Size Shaming: Why Do We Do It?
THE western world has an eating disorder. If we are not slinging thousands of tonnes of perfectly good food in the bin or refusing to sell vegetables because they are not pretty enough, we’re guzzling empty calories or slavishly following the latest fad diet.
A third of the world is now obese or overweight, according to a recent University of Washington study. Meanwhile, according to Bodywhys, 200,000 people are affected by recognisable eating disorders in Ireland each year. This includes anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. So what can we do, if anything, to overcome our collective eating disorder? Many of the measures will need to take at a high-level education about nutrition, more sports and fitness facilities, for example. However, there is something else we can do.
Those of us lucky enough to be mentally and physically healthy can stop buying into the disordered thinking around weight and sizes. Think of what would happen to the diet industry if women – and it is mostly women – decided that worrying about being a size 12 was silly. If instead of drinking diet fizzy drinks with their additives and chemicals, people drank juice or water. Would Tumblr become a wasteland if people realised that having a thigh gap is unnecessary, and let’s face it, unachievable for most of us?
Think of everything we could get done if we stopped worrying about our weight. It’s something that always struck me about Bridget Jones, much as she was the heroic everywoman. She always fretted about not seeming clever or interesting enough, but she could have read a chapter of The Satanic Verses every day during the time she spent counting her calories. She probably wouldn’t have made quite such an idiot of herself in front of Salman Rushdie either.
Of course we’re not all Bridget Jones and are interesting and clever and all sorts of other good things. However I’m sure every woman reading this has had that moment of dread about her body. Looking back at an unflattering photo, thinking about a particular dress, those awful changing room lights…the list goes on. The healthy human body is a wonderful thing, beautiful in its own way, but it’s a tool and an instrument and capable of so much more than looking pretty. It’s time to celebrate it and become open about our differences.
Obesity has become a problem but is shaming each other really going to solve it? Indeed, many larger people feel persecuted and resentful of the discourse that says size 6 is the goal. This may be counterproductive in efforts to improve public health. If you are being constantly nagged that you are lazy and worthless because you are overweight, why wouldn’t you close your ears?
On the other side of the scale, there is a certain idea that if you fit into the ideal size that society has prescribed then you are not allowed to complain or feel bad about yourself. I have been a size 8 all my adult life – largely because I am from a family of hobbits who have never, to the best of my knowledge, grown over 5”10. I know that my life is a lot easier than if I was size 20 but I still have plenty of things I feel bad and insecure about. A personal bugbear is the rise of ‘real women have curves’ phenomenon. This is, of course, a reaction against the twisted world of high fashion where sample sizes are better suited to dolls than real people. But I’m a woman too and I have curves and so are women who are 6”6 with bee-sting breasts.
We’re all women. Maybe we should find our commonality instead of shaming each other. Like everything else, a little bit of kindness would make everything better.
Photos c/o harkeraquila.com, healthyisthenewskinny.com