Does this blog make me look fat? I only ask because, in a recent flurry of hostile comments from men’s rights activists, I’ve found several telling me I’m “fat and ugly” or “fat and bitter” or – well, lots of things, but it’s always “fat and [something]”. So go on, give it to me straight — do these posts look plump to you? Are these the kind of opinions which might be caught celebrating their curves? Go on, I can take it.
It’s strange that, of all the things that could be used as an insult, “fat” comes up so often. Hell, I can think of a million things that are wrong with stuff I’ve written, but none of them have anything to do with the size of my thighs. When it comes to attacking women whose views you don’t like, “you’re fat” remains the weapon of choice. To be fair, I’m not surprised. It has two advantages: it doesn’t demand any intellectual effort yet it manages to convey female inferiority without even seeming to do so (yes, you can say “you’re fat” to a man but it won’t mean the same thing. Indeed, chances are he might actually be fat, which wouldn’t make you any less of a judgmental fuckwit, but a different kind thereof).
Women are told they are too fat or too thin every single day. They didn’t use to be. It used to be more intermittent, with thoughts of diets and weight forming an imperceptible background hum for the rest of the time. When I first suffered from anorexia in the late 1980s, it was hard to find a consistent supply of magazines with “size zero body shocks”, snide “lovin’ their curves” specials, celebrity food diaries, intrusive back-from-the-brink eating disorder stories, calorie counted recipes etc. If you wanted that kind of thing you had to purchase an actual diet magazine. Celebrity magazines were about celebrities. Now they’re about women being the wrong size. That is, at heart, the sole topic of Heat, Now, New, Closer, Okay and Star. Whether Miley Cyrus is taking the diet too far. Whether LiLo or Nicole Richie was the true victor in Starve Wars. Whether Natalie Cassidy has really found her “happy weight” and will keep the pounds off. You don’t have to purchase the magazines to know this. The covers are always a stark mix of bright bikinis, flesh and bone. They’re very hard to miss.
The latest, of course, is Kate Middleton’s alleged weight loss plan being emblazoned on the cover of Okay one day after Middleton gave birth. Most people are, gratifyingly, appalled by this. Nonetheless, I fear this might be yet another thing that gets slotted away as symptomatic of a vague “obsession with appearance / celebrity / size”, when really it’s more than that. Increasingly, I can’t help feeling that the dissection of the bodies of female celebrities springs from misogyny, pure and simple. It’s not just the photos but the words they use. The circle of shame, the muffin top, the thigh gap, side-boobs, back fat, all of these little phrases become embedded in the minds of women, telling them they’re not good enough, no matter how hard they try. It’s a way of destroying self-esteem.
What’s particularly insidious about all this is the double-whammy effect of making women feel ashamed of their bodies, and then being able to portray women as superficial and self-absorbed for feeling that way in the first place. When an emaciated starlet is on the cover of New, the tone is not one of concern, but ridicule. How foolish! How could she have done that to herself? The implication is that women suffer not because they are trying to make their bodies acceptable to social norms, but because they are vain. Hence the “good on you, lass” back-slapping mixed in with the mockery when the emaciated starlet puts on weight again.
Dieting is presented as something all good girls can do, provided they try hard enough. But starvation changes the way your mind operates, making you utterly obsessed with food. Not starving is natural and human but it’s presented as failing. The default assumption, backhandedly reinforced by every Dove advert, is that women hate their bodies. It’s unfeminine not to.
Saying “you’re fat” to a woman you cannot see – and have indeed never seen – is not a statement of fact, but an expression of presumed superiority. It’s saying “I can make you feel bad”. It’s saying “your body will never be acceptable in my world”. What’s disturbing isn’t the accusation but the hate that underlies it.
The hatred of women that oozes out of Heat, Okay, Closer et al needs to be challenged, and it needs to be done so in a way that doesn’t fall back on blaming women themselves (because they edit it, they pose for it, they buy it). Frankly, I don’t care who makes it. Perhaps these women hate women too. Perhaps they hate themselves. The point is, the daily chorus of “too fat, too fat, too thin, too fat” isn’t really about weight. It’s about power and positioning. It’s not about pictures but words.