The risk with any kind of binary-thinking is that there is no real room for difference. You are one or the other. The U.S. loves its binaries: black or white, man or woman, gay or straight. Such thinking misses the complexities of people, limiting us all into narrow boxes. Perhaps nowhere is binary-thinking more obvious today than in what has been called the “fat acceptance movement.”
Building on decades of legitimate concern about body image and the ways that women and girls are constantly taught that they are too heavy, the fat acceptance movement has promoted a swing of the pendulum that is equally dangerous. Websites like Upworthy and Huffington Post repeatedly feature pictures and videos of women who are exerting their right to have more ample bodies. Ad nauseam, such sites reveal photo-shopped women and their real, less toned, bodies, mothers of four who wear with pride their sagginess, or heavier women wearing bikinis to show that it is OK. These images and articles are then re-posted on Facebook, tweeted across the universe, and otherwise slammed in our faces.
Of course it is OK to wear what you want despite your size! But that’s not the point, or at least it shouldn’t be. The goal of this fat acceptance movement, at least purportedly, is acceptance. To show that it should not be our bodies that determine our character. Yet too often these images and the dialogue that surrounds them say exactly that: that it is indeed your body that matters most, and if you happen to be thin you are simply not accepted. Being skinny and fit is equated with some deep flaw. You try too hard. You are too body conscious. You are weak and thus manipulated by the beauty industry. Blah, blah, blah.
Take, for instance, the conversation surrounding Miss Indiana’s body in the 2014 Miss USA Pageant. Miss Indiana, MeKayla Diehl, who was widely praised for being “more curvy” than the other pageant contestants. She was described as having a “realistic body,” which resulted in a full-on explosion of the Twitter universe, as women denounced the 5’8”, size 4 Diehl as far from average, which they claim is 5’3” and a size 12. Enter the name-calling of skinny people, “twigs,” “toothpicks,” or “bag of bones.”
And the divide continues, focusing on her body, on our bodies, and not on what we say or do. The discussion about whether Diehl is “normal” or “average” or whether a mother is healthier because she accepts her post-baby weight or works hard to lose it prevents us from moving to a place where we truly do not care, nor judge people, based on their height, weight or dress size.
We can do better.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.