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The myth of skinny-shaming

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As Nicki Minaj’s highest charting single ever, “Anaconda” has elicited a lot of controversy since its release. While the most prominent discussion seems to center around its salacious music video, which has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube—where comments oscillate between denouncing the video as “pornographic” or “disgusting” and heralding it as a sex-positive black-feminist masterpiece—what I find to be the most interesting argument against “Anaconda” is the accusation that Minaj is promoting an unhealthy body image. Indeed, opponents of the song have criticized its lyrics for “skinny-shaming,” contending that Minaj’s call to “fuck the skinny bitches” marginalizes thin women in the same way that larger women are marginalized. Here’s the fault with that argument: while instances of “skinny-shaming” may seem like as much of a problem as fat-shaming—and may very well be just as hurtful—the two phenomena are neither comparable nor equal, because the fact of the matter is that we live in a society that systematically and structurally privileges those who are thin and marginalizes those who are not.

It wasn’t until last weekend that I first heard the term “skinny-shaming.” I was hanging out in a friend’s common room listening to music when “Anaconda” began playing. About 3 minutes into the song, there’s a section where Nicki raps, “Where my fat ass big bitches in the club?/Fuck the skinny bitches/Fuck the skinny bitches in the club/I wanna see all the big fat ass bitches in the mother fucking club, fuck you if you skinny bitches.”

When I mentioned afterwards that I respected Nicki for saying that, to my surprise, my friend replied, “What? But like, skinny-shaming’s also a thing, which is just as shitty.”

“Skinny-shaming,” as I later learned, is the term that’s been coined to describe the act of degrading or insulting someone for being thin. It’s often mentioned in the broader context of body-shaming and women’s body image and is typically offered as a type of other-side-of-the-same-coin alternative to fat-shaming. Often, it’s heralded as more important than fat-shaming, because fat-shaming gets more attention in the media and general discourse. And with the growing discussion surrounding beauty standards, the media, and “real women,” this notion of skinny-shaming is one that’s received a lot of attention lately.

The core of the skinny-shaming argument can be best be summed up by the top comment on Meghan Trainor’s YouTube video for “All About That Bass”—another song that’s proven controversial recently for Trainor’s claim that she’s “bringing booty back” and planning to “tell them skinny bitches that.” The comment reads:

“What happened to everyone is beautiful?! Calling someone a skinny bitch is the same as calling someone a fat bitch. I bet if someone made a song calling someone a fat bitch everyone would hate that person. We’re all beautiful, no matter what size and we need to stop calling each other names or saying things like ‘only curvy girls are real women’ or ‘that girl would be pretty if she wasn’t fat.’ We are all BEAUTIFUL!!”

The basic premise of this argument, my friend’s argument, and all other arguments against “skinny-shaming” is this: skinny-shaming, like fat-shaming, is a form of body-shaming, so it is just as hurtful, dangerous, and problematic. Therefore, skinny-shaming should be discussed, analyzed, and combatted just as seriously as fat-shaming. Basically, “skinny-shaming’s a thing, and it’s just as shitty.”

But not all body-shaming is created equal. Skinny-shaming is absolutely not comparable to fat-shaming, nor should the two issues be weighted equally. And by pairing Trainor’s or Minaj’s or any other person’s individual criticism of “skinny bitches” with the systemic and cultural condemnation of all those who are not “skinny bitches” is to completely ignore the hierarchy of power associated with body-type and weight in modern American culture.

Being skinny is a form of privilege, in the same way that being white, wealthy, heterosexual, cisgendered, or able-bodied is a form of privilege. There are a series of societal benefits and advantages that come with being skinny, and these benefits serve to marginalize those who do not fit into a very narrowly defined notion of the acceptable female body type. These privileges include, but are not limited to:

The ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers;

The assumption that your body type is at the very least “normal,” and most often sexually desirable;

The assumption that those who do find you sexually desirable are also normal, and not merely satisfying a fetish;

The assumption that you are healthy and physically fit;

The lack of character judgments (e.g. lazy, greedy, undisciplined) placed upon you for your body type.

These are all privileges enjoyed by those who are skinny, and these privileges are important to recognize when analyzing what exactly body-shaming means, who it affects, and how it affects them. Fat-shaming represents a larger social system of oppression. Skinny-shaming is an individual insult or criticism against those who are already in a position of power. Fat-shaming is nearly constant, ubiquitous, and often unacknowledged. Skinny-shaming happens sometimes. Yes, fat-shaming and skinny-shaming are both forms of body-shaming. No, they are not equal.

