Friday, 5 October 2012

Just the view of some ‘big fat bitch’? Body Elitism and Me

  So I’m thirteen, on the bus to a school I joined three months ago and I’m trying not to cry. Yes, three months, that’s enough time for the boys in my school to work out I didn't have any ‘hard’ siblings and notice I was a ‘big fat bitch’. This I was used to, and scary as the thought is, this is what I expected. On this particular day what I didn't expect was for all the boys on the bus to have gone to the bakery. What I didn't expect was for one of them to hit me in the face with cream cakes to the joyous chorus of ‘FATTY! FATTY! FATTY!’ What I didn't expect was for one of them to spit in my face. I didn't expect that. I didn't expect them to throw half-full coke cans at the back of my head.

By the age of thirteen, I had internalised how undesirable, unattractive and unacceptable society found (and still finds) ‘fat’ people to such a degree, I expected verbal abuse. In fact, I remember scolding myself, for crying. I told myself ‘You should be used to this by now.’ I did this right through my teens, continually repeated the messages society taught me. I told myself I was disgusting because I had stretch marks, unlovable because I couldn’t control my own body. At seventeen I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition, the main symptom being ‘weight gain’. I remember wishing I could go back though my life and tell every person who had sneered, laughed or shouted at me for my weight, about my condition. Five years on, I know that the problem isn’t fat or slim; the problem is in my head. The problem is in your head. The problem is on the television, in-between the pages of magazines.

This culture of ideals, this construction of ‘perfect’ is even more prevalent in today’s youth, and with the rise of plastic surgery, body shaming and positively poisonous gender-norms, it continues to rise. My story isn’t unusual. There are thousands of others from women and men who are labelled as unattractive because they’re overweight. There are stories from people who have suffered because, they’re told they are too thin, too fat, have the wrong hair colour, or posture, or facial features, or are too pale, or too dark.

This is body elitism, the fact that we are taught ‘what’ and ‘who’ is attractive. Body elitism is the idea that one kind of body is superior, it’s the resulting label of bodies that don’t completely fit in between those narrow lines inferior as ‘ugly’ or ‘wrong’.  Today, rather than saying, ‘my body is wrong for a reason’ I’m saying ‘a body cannot be ‘wrong’’. A body is made up of flesh, veins, skin, and muscle. Bodies are diverse; bodies can be healthy or unhealthy. Bodies have different abilities, different uses. If a body exists, it is not ‘wrong’. What is the point in deciding one is ‘better’ than another?

The truth is that even capitalism, the economic system that thrives on our  prescribed inferiority complexes and sells us the products that can cure ‘imperfections’, (boost skin, decrease wrinkles, re-energise tired looking bags,) even this machine of consumption, that sells us this ‘superior’ body, doesn’t 100% know what exactly this body looks like. It comes as no surprise that the major companies that sell tanning products to women in the west, sell skin-bleaching products to women in the east. It does come as a surprise that big toiletry companies try to sell products with campaigns about ‘real’ women, as if we should be thankful that they aren't using the kind of bodies this culture deemed ‘superior’ in the first place.

When I think about this, I get angry. But I’m angry at the culture itself, I’m angry at the way people are forced to hate themselves, not at women who fit into the ‘superior’ category. This is where I draw an important line, because most of us can recognise how we shouldn’t feel inferior for being fat/thin/having different facial features. (Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t). What I’ve found increasingly troubling is this rhetoric of ‘real’ women (as if there is such a thing). Now, it seems, those who sell us are insecurities are trying to sell our differences, too. Now we’re told that ‘‘real’ women have curves’. ‘Real women have meat on their bones’.  

Now we’re taught that rather than challenge the idea that one body is inferior on the basis of specific characteristics, we should challenge other women. ‘Bigger women’ have been told (and some embraced the idea) that other women, judged in the same society, oppressed by the same narrow guidelines of ‘attractiveness’ are the direct enemy to their body autonomy. I’ve seen this warped idea play out in several social situations, from other ‘bigger’ friends saying things like ‘(Slim girl) might be thin, but she’s really ugly’ or ‘(Slim girl) has a body like a child, she’s not even like a woman’. Most horrifyingly, I’ve seen it play out when a relative said of ‘anorexics’; ‘It’s the way they think, they hate us’ and continued to insult them on the basis of their condition.
Just stop.
Like everyone else in this distorted reality, people who suffer from anorexia are taught to hate themselves.

What can stop this slaughter, this construct that is literally killing people? Well I don’t have all the answers, but it’s my belief that thorough and far reaching social change would ignite a process of women collectively shunning these prescriptive standards. I believe the media and corporations being owned by the people would result in media and businesses that work for people not profits at any cost. These things I believe, but some things I know.

 I know that my struggle against body elitism is more than giving the finger to people who walk past me and sneer or laugh. I know that I never want anyone to have to be bullied like I was for their appearance. But more than this, I know that other women, other people are not my enemy, because no matter how ‘pretty’, ‘skinny’ or healthy another person is, they are still judged, every day. I wouldn’t wish my experiences on them, and I certainly don’t blame them for my suffering. If I want liberation from constrictive body ideals, I want it for everyone, regardless of shape, race, ability, facial features and regardless of whether society sees them as ‘prettier’ than me.