Fat Girls, Mean Girls, and An Obsession with Body Image

I’m developing a very thin skin when it comes to promoting a certain body image or incredibly poor eating habits.  Through my quest for better health and a better diet, I’ve read a lot about how food is made, the actual impacts of it, and how it’s advertised. At the same time I keep seeming stories about women being called fat, and, like with this week’s media storm around Ashley Judd’s response to such comments, the media has run away with our idea of what body image should be about – and given us something wholly unrealistic.

I jumped on the computer this morning to find a story about Lady Gaga’s confessional tweet, where she has a salad but wants a cheeseburger.  I’ll admit I don’t know what all the fuss is about, but I do know there are a lot of young and impressionable fans out there.  And I remember what is was like in middle school and high school to be a size 8 and feel I shouldn’t eat all of my lunch, or just skip it.  I was not someone who needed to lose weight.  But the thought was still there, in the back of my mind.  How’d it get there?

Last week it was Jessica Simpson who was fat – because no one gains weight during pregnancy.  This week it was Ashley Judd.  What I love is that these women fought back.  Simpson made jokes about it online.  Judd, however, hit back at the sexist media comments, and everyone involved.  While the media may have started the comments about her “puffy” face and the name calling, Judd wrote an eloquent response, pointing out the problem isn’t just about patriarchy – it’s about the women who start it.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to TV commercials, something I don’t normally do since I have Tivo.  I was actually surprised at the number of ads for foods and pills that promise you much needed nutrients, weight loss, or more energy.  Since I’ve moved away from processed foods, much of what is advertised I’d never actually eat.  If the ads aren’t for food or pills, they’re for equipment to help me lose weight in just 15 minutes a day.  What concerns me is that all of this to convince us all that the important thing is how we look, rather than what goes into our bodies.

So here we are, mean girls and bullied girls, all grown up and still fighting, still being mean, still bullying or being bullied.  As Judd said:

“We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.”

This has always been a feminist conversation, and I appreciate the work Judd has done to bring into the open.  Just because it’s a feminist conversation doesn’t mean it should apply to everyone beyond those who identify, because this is about patriarchy and how women have bought into that patriarchy just as much as men have.  I asked earlier how we got here.  How it is that young girls have eating disorders and celebrities are expected to thin, but not too thin?  It has a lot to do with women, and the mean girl syndrome. Women started it, and women need to keep the conversation going.

And yet, amidst all this, a story comes out about “formerly fat” Kelly Osbourne calling Christina Aguilera fat.  I can’t even wrap my head around this, especially after I read the names Osbourne was called as a child.  Must the bullied really become the bully?  The feud apparently started because Aguilera had called Osbourne fat for years.  Again – started and perpetuated by women.

We are not doing ourselves or those who come after us any favors by continuing this behavior.  However, we can’t just blame ourselves or society as whole.  Looking at the big picture there are so many places to point blame.  Media dictates we look a certain way, and that way involves being thin.  In turn, to help us, the food industry creates food to help us do this.  (The word create should scare you. When I see these ads I want to scream, “Read Food Rules! Read Food Politics!”  But I don’t.)

In order to sell these foods the advertising industry produces commercials telling you how healthy this product is for you, throwing around words like organic and all natural.  If you created this food, there is nothing all natural about it!  What?  You don’t want to give up eating Doritos and McDonalds? Problem solved!  Buy this piece of workout equipment that can be used in 20 different ways, and you’ll lose weight fast!

Except that isn’t how it works.  Weight loss, diet changes, cutting habits and changing routines are hard work, with a slow payoff.  Your personal body image is everything. Being constantly told, either directly or indirectly through the media, that there is something wrong with you is beyond inappropriate and we aren’t nearly upset enough about it!

I set out to become a healthier person.  Losing weight was a side effect of this.  I appreciate it, but I find myself struggling to keep it off, and to lose more, knowing it isn’t really necessary.  The idea was to do this in the healthiest way possible.  My personal view of how to go about this was to really ignore what was being advertised to me, and look for my own products, be it food, medicine, household goods and even clothes.  I know I am still affected by the world around me and the idea of what I should look like still affects my body image.  I also know it all affects me a little less over time.  I still don’t know how to change others’ views around body image or media and peer pressure.  But I share my lifestyle changes, and hope someone is paying attention, and someone else thinks about what they can do to ignore these forces, and do something for themselves.

This conversation needs to be front and center, and needs to continue.

*Photos via Creative Commons License, Flickr user: Genevieve719

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One thought on “Fat Girls, Mean Girls, and An Obsession with Body Image

  1. I think the lady gaga comment has more to do with the fact if you want to have that kind of body, you have to commit to it, including avoiding cheeseburgers and exercising. That’s how I read it anyway. At least she admits it’s hard work, instead of misleading people and having them think something’s wrong with them when their body doesn’t look like that.

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