Take a moment to consider these statements.
- “You’re going to finish that cheeseburger? Aren’t you on a diet?”
- “Go eat something and get some real curves, you bag of bones!”
In essence, they both involve the act of body shaming, in which a person is humiliated with mocking or disparaging remarks about their body. But which is worse?
Fat Shaming vs. Skinny Shaming
Body shaming has become synonymous with “fat-shaming”. The person on the receiving end is usually thought of as someone who is bigger than the society’s image of the proverbial “ideal body”. A good example would be the above first statement.
On the flip side, there is the emerging notion of “skinny shaming”, whereby the subject of body shaming derision is slim in size and shape (i.e. the second statement above). Notably, a person with a thin body, especially a woman, may be bullied or discriminated against for not having the “right curves” or the shapely body typically associated with femininity and the male gaze. They are therefore considered unattractive. Moreover, much like in fat-shaming, thin women are food policed. The difference is that while in fat-shaming, an overweight individual might be chided for downing an upsize double hamburger with fries, in skinny shaming the person is derided for their choice of opting a salad. The underlying assumption is that these thin people are afraid to put on weight and probably have an underlying eating disorder.
Skinny-Shaming – Better or Worse?
People tend to forget that there is more than one type of body shape. Because it has become so subtle and more socially acceptable, skinny shaming often goes undetected or overlooked. It could be a snide remark passed off as a “joke” or a backhanded compliment (“You’re only eating fruit for lunch? You don’t need to be on a diet!”). Or perhaps it is an acquaintance faking concern with a comment like “Do you even eat?”
Remarks and comments like these are not sensitive or empathetic at all, especially not if the person it is directed to is in actual fact battling an eating disorder. The ignorance when it comes to talking about thin people is so entrenched in our social exchanges that it not considered inappropriate to call someone “too skinny”. Being shamed for being plus-sized has almost been “normalised” to the extent that thin people are deemed as having the “privilege” of being slim and body shaming can only be of those are overweight. There are even assumptions made of thin people, such as them having eating disorders (even when they do not) due to low body fat or that they shun all foods high in calories.
The truth is, even people who are slim have days when they don’t feel good of themselves and may take actions to attract unwanted commentary, such as wearing baggy clothes or not wearing black given that it’s a slimming colour. Even slim people have days where they indulge in treats and desserts. Moreover, it is common knowledge that obesity is linked to higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, but it is not true that underweight people do not have heart attacks or develop chronic illnesses.
Is skinny shaming the same as fat-shaming though? If society views thinness to be a privilege, this essentially means that they encounter more benefits and opportunities, and have fewer or easier barriers to navigate through in life. Studies have shown that people who are overweight tend to find it harder to be hired than thinner people as they were deemed to be lazy, less physically capable and slothful. Plus-sized people also find it more difficult to get promoted as assessments of their leadership qualities are often downplayed. Overweight women are especially likely to earn less. Additionally, overweight people experience greater job insecurity, a psychological stressor that might create more problematic coping strategies that inflate their weight further. And so far we have only been talking about socio-economical differences. It seems like the system has been designed to discriminate against overweight people right from the start.
Labels, Labels, Labels: Society’s Extremes
So is fat-shaming or skinny shaming worse? Let’s get one thing straight: they are both instances of body shaming and body shaming is always wrong. As noted above, body shaming can be devastating when exerted against any type of body, be it a fat or thin one.
When you criticise someone’s physicality, you can potentially cause irreversible physical and psychological damage; body shaming can destroy one’s self-esteem, fester self-loathing, encourage eating disorders, and diminishes a person’s value.
In both instances, judgement has been passed about an individual’s physical appearance, and a label has been applied, one suggesting that this person is not up to societal standard, that he or she is not physically “ideal”. In both instances, there is a lack of compassion and empathy. Regardless of whether it is about a person’s physicality or someone’s race, discussions about marginalised attributes are painful and often difficult. They warrant special care and attention.
Going back to the two statements we started with, we, therefore, realise that both can be equally damaging depending on how the person at the receiving end of it perceives them. Regardless of size, someone with barrels of self-esteem may be able to brush such it off with a shrug, while another may obsess about it and develop a stressful relationship with food in attempts to control their weight.
Enough with the labels. Let’s get to know people first, let’s give them a chance or two. In the famous words of Ellen DeGeneres: “Be kind to one another”.
The Irish Times: Skinny Shaming https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/skinny-shaming-i-m-told-i-d-look-better-with-meat-on-my-arse-1.3091811
SELF: Skinny Shaming Is Not the Same as Fat Phobia https://www.self.com/story/skinny-shaming-is-not-the-same-as-fat-phobia
Personnel Today: https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/obesity-discrimination-study-reveals-prejudice-among-employers/
Vanderbilt Research News: https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/10/21/overweight-women-labor-market/
The Impact of Obesity on Wages: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3559022?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Photo Credits: Pixabay and Unsplash