thin-shaming the body beautiful will get us nowhere

thin-shaming the body beautiful will get us nowhere

A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, I was called out for thin-shaming.

I wrote about an experience I had in an awesome yoga for round bodies class, framing it around a photo (a woman in a bikini doing a backbend on a beach) that had kept popping up in my Facebook feed and how it made me feel. I noted the model’s rib cage and hip bones, calling her body “too thin” and “emaciated.”

Somebody on Twitter called me out for it. The exchange was uncomfortable and left me feeling attacked. The caller-outer called me “hypocritical” for “preaching” body positivity while thin-shaming another woman’s body.

A little harsh, but she had a point. And the thing is, I hadn’t realized what I was doing. At the time, writing about my reaction to an image that repeatedly came up on my Facebook feed seemed like a good entry point into my experience. I had no intention of thin-shaming anyone, but clearly I hold biases towards thin bodies.

This is not okay. I’m not about to make excuses for my actions. However, I feel like my response is a culturally conditioned response to women’s bodies. We are taught to judge and assess women’s bodies.

“Thin-shaming and fat-shaming are not separate, opposing issues—they are stratifications of the same issue: Patriarchal culture’s need to demoralize, distract, and pit women against one another,” writes Lindy West on Jezebel. “To keep women shackled by shame and hunger. To keep us obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential. To get our money.”

As much energy as I’ve put into challenging my assumptions, I still have a long way to go. The only way to take ownership over this is to own my assumptions. And I’m full of them.

judging-any-body-is-wrongSince this was called out to me on Twitter, I’ve been able to catch myself when I think thin-shaming thoughts and try to change my patterns. I’ve tried to appreciate images of women’s bodies (because let’s face it, they’re everywhere) without judging them. I’ve noticed that I’m not at all as critical of the bodies of the real women around me as I am of the images. This is because I think that all humans are beautiful. But I’ve noticed that I still take note of the real women around me, and assess (e.g., when people lose/gain weight, or wear something that has a certain effect on how their body looks).

Commentors on the post (who also called out my thin-shaming, although in more constructive manner than the caller-outer from Twitter) brought to my attention that within the body positive yoga scene, there is an undercurrent of thin-shaming. “I am all for body-positive messages in the yoga community,” wrote Valerie. ‘I truly believe that yoga is for everyone. However, lately it seems like many of the should-be-empowering messages come with a reverse shaming of the “typical” yogi.”

I haven’t really noticed this, but apparently I’m complicit with it, so I guess I wouldn’t. If anything, in yoga culture I notice an excess of thin privilege and elevation of thin as “the body beautiful.” As in the rest of our culture, thin flexible able white bodies are the norm in yoga culture – but somehow it feels more intensified, perhaps because the playing field is smaller but more likely because it’s a body-centred practice that develops awareness of our own bodies and those around us.

nomoreskinnyshamingI own my words, but I also believe that taking responsibility is proactive, not retroactive. I will do my best not to thin-shame women on this blog when I am encouraging body positivity and self-love. I subscribe to the HAES philosophy – health at any size. And that includes small sizes.

What I want to see, truly and sincerely, is a world where all bodies are loved and accepted for who they are. Body shaming – fat or thin or anywhere in between – will get us nowhere.

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  1. I love your honesty Roseanne, and I agree that fat or thin we all hold some prejudice based on our upbringing and exposure to popular culture. I think it’s so important that this topic is part of the discussion as many of us don’t realize or won’t admit that they do it or have done it, out loud or in their head. Body positivity is about acceptance, and if we can’t honor and discuss where we are constructively then we are going no where fast. I always say that you can’t lie when you’re on your yoga mat (you can either do a handstand or you can’t). But off the yoga mat, it takes a big person to admit where they’re at, and the mistake you made will and is helping our growing community in leaps and bounds with your honesty, passion and big heart.


    Inspiring process.

    Jnana yoga.

  3. I don’t know. I go to one studio very regularly.. 5-8 times a week. No one talks about how anyone else looks. Teachers treat all people equally nicely. I was given help in handstand when I was larger and now also. I did lose weight after finally getting a good apprepriate thyroid supplement.. I am nto as excited abotu the thinness as I am about having energy, moving easily, not having my knees hurt, not going after food for energy.
    I think some of us who are accused of having thin envy really have or want energy and good body movement feeling. Please dont blame it all on the physical dimensions.. its abotu feeling like you can move well.

  4. Oh my god – funny you should post this today! This morning I saw this –> “Worst Celebrity Beach Bodies” and literally found myself saying WTF do they want? Every kind of body, thin, fat, huge boobs on a thin body, no boobs on a pudgy body, super athletic, etc… got equal scorn! Give it a freaking rest!

