body image / harassment / topical

"Overweight Haters Ltd" Highlights A Wider Issue about Body Shaming

Since last week, images of cruel fat-shaming postcards have been widely shared across the web. These postcards come from a group who call themselves “Overweight Haters Ltd”, and they’ve been shamelessly handed out to ‘fat’ women in London as they use public transport. As if women didn’t have enough to worry about, on public tranport and in their everyday lives, this particularly aggressive form of body shaming can be added to the list too.

Women are catcalled, verbally abused, groped, stared at and sexually assaulted every day on our way to and from work. We face the risk of sexual harassment on crowded transport every day. We are made to feel self-conscious about what society has deemed arbitrarily as carrying a few extra pounds every waking moment. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Who determines whether a person is ‘too fat’ or ‘too skinny’ to be healthy? Surely the aim and end goal is to be healthy. We toast to your health in most languages, not to your skinny thighs. So who has the right to judge a woman on their own narrow constraints of what the ‘ideal’ weight and shape should be?

It’s important to note that there have been no reports of these fat-shaming cards being handed to male commuters. Of course, it’s the attractiveness of a woman, to the perceived male gaze, which is on trial here. Women are the ones who have been targeted by this disgusting fat-shaming campaign. These misogynists imply that our very reason for existing is to appeal to men, disgusting men who want us to maintain an aesthetic that is deemed ‘attractive’ in a patriarchal society. If we so much as dare not to conform, we are essentially ‘unlovable’ and the only people who will want us are those who fetishise fat women.

Unfortunately, it seems that if you are not that ideal weight, shape or size, you will likely experience some degree of body-shaming at one point in your life. It has become the last frontier for discrimination; legislation in the UK is currently in place to protect from prejudice on the grounds of race or gender (though we still have a ways to go to eradicate the problem). Yet people still think it’s fair to judge individuals on the basis of weight and send out the harmful message that it is socially acceptable to fat shame, thus leading to a whole host of psychological issues including a potentially unhealthy relationship with food.

Telling someone to “eat less and move more” is absolutely ridiculous. How can we judge a person’s health and state of wellbeing on physical appearances? Do we look at a person with a big nose and say they are healthier and more well adjusted than a person with a small nose? Health is not determined by the size of someone’s bum or their waist measurement. Somebody within the ‘ideal’ weight range might not be able to climb a set of stairs without gasping for breath. There are so many other determinants of health, and whilst individual responsibility for our own well-being is important, too many judgemental people seem to use this as a way to blame those that are considered overweight by claiming they are harming their own health. Conversely, women who do not boast a stereotypically curvaceous figure are then deemed to be ‘unfeminine’ and also made to feel somehow lacking. Femininity is not determined by the size of our breasts or the span of our waists.

What is it about women who fall under the category of overweight that makes society so uncomfortable? Why are they dehumanised to the point that people feel they are entitled to give their unsolicited opinions on their bodies? The control we women are expected to exert over their own size and shape is oversimplified to the extent that if we don’t fit into a particular cookie-cutter mould, we have somehow lost control. Who gives anybody the right to tell another person they need to look a certain way? We all have insecurities about our bodies, but we need to think more positively about ourselves. Ridiculing someone else for the way they look is disgusting and nothing short of abuse.

We need to promote positive body image, learn to accept and love our bodies for what they can do. This so-called ‘campaign’ may be an extreme case of fat-shaming, but we need to remember that in any form it is not okay. No one has the right to call another person fat, make jokes about their weight or feign concern over their health all in the name of ‘helping’ them. Whilst we are at it, the fetishisation of fat women needs to stop, too. This is just bullying, plain and simple. No woman should be made to feel humiliated the way she looks, and it is these ‘Overweight Haters’ who should feel ashamed.

It’s time we considered what our bodies can do rather than how they look, because our bodies are amazing.

– Lucie Wang

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