Tag Archives: fat shaming

The Negative Side Of The Body-Positive Movement

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There are a lot of things that sound great on paper, but become a major problem when put into practice. Why else would anyone think that communism, slavery, or every reality TV show on TLC was a good idea at some point?

I’m not saying some ideas become a total disaster when put into practice. There are varying degrees of problems, screw-ups, and failures when it comes to to the extent of that disaster. Some are manageable. Some can even be glossed over and overlooked. Just look at the ideas behind every Adam Sandler movie ever made. That’s not to say that “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” wasn’t a ridiculous idea on paper, but it was still entertaining enough to work.

This brings me back to the body positive movement. I talked about it a lot when I discussed body shaming in general, but I’m bringing it up again for the same reason I reminded everyone that it’s okay to find beautiful people sexy. There’s a frustrating, counter-productive problem emerging in this movement that threatens to undermine its good intentions.

I don’t deny that those intentions are good either. According to Wikipedia, this is the goal of the body positive movement:

“The Body Positive teaches people how to overcome conflicts with their bodies so they can lead happier, more productive lives.”

On paper, that’s a wholly noble goal. It’s right up there with comforting a crying child, feeding a hungry puppy, or getting Bill O’Riley to shut up. I’ve no objections whatsoever to that kind of endeavor. There are people who have unhealthy conflicts about their bodies that need help. Whether it’s their weight, their hair, or their belly button, these unhealthy conflicts can cause a lot of stress for people.

As is often the case with any movement, though, some take it too far. By that, I don’t mean people go as far as a typical episode of “South Park.” The body positive movement still hasn’t reached the level of the PC Bros, although I do worry it’s getting dangerously close.

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Why do I say that? Well, much of it has to do with an emerging trend from the body positive movement, one that’s distinctly negative. In many respects, it’s a backlash of sorts. If you’re going to give love and encouragement to those who don’t fit the mold of a typical Barbie doll, then what will you give to those who do to some extent?

This is part of the overly crude nature of human psychology. Like the rest of the human condition, it’s a blunt instrument. It’s not a scalpel that’s capable of discerning the fine details of a situation. That means if someone is going to direct love towards one group, then they’re going to direct hate towards another. It’s not always intentional or direct, but it is there and it’s happening more often.

Remember this little gem from the advertising world from the summer of 2015? It involved a beautiful woman, a bikini, and a question about beaches. In terms of sex appeal, it checks all the right boxes.

In any other era, it would’ve been as non-controversial as chocolate, kittens, and cartoon ducks. It’s visually appealing. It evokes an appealing mental pictures in those who see it. It generates some level of arousal in our brains. By all accounts, it’s as basic as it gets in terms of advertising.

However, those behind the body positive movement were exceedingly upset over this ad. From their perspective, this ad was shaming every woman who didn’t look like a goddamn bikini model. Never mind the fact that it doesn’t directly insult anybody. Never mind that it never directly says that people who don’t look like bikini models shouldn’t be allowed on the beach. This was the message the body positive movement gleaned from this ad.

As a result, those behind the body positive movement and those who protest against fat shaming decided to get loud, angry, and upset. Some protested it. Some parodied it. By and large, it was fairly healthy wave of outrage that social media did too good a job of fueling.

On some levels, I can understand why some wouldn’t like this advertisement. I can certainly see why some priest, mullah, or monk who takes a vow of chastity or laments at people thinking impure thoughts would be offended by an ad that features a beautiful woman. Those people, however, have far greater concerns than the body positive movement.

I can even understand why some self-conscious people might not like it. They may see that they don’t look that good in a bikini, get depressed about it, and not even want to go to the beach. Again though, it’s worth pointing out that this ad, and most others that involve beautiful people, don’t directly attack these people. They are just utilizing the current standard of beauty that most people find visually appealing.

For the body positive movement, that’s just untenable. To them, the mere existence of these ads is akin to lining up everybody who doesn’t look like a bikini model, standing them in a row, and then spitting on every one of them one-by-one.

This is where the body positive movement falters. It’s also why I have a hard time supporting it. The body positive movement has gone from a supporting role to an either/or, us-against-them struggle. If you don’t support people of every body type, then you’re a bad person. You’re mean. You’re a bully. You’re immoral.

