03 October 2014

A Qualm: "You're Not Fat; You're Beautiful"

I couldn't tell you how many times I heard that phrase whilst I was growing up, and still today: "You're not fat; you're beautiful." And my guess is that most plus-size women have been told the same thing (accompanied by, "You have such a pretty face," or "At least you have boobs"). It's often said by friends and relatives in an attempt to be reassuring and pseudo-comforting. I don't doubt that sometimes the people saying the words truly don't think the person they're saying the words to is fat. But I also don't doubt that this phrase -- this phrase we hear so much -- stems from the assumption that fat is this big, scary, horrible thing. Not an essential component of survival. Not a characteristic that can make women look feminine and voluptuous and stunning. Nor make a man's shape interesting and soft. But a trait associated with negative and derogatory stereotypes: laziness, ignorance, a burden to insurance companies and the medical community, inherently ill, etc., etc.
It's one of those ironies. People who say the phrase usually don't mean any harm. They don't think what they're doing is lying or body shaming. They think they're easing your insecurities, unaware that the end result is further stigmatization of fat by linking fatness to unattractiveness. The thing is, if you're a fat man or woman, you are probably acutely aware of your body. Why wouldn't you be, when so much of mainstream society dictates that your figure is the wrong figure? So in the end, hearing someone say, "You're not fat; you're beautiful," can have a pretty counterproductive result.
I struggle with this phrase. I know that I am a plus-size woman. I know that I classify as "obese" by medical standards. I know how big my derriere is and I certainly know how much my body jiggles and wobbles (traits I have come to love thanks to body confidence movements, inspiring plus-size bloggers and my incredible partner -- as well as, simply, growing up and allowing myself to be myself). But I also know that I am tall. I'm tall, and I love vintage fashion. And the combination of these things often makes me look far smaller than I am. In turn, I'm aware that when some people say, "You're not fat; you're beautiful," they really believe it. But the thing is, I don't want them to say it. Not just because it's a lie, but because they're perpetuating a stigma. It's more than possible to be fat and beautiful. I see it everyday, in women (and men) I love and admire. It's also perfectly possible to be fat and healthy; fat and fit; fat and hard working, ambitious, motivated, wonderful, intriguing.
It strikes me as genuinely absurd and oftentimes infuriating how much people are oblivious to this form of body snark. It's become so engrained, and such a part of daily life, that no one stops to think about it anymore. Not too long ago, I saw a friend's Facebook status that was yet another quintessential example of this problem. Being a quirky, alternative dresser, she found that certain tourists visiting Hebden Bridge couldn't stop staring at her. One in particular visibly pointed and laughed. My friend's status was along the lines of, "At least I have personality and unique style, unlike you... you stupid, fat bitch." Seriously, I hear this all the time. If someone is an ass hole, and also fat, they will always, ALWAYS, be referred to as, "The FAT ass hole." Yet again, we link being fat with this other thing (this bad thing), forgetting to realize that it isn't the person's weight that makes them cruel. It's the person! As in, intrinsically. When someone is thin, and an ass hole, we would never think to refer to them as, "The skinny ass hole," or at least, not nearly as often (though I do lamentably hear women being referred to as "skinny bitches" once in a while). The point is, our first world society (or perhaps most society in general nowadays) perceives fat to be something unhealthy, ugly and distasteful, so we go out of our way to comment and mock it in our daily lives.
A misconception certain people have is that because there are more fat people today than perhaps there have been in times passed, that means that fatness is normalized. It is absolutely not normalized. Just because we see something regularly, and because it has become common, does not mean that it is accepted. This could be said of non-hetero sexuality, of men who dress in drag, and yes, of being fat. If it were so accepted, so "normal," we wouldn't have to say things like, "You're not fat; you're beautiful." We'd choose instead to say, "Your fat is beautiful," or "You are fat and beautiful." But very rarely do we hear these things outside body-positive and fat-positive communities.

Some of you may have seen my recent Bustle experiment: "I Am a Plus-Size Woman Who Wore a Low-Rise Bikini to the Beach and This is What Happened." Toward the end, I write, "The only way to normalize the 'abnormal' is to embrace it." Just because fat people are in the majority in certain parts of the world doesn't mean they're perceived as "normal" or beautiful. And it's ok to be different to those perceptions of normality. Truly, our differences make us special and interesting. But I think if anything different is ever going to receive a certain level of acceptance, we have to consciously try to end the body snark -- even when it's unintentional. In some ways, the fact that it is often unintentional is going to make it far more difficult to combat (because our unawareness is such a serious thing). But personally, I think any little bit of help counts. Eradicating the lies, even the innocent enough ones, will count. Saying, "Yes you're fat, and you're also beautiful, and your fat is part of that beauty," -- that will count.

So why did I include outfit photos? Well, the photographer who shot these (Lucy Cartwright) played around with set-design, lighting and my positioning in a way that I feel created quite a beautiful outcome. Though my own self-esteem and confidence have grown exponentially since the start of this blog, it's still a rare occasion that I say to myself, "Hey Miggle; you're beautiful!" I might think of myself as cute or funny-looking in an endearing way or pretty. But I don't often think "beautiful" in my head. Here, though, I think to myself, "Yep, you're a pretty chunky lady, and that's definitely a big part of your beauty."

Get the Look:
Daisy Plunge Neck Bodysuit in Nude/Boohoo
Polly Scuba Turn Up Tregging in Navy/Boohoo

5 comments:

  1. I am a staunch supporter of the "everyone is beautiful" movement. I don't know what my parents did, but they did it right. I've always been blind to color and size and everything else. I look at you and I think, "Damn, that is a beautiful woman!" Your face is exquisite and has amazing angles. You have gorgeously shaped eyes that I would kill for. Your skin and complexion are jealousy-inducing. Your hair is so big and luscious! You have a freaking natural beauty mark!!!
    I love myself as best I can as well, but beauty is so fascinating to me. I think you are absolutely stunning. I want everyone to see their own beauty, and sometimes I don't understand how it happened that it came to pass that they might not be able to see it.

    And the "not ... but" comments are never good. It's like making an excuse, or justifying a negative comment. I am still learning how to handle negative comments that people make about themselves - I work retail and my company (maurices) carries plus sizes. At least once a week I hear someone tell me that they can't wear skinny jeans or jeggings because they're "too fat." I think everyone should wear what they want, and that's what I say. Size is not a factor!

    I think you're amazing and I'm so excited to be following you now!!!!

    - Jill
    www.stilettosonsundaymorning.com

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  2. I was pointed at your blog by LeahXL's post about you. I love your style both fashion and writing and I particularly love this article.

    You've summed up the whole but you're not fat" thing well. I have heard it so many times from people I call friends - they obviously see fat as bad, and don't see me as bad so don't want to label me as something they see as bad.

    Fat is just a descriptor, but it seems the only way that the negative connotations can be changed is for people to start calling out their friends and relatives. "Yes I am fat, and I am great too"

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  3. you are beautifull that I know! congratullations on your struggle for wisdom!

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  4. you are beautifull that I know! congratullations on your struggle for wisdom!

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  5. I agree with your posts completely. There's pressure to look a certain way, even though you're beautiful the way you are. Nobody should be told differently.

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