We didn’t get that far or that deep. Somehow we were both too frustrated to discuss it at that moment, and so we left the conversation unsolved. In the days to come, I’ll turn the conversation around in my head and reconfigure it like a Rubik’s Cube.
It wasn’t the invocation of “skinny shaming” that bothered me, but its specific use to end a conversation about obesity and fat people – and often its use to divert responsibility and take responsibility for anti-fat behaviors revoke. It was an experience I’d had before: Talking about fat in the presence of a few thin people provoked a deep defensiveness and a sudden, harsh rejection. They responded as if discussions about obesity affected their own experiences. It wasn̵
When my friend called “Skinny Shaming” she said her experience was important too. And she was right. Of course it was important, and of course I knew that.
But it was also a red herring. I didn’t say her experience didn’t matter and I wouldn’t. She was my friend; I loved her. I wanted to support them and I wanted to feel the mutuality of that support. But something about just talk about An experience she didn’t share had resulted in an almost complete shutdown. We both left the conversation frustrated and angry: she was expected to put her experiences aside to discuss mine, and I was expected to derail a much-needed conversation so thoroughly.
“Skinny shaming is no better.”
She was right. To shame someone – that is, to vilify a person because of their body – is completely wrong. No one should be judged or ridiculed for their size, shape, appearance, or ability. Our bodies are not public property and cannot be commented, judged or praised by anyone.
However, the judgment is different from systemic exclusion. No, thin people shouldn’t be asked to Eat a sandwich, nor should the fact of their bodies be described as anorexic. This individual aggression is harmful and inexcusable. But these individual, interpersonal instances differ in that they are not denied the ability to meet even your most basic needs. Accept Eat something is irritating and unkind, the kind of unsolicited comment that can stay with you for days, weeks, months, years. It’s a different issue than a court ruling that it isn’t illegal to fire someone for weight gain. Or judges commenting that an “overweight” sexual assault survivor would have been a bit flattered by the progress of their alleged perpetrator. In this way, shaming thin people is an individual aggression, not a systemic one. It differs from the fact that applicants must meet or fall below a certain BMI. Studies and reviews have found evidence of weight discrimination in employment at nearly every stage of the employment process, from selection to compensation, promotion, discipline to dismissal. In other words, fat workers cannot be hired, promoted, or fired simply because they’re fat– a phenomenon that has simply not been documented on a large scale in thin workers. And skinny shaming is different from the goal of a long and strenuous one War on obesity.
No, thin people shouldn’t be embarrassed. Nor should fat people be systematically excluded from our most basic needs: employment, health care, housing, etc. But too many thin voices are silent when it comes to combating this institutional exclusion of fat people. In that way my friend was a role model. “Skinny shaming is no better” was a rejoinder to end the conversation.