We Need To Stop Skinny Shaming

Some of us may have thought that the widespread promotion of a more inclusive society would mean inclusivity for all. It’s only now that we’re finding out we were very wrong.

By Gwen Farrell5 min read
Pexels/Карина Каржавина

One popular, vocal component of this progressive, egalitarian rhetoric is the body positivity movement, also known interchangeably as the fat acceptance movement, beauty at every size, and “health at every size.” This campaign of activists and social media influencers has the backing of big-name brand sponsorships and celebrities alike. It preaches equality, acceptance, and inclusivity for a varying array of body types and the celebration of diversity. Or, at least, it used to.

This movement has become increasingly fractured and fraught internally with divisiveness, scandal, and partisanship. Its social credit is dwindling, as many who sought acceptance within the movement have realized that it really only serves to further a very specific body type. 

Body positivity is all about praising and celebrating bigger bodies, but it has nothing but disdain and resentment for smaller ones. More than that, it encourages vitriolic assumptions about smaller women or thinner bodies in general, revealing that the campaign was never really concerned with acceptance for all, just those who perceived themselves as more oppressed. As we dismantle body positivity not as a concept but as a crusade, it’s time we stop skinny shaming.

It Isn’t Your Business. Or Is It?

As you scroll online, consuming more content by the second, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that there are actual people behind these videos, photos, clips, and sound bites. When we live the entirety of our lives online, and moderation as a habit disappears altogether, we forget that these people exist in real life, and may, in fact, be far removed from what they make accessible or what we see of them.

You see this phenomenon with celebrities and other public figures, but over time, it’s become commonplace even with perfect strangers. A model in an ad might be introduced to your For You Page, but you’re not really focused on the bag she’s holding or the clothes she’s advertising. All you can see is her body and how it compares to your own. 

Our prejudice might go both ways. While we might assume that bigger people are suffering from food addiction, binge eating disorder, or just leading a sedentary lifestyle – which has become a point of pride for many in the body positivity movement – we naturally assume that every woman with a certain BMI below our own is anorexic, bulimic, or otherwise a victim of her own insecurity.

But this is something we should take seriously, not throw it around loosely or use it as an accusation against someone else. Eating disorders can be deadly; in fact, they’re second in fatality to overdosing on opioids. Millions of both men and women are affected by eating disorders – but just because you see someone thin online doesn’t mean that they’re suffering from one.

In fact, there are many medical reasons why women are naturally thin. First of all, genes play a huge part in dictating our metabolism and how we keep or lose weight. Every body reacts differently to calories, to exercise, and to popular diets like keto or intermittent fasting. For some, these diets can be successful, but others can be severely impacted by them according to their hormones.

Body positivity as a concept was never intended to apply to thinner bodies.

Chronic illness and autoimmune diseases also affect our weight. Conditions like diabetes, Addison’s disease (where your adrenal glands produce an insufficient amount of cortisol), hyperthyroidism, Celiac disease, stress, anxiety, and depression can all prompt weight loss.

Model Gigi Hadid is one such example of weight fluctuation due to chronic illness, which she revealed on social media: “For those of you so determined to come up w why my body has changed over the years, you may not know that when I started @ 17 I was not yet diagnosed w/Hashimoto’s disease; those of u who called me ‘too big for the industry’ were seeing inflammation & water retention due to that. Although stress & excessive travel can also affect the body, I have always eaten the same, my body just handles it differently now that my health is better. I may be ‘too skinny’ for u, honestly this skinny isn’t what I want to be, but I feel healthier internally and am still learning and growing with my body everyday, as everyone is,” she explained in a tweet on her now-deactivated account.

A Toxic Double Standard

Body positivity activists may tout that there’s no weight limit to their activism, but there certainly is a weight threshold. In fact, according to the most vocal within the movement, body positivity as a concept was never intended to apply to thinner bodies, or those who face fewer “barriers” that correlate to their weight, according to one fat activist, who claimed, “The easiest way to visualize the fat spectrum is an arrow pointing up. As your size and weight go up, so do the number of barriers you face.” 