From my point of view, that kind of approach is downright hypocritical in a movement that espouses positivity. It’s also wholly unequal in that the body positive movement focuses more on women than men. By that, I mean it disproportionally shames men more than women. Fat men are still pigs and slobs. Fat women, however, are inspirations.

As a man, I don’t just find this insulting. I find it to be an outright affront. It contains two of the few traits that most people find untenable, hypocrisy and inequality. It’ll cheer a woman like Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model who has been on the cover of Vogue. However, when it comes to men, they still haven’t given the likes of John Goodman or Drew Carey a call.

It sends the message that men are the enemy. They’re the ones behind all the fat shaming and insults. As such, they don’t get to be part of the movement. They can still be shamed for being fat slobs. However, if you dare shame a woman, then you’re a horrible person and it’s the job of the movement to make you a villain.

Now I get that men and women are wired differently. We’re a sexually dimorphic species. However, when it comes to being an asshole, the standards are gender neutral.

I still support efforts to help those who have unhealthy body image issues. Those people really do need help, love, and support. What I don’t support is immediately labeling someone who finds the old Barbie and Ken bodies attractive as somehow immoral or wrong.

No social movement has ever succeeded by insulting large swaths of people and shaming them for misguided reasons. Add traces of inequality and hypocrisy to the mix and that movement is bound to falter. It won’t always crash and burn, but people will eventually stop taking it seriously. In the end, apathy and annoyance will kill the body positive movement faster than any bikini model.

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Re-framing Body Shaming

Shame on you. Shame on me. Shame on us for not being exactly how others want us to be. We should all be appalled with ourselves. How dare we not conform to societies expectations?

That last paragraph was pure sarcasm, by the way. It’s also an overly simplistic summation of shaming, that inglorious facet of society where we collectively decide to denigrate or denounce someone in a way that’ll make them feel terrible about themselves. It’s one of nature’s crudest instruments for shaping a social species. Being so crude, it’s absurdly easy to misuse.

There’s all sorts of shaming. There’s slut-shaming, fat-shaming, food-shaming, culture-shaming, gender-shaming, and probably some other form of shaming that’s being invented as we speak. Even in the era of the Internet, it’s hard to keep up with all these types of shaming. So for the purposes of keeping this post simple, I’m going to focus on one particular type of shaming: body shaming.

This type of shaming is relevant to me because, being an erotica/romance writer, I deal with a lot of bodies. In my stories, I have to describe bodies. I have to describe how they look and what they’re doing in a way that’s compelling, interesting, and sexy. If I can’t do that, then I can’t tell much of a story. Nobody’s panties will get wet if the story just involves two amorphous blobs rubbing together.

According Urban Dictionary, body shaming is simply defined as:

Shaming someone for their body type.

Pretty obvious, isn’t it? This is one of those concepts that really explains itself. It really shouldn’t be that complex, but like so many things in this world, we love to fuck it up in a way that completely skews the concept.

Body shaming is a big deal these days for reasons that have nothing to do with health and beauty. It, like other forms of shaming, have become tied into the anti-bullying movement that has grown rapidly in recent years. We no longer live in a world ripped from a bad 80s teen movie. It’s not cool to be a bully anymore. Bullies are now right up there with dead skunks and cow shit in terms of things we don’t want in our society anymore.

The stereotypical bully is often the first to laugh at someone’s body, be they fat, skinny, ugly, or deformed. They loudly proclaim that there must be something wrong with a person who allows themselves to get that fat or that ugly. They make someone feel guilty, depressed, or sad for being who they are and that’s just not cool.

Okay, now this is the part where I piss off the politically correct, overly emotional, obscenely sensitive crowd because I’m going to look at this issue in an unusual, unpopular way. Brace yourselves, prepare to send the hate mail, and hide in your safe space because I’m probably going to offend some people here. I’m not going to apologize ahead of time either. I’m just going to say what I feel needs to be said about this issue.

My problem with the current approach to bullying and body-shaming is that my brain just can’t work in such simplistic terms. The simple idea of, “All bullying is bad! All body-shaming is bad! Shame on all those who justify it!” just doesn’t work for me. My brain has a problem with accepting overly simple things that sound too good to be true. Maybe I’ve had one too many bad experiences with infomercials and Nigerian princes, but I just can’t look at this issue in the context of “always bad and always evil.”

