When I was transitioning from middle school to high school, my best friend Mary* and I were separated, resulting in us attending two different schools. About three weeks in, I got a tearful call from her. She said that she had fled the guidance counselor’s office after being confronted by two teachers, the guidance counselor, the vice principal and a nutritionist, and told that they were there to “help her become healthy again”. She had been pulled into the guidance counselor’s office before, and been asked questions about her eating habits, but nothing to the degree of what happened that afternoon.
Mary was a thin, athletic kid with long white-blonde hair. Before moving transitioning into high school, she chopped off her hair, dyed what was left of it blue-black, got an eyebrow ring and went from being a mild-mannered cello player to a gothy-punky-rebel who stayed up late and didn’t always do her homework. In other words, she was a typical suburban kid who (much like myself) had rebelled from the cookie-cutter look which was making a splash around that time. She had always been very lanky, as had her older brother who was 5 years her senior, although both survived on a hearty diet of pretty much anything they could get their hands on. The two of them ate as though they were 40-year-old truckers, and never gained a pound. We’d make cupcakes on Friday nights. I’d have two (okay, maybe three) and she’d polish off five or six, then make a sandwich. Yeah, she was made fun of as kids began to develop and she remained flat-chested, but she was as healthy as a horse and had the appetite of a monster. We chalked it up to a high metabolism, and left it alone.
Fast forward to grade nine, as I listened to her explain how bewildered she was to have these adults crowding her into an office. They told her that they would pull her from classes until she “got on the right path”, should she not be receptive to the “help” she was being offered. They explained that they had concerns about her weight, and had even been in contact with her middle school to discuss her behavioural patterns and habits. They were told that her “downward spiral” had begun not too long before the summer. They probed her with the most seemingly irrational questions; Questions about violence in the home, whether she had ever been a victim of sexual assault, if she had ever experienced symptoms of depression, or had tried bingeing and purging, none of which were applicable. Mary’s mother was not notified of this meeting, nor the concerns of the school, and was outraged to find out that all of this was happening without her knowledge or consent. She became involved, stood up for her daughter through the handful of meetings she attended as a result of the ambush, and assured the school officials that, although her daughter was indeed thin, she did not have an eating disorder. A few years later, Mary was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, which resulted in her swinging from bursts of energy to being extremely sleepy, and her inability to gain weight.
Everyone has seen “real women” campaigns which state that women should be curvy and voluptuous. Personally, I suspect that this is to reach out to the women who have felt ousted by the fashion industry for being above a size 12, and is likely created to give gals like me a fresh look on what we define as beauty. I doubt the media moguls who created these slogans were sitting behind a long table, chuckling as they poke pins into thin voodoo dolls. We all know that it’s not acceptable to make negative or hurtful comments directed towards fuller-figured ladies and gents, yet we rarely stop and take notice of the fact that we’ve swung from one extreme to another. Many have become hyper-sensitive to a large body type but are often less tolerant of thinner ones. I’ve overheard casual conversations on the subway and in malls, with girls joking about having eating disorders, other women “needing to eat a cheeseburger” and “looking like a boy”. If they were chatting about someone being a “fat cow” or any combination of hurtful slurs against bigger gals, someone would likely speak up, or at least take notice of how petty and disgraceful their behaviour was. Many of us, myself included, have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to these sorts of occurrences at some point, thinking that with the over-saturation of size 2 models in the media, these sorts of comments don’t really make an impact on how others feel about themselves. Besides, if they’re thin, young and beautiful by our personal standards, and with that much positive reinforcement from the media, why WOULD they care if one little person thinks they could use a little more derriere? Why should slender ladies take offense to the “real women have curves” statements which are splattered across the facebook feeds of well-meaning gals? Simple. Because real women also DON’T have curves. Real women wear A cup bras, and they wear DD cup bras. They are tall, short, tanned, pale. They have short hair and long hair, and some have no hair at all. They were born female, and some were born male. If we identify as women, WE ARE WOMEN. And it’s not up for negotiation.
I’m challenging myself, and all of you, to be conscious of body-shaming, and buying into the notions that there is a “right” body type. Being confident in your skin and loving your body does not have to translate into resenting other bodies, or demonizing them by making them wrong. Whether we’re curvy, thin, muscular, lanky, squishy or a fun mix of a few different types, we are perfect just as we are. Yes, there are folks, men and women alike, who struggle with very real and very serious eating disorders on both ends of the spectrum. When we trivialize these, and assume that all thin people are deliberately starving themselves, or that bigger gals sit around with a bucket of chicken all day, we’re permitting ourselves to be intolerant and hurtful and we’re lumping a body type into a definition which does not apply. These “passing” comments can make a world of difference to the people who hear them. Much like we have made leaps and bounds in overcoming racial and gender stereotypes and generalizations, we must now begin to do the same with body image. We are a species of extremely diversified appearances, and once we break the notion that there is a “perfect” body, we’ll begin to see the error and the impact of the things we say… and the things we DON’T say.
Have a great weekend, folks, I’ll see you next week!