“You’d be really hot if you were skinny.”
A male friend of mine, with seemingly good intentions, said this to me a couple years ago. In the context of our conversation this statement didn’t shock or hurt me as much as I now think it should have. What was my response, you ask?
That’s all I said. But I really did know; by the culture’s standards I’m not even close to “skinny,” but I’m not particularly “fat” by these standards either. So where do I fit? In size 10 jeans, actually, and those jeans look pretty great if I do say so myself. However, I didn’t always think this way.
Healthy body image campaigns often tell us that it doesn’t matter what people think about your body, it only matters how you feel. While I can say now that I love how I look and feel in my size 10 jeans most of the time, the morning after I heard, “You’d be really hot if you were skinny,” I got up early and went to the gym. What does this say about me? I shouldn’t care what people say or think about me or my body, right? So I then stopped hating my body, but started hating myself for caring about what people think about my body. Not a good alternative…
When I think back to that comment (which, honestly, is almost every day), I think mostly about my response. What I wish I could have said was, “Why can’t I be ‘hot’ and not-skinny?” I can’t think of any response my friend could have cooked up in that moment, because I don’t believe there is a legitimate answer to that question. There is no reason why a person cannot be attractive and have a large belly, or thighs, or arms. Yet ‘bigger girls’ are taught that they can’t be sexy or beautiful and that somehow they exceed some invisible boundary that our bodies are not supposed to cross. (Side note: Despite having just used it, I hate the phrase ‘bigger girls’. Bigger than WHAT?! Our language doesn’t even allow for body-positive talk when we categorize in terms of bigger and smaller.)
How have I mediated these messages from the culture? Luckily there are some new positive beauty campaigns and videos floating around the interweb these days, and so I’ve turned to pro-body messages that teach me to love not only my body, but all bodies. Some of my favorites include a slam poetry performance called “Fat Girl”, a clip from Louis C.K.’s show “Louie”, and a spoken story to a live audience. In addition to the Dove campaigns and things like Love Your Body Week (happening on campus October 20th-24th courtesy of EDIT and the CWGA), these videos have given me permission to love my not-skinny body and hope for a more body-positive future.
But how do we love all bodies if we prefer a specific type? Regardless of personal preference some ways to “love bodies” include respecting bodies, speaking kindly about bodies, and refraining from judging bodies and the people and identities inside them. I also believe that loving yourself and your own body can make it easier to love other people’s bodies too. I had to get in the mindset of accepting and celebrating my body for what it is. Once I did this I didn’t look at others’ bodies as often, I stopped comparing myself to others, and I stopped judging other people’s bodies. Everybody has their confident days and their not-so-confident days, but I’d love to see a campus where we respect and embrace the diversity of the bodies we’re so lucky to have as peers.