This all started when I was in fourth grade, in ballet class, at my dance studio where I had been going since age five. Every time I looked in the mirror I knew I was different from the other girls, but I never gave it a second thought— that is until we had to get measured for our recital costumes. We all stood in line and when it was my turn I happily held out my arms as I did each year, but what I did not expect were the comments I heard being whispered behind me. “She’s gotten so much bigger since last year. I can’t believe her mother let that happen.” Those few words uttered by my classmates’ mothers had such an effect on me that I still remember them to this day, 17 years later. After years of being told to lose weight and conform to societal standards, I now proudly identify as a fat woman, or someone who is recognized to be ‘plus sized.’ Women and girls who do not subscribe to the idealization of the female form are not only underrepresented in the media but also face sexual oppression and physical objectification in their everyday lives.
What exactly is the idealized female form? Many people from different walks of life have different ideals of beauty, but the American ideal is something women are increasingly aware of; the common characteristics of the “perfect” woman are being tall, thin, and perfectly symmetrical in every visible aspect. This “thin-ideal” is enforced by our celebrity role models and what is seemingly unavoidable in today’s society; it is what we see in advertising, on television, in books or comic books, and in the movies. Looking back on my childhood, I honestly cannot remember a single positive portrayal of fat women in the media I was absorbing which strongly affected my self-esteem in more ways than one. After hearing that mother’s comment at my dance studio, I started to look at myself in the mirror in comparison to my best friend at the time; I was tall, with a large stomach and thick legs while she was short and petite, with skinny arms and legs. I remember becoming angry with her simply because of her body type and wondered why I couldn’t be as “perfect” as she was. With the exception of that one comment about my weight, I was never explicitly told that I was fat—I just knew that I was different, and not in a good way.
The word ‘fat’ can come across as a dirty word; we are taught that when something is fat, it is usually grotesque or we associate it with animals, like pigs. Calling myself fat instead of plus-sized, curvy, or even full figured isn’t meant to be self-deprecating, it’s simply calling myself what I am, someone with “a large amount of excess flesh”. However, even if they are comfortable with their body, there is always a constant pressure for women to get fit, lose weight and achieve that ‘summer body’ that apparently every woman needs in order to wear a two piece bathing suit at the beach. This physical objectification might be encouraging to some women who want to lose weight however it does a better job at shaming women and policing their lifestyle. The media has created specific standards for what women should or should not be—not only in terms of being physically attractive to men but also sexually attractive. Sexually speaking, much of what both young men and women know about sex comes from pornography; men see these idealized, naked women and assume that this is what’s attractive but what they don’t know is that a majority of women do not fit that mold. Considering the early discussion on the word ‘fat’, people view fat women or “fat sex” to be disgusting. According to Gurleen Khandpur, “One study estimates that the prevalence of weight based discrimination in the US increased by 66% between 1996 and 2006 and is now comparable to gender and race based discrimination”. To many people, the idea of having sex with a fat woman would be unthinkable, mainly because of the stigma that is attached to the word itself as well as the negativity towards people who choose not to conform to what is enforced as acceptable.
To say that I am a fat woman is to say that I love my body, which can be a rare comment to hear from women nowadays. Women and girls who do not subscribe to the idealization of the female form are not only underrepresented in the media but also face sexual oppression and physical objectification in their everyday lives. Fat women in this country may not have the respect that we deserve but in order to change how society views us, we must have the platform to do so.
Montclair State | Millennial Identities