Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tipping the Scales

             Recently, I’ve noticed a trend involving women and body image. It’s destructive, but the opposite of what you might expect. I have heard a lot of people describe skinny women as “disgusting” and assume that anyone who is underweight must be anorexic or bulimic. In my opinion, this is just as harmful as ridiculing women for being overweight.
            Beauty is not narrow (either literally or figuratively). There are different types of it, and it comes in a variety of sizes. Unfortunately, many people who espouse this view do not apply it to women of a slighter build. It’s true that larger women bear the brunt of body criticism, and that slimmer people are generally better received in society. This is absolutely shallow and unfair. At the same time, it doesn’t justify the judgment and degradation of smaller women.
            When I was in middle school, I was underweight. I weighed ninety pounds for the majority of eighth grade and looked completely pre-pubescent until I was about fourteen. I didn’t have an eating disorder, although many of my classmates assumed that I did. I was very self-conscious while changing in the locker room. People called me flat-chested and bulimic. Upon viewing my stomach, one girl asked if I had intestinal worms. As you can imagine, this was painful and humiliating. Locker rooms are mortifying for plenty of heavier girls, and they are often harassed by peers as well. I am not trying to trivialize their experiences. I’m just pointing out that skinny girls also struggle with body image, and bullying is never excusable.
            We’re all acquainted with the expression, “Real women have curves.” This is true, but all women are “real,” and plenty of slim women have curves. By that logic, you might as well claim that a man is not “real” unless he has a beard. I’ve frequently heard thin women referred to as “gross,” “anorexic,” or “twelve-year-old boys.” These descriptions are demeaning and cruel. Such epithets also drip with sexism. Women are predominantly judged on appearance and weight, whereas men are more assessed by their character. This phenomenon is not solely driven by the male gender. Women subject each other to this treatment as well.
            People often jump to conclusions about a woman’s character based on her weight. Bigger women are judged to be lazy and to lack self-discipline while skinny ones are viewed as neurotic or vain. We need to understand that a person’s weight can lie outside of his or her own control, and is not always a reflection of one’s behavior. It can be based on genetic factors, metabolism, or other health issues. Somebody can exercise regularly and eat sensibly but continue to be heavyset. Likewise, an underweight person does not necessarily have an eating disorder or any other disease. If someone does suffer from anorexia or bulimia, they should never be ridiculed for it. Everybody needs to be educated on the health risks of weighing too much or too little. False assumptions need to be set aside, and sensitivity must be practiced.
          Compassion and understanding are the answers. All people should be treated with consideration, regardless of physical appearance.

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Side note: You can't force anyone to change their perception of what's attractive, and I'm not advocating that. It is reasonable, however, to urge people to avoid judging a person's character by their weight and to stop making insulting comments to people about their size, whatever that size may be. Also, I didn't touch on male body image because I cannot speak about it from experience. I write what I know. It's true that underweight and overweight males are often ridiculed, and that is also unfair. Nevertheless, I think that the societal practice of body-policing has a greater impact on women.

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