At the risk of annoying lots of people, I’ve decided to write about an issue that has been bugging me for years now: weight discrimination.
I’m aware this might be a contentious subject, so I’ve invited my friend Charlotte to write a counter-argument which is published alongside my own, to get a more balanced view.
I am in the fortunate position of being naturally slim. Some would even say skinny [negative imagery, anyone?]. To clarify: I wear a size 6 top and size 8 trousers. I haven’t worked to be the shape that I am (yes, I’m aware that to many of you this makes me even more obnoxious). I’m fortunate to have a fast metabolism inherited from my parents, and a fairly small appetite. I eat my share of junk food – pizza is a staple in my diet – and I don’t go out of my way to exercise, although I walk places when I can. Many people assume I must eat healthily and exercise a lot, when in fact, knowing that I don’t gain weight (and being lazy) means that I tend not to take as much notice of my diet and fitness as I should. No doubt my body hates me for it, and one day will take it’s revenge.
But whilst to many this is perceived to be the ‘ideal’ in terms of body shape, to me it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. For one thing, I really hate clothes shopping. There are not a lot of places that stock clothes that fit me. Admittedly, my cause is not helped by the fact that I am taller than average at 5′ 8″ and am somewhat under-endowed in the cleavage department [although that’s a whole other society-induced body image issue]. M&S, Next, Debenhams, Monsoon, White Stuff – none of them do clothes in my size, unless I want to shop in the children’s section. Some shops, upon my asking if they do smaller sizes, suggest I go to the petite section. But there’s no way that clothing made for women who are 5’3″ and under is going to even nearly fit me. It’s particularly frustrating when shopping for workwear, as a lot of the ‘standard’ places seem only to cater for larger sizes. For example, in Primark – their workwear range only starts at a size 10. Do skinny people not work? Clearly they think we’re all too busy over-exercising and throwing up our lunch. And then there are companies such as Marisota who stock lovely clothes only for sizes 12-32. What with the current ‘obesity epidemic’ it seems bizarre to me that it’s OK for companies like this to advertise on prime-time television. I’m not sure that making size 32 an acceptable norm and size 10 seem unusually thin is really the best way to tackle obesity.
I long for the days when people used to get their clothes tailor made – when society accepted that everyone was different. While this ‘standard sizing’ approach, might be economical, is completely nonsensical. People are not homogenous, and shouldn’t be treated as such. I want to be able to go shopping and not feel like I have the ‘wrong’ body shape because clothes are too big, or too loose around my boobs, or too tight on the hips. We should revel in our differences, not feel self-conscious because we do not fit the ‘perfect’ shape that clothing manufacturers prescribe to us. There are days when I consider getting plastic surgery or doing some serious binge eating just to make it easier to go shopping. But then I remember that it’s a problem with society, not me, and I refuse to let them win. I simply go shoe shopping instead.
A bigger issue for me in the last few years has become the fact that people seem to think that they can comment on my weight freely, frequently, and often in public. Last year whilst working in a boarding school, I found my colleagues commenting on the contents of my dinner plate. One said “I’m going to sit here and watch you eat all of that. I don’t believe you eat.” The same colleague thought it OK to comment on my weight in front of students and imply that I didn’t eat. Aside from the terrible impression this might leave on the young (all female) students, what rankles is that it seems to only be acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people [see HERE]. Due to publicity campaigns to use less excessively thin models and more ‘real’ women in fashion images, it is no longer socially acceptable to criticise somebody for being overweight. You wouldn’t dream of telling somebody to ‘eat less’ over lunch, or comment on their few extra pounds in the workplace, so why is it ok to comment about my body? I am very much in support of positive body image campaigns and not using size zero models, but I think that part of this means realising that people come in ALL different shapes and sizes, not just size 12 and above. There is nothing unhealthy or wrong with my being slim, and just because my BMI says I’m underweight doesn’t mean I’m starving myself.
