter “f” word. It’s verbal abuse in our thin-obsessed culture. The other two words he called her are just more obviously abusive.Fortunately, there is a movement that those of us in the fight against domestic violence can look to, to promote women's ability to feel comfortable and worthy in their own skin. Providing information about the inaccuracy of the obesity crisis and other weight-related scientific findings, shining a light on medical abuse, debunking of stereotypes about fat people, and creating a safe community for women to celebrate their bodies are just a few of the things the Fat Acceptance movement has to offer.
Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical or sexual violence–the American Psychological Association classifies all three as wartime torture methods. In their daily wars women come to view themselves as worthless and powerless and internalize the loathing. They may develop serious medical problems like depression, anorexia/bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and more, all while afraid to leave the abuser. A woman is ten times more likely to be murdered by her abuser in the six months after she leaves him. Those threats are dead serious, and they’re a means of control that answer the common and naive question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?”(Emphasis Added)
More specifically, Kate Harding, in The Fantasy of Being Thin, thoroughly discusses the power of the myth that having a stereotypically perfect body is somehow attached to your ability to be a good or worthy person, and the fact that many times the hardest part of accepting your body is that it means accepting and appreciating all aspects of yourself.
Embracing our bodies for what they do for us rather than punishing them into submission is a long process, but the benefits are well worth it. For a powerful introduction to celebrating yourself and living in the now, check out Joy Nash's Fat Rant Video below.
But exhortations like that don’t take into account magical thinking about thinness, which I suspect — and the quote above suggests — is really quite common. Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:
When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.
Et cetera, et cetera. Those are examples from my personal Fantasy of Being Thin, but I’m sure you’ve got your own
....The thin person inside me finally got out — it just turned out she was actually a fat person. A reasonably attractive, semi-outgoing fat person who has an open mind and an active imagination but also happens to really like routine and familiarity and quiet time alone.