Kyus Agu-Lionel

Naked Politics Blogger 

‘Skinny shaming’ is a phenomenon which is gaining attention over the past year or so. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini recently said, in response to media attention critiquing her extremely thin figure: “I am so sick and tired of it being ok to call somebody too thin or a ‘bag of bones’. I would never dream of calling somebody too fat and that they should maybe cut down on their food intake? What is the difference?

In addition to this – who remembers the backlash over the “Are you beach body ready?” advertising campaign? This campaign implied that to be “beach body ready” you had to be below a certain weight, and some contrarians said that if you were angry over this advert then you were also in effect ‘skinny shaming’.

Social justice warriors have taken to the internet to deplore this ‘skinny shaming’, and Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass have been held up as poster children of this phenomenon. Anaconda says at one point “F*** them skinny bitches” and it is pointed out that if the same had been directed to overweight people, it wouldn’t be acceptable.

Of course nobody should be shamed for their body type. Society places far too much value on physical appearance, over whether somebody is kind, or smart, or funny. Anxiety about body shape is a worrying problem, particularly amongst both teenage girls and boys. But saying that ‘skinny shaming’ is a thing on the same level as shaming somebody for being overweight, is like saying that a black person calling a white person ‘mayonnaise boy’ is as racist as a white person calling a black person the N word.

If you say “f*** them skinny bitches”, a lady (or man) of a slim build may feel sad for a second of course, because they are not made of stone. But then they’ll switch on a television, go to the cinema, walk into a newsagents, or even speak to any of their friends. Society is geared up to promote the slim frame as the beauty ideal: slim women and toned men saunter through all of our magazines, dance in music videos, are lead love interests in films and television shows. Even in our everyday life, we hear people lusting after slim people and criticising others for being fat.

So yes, somebody has put them down on account of their slim body shape, but this is countered by a bombardment of messages from the rest of society, telling them that they are beautiful, they are sexy, and others should aspire to look like them.

If somebody is made to feel inferior because they are overweight, they do not have this. In contrast, overweight people are largely (excuse the pun) denigrated as unattractive, asexual and gross, and are used as comic relief. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds of flesh, the idea that you could be sexually attractive is frequently portrayed as ridiculous and a joke. Gabby Sidibe is of a larger build and she was relentlessly hounded on social media for her sex scene on Empire. She commented that people were “more comfortable with the rape scene in Precious than the love scene in Empire.”

So taking all of this into account, can it really be said that telling somebody that they’re skinny and telling someone that they’re fat are two sides of the same coin? Of course I feel sorry for Cheryl, because it’s not nice for anybody to be criticised for the way that they look. But comparing what she received to fat shaming makes no sense because of the power dynamics at play around it.

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Last Update: May 13, 2018