One of the most popular and well-known body positivity figures, Lizzo, had this to say: “Now that body positivity has been co-opted by all bodies, and people are finally celebrating medium and small girls and people who occasionally get rolls, fat people are still getting the short end of this movement. No one cares anymore because it’s like, ‘body positivity is for everyone.’” Pop star Lizzo, who has previously preached a message of inclusivity, is now in hot water for allegedly weight shaming her dancers.

Thin women are continuously shamed for having the bodies that they have, even if they’re actively trying to gain weight, eat however they want, or exercise as they see fit. It looks like, all along, this message was never about inclusivity but exclusivity, and if you’re anywhere between a size 0 to 8, no matter what horrible things people say about your weight or what insecurities you have, you don’t belong in this club.

I spoke with a former model who opened up about how others not only thought her thin figure was their business, but about how their constant comments instilled an unhealthy fear of weight gain in her. “If I expressed being self-conscious about my appearance, someone would shut me down and tell me because I was thin, I had nothing to worry about. I’ve never not been thin, so even now, if I’ve gained a pound or two, I freak out because, for so long, I’ve had people associate my thinness with having it easy or being attractive. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I have no other positive attributes aside from my weight.”

All thin people are supposed to be thankful that they have ‘thin privilege,’ so their body image concerns are less valid.

YouTuber Kiana Docherty, who dedicates her channel to videos on the body positivity movement and weight loss, clarifies how this exclusivity speaks volumes about the realities of the movement. She explains, “All thin people are supposed to be thankful that they have ‘thin privilege,’ so their body image concerns are less valid, and therefore they’re not really worthy of participating in body positivity. You can’t tell if someone has body image issues or the severity of those issues based on the size of their body.”

According to these voices, you’re supposed to be proud of your body, unless you’re under a size 8. You’re supposed to eat whatever you want with abandon, but if you’re thin and trying to gain weight or even exercising regularly as a bigger person, your voice is only a metric of “internalized fatphobia,” not a valuable addition to the movement. 

The Beauty at Every Size Movement Is Lying to You

“Get your own movement.” “Body positivity was never about thin people.” “Thin women with conventionally attractive bodies do nothing for the movement, besides make it about themselves.” Research the “bopo” movement, as it’s known on social media, and you’ll see all of this and more.

All bodies are beautiful, but not if you ask the well-known figures in the health at every size/beauty at every size movement. Not only that, but they encourage and promote dangerous rhetoric to impressionable women who genuinely have body image issues and are actively seeking solutions to mitigate their dysphoria.

Any rational person would be quick to call out a person encouraging dangerous conditions like anorexia and bulimia in order to become skinnier. So why is it acceptable to promote morbid obesity and poor mental health? Figures like Lizzo, Tess Holliday, and Virgie Tovar brag about eating whatever they want and rejecting exercise or even basic physical activity, and fans eat it up. But if a thinner person posts an empowering video or photo, they’ve committed a cardinal sin. 

This kind of lifestyle can quickly lead to serious, life-threatening issues like diabetes or heart disease, which remains the number one killer of Americans. But these illnesses are oftentimes preventable, and the other side effects of obesity can be avoided. But the body positivity movement doesn’t want to avoid them – they embrace being heavy, and because misery loves company, they then encourage their followers to adopt the same habits. They also cater this narrative of self-empowerment (and self-obsession) exclusively to women and never to men

In the eyes of these women, thin people, average-sized women, and even bigger women who eat in moderation or eat intuitively and are regularly active can do nothing right. They’re internally fat-phobic, promoting diet culture, promoting outdated beauty standards and fitness culture, and on and on and on. And, if one of these critics has the sense to call out these ridiculous standards, they’re told that they don’t understand the movement, or that it was never for them in the first place. Everyone is an ally, until they decide to speak out on the dangers of obesity and how toxic self-love can be. But for skinnier women, the odds were stacked against them from the beginning.

Closing Thoughts

Thin women have been collateral damage in this campaign of self-acceptance, even when they have their own insecurities and body image issues. But any movement rooted in self-love and self-obsession is doomed to fail, and the implosion of body positivity that we’re watching right now is evidence of that. It’s failing because it’s not sustainable, both because dogged exclusivity prevents it from growing and expanding, and because any rhetoric founded in the active prevention of bettering oneself is never going to succeed.

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