Michele Truhlik challenges our notions of beauty and says that being called FAT f*cks with men as much as it does women.
One of my favorite words begin with F. I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about. That oft-thought crude four-letter word, to me, is an important communication tool. It’s a word I use when I want to place great emphasis on something that I’m saying. It also happens to be very effective when used in the passionate throes of hot steamy sex.
On the other hand, one of the ugliest F words is FAT. I hate that word! In our thin-obsessed society, the word has grown to be one that can throw a woman (or a man) into a downward spiral of crash dieting, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and even into a full-blown state of depression. It’s a bad word, fat.
Another F word that I have come to hate is FACE. Let me just state this on behalf of all the beautiful fat women in the world: The worst compliment you can give us is to say, “You have such a pretty face.” If I hear that one more time I’m going to scream and not stop screaming. God, this makes me crazy!
Why is this compliment so bothersome and so very uncool? Because if you are complimenting a thin woman, you say, “You’re so pretty” or “You’re beautiful.” But when you compliment a plus-size woman, you say “You have such a pretty face” or “You have a beautiful face.”
Do you know what that tells us? It tells us that although our face is pretty, the rest of us is garbage, and that everything below our necks is worthless. In other words, you’re telling us that ninety-five percent of our physical being is hideous. That truly is exactly what that compliment says to us. To use another F word, it’s so fucking insulting!
Though likely different in form, men experience the masked insults too. Their buddies rib them about their expanding “beer gut” and love handles or make comments about how they should hit the gym, all cloaked in the guise of good-natured kidding of course.
Once thought to only affect women, the obsession with body image and the development of eating disorders are striking men in alarming numbers. Though body ideals differ, as women are driven by an unrelenting pressure to be thin and men are obsessed with bulking up and achieving the coveted six-pack abs, the result is the same: an overall dissatisfaction with their bodies, the accompanying negative self-image and its detrimental aftereffects.
According to National Eating Disorders Association, in the United States alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life. This includes anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders. Gathered data on people in treatment suggests that as many as 25 percent of those struggling with anorexia or bulimia are men. When binge eating figures are examined, the number jumps to 40 percent.
An April report in Eating Disorder Magazine claims that nearly half (43%) of men are not satisfied with their own body. Body image issues are a key component in eating disorders. Most men who are in this category admit to being depressed and a large number claim to use fasting, purging (self-induced vomiting) and laxatives to manage their weight. Unlike anorexia, which involves starvation, the main method of disordered eating in men involves the vicious cycle of binge eating followed by excessive exercise.
Men may be especially vulnerable to muscle dysmorphia, a condition in which one obsesses about lacking muscle definition and mass, even if they have a muscular body. In a recent issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal, Ball State University nutritionist Katherine A. Beals, PhD, RD, highlighted this trend among fitness buffs. “Millions of boys and men today harbor a secret obsession about their looks and are endangering their health by engaging in excessive exercise, bingeing and purging rituals, steroid abuse, and overuse of nutritional and dietary [products],” she writes.
This all boils down to body image. Brown University has a fabulous site devoted to Health Services and Health Education. Here they present a description and definition of Positive Body Image vs. Negative Body Image that really hits it home.
Taken from their page,
We have a positive body image when we have a realistic perception of our bodies AND we enjoy them just as they are. Positive body image involves understanding that healthy attractive bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and that physical appearance says very little about our character or value as a person. Healthy body image means that our assessment of our bodies is kept separate from our sense of self-esteem, and it ensures that we don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight and calories.
Negative body image can involve a distorted perception of size or shape, as well as more global feelings of shame, awkwardness, and anxiety about the body. People with negative body image tend to feel that their size or shape is a sign of personal failure, and that it is a very important indicator of worth. Poor body image has been linked to diminished mental performance, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, dieting and eating disorders.
According to Brown’s Health Education discussion on Size Prejudice, “Intolerance of body diversity has a lot to do with the meaning of size and shape in our culture. Being thin and/or muscular has become associated with being “hard-working, successful, popular, beautiful, strong, and self-disciplined.” Being “fat” is associated with being “lazy, ignorant, hated, ugly, weak, and lacking in will-power.” As a result, “fat” isn’t a description like tall or redhead – it’s an indication of moral character: fat is bad.”
So just how do we deal when fat is a reality for many of us? Brown University’s Health Services has a list of tips and advice on how to boost our body image. Of those sage words of wisdom, these are my favorite:
- De-emphasize numbers. Neither weight nor Body Mass Index tell us anything substantial about body composition and health. Eating habits, activity patterns, and other self-care choices are much more important. It’s really hard to cultivate an attitude of body acceptance and trust when you are basically climbing on the scale to ask if it’s OK to feel good about yourself that day. It is ALWAYS OK to feel good about yourself – don’t let a machine tell you any differently.
- Realize that you cannot change your body type. Lightly muscled, bulky, or rounded, you need to appreciate your body and work with your genetic inheritance.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Your physiology is unique to you; you can’t get a sense of your body’s needs and abilities with someone else’s body as a reference point. And the research has shown that frequent comparing tends to increase negative body image.
- Limit the “body checking” that you do throughout the day. Researchers have also found that negative body image is reinforced by lots of time in front of the mirror, or frequent checks of (perceived) body flaws. Instead, consider rearranging your living space so that you aren’t running into full-length mirrors every time you turn around.
- Question the degree to which your self-esteem depends on your appearance. Although we are repeatedly told “Change Your Shape and Change Your Life,” basing your happiness on this foundation is likely to lead to failure and frustration, and may prevent you from exploring ways to truly enhance your life.
- Broaden your perspective about health and beauty. Read books about body image, cultural pressures, or media literacy. Google some fine art images on the Web. Fine art collections show that a variety of bodies have been celebrated throughout the ages and in different cultures. Fine art doesn’t exist to create a need for a product (like advertising does), so it isn’t intended to leave you feeling inadequate or anxious.
- Recognize that size prejudice is a form of discriminationsimilar to other forms of discrimination. Assumptions that shape and size are indicators of character, morality, intelligence, or success are incorrect and unjust. Celebrate people you know who defy these generalizations.
So if you’ve spent (wasted) years trying to be what you weren’t meant to be, take these tips to heart. No one should be made to feel bad for the way they look, the way they are. Remember, media images are NOT reality. Women don’t have to be a size 2 to be considered attractive and men don’t need to have rippling abs and bulging biceps to be considered hot.
We are all unique and valued individuals, worthy of being loved and applauded for who we are, as we are. Perfection is way overrated, and impossible to achieve anyway.
And speaking as a one who has spent decades being fat in America: I do believe that most people who use the compliment “You have such a pretty face” are coming from a place of love and don’t even realize the implication their phraseology has on the one being complimented. But, please, from now on, consider your words before you tell a fat woman that she’s beautiful. Don’t pinpoint her face. Just say, “You’re beautiful.” Period. Because that’s what we are.
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Photo Credit: Flickr/Laura Lewis