My body is none of your business
Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t have a weight problem. But it certainly seems like other people have a problem with my weight.
To be clear, I’m fat. I have big hips, big breasts, big thighs, and…well you get the idea. Voluptuous, is what they used to call it. Rubenesque. Somehow this has fallen out of fashion in the last 100 years.
How do I know?
For most of my life, the fashion industry, which judges and promotes beauty standards, hasn’t wanted to dress women of my size. Not only have there been few choices within mass market plus-sized fashion, but the choices tended to be hideous.
As an aging member of Generation X, I prefer jeans and black t-shirts, not large print florals in polyester fabrics.
My “plus-sized” clothing has often been hidden in a separate section, in the back of stores, near the maternity department — which often has better-looking clothes. Honestly, if you can make a sexy leopard-print maternity jumpsuit, and even a maternity wedding dress, surely you can give plus-sized ladies more options?
These choices are expanding with online brands like Adore Me and others, but not fast enough. (Although now that Victoria’s Secret is getting on the body diversity band wagon, maybe I’ll be able to buy angel wings in my size at long last.)
Then there’s the lack of positive media images of women of all sizes, Lizzo notwithstanding. Growing up, the large people I saw portrayed on screens were there for comic effect (think: Shallow Hal). The first plus-sized actresses I remember seeing were Roseanne and Kathy Bates, and they weren’t cast as happy, fulfilled characters. That’s changed a bit, with actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson playing romantic comedy roles, but not enough.
And also, well, people say things, out loud, to women who don’t meet their beauty standards.
“I’m worried about your weight” is a phrase some people use. If you’re concerned about my health, perhaps we should have a conversation about my blood pressure? Or my cholesterol levels? Or my exercise regimen? But actually, that’s NOYFB, unless you’re my doctor.
Today, the average American woman is five-foot-three and weighs 170 pounds. Two out of every three U.S. women are medically overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes of Health, a number that’s been increasing since the 1970s.
Rather than creating more empathy, our collective weight gain is generating more stigma. Anti-fat bias is increasing, including among doctors, and it’s not just plus-sized women who are hearing these messages.
Women of all sizes have shared stories with me throughout the years about how they have been bombarded with comments about their weight, put on restrictive diets, and made to feel ashamed of their bodies. One high school friend, a popular cheerleader, told me that a well-liked guy at our school said she’d be attractive if only her thighs were thinner. Another friend said her mother pressured her about her weight when she was a kid and even took her to weight watchers. And a work colleague once shared she was bullied in middle school because of her weight. And so on.
Is it any wonder that women judge their own bodies so harshly?
According to the National Organization for Women, more than half of American girls are “unhappy with their bodies” — a number that grows to a shocking 78 percent by the time girls reach seventeen. Almost half of 9- to 11-year-olds are on diets, and between 40 and 60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about becoming “too fat.”
Somehow, I’ve mostly been spared the fat shaming — at least to my face — but I grew up in a household where my mother “struggled” with her weight, and was constantly nagged about it in our home.
And it didn’t stop as she aged. When she was 70 years old and bedridden with stage 4 breast cancer, a male relative called to tell her maybe she would get better if she would lose some weight. (She asked not to speak with him again, and I made sure of it.) At my mom’s memorial service, a close family member didn’t want us to display photos of her at her larger size, which were almost all of her adult photos, because they “didn’t look like her.”
I thought about punching him in the face. But then I’d be labelled angry as well as fat. The horror.
Not only is fat shaming insulting, it doesn’t work. Decades of public health research shows that ridicule doesn’t lead most people to change their behavior, and it doesn’t cause overweight people to magically slim down. Instead, it has been shown to cause depression, poor self-esteem, unhealthy eating behaviors, and yes, even greater weight gain.
So STFU already with asking people about their weight. You are not “worried” about my health. And none of us overweight ladies — again, almost 70 percent of the female population in the United States — want to hear it.
I’m not going to lie and say I’m immune to all this negativity. My weight has fluctuated from year to year, and there are times I pass a mirror and think: is that how I look? And then I think, hell, yes, this is how I look! This body has gotten me through a LOT over the years, including two husbands, a baby, and a worldwide pandemic. I have earned these hips.
To the millions of women size 14 and over: let’s give ourselves more self-love when it comes to our own bodies. Your thighs and your hips are beautiful, just as they are.
If you want to lose weight for whatever reason, go for it. If you don’t, that’s none of my damn business. Or anyone else’s.
And one last thought: let’s finally get rid of the plus-sized clothing department and make women’s clothing come in all sizes. If Victoria’s Secret can change (which, frankly, is TBD), so can the rest of fashion.
Or, here’s an idea: if stores are keeping the plus-sized section, let’s put the clothing up front, rename it the Rubenesque section, and decorate the walls with pictures of sexy, voluptuous women.
Just like you and me.