I was recently talking with a fellow, “body positive,” yoga teacher who lives in a thin, athletic and still very feminine body. I was telling her that I can sometimes detect some fatphobia from new class participants toward me/ my body. Sometimes their disgust is quite overt and after one class, they never come back. Sometimes it’s more like initial disbelief that they soften against and almost in a relieved way seem to accept that even fat, older women can do yoga. But whatever their reactions, it’s something, as a small-fat, (almost) 50-year-old woman I am/ have to be keenly aware of in my teaching. I have to be continually aware of it because we live in a fatphobic and ageist world in which my body is continually devalued and despised. I have to remain aware of it because reactions like this to my body can trigger me to crawl back into my own disorder, hopelessness and body hatred.
This fellow teacher responded with commiseration. She understood what I meant, she said, because she has had clients body shame her for being thin and beautiful; so thin and beautiful that it makes them uncomfortable.
I understood what she meant: body shaming happens to bodies of all sizes and in this appearance-obsessed culture, people are constantly judging each other’s bodies according to their own hang-ups and insecurities. She also meant: wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world in which people would just mind their own bodies and stop thinking they had any right to comment on anyone else’s. Yes. Amen.
But, the body shaming that thin women experience/ feel is fundamentally different from the body shaming fat women receive because we live in a FATphobic and thin supremacist world. While thin women experience body shaming in various interpersonal contexts, every cultural system is set up to celebrate and enforce their superiority.
We all experience body shaming but the fatter someone is in our culture, the more actual, systemic marginalization and oppression they experience. It is important for thin and fat women to understand, validate and respect how we are all harmed by fatphobia AND it is also necessary for thin women to check their thin privilege. Being told you’re making someone uncomfortable because you’re too beautiful/ thin is not the same thing as being suspected of laziness, stupidity, and lack of expertise because you’re fat. Those are two very different experiences with different power differentials attached to them. Thin women — especially in the fitness/ yoga/ health industries need to do better if they want to consider themselves “body positive.”
About JodiAnn Stevenson
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: