(Author’s note: This is a repost of a vintage article, written a few years ago. And the title is a line from the Ani DiFranco song 32 Flavors.)
I am exhausted of watching the meme go around that shows two (or more) female bodies, one of which is ostensibly a “fashion aesthetic” body, and one of which is ostensibly “healthy.” It’s an objectifying meme no matter how you strip it down, and it’s still playing to one of the kyriarchy’s favorite tropes, women should be in competition.
In most of these memetic images, there is a fashion model on one side (often an unflattering picture of said model) with a caption implying or stating her body is ugly, less than, undesirable, or bad. Usually the other side has a model or actress (and yes, it is invariably a model or actress) who is heavier than the fashion model, shot in an appealing way, with a caption implying or stating that her body is good, desired, beautiful, and approved. [Ed. note: These images are common on most social networks. I am not linking one here because I do not wish to host kyriarchical memetic content in my blog.]
I’m going to unpack the problems with this meme, now… (cue “The Sunscreen Song.”)
First: The women featured in these pictures are almost always white, or white passing. I haven’t seen a single one featuring an identifiable person of color, although there may have been people who self-identify as POC. They have good skin, generally proportional bodies, and by and large still fit a very narrow definition of beauty. As I said above, they are almost always actresses or models (of the “plus size” variety in some cases, although that is a bit of a joke…). Why is this problematic? It remains a very narrow definition of what is “beautiful,” what is good and accepted.
Second: The comment threads in response to these posts are always filled with commentary about how the “good” body is hot and doable, and how the “bad” body needs to eat something, how she is unacceptable. Many of these comments are made by men, but many of them are also made by women who feel they need to fill the (ac)(ex)ceptional woman role. (I use the prefixes that way because there is a trope of “exceptional woman” who is trotted out as the exception to any rule when conversations about kyriarchy come up…but often those women have achieved their exceptional status by accepting the demands and bargains required of them by society.) Rather than a conversation about how the fashion industry has promoted un-healthy standards as a norm, it becomes a pile on of good bodies over bad.
I’m going to take an aside here to address something that came up in the most recent discussion I had about this. There was a comment about how these images make us aware, etc.. I can’t think of a single person I know who is not aware that society and culture promote unhealthy body types, habits, and self-images. No one who consumes any sort of mainstream media, even in its broadest definition is in the dark about this. For confirmation, see the fact that there is such a thing as the “facebook photo angle.”
Alright. So. Third. And this is the big one. Every time one of these images goes out, it supports the idea that women must remain in competition. That one body, no matter why, will be judged as the bad body. One woman will win, will gain approval, will garner comments that she’s “do-able.” And one woman will be left in the cold of disapproval, told that her body is ugly and not enough.
There is a temptation (and I have felt it powerfully in my life, I will not lie,) as a member of an oppressed group to sieze upon any opportunity to turn that oppression onto someone else. I want, desperately, every day, to feel as though my body is the good body, the wanted body, the loved body. But. And this is a big but. As long as there persists in being a “bad” body, an unwanted body, a woman who is judged as less than for her physical appearance, I am “winning” nothing but stale crumbs from the kyriarchical table. I am making the bargain that I will continue to oppress others, condemn them, for the approval I am given for myself. I have agreed, in this scenario, to warm myself by throwing my sisters into the fire.
I want more than that. I demand more than that. I demand a world in which my body is beautiful and good without it costing the condemnation of someone else’s body. I want a world in which attraction is measured on an individual basis, and a world in which no one has to feel that approval and love are zero-sum games. I am beautiful, and you are beautiful, and she is beautiful. When we realize that, share that, repeat that to each other, we shake the oppression of looks-based discriminations to its foundations.