Screw You and Your Platitudes; or, The Fat Paradox
It’s Katie-rant time. On body image. Again. Ready?
Firstly, I’m tiring of the word ‘curvy.’ I completely agree with the author of this article that it’s a word that’s become so overused as to lose all meaning – which is a shame, because it’s a word I like. I don’t think I’d be lying if I called myself curvy, but nor would any of the women in my office – even though all of us have got completely different body shapes. We’re all curvy in different ways – because when we’re talking about curves, we’re not really talking about size. We’re talking about shape.
However, curvy’s come to be both a euphemism and a compliment. It’s become a nothing term, that doesn’t say carry any real meaning other than that it implies you’re human and (usually) female. But it’s better than ‘fat’… Isn’t it?
The trouble is, the word ‘fat’ is so loaded with meaning that it throws people off when we use it. For example, in a conversation with a friend, you make a joke about being fat, and they rush to tell you that you’re not fat. Definitely not fat. Anything but fat. Those words are no doubt said with the best of intentions, but there’s a complex mechanism going on there that doesn’t really help anyone. You’re suddenly in a position where you have to either collude with them, and agree that you’re not fat – thus denying a part of yourself you might have already accepted, and might even (shocker!) like – or you have to argue the point, and make you both feel uncomfortable about the whole affair.
Then, say you’re walking down the street, and someone calls you fat. Chances are, no matter how body confident you are, that’s going to sting a bit – because nobody likes an unprovoked zinger. It might not be the ‘fat’ part that offends you, as much as the injustice of being called out for no apparent reason by a total stranger. But suddenly, you’re on the defensive. That word’s caught you out again.
But the thing is – I’d almost rather see ‘fat’ in my vocabulary than, say, the now-overused curvy, or the endless platitudes that don’t really mean anything but are designed to make you feel better… Usually in order to sell you something. I’m fed up of beauty brands using positive body image messages to sell a product – especially when, as in the case of the Dove “Real Women” campaign, they’re part of a group that also sells skin-lightening creams to women in India. I can’t get behind that, as much as I do think we need to see more women of all sizes looking and being happy – the motive to sell that lies behind it just doesn’t sit right with me.
But as the author of that (interesting, and definitely worth reading) article points out:
By democratizing and then celebrating “curvy,” it makes us feel good about ourselves. It means we’re open-minded. Forward-thinking. Because we’re so brave to praise a body that defies Hollywood standards. It’s a prop that shows off our values… It also gives us a new vocabulary with which to talk about our own bodies. But it’s unwarranted self-congratulation. If curvy can mean anything we want it to — on a scale of size 2 to size 22 — then our reductive thinking on the subject of bodies and beauty standards hasn’t actually changed. The ubiquity of “curvy” is just a gloss of body acceptance, not actual body acceptance.
We either need to stop talking about our bodies – which just isn’t going to happen – or we need to find a new, better vocabulary with which to talk about them. We need to reclaim the words we want to use to describe ourselves as we actually are. And we need to stop snarking on all fronts. Especially that insidious kind of snarking we do without even realise it. “Real women have curves,” for example, is just as much crap as “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” – because both are ways to justify how we are by implying that people who are different are wrong.
I believe in being passionately you, but I don’t believe in being aggressively anti-anyone else. When I started this blog and called it “Fat Girl, PhD,” it was because I considered myself to be a fat girl – even though I’d lost a considerable amount of weight by that point already. But it categorically wasn’t because I felt that to be a bad thing. I didn’t think anything of it. It’s just a word that I use to describe myself. It’s my word, and I like it.
But once the blog started getting more attention, I was amazed at how many people thought that calling myself a fat girl was somehow brave, or unusual. That shouldn’t be the case.
You know I’m a huge advocate of the idea that you should love your body no matter what size or shape you are. But I’m tired of phrases like that being bandied about in a disingenuous way that doesn’t mean anything – just like the word ‘curvy’ seems to be these days. It’s not enough being sold that thought at the same time as being bombarded with a thousand other things that run completely counter to that fact.
And yes, I’m aware that me, writing these words on a fitness blog might lead you to think I’m doing exactly that – but I don’t believe being fitter has made me a better person. The ways I’m happier have nothing to do with fitting into anyone’s idea of how I ought to be or look – instead, I’m just physically healthier, which has a knock-on effect on my emotional wellbeing. Yes, I’m ‘selling’ you a way to get fit, and be healthier – but if you’re reading this and you feel you’re awesome just the way you are, then I applaud you. You ARE awesome just the way you are.
We all need to take personal responsibility for the way we look at, and feel about, ourselves. Acknowledging what someone else might call a flaw as a good thing – something to love about yourself, rather than something that’s constantly dragging you down – and using whatever words you want to describe it… That’s how you create that sense of self-worth that women’s magazines and products are always trying to sell you.
It’s about truth, rather than platitudes. It’s about real words, rather than bullsh*t. Curvy, fat, thin, skinny, whatever – it’s all good. Your capacity to be amazing is only limited by your ability to let yourself be just that. Your ability to believe you can.
So believe it. Screw the platitudes. Cut the crap. Be amazing.
Who’s with me?