A small row broke out in the comments under the post on Topshop and its use of a photograph of a model who was unrealistically, unattainably thin. The row was essentially about body policing and how it applies to women of all shapes and sizes.
Gwendolyn made this good point:
I am a size 4. There is nothing wrong with being a size 4. Size 4 and 6 girls get so demonised by people who forget there are a lot of people who are naturally small and slim. I have never dieted or over exercised, i am just healthy, being my size and shape is what is healthiest for my body yet bloody Gok Wan, the media and other women tell me and all the other women my size and shape that we’re not ‘real women’.
It is certainly true that the “real women have curves” ethos is just as harmful as the notion that the ideal body shape is that of the unattainably thin model.
Another commenter, Zoe Rose, then said this:
One of these days, I’m gonna snap. One of these days, some lady is going to say those stupid little words – ‘you’re so lucky to be so skinny!’ – and I’m going to snap.
And then I’m going to tell her that it must be awesome being so fat.
Zoe Rose does make a good point about the body policing thin women face, and that it is sometimes disguised as barbed comments about luck. The retort and solution, however, is completely wrong. One does not react to body policing with more body policing. That is never right.
Then commenter Het won the internet with one of the finest, most eloquent summaries of the harms of body policing I have ever seen:
It’s hard being A WOMAN. Of whatever size. If you’re thin, as you say, you have those problems to contend with, of inconveniences of finding clothes that fit you, or being excluded from some bogus definition of “real” femininity. But it’s not as if bigger (both fat and also those who are not particularly thin) women don’t have to face different but equally important problems.
At least if you look in a magazine you can see people who look like you. At least you’re not being encouraged to have dangerous and unnecessary surgery.
But it’s not a competition. Capitalism benefits from women fighting each other instead of it.
My point is, the fact of the matter is all femininity is an unreal construct. It seems to me that the issues you are describing that affect you are part of the same problem faced by bigger women: the problem of society feeling it owns all women’s bodies and has the right to control them and to make money from that control. The fact that you can say that you are made to feel that people think you are not a “real” woman, and that I as a fat woman can say the same surely proves that we are in the same boat: that of the impossible and self-contradictory demands made upon women’s bodies that aren’t meant to make sense but rather to procure money from our discontent and divide our gender in arguing about who has it worse.
One minor quibble with this, though: body policing is not only harmful to women: it is also harmful to men. This rather fantastic blog explores the unattainability of the masculine body ideal, providing examples of the horrifying things male models must go through to present the ideal male body:
And the illusion being sold by the fitness magazines is that this hyper-masculinity is attainable. If you just work out longer and harder; if you’re just more careful about your diet; if you just take the right supplements and drink the right sports beverage… then you, too, can have a body like a fitness model. A cartoon image of fitness is being sold to men as if it were actual fitness. And men are being taught that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t get there.
But this ideal of masculinity isn’t just difficult to achieve. It isn’t just narrow; it isn’t just rigid; it isn’t just out of reach for some or even most men. It is, quite literally, unattainable. Even the fitness models themselves can’t attain it: not without nightmarish physical ordeals, camera tricks, and Photoshop. It is a carrot being dangled in front of a donkey — which the donkey will never, ever get to eat.
Body policing and idealised body shapes and sizes are harmful to all, and inextricably linked to prescribed gender roles. This is another reason to fight patriarchy where we see it.