Human beings just aren’t that simple. Humanity, in all its inglorious grandeur, is full of all sorts of complexities, both as individuals and as societies. These complexities are a big part of what makes us so interesting and entertaining. If aliens landed tomorrow, I’m sure they’d find something about humanity to laugh at.

With respect to body-shaming, I do think there is a context that sets it apart from traditional shaming. First and foremost, we have to understand that the very concept of shaming is important to our society. We can’t do a way with it, nor should we.

Shame, as ugly as it may be, serves an important purpose for social creatures like humans. You see, for most of human history, we didn’t have laws or message boards to punish or denigrate others for doing something socially unacceptable. We lived in small bands of tribes that roamed the land, looking for food and safe places to hump. Failure to do so means that both the individual and the tribe would suffer.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, for the politically correct crowd), humans come with some built-in biological wiring to keep people in line. If someone did something wrong, they would feel guilt about it and have an incentive not to do it again.

Shaming emerged as an extension of guilt, creating a system for an entire tribe to use to let someone know that they need to get their shit together. It was a way to motivate or incentivize them to do the right thing for themselves and others. It can be harsh, but it can work too. It can even be funny, as Family Guy regularly proves.

It’s a fact of life as a social species. We need shame because it’s built in. It’s hard-wired. It can’t be bribed, corrupted, or bought off. It’s a force that can affect the poorest among us and the richest among us. It is effectively the glue that incentivizes us to function in society. When laws and internet message boards fail, shame can pick up the slack.

So where does this leave body-shaming? First, let me make clear that there are degrees of shaming that have no excuse. If someone’s body is big, small, or misshapen in ways they cannot control, either by genetics or poverty, then that’s a gross misuse of shame. It’s true that human bodies have many variations and some are more prone to be fat, thin, or something in between. However, there is one little detail here that skews the context.

That detail is called obesity.

When I say obesity, I’m not just referring to fat people. I’m also referring to overly skinny people as well. They aren’t shamed quite as often, but it’s the same blunt instrument. It’s the same unjustified use of shame. It’s just being used in a way that isn’t consistent with the biological purpose of shame.

Here’s the issue that I know anti-shamers and obesity activists try to avoid. Obesity, like smoking, does have serious health risks. While it’s not nearly as bad as smoking, it does carry with it some health issues that aren’t exactly attractive. According to WebMD, these issues include:

It’s true that not everyone who is obese will have these problems, but the chances are greater and not everybody is willing to play those odds. Eating too much, having too much body-fat, and not getting enough exercise can be damaging, both to individuals and the society that incurs the cost of these health issues.

As a result, our crude biological wiring is going to step in whether we like it or not. When we see something unhealthy in society, we tend to do whatever we can to stop it, even if it means bullying and shaming. It’s true we go overboard at times. We’re human. We’re blunt instruments, not surgical tools. However, there often is some level of logic behind our actions.

It’s just not the kind of logic that will ever show up in an 80s teen movie. This is caveman logic, a term I use so often on this blog that I should probably trademark it. In the old hunter/gatherer days, the biological programming of which is still with us, the fat and unhealthy bodies incurred a burden on the tribe. If the person couldn’t see that, then shaming them was a way of getting them to shape up and get their ass in gear.

We’re not cavemen anymore, but we’re still stuck with their wiring. We need to accept that and there are some politically correct types who can’t seem to wrap their heads around it. They seem to think that human biology can be ignored or circumvented.

It’s the same faulty belief that has effectively doomed the Catholic Church’s crusade on premarital sex and masturbation. You can’t stop people from masturbating. You can’t stop them from shaming bodies either.

By the logic of our faulty human wiring, a tribe of healthy, fit men and women is a good thing. Being fit doesn’t necessarily mean that all the men have to look like Brad Pitt and all the women have to look like Kate Upton. The human body has all sorts of glorious variations, colors, and traits. Being healthy enhances every one of them.

Some people aren’t going to be motivated to pursue that level of health. Shaming is a way of getting their asses off the couch. Again, we do tend to go overboard with it, but it’s one of those unpleasant facets of society that has a legitimate biological function. So those who want to live in a world where nobody is shamed for how they look may as well wish that carrots taste like chocolate. It’s not going to happen.

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