Full title: I’m Thin And No One Can Make Me Feel Bad About It: Acknowledging Systematic Fatphobia And Playing To Fashion Industry Standards
It’s national eating disorder week, it turns out. I wrote out my thoughts after someone put out a #journorequest on Twitter looking for people in the fashion industry to talk about weight standards and the controversy surrounding size zero, and this seemed like a perfect time to post them — especially considering I’ve been mulling over this post since November and I obviously suck at sitting down to write things, so I’m probably not going to find the time to write a better essay. You get this instead. Hopefully it’s a start.
Here’s my background: I’m 24 years old and I live in a small city in Spain. My role in the fashion industry is fairly detached from the show business part of it due to my current location. I do freelance photography and modeling work for small business owners who mail their pieces to me to photograph, as well as for my own fashion line that I’m working on — photo-printed fabric accessories and clothing. I’d like to move to London to further my career as a photographer and model in particular. Right now I’m more focused on the graphic design and sewing/online selling aspects of my business since they’re the things I can best do from where I am.
And I’m thin.
I’ve always been thin. I’m a size XS/S, 23″ waist, 32″ bust, 32″ hips. I’m short, so I’ve never thought of myself as having potential to be a catwalk model. I don’t know how much I weigh. I haven’t stepped on a scale in about seven years. I couldn’t care any less about what I weigh if I tried. I’ve never gone on a diet. I don’t care about what other people weigh, either — to be honest, I don’t notice when someone drops or gains weight. I didn’t even notice I’d lost weight last summer — even though my mom kept pointing it out and my appetite was lethargically low — until I measured my waist and realized I’d accidentally dropped three inches.
I have a severe lack of beauty instincts and that’s probably why I’m so unobservant about weight. I also blame my trichotillomania on it. I hated my eyebrows, I knew I did, but I didn’t know why, or how to fix them. I’m still self-conscious about them — sometimes. I used to be self-conscious of my bent-in knees. I’m self-conscious about my acne scarring. But my weight? No one’s ever got through to me about it, and trust me, I’ve got a lot of comments over the course of my life — a lot of people telling me to eat more, mostly, because sure, that’s going to make my metabolism slower.
Anyway, why would I change my ways? Society’s on my side.
Look: I’m thin, I’ve always been, and it’s an enormous privilege. The reason I’ve wanted to make this post for so long is that thin women insist on crying double standard when they’re criticized, like fatphobia is a thing of the past, and it’s absolutely, staggeringly ridiculous. There is no double standard here. Society wants to control women’s bodies, and it wants to control women’s weight, and some of the consequences of that are splashing you. Are splashing us. But we’re thin.
We’re considered beautiful. We’re considered healthy. Doctors don’t chalk all our ailments up to our weight. Nurses don’t condescendingly recommend dietitians to us. We’re the butt of approximately zero jokes. Nobody’s targeting us with diets — take a second look and you’ll realize those always come with weight loss as an ideal. Being healthy is equated to losing weight all around us. It doesn’t catch our eye, though — and it certainly doesn’t make an impact on us — because we’re not the target.
But you can’t tell me you’re not seeing it. You can’t tell me you’re not seeing the unsubtle ways society tells fat people to stop being fat.
I don’t know why society views ‘thin’ as beautiful, exactly, but we should be looking at it from the other side of the coin. We’re conditioned to believe that fat is ugly, that fat is lazy, that fat is gross. It’s completely normal when you grow with people constantly putting down fatness as the worst thing ever that women — and men, but women are particularly targeted with body image ideals — would want to steer as far away from fat as possible. So it may not necessarily start as wanting to be thin, or wanting to be a size zero, but just wanting to not be fat. But fat is not a specific weight, so you have to set your own standards for what’s good enough for yourself, and when you start setting standards like that, perfectionism kicks in: even if you hit a goal you set for yourself, you’ll still be picking at your body, seeing a roll here and an imperfection there, and you start striving for the smallest size there is to the detriment of your health and your confidence.
On a certain level it’s practical for a company to hire size zero models because size zero models can fit into anything. You can’t put a XL size woman in a S suit without majorly altering the suit, but you can put a size S woman in an XL suit and pin it here and there without making any permanent alterations. That’s the main — the only — acceptable reason I see why size zero models are so often sought after, and in turn why models strive to be that size zero. It maximizes their opportunities. Even if there’s backlash against it, if call after call is seeking size zero models, you’re still being told that size zero is what sells and the only way you’ll be able to succeed in your career.
