Let’s be clear about that from the start. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to comment on or mock a skinny girl’s body needs to recognize his or her own internalized prejudice. Skinny shaming is body shaming. It’s harmful, and it’s real, and we need to stop it. But, no, it is not the same thing as fat discrimination.
We’ve noticed an uptick in this misdirected comparison. U.K. musician Natalia Kills recently vented on Twitter, evidently angered by Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” lyrics (“Yeah, this one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club / Fuck those skinny bitches”). Says Kills, “Horrified I'm considered a bitch for not being overweight.” She went on to defend those who prefer slender bodies, concluding, “Larger-framed women need to stop bullying/victimizing girls with small frames.”
Two weeks ago, Refinery29 published a story about Chastity Garner, a style blogger, boycotting Target for not carrying plus sizes in its designer collaborations. We thought her stance was bold and valid. It’s dismaying enough that high-end designers cater to such a narrow scope of bodies, but Target aims to serve the average U.S. citizen — and the average U.S. woman wears a size 14. Furthermore, we thought our readers might be interested, since we routinely get requests for more plus-size coverage. Yet, of the 214 comments that post got, the vast majority were angered by Garner’s boycott:
“Honestly, I'm tired of all this nonsense about how everywhere should carry size 20, but when J.Crew starts carrying 000 (ahem, my size) everyone freaks out.”
“Yes! It bothers me to no end when people say ‘skinny women aren't real.’ Am I just an imaginary person?”
“At least these ladies can do something about being a size 20.”
“It’s just as much as a struggle for me as it is you. Be considerate of us ‘straight-sized folk’... Skinny shaming is equally terrible and hurts just as much.”
Skinny shaming may be as emotionally hurtful to the individual — ugh, that “eat a sandwich” bullshit. But, the fact remains that a thin body is the normative, mainstream ideal. Size 14 may be the average, but it’s a minority in our cultural consciousness, media representation, and, indeed, our clothing production. But, in terms of discrimination, there are far greater issues on the table.
Discriminatory hiring practices are routine among overweight people, with little legal protection to defend against this. One Texas hospital has an actual policy of refusing to hire employees with a BMI over 35; many studies report that HR representatives routinely underestimate “the occupational prestige of obese individuals.”
Perhaps even more shocking is the routine discrimination in pay practices, aka “The obesity penalty.” One study reported that “heavy” and “very heavy” women were paid between $9,000 and $19,000 less than their counterparts. In comparison, “thin” women earned more than $7,000 more and “very thin” women earned approximately $22,000 more than their heavier counterparts.
In the medical field, the bias impacts both patients and professionals. Patients report that they don’t trust an overweight doctor; in the UK, 54% of doctors stated that they should be allowed to refuse treatment to the obese. Another Yale study surveyed 84 medical professionals and found that “physicians associated obese patients with poor hygiene, non-compliance, hostility, and even dishonesty,” while “nurses believe that obese persons are overindulgent, lazy, experience unresolved anger, and are less successful than their average-weight counterparts.”
Housing, adoption, welfare, education — all these areas reveal a persistent bias against fat people and a preference toward thin. Even Instagram keeps flagging fat women's bikini photos as "inappropriate." So, when thin people decry bullying and discrimination, they’re not always wrong, but they’re deliberately avoiding the bigger picture.
It’s a plight not unlike that of Men's Rights Activists. Many men came to that movement after experiencing real discrimination, abuse, or gender bias. Yet, they call out feminism as an evil empire set on the downfall and destruction of men — when, it’s obvious to all rational thinkers that feminism is a movement based on equality. It is true, there is gender bias against men in the world, and like skinny shaming, it is hateful and damaging, and not just to those it’s perpetrated against. Gender bias and body shaming, of any kind, perpetuate inequality and divide us further as a people.
But, one of these things is not like the other. And, if we want to eradicate both, then we need to stop pretending they're the same.