And we won’t hate ourselves just because you do.
It seems whatever fat women do, it’s wrong. If we are confident and happy with our bodies, we are promoting unhealthy lifestyles or worse, making skinny women feel bad. If we try to lose weight, we are giving in to diet culture, being toxic and disappointing people — just ask Lizzo. Grammy Award-winning artist Lizzo, a fat black woman and champion of body positivity, has this week come under fire for sharing her 10-day smoothie detox with her fans, many of whom have lashed out against her, alongside even more critics. There is of course a large element of racism in the backlash, given black women’s bodies are policed far more than others. There was not the same outcry about health and toxicity when Adele, a white performer, lost all of her weight. Nevertheless, when it comes to our bodies, fat women are always wrong.
According to The World Health Organisation, 40% of women over the age of 18 are overweight or obese, which means more than one billion women across the globe are fat. I know these statistics are based on the dubious BMI, but it nevertheless leads me to think that perhaps it’s not fat women — and what we do with our bodies — that’s wrong, but the society we live in. What would it take for people to just stop commenting on others’ bodies altogether? What is it about fat women that makes thin people feel so threatened?
On the way home from a burlesque show recently, one of my fellow performers yelled at me for speaking positively about my body — I had said something about loving my boobs, a sentiment shared loudly by the appreciative audience and the MC earlier that night. “Not everyone has your confidence, Kelly,” she snapped. “You should just stop talking about it because you’re making everyone else feel bad about their bodies.” This was not the first time she had chastised me for expressing positive sentiments about my — gasp — fat body. It’s as if people can’t quite understand why I don’t hate myself, the way they seem to clearly hate themselves.
I get yelled at on the street by strangers for being fat, but I also get yelled at whenever I exercise in public as a fat person. From obscenities yelled from a passing truck while running in a park, to condescending comments and smirks at the gym, to skinny women who tell me I’m ‘soooo brave’ for being a burlesque performer, what they all really mean is that they wish I wouldn’t take up so much space in public. Go back to the couch, fatty, where I don’t have to look at you. To them I say that over one billion fat women can’t be wrong, and we will live our lives publicly and proudly whenever the hell we want.
I see the crippling effect of society’s beauty and body standards on nearly every woman I meet. That performer who yelled at me, who is utterly gorgeous and has what the BMI would surely classify as a ‘normal’ body, recently spent an inordinate amount of time waist training with a punishing corset in order to achieve some unrealistic body ideal. The ‘you’re so brave’ women, and there have been many, always follow it up with ‘I could never do that’, as in put their own bodies on stage in front of an audience. What I see is women who are so terrified of not having the perfect body we have all been conditioned to believe we should have, that they are unable to live the lives they actually want to live.
The truth is, no woman actually needs anyone else’s approval to live her best life, but breaking that conditioning is extremely hard. The ideal body type permeates our culture, our media, our fashion, and our burlesque stages. To reject it is to accept that some people are going to hate you for it. To live outside social beauty standards, whether by choice or not, is to accept there will be set backs in your career, family and social lives, because you don’t fit other people’s expectations. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for women everywhere is to ignore it. Ignore the haters, ignore the women’s magazines, ignore the influencers. There is more to life than being skinny. The more women reject unrealistic body expectations, perhaps the less people will feel the need to keep commenting and judging on women’s bodies. Lizzo can do whatever she likes with her body, as can I, and as can we all.