I can’t stop thinking about women’s bodies.
If you think this statement has anything to do with my sexuality, you’d be wrong – although I am, in fact, a lesbian, body acceptance and positivity is at the core of my fixation. Let me ask you this: woman to woman, how often do you catch yourself checking out how you look in a mirror or a shop window? Quite often, right? And I can almost guarantee that the concern you feel over how you look is as a result of being gawped at and potentially criticised by others. Well ladies, you’re not alone – and in spite of your sexuality, I bet you can’t stop thinking about women’s bodies either.
Our old, judgemental friend, The Media, has long been a purveyor of the ‘ideal’ female body, choosing to standardise an acceptable body ideal through the eyes of the privileged, white male. Now I know I’m not telling you anything new and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d have noticed that there has been a surge of body positive and feminist activism in recent months – with the success of the Everyday Sexism campaign and the arrival of plus-size Tess Holliday on the modelling scene, it seems that women are no longer afraid to speak out about the acceptance they have for their own bodies. However, it can be difficult for women to detach the feelings they have about their bodies from male ideology – in a society where (female) sex sells and wearing a short skirt makes you fair game, it’s difficult to stand up and be proud of your body without fear of being sexualised or body shamed. Equally, it seems that people are unaccepting of a body positive female who is intrinsically happy with her body – without it being appropriated by maleness. It takes a lot to stand up to patriarchy and say “actually, fuck you, you don’t get to shun, shame, accept, like or dislike my body. I don’t care what you think, because I love my body”. It seems that Tess Holliday has opened the floodgates with her body positive and fat accepting movement #EffYourBeautyStandards and many women, including me, are squeezing out of the woodwork to proclaim, Love Actually style, that we love ourselves – just as we are. To our surprise, this has made a difference, plus size is becoming acceptable. But don’t hold your breath; for our success might be short-lived… a trend has begun.
Patriarchal society just can’t help themselves. As soon as women have any kind of success, they have to wade in and supervise it, doctoring it to suit their male needs. Body positivity is being accepted, to an extent, but before we get too big for our boots, we are reminded that our body acceptance is monitored. Whether the privileged male admits it or not, society is standardising fatness. As discussed in Lonie McMichael’s Acceptable Prejudice?: Fat, Rhetoric and Social Justice” two ‘categories’ of fatness have materialised in the media, appropriated (once more) with male ideology in mind: the good fatty and the bad fatty.
The good fatty is fashionable, visible in popular society circles, often white, and publicly advocates their ‘healthy’ lifestyle. The media has been quick to jump on models such as Denise Bidot, Ashley Graham, Whitney Thompson and Robyn Lawley and, whilst I don’t doubt their beauty or their influence in the plus-size world, there are certain commonalities apparent. They are praised for being “fat but healthy” or “full bodied and gorgeous” suggesting to the everyday fat woman that the acceptance of their fatness hinges on acceptance from others, that it cannot come from within – which leads me to the bad fatty. The bad fatty is not within the acceptable realms of fatness that the male eye has prescribed: she might refuse to conform to beauty ideals, be opinionated, or worse, fat and ‘ugly’. White males put the good fatty on a pedestal, praising and loving her curves whereas the bad fatty is shunned, her experiences of body positivity side-lined and ignored in favour of negative body conversation. Intersectional body positivity isn’t even considered by the privileged – the experiences of body positive women of different ethnicities, of different sexualities isn’t discussed, but these conversations need to be had.
We women need to stop allowing maleness to impinge on our sense of self-worth and our feelings of self-acceptance. I for one have had enough of being pushed and pulled by maleness, but they know no different, so it’s up to us to make that change. I’m not going to allow my body, or the way I feel about my body to be shamed – I refuse to be put in the category of good fatty or bad fatty, I’m going to be my kinda fatty. Its been suggested to me that ‘no man will want me’ because of my size – but as a big, fat, feminist dyke I can safely say that the way I feel about my body has nothing to do with men, thanks.
- Fran Hayden