It was a big week for body-snarking last week.
Or actually, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was business as usual and all this fat-shaming and ridiculing of people who do not fit a very limited scope of beauty ideals has just become this normal thing we do to each other.
Last week, pictures of Lady Gaga surfaced with claims that the pop star had gained weight and was looking fat in her costumes. Crappy blogs (which I will not link to, but you can read from Jezebel here instead) describe the singer as having “fattened up” and looking like she really “piled on the pounds.” A nutritionist, who has never actually treated Gaga, took some time out of his busy day to offer up some helpful advice, “Gaga appears to have gained at least 30 pounds”. Thanks, random nutritionist, keep up the good work.
Now, the idea that women’s bodies are up for scrutiny at all times is not a new concept to me. I’ve grown up female in a culture that is more focused on my weight than my GPA, has me more concerned that I won’t “lose the baby weight” than whether or not I’ll be a good mom, and sells me new insecurities on the regular (hey, did you know your armpits are disgusting and your vagina is too vagina-colored? You’re welcome). No, the idea that bodies, mainly women’s bodies, are available for commentary, discussion, scrutiny, open to suggestions, etc, is not a new thing to me. We have internalized this system, this beauty industrial complex, so effectively that we not only police ourselves, but we police each other too.
You may be thinking, “I don’t care about Lady Gaga or the size of her ass, there are more important things going on in the world.” And you are right. And so smart. And exactly the kind of person I want to be friends with. However, this stuff is not fluff, or celebrity gossip or things that only women should be outraged about, because a question that might follow after hearing that Lady Gaga is fat is “If she is fat, then what am I?” And that question is being asked by your little sister, your girlfriend, your coworker or maybe even by yourself.
And more importantly than understanding our bodies in relation to Lady Gaga’s (or anyone else’s body), we have consented to this system where body snarking is just this accepted thing we do to each other. So, yes, you are totally correct to say that this is not news in the way that the economy is newsworthy or Iran is newsworthy– it is relevant because it says something about us as a culture.
Like a true superstar, Gaga refocused the discussion from the size of her ass to a Body Revolution. Recognizing that people have complicated relationships with their bodies-injuries, stretch marks, deformities, scars, eating disorders, etc.,- she called for fans to “be brave and post a photo that celebrates your triumph over insecurities”. By posting these personal photos and “mak[ing] our flaws famous,” we can “redefine the heinous”. (The Crunk Feminist Collective did a fantastic job unpacking some of the layers to redefining heinous and intersectionality of beauty, if you’re interested).
We desperately need a body revolution, but we also need a revolution in our dialogue, in the way we see ourselves and the way we see each other. We say things like “she needs to eat a sandwich” or “real women have curves” or “I was such a fatass today because I ate a (fill in the blank with some delicious food that you punish yourself for eating)” and we don’t think about the implications. I wish I had some wisdom to wrap this all up with a pretty bow, but I admit, I am a victim and perpetrator of this body snarking and I hate it.
How do you respond to body snarking comments, either overheard or directed towards you? How do we move from a culture where bodies are available for our scrutiny and move into one where we are more accepting of people?