What differentiates individual instances of prejudice from large-scale discrimination is the system of power inherent in the latter. In “Developing a New Perspective on Race,” Pat Bidol defined racism as “Power + Prejudice”—I think this is true for all “-isms.” What transforms individual instances of prejudice into larger systems of discrimination is the existence of a power disparity. To be discriminated against is to be constantly placed in a vulnerable position in society—it is to be told, explicitly and tacitly, that you are unworthy and thus deserve less.

This is why even using the term “skinny-shaming” is dangerous; drawing the parallel between a system of oppression and individual grievances serves to conceal the ways in which body-size privileges or marginalizes certain groups. In the same way that affirmative action does not constitute reverse racism, or a concerted effort to recruit women in the workplace does not constitute reverse sexism, an angry comment towards skinny people does not constitute reverse fat-shaming (i.e. skinny-shaming). Being in a position of power means that while you may encounter individual instances of prejudice, you will never be subjected to a system of prejudice. Thus being told “fuck you” by Nicki Minaj is not “skinny-shaming,” but rather an instance of skinny-prejudice.

To be clear, by no means am I approving of or endorsing skinny-prejudice; insulting someone for their body-type—regardless of privileged status—is unproductive and hurtful. What I am saying is that comments like “fuck you if you skinny, bitch” have a context in which they must be considered. In a world in which a national retailer (ahem, Brandy Melville) labels size small clothing “one size fits most,” the dieting industry brings in $20 billion in revenue per year, the media routinely and publicly criticize celebrities for weight gain and herald Jennifer Lawrence as a “curvy woman,” non-skinny women are given very few avenues for attacking and criticizing the culture of oppression to which they are subjected. Add to that the history of patriarchy associated with female weight management, and it becomes clear that insults against those who are skinny are not an attack, but rather a response to a much broader issue.

So when Nicki Minaj says “fuck the skinny bitches” she’s not personally attacking women who receive skinny privilege, but rather combatting the system that gives it to them. She’s publicly recognizing the power dynamic that surrounds the female body, and she’s attempting to disrupt the dominant narrative that allows this dynamic to exist.

Yes, I understand “fuck the skinny bitches” might hurt your feelings, but no, this one instance of skinny-prejudice is not comparable to the pervasive culture of fat-shaming we live in. And by ignoring the fact that there is a difference, we deny the fact that this system of privilege and oppression continues to exist.

 

Illustration by Julia Kittle-Kamp

352 Responses

  1. Shana says:

    That said, the fact that this so-called privilege exists & thrives is not our burden. Minaj and the like are better off saying ” fuck the dominant narrative”. That would be more accurate and constructive. We should not be targeted indirectly or otherwise (as per your logic) .Secondly, I don’t deny societies obsession with a specific body image/shape. I take great pride in my body shape and I’ve personally inspired many of my female counterparts to embrace a healthier path. If this contributes to this so-called ” skinny privilege”, then I’ll be a life-long proponent. I get the gist of the article in terms of context & comparison but it raises graver concerns specifically relating to the growing obesity epidemic & what is arguably one of societies biggest failings and challenges to date. Your statement, ” insulting someone for their body-type is unproductive and hurtful”. Hurtful, sure. Unproductive (in the case of the not skinny,dare I say fat/obese), I’m not so sure. Countless people will attest to the positive outcomes of their efforts to lose weight to achieve a healthier appearance . This on the heels of receiving criticism. Better to note the difference between insulting a large person for the sake of hurting them and taking the time to propose means and ways to get society to shift from a fat vs thin mentality to a ” let’s all try to be the best versions of ourselves ” so that there is privilege for all.

  2. Shana says:

    In conclusion, it’s safe to say that I would prefer to live in a world without extremes. The fact is that we live in a society where 65% of the world’s population live in countries where being overweight and obesity kills more people than being underweight/slim (like me). Being cruel to fat people is not necessary but when first world countries shrug their shoulders and call it normal, I doubt that I’ll ever stop sounding off about this- and not in a hurtful way.

  3. Juxta says:

    This article makes an incredible argument in the controversy surrounding skinny-shaming. In my opinion, there is a large similarity with similar arguments that also have the same type of underlying facts, as white privilege (let’s start using the term “white ignorance though, because this term somewhat gives whites a reason to stay ignorant because the see it as a privilege and not as a problem…something about theirselves they cannot change, since they were born white…I hope this makes sense).

    Nicki is a strong, opinionated, powerful, black woman. Black women are extremely oppressed, especially in our society. Obviously Black people
    are in general, and it’s a evil, evil, kind of racism that is not predijuiced, it is on a much larger scale. When black people, especially those that are in the public eye, display a strong argument, they are easily shushed and shamed like a child by their abusive mother/father/parent.

