So today I was in a shop and saw what I thought was a strapless bra. On closer inspection it turned out to be something charmingly called a bum enhancer. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I was under the impression that big arses were a no-no too. Please keep up. We’re not talking proper, wobbly, spilling-over-your-chair big, we’re talking Kim Kardashian-big, topped by a tiny waist and gravity-defying breasts; we’re talking socially acceptable-big.
We seem to be all over the place when it comes to women’s bodies, throwing mixed messages out willy nilly. ‘You’re too fat!’ Shout the magazines, pushing diets and potions at us. The TV and film industries are more subtle, they don’t tell us we’re fat but then they also don’t show anyone above a certain size, unless of course their size is part of the storyline or they’re there for comedy value, (because fat girls are fine as long as they are funny, funny being the get-out-of-fat-jail-card for fatties).
Big women are part of the story because they’re big, not despite. You just don’t see women who veer either side of this so-called ideal weight in the media, and if you do it’s cancelled out by the huge fuss made. If you have to tell us how OK and right-on you are about bigger women, it doesn’t count. Of course, a certain kind of fat person is allowed, they’re paraded around as a beacon of chubby hope in a skinny world. Look! A plus-size model. Isn’t she great, isn’t she brave! Now let’s wheel her back into her over-sized cupboard because of course we’re never going to actually use people like her as fat doesn’t sell. It suggests lack of control and excess. Let’s just stick her on the cover of a mag and hopefully her massive arse will hide all the skinny models we’ll still be using.
‘Big is beautiful, love!’ they say, ‘But jeez, not that big! Have some decency will you? We don’t mean everything, just the important bits.’ These people obviously fell into a coma in 1985 while watching Weird Science and have woken up thinking that you can just adjust the size of a woman with a click of the mouse, depending on how you feel that particular day.
Meanwhile, women’s bodies continue to be public property in a way men’s bodies never are. It’s as though it’s their duty to society to put on a good show and there’s indignation if they differ from the norm or ‘let themselves go’, and this includes going too far the other way because skinny women make us feel uncomfortable too. It’s even more socially acceptable to criticise a skinny woman. A slim friend of mine has had people actually grab her arm and comment about how thin it is. They assume she’s anorexic. This would never happen with an overweight woman. You would never go up to somebody and wobble their arm flesh saying, ‘Gosh, you’re so chubby! You must have some kind of mental illness, maybe just eat a bit less?’ Women who lose weight are told they look haggard and old and we can’t have that, it’s against the rules.
And yet conversely,thin/skinny is used as a compliment, as though that is something to aspire to, the thing that everyone wants. ‘Aren’t you looking nice and thin,’ they’ll say to someone who’s lost weight. Nobody would say that to someone who’s put weight on, you wouldn’t shout across the road to your neighbour ‘Hey, look at you and your lardy legs, well done you!’ because everyone assumes that you would not put weight on deliberately.
It’s all too confusing, no wonder we’ve lost our way and this uncertainty is preyed upon by people keen to make money. There’s a whole industry out there that has been built on our insecurities as it tries to scare us into eliminating whole food groups from our diets. We’re bombarded with books and blogs and instagram accounts that tell us we’re poisoning ourselves. They give us little snapshots into their unrealistic lives, forgetting that it’s all very well existing on a handful of nuts, some spiralised celery and an energy ball when all you have to do is skip around a beach in Wales wearing flip flops, but for someone who has to get kids ready for school, then run for the bus to go and do a day’s work without passing out in the process, it’s just not attainable.
The emphasis should be on being fit and healthy, whatever our weight, but it’s not really in anybody’s interest for us all to be fit and healthy. If we were we wouldn’t need the drugs and the books and the diet foods.
There’s so much emphasis on how we look we seem to be completely missing the point that we still need to look after ourselves and be healthy, and while that doesn’t automatically mean thin we do need to make sure that we’re not all so concerned about not giving in to patriarchal ideals of thinness that we end up giving ourselves heart disease in the process. Yes, the media places unrealistic pressures on us to look a certain way, but we shouldn’t get so hung up about not wanting to be told what to do that we replace that pressure with a different kind of pressure to not care about our bodies.
I’ve lost weight recently and I’ve ended up feeling a bit guilty about saying that, because it seems that I have gone from being the wrong kind of shape for society, to being the wrong kind of shape for feminism. There’s an idea that wanting to lose weight is shallow and petty. We shouldn’t care, we should embrace our larger bodies (even if we can’t quite get our hands around them), and concentrate on much deeper issues. Losing weight has almost become a guilty secret. There’s a kind of bravado about over-eating. Cake-porn is a thing to feel proud of, stuff the patriarchy, if we want to be fat we’ll be fat and no man can tell us any different. That’ll teach ’em.
Cake has more or less been given a sainthood and there are as many pictures of huge slabs of cake online as there are pictures of kittens. We attach so much emotion to it. We deserve to eat this cake, we’ve earned it. What kind of fast food/social media/instant gratification-obsessed society have we created where happiness is the responsibility of food?
I wonder if we’ll look back on things like cake club blogs in the same amused, yet horrified way that we watch episodes of Mad Men, where they sit around smoking fags while necking Old Fashioneds at a 10am meeting.
There’s a kind of negative boasting. When my children were small there were always people who made others feel bad about doing good stuff with or for their kids. Like the kids at school who would laugh at you for always doing your homework. Oh, someone said to me once, you make porridge for their breakfast? I can’t be bothered with that, I just stick a bit of cereal in a bowl and leave them to it. Everyone laughed and I felt silly for caring about what my kids eat. I feel exactly the same way when someone suggests that I’m no fun for turning down a piece of cake. When did it become a thing to be congratulated for not caring?
It seems that we’re allowed to talk about how we embrace our fatness but it’s almost gone too far the other way, and we’re not allowed to say when we want to do something about it. How is that equality?
We need to give ourselves and each other a break and start being more supportive, instead of judging and giving out little labels that we assume can’t be worn at the same time. Yes, you can want equality and want to look good. It is possible to type out those ranty blog posts with shiny red nail varnish, I’ve just done it and the world didn’t end.
And just so you know, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ was the best out of a very long list of fat bottom puns, so you actually got away lightly. (And you have no idea how hard it was to not write ‘You got a-weigh lightly’).