April 20, 2024

Skinny-Shaming & Fat-Shaming Are Not The Same Thing

“Emily looks heavy,” he said, pouring over sample photos from my wedding. “Like 10 pounds heavier than normal”. It felt like a knife through my stomach, hearing a wedding guest of mine – who I won’t name – pointing out the weight I had gained ahead of the ceremony in September.

Suddenly I couldn’t see the wedding dress I adored, but the size of my arms. I forgot about my big, goofy smile, looking instead at my soft jawline as I was captured reading my vows.

By nature of being a woman, I’ve had my body commented on throughout my life: subjected to a litany of comments from “skeletal” and “frail”, to the holy grail of “hourglass”, to “chubby” and “overweight”, through years battling an eating disorder (ED), gleeful trips around Europe eating ice cream twice a day, body hatred, and body euphoria. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which comments stung the most.

Presenter Zeze Millz sparked a conversation about “skinny-shaming” when she opened up about her unacceptable experiences, claiming on TikTok that people mention her weight “at least once a day”, and that commenters had described her as “ill”, or implied her slim build was due to drug use.

“I want to talk about why people think it’s okay to tell slim people they need to put weight on, or they looked better when they were bigger,” she said.

“I know ain’t no one going up to overweight people and telling them ‘they need to put the cakes down and the pies’. ”

While it’s true that nobody should feel entitled to comment on anyone’s body, and I can’t speak on Millz’ behalf – her experience of body-shaming intersects with her identity as a Black woman, which holds her to different, often much harsher, beauty standards than I have been held to as white – it’s critical to note that rude comments do go both ways, and when talking about “skinny-shaming” and “fat-shaming” we shouldn’t conflate the impact of the two.

I don’t deny Millz’s experiences are awful, however when slim people are insulted with judgemental comments, they are still able to move through a world that privileges the slim ideal, never having to think about where they can buy clothes, how they can access medical care, or accessibility requirements like extendable seatbelts on planes.

The “skinny-shaming” I’ve experienced through my life – the pinching and prodding, men lifting you up without permission because of how “little” you are, winding their fingers around your “tiny” wrists – was exhausting and invasive.

The “fat-shaming”, however, went beyond insults, instead indicating something more sinister. Being “fat-shamed” felt like an overwhelming pressure from every corner: the early-2000s magazines circling celebrities’ cellulite, influencers touting the benefits of Ozempic, the Special K diet, buccal fat removal, the wedding industry that made me feel like a moral failure for gaining weight ahead of my “big day”.

While both forms of body-shaming are irrevocably tied to the misogyny of expecting women to look a certain way, the way fatphobia operates in our society means that larger people often face a unique form of systemic exclusion.

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