    I realize this comment is a little scattered. But I must say, although there are major VALID similarities in arguments of skinny shaming and white privilege (anything surrounding racism), they don’t lie on the same type of foundation.
    Black people and all people of color, have been fundamentally oppressed through absolutely every type of system we have on this earth. Nearly every damn business that has ever existed, when it comes to employment or being a customer. I am not directing this comment towards the article AT ALL or to anyone on the comment board. I just felt it was necessary for me to voice my opinion on that.
    Thanks for reading, whoever got through my rambling :)

  4. Nrs says:

    So it’s okay to body shame if the person a good body. Like it’s okay to be racist to white people because they have “more privileges” this article is straight bull.

    • Morgan says:

      Completely agree. It’s like giving fat or overweight people an excuse to make me feel like shit over something they can control.

    • Juxta says:

      Nope, looks like my point went right over your heads due to my shitty ass writing.

      Let me clarify,
      I never stated that its okay to body-shame. The entire reason I wrote my reply to this article was to clarify that although the author makes a strong argument, fat-shaming is incomparable to our disease of racism in this country.

      I was replying to this:
      “Being skinny is a form of privilege, in the same way that being **white**, wealthy, heterosexual, cisgendered, or able-bodied is a form of privilege. There are a series of societal benefits and advantages that come with being skinny, and these benefits serve to marginalize those who do not fit into a very narrowly defined notion of the acceptable female body type.”

      I was specifically replying to skinny priv being in the same category as white priv. There is no excuse for body-shaming, period.

      Again, I do not believe in any sort of body shaming. That includes skinny shaming, I believe it all to be awful. I believe in the power of feeling empowered by your body, at any size.

      I am VERY sorry that I didnt convey my message with more directness. I believe the scatter-brained approach quickly led to confusion.

      Also, NRS, there is no such thing as being racist against white people. You can be prejudice, but you cannot be racist against white people.

      • Juxta says:

        Just to bring the clarification home, I do NOT believe in body-shaming.

        I wrote my reply in order to state my belief that the problem of racism/white privilege, belongs in a class of its own and cannot be compared to the other privileges listed in the authors writing.

        Jane Elliot once told a man that claimed to experience judgement the way P.O.C do, because he felt judged by being chubby, “You can get rid of your chubby, they cant change the color of their skin.”

        The main purpose of my post was to separate the underlying foundation of body shaming and racism.

        I feel that we all share the constant struggles of accepting our bodies, and its fucked up. We have been conditioned to feel ashamed and to shame. I dont mean to sound like the cupcakes & rainbows girl from Mean Girls, but I think our biggest struggle overall is just learning to love ourselves. I feel that when we take self-love into the argument, and practice love towards one another, thats when things become productive.

  5. Morgan says:

    How fucking DARE you say I have “privilege” because I’m skinny. I eat like a fucking cow and I can’t gain wait at all. While some women who are larger can control their weight through their eating habits, I can not. Now THAT is privilege, having the CHOICE. So don’t you dare say I’m privileged that I literally can not gain weight, while people that are overweight are that way because they choose to eat fattier foods or foods with more calories, but can choose to lose the weight by controlling eating habits.

  6. A says:

    So honestly, is it hard to be a fucking moron?

    “Being skinny isn’t a privilege because it automatically means you’re more healthy and sexually desired”

    You’re the same kind of person that would say a woman’s value isn’t defined by her attractiveness when it pushed your “all straight white cis men are terrible” speech about how they sexualize women, but than you say it is when it pushes your “feel bad for fat people spiel”

    Being skinny doesn’t mean healthy? There are so many issues someone could have that are just as harmful, and they don’t always see themselves as a perfect image of health anyways?

    How about instead of saying that all fat people are disabled and crippled little people, they go to the gym and put down the cheeseburgers once in a while?

  7. Megan says:

    The woman behind this article is really trying to make a point, but this is just a complete double standard and ridiculous notions of trying to justify your own prejudice. I went from chubby to a bean pole overnight as a team and was told men don’t like skinny women/boobs and butt aren’t gonna grow in because I’m too skinny/etc. and there was nothing I could do about it the weight just never came til my 20’s.

  8. K says:

    Do not tell me that being skinny is a privilege. You say that people think that we’re not lazy or greedy and that we’re seen as more sexually desirable. Maybe for some, but not for all. I don’t have the ability to put on weight, as much as I try.
    Tell me it’s a privilege after living in my shoes. People yelling “Anorexic” at me on the street, people telling me I’m disgusting, people watching what I eat all the time. People thinking I’m sick. People think I’m a cold hearted egotistical bitch because I’m skinny.
    I’m not saying that fat shaming is any better, it’s awful, and I feel sorry for everyone who goes through that. But don’t say skinny shaming has any perks, it doesn’t. And one thing about skinny shaming is people know better not to say things about people who are bigger but people think it’s perfectly fine to point out when someone is skinny. “You don’t eat enough no wonder you’re so skinny” is a regular comment, and no one sees an issue with it. Now imagine saying “You eat so much no wonder you’re so fat.” That’s offensive and unacceptable, so why is it okay to say it to a skinny person? Because people don’t think skinny people get sad for being skinny, they think it doesn’t hurt us. It does.

