The Vagenda

The Good, the Bad and the Fatty

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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

10 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad and the Fatty

  1. I realized this a while ago too. Often the accepted fatness comes with a small waist, a “beautiful” white face and if you have a belly you definitely aren’t into the “good fatty”. What pisses me off is that even in the feminist community this standard is being praised. I don’t care for that, really, but for me this so called acceptance and body positivism isn’t real. Its just not working. The type of fat people who receives this positivism still are in a very “media dream” level for me. I still cannot find any affordable clothes I like, I still cannot find people like me doing things.

  2. Exactly my thoughts! You just took the words out of my mouth,we women shouldn’t feel bad about how “fat” or skinny we look. This is me,accept it or leave it!I mustn’t be likable to everyone.

  3. I agree with the general idea of your article, especially with your point concerning “good fatty” vs. “bad fatty”. Personally I think it’s ridiculous to even suggest than any one of those four women you named are fat.
    That said, I think that a lot of fat activists, if that’s the appropriate term, are misdirecting their efforts into trying to change the beauty standard to include heavier women, instead of discarding it altogether.
    Let’s assume the plan works, and women of all shapes and sizes can be considered beautiful. Great, the fight’s over, we’ve won. However, what do we tell someone with a less than attractive face? What do we tell someone with a certain disability or illness? What do we tell a burn victim? There will ALWAYS be someone that won’t be considered attractive by society’s standards.
    The way I see it, people have a right to be ugly and the solution is in treating people with respect regardless of their looks and not discriminating against or shaming them for their flaws.
    And as far as a certain person’s romantic and sex life is concerned, that is said person’s business only. Even if someone’s romantic/sex life suffers because of their appearance, then I guess that’s just too bad, because no one has a right to a relationship or a right to sex, and we need to stop acting like a single and sexless life is such a massive burden to bear.

  4. Also, I hate to nitpick, but there’s something that I forgot to add to my original reply that I think is important. In your article you mention white maleness putting the “good fatty” on a pedestal, while insulting the “bad fatty”.
    I think that you’re wrong to suggest that *white* maleness is to blame, unless you want to fall into the stereotype of “black men love curvy women”, that Tess Holliday herself was criticized for after a recent interview.
    Even more so, I dislike blaming maleness itself for this inequality, because the last time I checked, maleness is not inherently straight, and you as a gay woman should be aware of this.
    I don’t think that women are innocent in this matter either – I am sure that many women have been less than kind to a woman heavier than themselves.
    All people, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, should be aware that sometimes it’s best to keep their opinion of someone else’s appearances to themselves.

  5. This is an excellent point – I’ve always been irked by this idea that ‘curvy’ women should be celebrated but all that amounts to is having ‘curves’ in the ‘right places’ – big breasts, small waist, big hips/bum, small thighs, and so on. To me it’s just as fantastical and unachievable for many women as the stick-thin modelesque look that is praised by fashion. It is always, always about looking acceptable and not just getting to live in the body you have.

  6. Patriarchy has done us in and done it good. This type of message goes way back and generations of conditioning based on the male opinion still play a pivotal role in anything that we do. I am not skinny and I find myself reacting with the same vulnerability but I am empowered when I realize that I am doing it for me and for no man – not for the Indian society that says I am healthy enough to be liked by a man and certainly not for those that think I could afford to lose a few pounds.

    We should be concerned with feeling healthy and everything else will follow but once again that definition of healthy should not be based on the male definition of health but of our own.

  7. There will never be a beauty standard that most of us can relate to or else we cannot be sold anything. Of course the so-called fat or plus sized role models and representatives are still mainly of an unattainable type. That’s what the thin models are too so why would it be any different coming from people who need to make us believe we are defective so we buy stuff? No matter what I weigh, assuming I have any control over that, I will not necessarily have the ‘right’ proportions or facial features or bone structure to qualify for conventional beauty. I used to agonise over that but I’m older and wiser now. Having said that, I totally own my thin privilege because although I am not model thin, I am in the ‘acceptable’ zone. I do not face discrimination or abuse on a daily basis but I am often called ‘big’ at 5’9″ and roughly a size 12/14. I am more hopeful that we can reach more recognition of the beauty of all skin colours than all sizes, because there is less to sell us to change skin colour, always something to sell that requires we believe we need to lose (and sometimes gain) weight.

  8. Body shaming of heavy people is threefold…
    1) against women, who with higher oestrogen have higher predisposition to fat
    2) against disabled people, which limits your ability to move or to process food and increase

  9. … Weight as a result.

    3) classism; those who cannot afford the time, relaxation or food to stay the acceptable size.

    The only answer to this is intersectional feminism. Destroy all capitalism that defines people by what they can do, (physically, mentally, genetically) and define unconditional equality of human rights.