Women Vs. Women: The Battle over Body Type
Body (Stereo) types
Curvy. Big-boned. Large. Fat. Fat bitch. Always eats. Only eats foods high in saturated fats. Eats to celebrate. Eats when sad. Angry.
From silly euphemisms to hurtful stereotypes, the descriptions above make me hate myself just for typing those words. What an awful way to go through life: enduring inappropriate stares and comments on a daily basis just because you don’t fulfill an impossible fantasy of what a woman should look like (or, conversely, because someone’s taken a shining to you). Look all around you: films, ads, magazines. A voluptuous woman as love interest? Not likely. How about a nice, safe, platonic, comedic role instead?
When I was in elementary school, I remember kids teasing me about my weight, zeroing in on me because I didn’t look like everyone else. But the kids weren’t calling me fat names; they were calling me “AIDS girl.” AIDS was a relatively new discovery then, and people weren’t really sure what it was or how it was transmitted. The kids saw my long, thin limbs and my giant, knobby knees, and they saw someone they could tease. As I grew into adulthood, the taunts matured into snide comments: “Why don’t you eat a steak or something?”
Now, in our weight-obsessed society, I can almost hear your eyes rolling as you offer to play the world’s smallest violin for my plight. But let’s try a little exercise. What are some of the euphemisms and stereotypes associated with thin women?
Petite. Small-boned. Thin. Skinny. Skinny bitch. Never eats. Obsessively counts calories and only eats salad with no dressing. Anorexic. Bulemic. Weak.
One could argue that it starts off sounding desirable. But then it quickly devolves into hateful, superficial assumptions. It’s wrong to pre-judge a person based on their appearances–we all know this. Yet, “thin is in,” so it’s far easier to fling nasty comments at a thin female without being admonished for bullying, stereotyping, or just being plain old rude.
There are many reasons why people weigh what they do. Some people are on the heavy side because of poor diet and lack of exercise, or their ancestors were built like oxen, or weight gain is a side-effect of their medication, or a medical condition in and of itself caused weight gain. It’s a similar story for lightweights: obsessive dieting and exercise, or bird-like bone structure, or weight loss as a side-effect of medication, or weight loss caused by a medical condition itself. While the first items for both body types can be combated with education and, in some cases, therapy, the remaining items are very much out of the person’s control.
Fighting Back, Fighting Against Each Other
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that ladies are fighting back. Tired of the rude comments and ridiculous stereotypes, women are finally calling out people who do this and are taking pride in their body type. I’ve seen many postings on facebook and articles in blogs urging women to be proud of their shape, sometimes in humorous ways.
Unfortunately, the message is consistently aimed at only one body type, the voluptuous one. Women at the other end of the scale often find themselves in the role of implied “other”: If big girls are perfect for cuddling with, then skinny girls must be like snuggling with Skeletor. If curvy girls are more fun, then thin chicks must be cold bitches. In their efforts to fight back against the nastiness of a society obsessed with physical perfection, voluptuous women have turned to weight-based stereotypes as their weapon of choice–their thin sisters becoming collateral damage in a war on body image.
When I look in the mirror, I see an average person. I’ve grown into my knees, finally. My limbs are as thin as ever, my hips a little rounder. I don’t see anything wrong with me, and yet I still get comments on my weight, usually tinged with a little venom.
When I became pregnant, the first doctor I saw insisted on testing me for thyroid problems; she was sure there had to be an explanation for why I was 125 pounds at 5’5”–a weight perfectly within the normal range. When a follow-up appointment revealed I wasn’t gaining enough weight, I switched my diet up to include things like whole milk, ice cream, and more protein-rich snacks throughout the day. But I’ve also exercised throughout my pregnancy, and this fact combined with a naturally fast metabolism has limited my weight gain to one to two pounds per month (versus four pounds per month).
When I finally got established with the OB that would see me through my remaining pregnancy and delivery, I discovered that she, too, had no shortage of comments and jokes to make about my weight. The most recent one being, “When you deliver, your stomach’s going to go right back to normal–the nurses are going to hate you.” She laughed, but I wondered why on earth the nurses would feel so strongly about something that has nothing to do with anything.
The thing is, all of the prenatal testing that I’ve undergone reveals that my baby and I are perfectly healthy. My baby’s growth is in the ninetieth percentile, I’m not anemic, I don’t have thyroid problems, this is just the way I am–I’m okay with it, so why does everyone else seem to have a problem with it?
I will say this: Long before I became pregnant, when I first started taking Plaquenil for my lupus symptoms, I began losing weight rapidly. The medication gave me chronic diarrhea–I joked with friends that I was on the diarrhea diet. I ate like mad; it didn’t make a difference. Oh, you should’ve heard the comments I received from people I didn’t even know! Thankfully, that side-effect didn’t last forever, but I didn’t start gaining any weight until I changed jobs and began burning much fewer calories each day. At any rate, I don’t diet, and I’m not an exercise fiend; I burn calories like crazy, and I take medication that seems to keep me from gaining weight.
Hypocrisy & Advocacy
When I look at an extremely thin woman, I “size her up,” so to speak. Does she look unhealthy? If so, I have to stop myself from making nasty assumptions. Same thing with a larger woman. I know, how hypocritical, right? I remind myself that I don’t know that person’s story. I don’t know why they are the shape/size that they are. And you know what, it’s neither here nor there. It’s none of my business. None of us meets the “ideal” image of what a woman should look like. Even if we perceive someone as being pretty darn close to perfection, I bet that person could point out a dozen flaws in herself.
Let’s do society a favor and advocate on behalf of all women–not just the curvy ones. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to not have our humanity diminished by arbitrary standards of desirability.