I work with a passel of extremely attractive twentysomething women. We’re talking borderline beauty queens with the clothes and figures to match. I think the largest of a the bunch is a size 6. When she’s bloated with PMS. Luckily, they’re super nice, smart, fun women so I generally don’t begrudge their lack of back fat and their extensive wardrobes (including 3-inch heels, something many overweight women can’t wear without pain).
However, more than one of them has said something like this to me:
Office Beauty Queen: OH MY GOD, I’M GETTING SO FAT. Look at me! Look at all this flab! (Pinches millimeter of skin at waist.)
Me: Uh, yeah. No, you look great.
OBQ: What are you talking about? I’m huuuuuge!
Me (in my head): If you’re huge, you must think I’m a fucking monster.
If you’re overweight, you probably have been part of similar conversations. I’m not going to lie, I find it maddening. To me, it’s sort of like if I started complaining about wedding planning to a lesbian friend who desperately wanted to legally marry her female partner. As a woman in a relationship with a man (I happen to be bisexual, but that’s neither here nor there for this purpose), I had the privilege of being able to legally marry him, with the social approval of just about everyone in the world. Not cool to flaunt it to someone who doesn’t.
I know that some thin women get snide comments like “Eat a sandwich!” Or have friends or family express concern about eating disorders. That sucks and it should stop. But it’s nothing compared to the shit you get when you’re overweight or obese. Not to make this a “my pain is greater than your pain” contest but heavy girls and women deal with some serious crap. Mean comments from strangers, disapproval from doctors, family and friends telling you to lose weight (my favorite was when my father kept spamming me with Overeaters Anonymous emails–THANKS, DAD), the inability to find cute clothes that fit, lack of interest from potential romantic or sexual partners. Not to mention the job discrimination that many overweight women face. Thin women might get the occasional nasty comment but, in general, they are considered to be the ideal by almost everybody in our society. They’re celebrated.
I have to wonder where these women are coming from when they obviously have slender, fit bodies but complain about them. In some cases, I think they’re fishing for compliments. I used to work with a woman I’ll call Samantha, who would complain about her body but in a weird humble bragging sort of way. “I totally hate that I’m so skinny but I have huge boobs,” she’d say and I’d roll my eyes. She did this all the time and after a while I started ignoring her because it was so obvious that she wanted me to say something like, “Oh, Samantha, you’re gorgeous and perfect as is. Never change, my lovely!”
In other cases, I do think that as women we’re so screwed up about our bodies that almost nobody has a healthy self image. That no matter how beautiful and/or thin we are, we always think something’s wrong with us. I mean, think about it. We have the media constantly blaring about “banging” celebrity bodies (or shaming female celebrities who have the audacity to gain a few pounds). We have advertisements forever telling us that there’s something that needs fixing about us. Get whiter teeth! Lose 10 pounds in a week! Get rid of those dark spots on your face instantly!
What’s really interesting is that you will never, EVER, catch me complaining about my body except to a very few trusted friends. As an overweight woman, the last thing I want to do is call attention to my body and its flaws. Besides, I figure that everyone can see what’s wrong with my body. I’m fat. You’d have to have a pretty serious visual impairment to miss it.
The inspiration for this entry came from an article currently on xojane, one of my favorite sites. Julie, a very slender woman, wrote Who Cares When a Skinny Bitch Gains Weight? She’s a thin woman who has gained a few pounds, has outgrown some of her clothes, and doesn’t like that her friends aren’t sympathetic to her issues.
There’s some interesting debate going on in the comments. Julie states that thin women deserve the same degree of understanding that larger women deserve when dealing with body image issues. Intellectually, I agree. We should all be compassionate and understanding with each other. Body image issues are rampant. But on a more visceral, emotional level, I’m having trouble with the idea. As a person who has been teased, bullied, harassed and ignored at times because of her weight, I just can’t feel too much sympathy for a woman complaining that her size 0 skirts aren’t fitting any more because she gained four pounds. I want to be the bigger person (no pun intended) but it’s hard.
What do you think?