I don’t think the size zero models and skinny celebrities are in any way to blame for the trend of skinny girls and women. They’re a product of society, not the other way around. They’re trying to survive in their chosen career, and oftentimes when you’re trying to cater to a specific point of view, you’ll internalize that point of view as your own — call it adaptation, call it self-preservation, but it is what it is. That’s why there’s so much misogyny among women, internalized racism among women of color, etc.
There’s definitely a trend in the fashion industry and the creative industry in general to minimize the cost of employing people who do “creative” work, from photographers to models to graphic designers. If you run a job search just about anywhere, you’ll see a flood of “unpaid work” requests framed as “great opportunities” — many of which ask for people with experience… to work for more experience. I think this mindset that creative work isn’t worth as much because it isn’t tangible fuels the idea that you shouldn’t hire more than one model if you can get away with it, and if you’re only hiring one model, well, you’re going to hire the one that fits into anything. And she’ll probably be young and white and able-bodied, too, because that’s what society promotes as “normal.”
But you’ve got two options as a casting person here to diversify, the way I see it — you can go against the grain with the one model you hire, or you can cast a diverse amount of them. As a designer, you can start by creating pieces in various sizes instead of creating a whole collection in just the one size for the catwalk. Honestly, if you have a casting person, you can afford to hire several models and pay them properly. But people are cheap and people are bigots and people are assholes.
I think with more independent designers and more awareness, plus size models are getting more work and more recognition, but it’s still very niche, and in a fashion event you’re still going to see a massive amount of skinny white ladies. The backlash from the press and the average public isn’t enough to combat something that’s established itself as the norm in the fashion industry and in society in general.
The thing is, all a lot of the backlash does is attack thinness. Instead of calling for more plus size models, more models of color, more disabled models, more diversity, it calls against thinness. Instead of celebrating women’s bodies no matter the shape, weight, race, level of ability, we’re taking the negative aggressive path and saying: thin is sick. Thin is bad. We’re still controlling calories, throwing out diets, looking askance at women who dare to be fat and confident, telling women that they’re not fat like it’s a compliment, like you can’t be fat AND pretty, it has to be a but. We’re putting women in a position where there is literally no right body. At all.
And that’s the problem I see with all of this, with the size zero trend and everything surrounding it. People — usually thin women — act like they’re being attacked for being thin, but they’re not. They’re attacked for not having a perfect body, because a perfect body doesn’t exist. We’ve told people that models (and women and girls) across the world have starved themselves to become thin, and now thin looks sick to them… but fat isn’t good, either… and both things are subjective, so what the hell are women supposed to strive for?
Self-acceptance, confidence, diversity, that’s what. But society isn’t telling them that right now. And in fact, in a day-to-day context, the backlash against thinness isn’t even coming from the right place of ‘you should be who you are and that’s okay and that’s beautiful.’ It’s coming from a place where thinness is still the thing to strive for, and it’s hard for most people, and some people develop eating disorders, and maybe “you can’t be thin without developing an eating disorder.” Let me break some things people have said about me and to me down:
“Man, that is one skinny lady.” =
Option 1: “She’s probably sick.” <- “I don’t have to be jealous because she’s probably sick.” <- “Thin is beautiful.”
Option 2: “I wish I were that skinny.” <- “Thin is beautiful.”
“You’re so thin, what do you eat?” = “You probably starve yourself, don’t you.” <- “I don’t have to be jealous because to be that thin, she’s depriving herself of food and possibly health.” <- “Thin is beautiful.”
I’m not the kind of person who attributes negative comments to jealousy, like, ever, but in this case, with the way society’s set up to glorify thinness? I’m 99% sure that’s how those comments were meant. The backlash has in no way reached the masses except in that they now consider being thin an almost certain cause/consequence of eating disorders and health issues and crazy diets, so they’re spared having to be thin. They have an “excuse.”
And that’s obviously the entire wrong way to attack thinness, because what we’re supposed to be doing is letting women know that all bodies are beautiful, including theirs, and instead of doing that, we’re wallowing in our fatphobia and letting it grow in increasingly insidious ways. Instead of celebrating everyone’s bodies and joining forces against misogyny, I’m seeing thin women go, “Oh, I get these comments, why don’t fat women get these comments?”
And the real answer is twofold: they get worse and you’re not paying attention; it’s assumed that they want to be thinner and that they are unhealthy, and you’re not paying attention; and sometimes, well — sometimes they’re not just not there, and you’re not paying attention.
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