    thanks Roseanne, thanks random twitterer, thanks Lindy West “Thin-shaming and fat-shaming are not separate, opposing issues—they are stratifications of the same issue: Patriarchal culture’s need to demoralize, distract, and pit women against one another,”
    This has been an issue for me on fb and elsewhere for so long. eg. pictures of a thin woman with a caption below reading ‘not healthy’ alongside a photo of a curvaceous woman with a caption reading ‘healthy’.
    I am thin, quite thin! Roseanne knows me 😉 I am healthy. I have always been thin. I eat a lot. I eat well, sometimes. I eat not so well sometimes. I smoke. I do other things sometimes too. I do yoga. I am active. I am NOT flexible easily. I don’t have a speciality yoga class to go to. I have been criticized, made fun of, envied for my thinness, for my body type ever since i can remember. The current yoga scene has not encouraged me to feel safe about my body in a yoga class….yet. where’s my specialty class for thin bodies who look like they can do all the yoga poses but really they can’t ? where it’s not assumed that i can or can not do something because of my body type?
    can i come to yoga for round bodies? your last post about this said it was for everyone? 😉
    Judging ANY body is wrong. thanks so much for bringing this out there on your blog that A LOT of folks read, because it’s the first support i’ve felt on this issue ever.
    we could start with this: don’t assume you know anything about a body or person and how they move, live, or do yoga just because of the way their body looks upon in person or in a picture, (eg. all thin bodies in a yoga class may not be flexible)
    you can tell a bit but not everything

    • I’ve always been thin too and, as a yoga teacher I point out with glee the people who come to my class and can do some of the postures more easily, more completely than me, like Cobra where my long arms have to bend as my spine is not so flexible.

      I wish you could find a class that you felt comfortable in, as I have practiced more My thin limbs have got stronger and bigger. Flexibility improves with practice.

      I am actually much heavier than I was, but people still see me as ‘slim’ and envy that quite openly which is hard to take when I know that I have actually been about a stone lighter for most of my adult life, not because of any diet, that was just me.

  6. Not all thin women are young, beautiful or could rock a bikini …many who have become thin from a formerly obese weight (and didn’t go in for the surgery) could have yards of hanging skin on their arms, legs, abdomens … also, there are stretch marks, skin tags, scars, blemishes, pendulous breasts, etc.

    I am absolutely sure the yoga world does not valorize those particular yoga teachers/selfie subjects, either … (except perhaps the more spiritual schools & then it’s what’s between the ears rather than below the neck that counts,)

    I leave you with this blog post from a favored blog I follow:

    I myself have blogs, but not about yoga …

  7. I love the open and honest discussion about being called out for one’s biases. It’s not easy to admit being wrong in a “public forum” like the internet can sometimes get.

    But I do think that the Lindy West’s piece should be appreciated in its entirely, not through a selectively chosen quote to promote your sentiment. There were so many other great points she argues which were not just about the wrongfulness of thin-shaming. Such as, “Thin-shaming is wrong. It is bad and it is harmful and I long for its eradication and I will dance upon its corpse with my fat feet. But it’s important to note that thin-shaming is a symptom of the fact that all women’s bodies are policed all the time—not evidence of some culture-wide, systemic campaign to stigmatize thinness. Thinness is valued. Thin bodies are privileged over fat bodies.”

    For me to truly be accepting of all bodies I need to constantly check in with my own body privilege.

  8. As a thin woman, I agree with the commentator in the article who writes that there is an under-current of thin shaming. For me the point is that in this game (in which our bodies are endlessly commodified and we are never OK without the latest improving product), whatever we look like, we cannot win. If we are in the game, our bodies are de facto not all right as they are. Even if we meet the cultural ideal, we still fail because now we are trying too hard or look phony and unnatural or are neurotic / anorexic … you name it … Merchandisers and advertisers are the only possible winners here.

  9. Great discussion. And kudos to Roseanne for her willingness to question her own taken-for-granteds, listen to others, learn, grow and change . . . and then share the fruits of that process with others.

  10. Inspiring honesty, thank you for sharing.

  11. Thanks for bringing this to light, Roseanne. I really never thought of thin-shaming as a thing, but… I have often wished I could put on a bit more weight to look more “feminine”, chosen clothes that hide show the places where I feel bony…

    This really makes me feel deeper into the relationship between my body and all of the “hot yoga picture” bodies I see everywhere practically every day, online and in studios… Wow. Tip of a big iceberg. A suivre…

    Ditto on what Tara, Carol, and others said: your willingness to respond to be called-out with such consideration and caring is beautiful. Thank you so much. Just shows how worthwhile it is to speak from your heart. Even the soil of honest argument is fertile :o)

  12. I do think it is important not to blame thin people for the fat-shaming that is a reality in our society. but fat shaming is a reality in our society.

    i work in an organization that supports children and youth to build their inner sense of value. one of our activities is called flower power – adapted from someone somewhere, we are not the originators. anyway, imagine a drawing of a flower with inner and outer petals. imagine opposites that describe groups of people in our society. boys and girls, men and women. rich people and poor people. white people and people of colour. children and adults. adults and elders. gay people and straight people. you get the drift. kids identify which are the less privileged of the opposites, and they can always do it. they identify themselves on each pair of opposites (inner or outer petals?), and they can almost always do it. would fat or thin be the less privileged? which would be the more privileged? the answer is clear.

    so although i am a thin person who of course would not welcome being called a skinny bitch, when i am, the sting is quite different than being called a fat bitch. we privilege thinness, as a culture. whether we asked to be thin or not is not the question. like all types of privilege, i try not to use this particular one to belittle others, yet own what it brings me, and do my best to listen when i hear less thin people grapple with their body issues. it is not quite the same. we can live in solidarity but that has to mean recognizing power and privilege.

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