I also noticed recently that a friend of mine had joined a Facebook group called “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls”. Now, I’m all for curves. In fact I often wish I had more of them. But to state that someone is “better” than someone else due to their body shape seems to me, well, a bit – dare I say it – fascist [gasp!]. In my opinion, it’s equally as bad as high fashion’s known preference for Size 0 models. And what’s more, I couldn’t find an equivalent group supporting slim women, because that would be deemed massively offensive and be taken down due to fears that young girls would become anorexic.
So, here’s the bottom line: I am thin. I have never had an eating disorder. And please stop thinking it’s OK to comment on my body in public. You’re giving me a complex!
Like a growing number of people, I am in the opposite situation to Ruth; I struggle with being overweight. At 5’9”, I currently wear clothes from sizes 18-22 (UK), and have been on the ‘larger’ side of average since secondary school.
Some may refer to my stature as ‘curvy’, ‘voluptuous’, ‘curvaceous’ or ‘shapely’, and each of these terms makes me cringe more than the last. Such rhetoric has been coined to excuse the expanding waistlines of women in this country, and yet those such as Ruth who are thin, are resentfully described as ‘skinny’, ‘rake’, ‘waif-like’ or ‘lanky’.
I will freely admit that I have a problem with overeating, which has obviously led to this weight gain over the years. The transition from skint student to graduate worker with an extremely long commute has not helped. Sweets to alleviate boredom and tiredness on my way home; a well-deserved ice cream and glass of wine at the end of a long day; takeaways when I get in from work at 9pm… I could go on! Being a child of the internet generation and a self-confessed know it all, I am not starved (excuse the pun) of information on how I should feed myself. From being a young teenager, I have spent hours in front of the computer reading up on the latest weight loss research, diets and miracle cures. However, as I hope fatties up and down the land will agree, it’s not that simple. Losing the weight and keeping it off requires total reprogramming of habits and lifestyle. It also requires a harsh dose of reality and tenacity to fend off that well-meaning diet saboteur who persuades the dieter that ‘one chocolate éclair won’t hurt’. I have sat in many a diet group meeting only to listen to excuse after excuse; ‘well, it was my auntie’s best friend’s dog’s birthday party – to turn down the banoffee pie would have been rude’; ‘I simply COULDN’T go to the seaside and not have fish and chips, ice cream AND candy floss’. You get the gist. I do not make excuses for myself – I know why I am overweight.
Clothes shopping can be a torturous task, as for Ruth; although a growth in online shopping has vastly increased choices available to us who are overweight. Ironically, Ruth is my favourite person to go clothes shopping with. We could both try on the same item of clothing (at opposite ends of the sizing spectrum of course!) and both hate how we look in it. While the material might strain over my ample bosom, I realise that wishing for a small chest might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I do still envy her flat stomach though!
While plus size (ahem, size 12) models and mannequins are making headway in the world of fashion, the campaigns to see real women do not take into account stretch marks, not-so-pert breasts, and saggy stomachs. They are still airbrushed – an unobtainable vision of ‘reality’.
I disagree with Ruth that it is ‘only acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people’. I was horrified when a ‘friend’ posted on Facebook recently about a cinema trip, ‘well, the film wasn’t great, funniest thing was a fat man trying to find his seat in the dark’. There are also several groups dedicated to fat jokes on said social network. However, I do absolutely agree that there is an underrepresentation of those who are naturally slim. It is rare that one can pass by a magazine stand without seeing straplines targeting the skinny celebrity, who has cellulite ‘just like us’, or is berated for becoming ‘too thin’.
However, I am coming to realise that this is the body that I have been dealt and to make the most of it. On a recent group holiday in Italy, I consciously made the decision that my size was not going to hold me back. Not in a ‘screw you I’m so sexy’ ugly aggressive type of way, but grateful for the fact that I have working arms and legs and am able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Conversations on that holiday between women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes around the swimming pool and dining table at times revolved around weight, and I realised that it is a rare lucky soul that has never suffered from any form of anxiety around their appearance. I still want to shed this excess six stone or so, but for now I will smile and make the best of the body I have in this moment now. The weight loss will take me a while, so I’m not going to put life on hold until it happens.