  9. TK says:

    This culture exists but throwing more insults isnt going to help fix it.

  10. Yas says:

    While I agree with a good portion of this article, one has to be mindful of the fact that just like not all body shaming is created equal, neither are individuals’ backgrounds and lived experienced. Yes, being thin definitely is not frowned upon like being overweight is, and thin people (particularly women) are likely to experience privileges, and in general society has a more positive reaction to these people. I can see how labeling “skinny shaming” and saying it’s dangerous, inappropriate, and just as awful as fat shaming can seem like a skewed way of thinking, and even borderline offensive to many people. With that said, I can say that skinny shaming is definitely a thing, it’s definitely dangerous, and being that we never fully know people’s backgrounds and situations (overweight or skinny) it’s never ok to comment about someone’s physical appearance. Ever.

    I used to be morbidly obese. I know all too well what it feels like to be treated like total shit, or treated as if I don’t exist because I was fat. One day I had enough (there’s much more to it than that), but basically circumstances in my life led me to completely change my life. I changed my eating habits, increased my activity levels etc and transformed into a person I can hardly recognize. Not in a bad way, just in that I’m a complete health nut who wakes up at 4 am to go to the gym etc. I hated those 4am gym people before and now I am one. While I’ll admit I get treated quite differently by society because I’m skinny…random acts of kindness, free drinks at Starbucks, people holding doors open for me etc…all kinds of things that never would have happened when I was 260 pounds; this privlaged attitude I receive from society comes from a group of randoms who don’t know me or my history. They assume I’m this fit girl and probably can’t imagine that I was ever obese. Now, my friends and family…totally different story. As I’ve gotten down to my goal weight, one that I feel is healthy & my doctor has said I’m healthy; the people who have known me through this whole process seem to think it’s appropriate to make comments to me like “why are you so skinny? If you walked outside the wind would blow you away. You need to eat something you look gaunt..you’re skeletal” Over and over again every time I see them, specific comments about my eating patterns, weight, and physical appearance are made. These are not only hurtful and socially inappropriate, but damaging to someone who has struggled with body image/self-esteem issues her whole life. When I hear those “skinny shaming” comments, they’re no different to me than when my family used to comment on how fat I was. Hurts me the same, sends my insecurities about my body into a frenzy just the same, and most of all it makes me look at myself and question or doubt if I’ll ever be good enough, or pretty enough, or feel accepted. These insecurities lead to self-deprecating thoughts and negative self-dialogue, contribute to disordered thinking about my body and weight. The “you’re to skinny” comments trigger the same exact feelings within me, as the fat comments. I realize not everyone who is thin and receives these comments shares my experience of having been overweight at one point, but the takeaway here is you don’t know what that person is going through and while you might think they have it so great, wear what they want, eat what they want (and that’s not that case most of the time), that person may have serious body dysmorphia, or an eating disorder, or maybe had a crazy parent who was obsessed about weight their whole life so they grew up being obsessed about being thin. Whatever it may be, don’t give yourself permission to comment about other people’s physical appearance in anyway, and don’t minimize shaming one type of figure look over another. I’ve been a fat girl, and now I’m a thin girl; so I can say from both perspectives, being shamed, is being shamed. Makes you feel degraded and worthless.

  11. janet says:

    I think a lot of people missed the point of the article, sorry for your folks. It was very well-written.

    I too have been on both sides of the spectrum. Obese to conventionally ‘skinny’. *Everything* changes when you become ‘skinny’. Friends, family, everyone you know will treat you differently, look at you differently. Platonic friends suddenly don’t want to be platonic anymore, yes the doors get held open, the free drinks get offered, the envious people who see you feeling good about yourself try to bring you down with phrases like “don’t get too thin!” or “are you even eating?” just because you took the watermelon slice over the cake slice after dinner. I was just at the table with you, didn’t you SEE me eating?

    However, thin privilege is a definite thing, but you’re not going to see it if you’ve been thin your whole life. That’s how privilege works. I’m sure Paris Hilton doesn’t consider herself privileged either.

    When a person walking ahead of you let’s the door slam in your face a couple 20 times, have people body check you at restaurants, grocery stores, strangers oink and grunt at you from their speeding cars while you’re out taking a walk, the absolute creepiest men in the world stalk and give you attention because hey, you’re fat, you’ve got low self esteem, you’ll definitely go for them, and be grateful no doubt (dry heave) and people say things to you like “You’re a 1x, be careful not to become a 3x! With the way you eat those chocolates, it could happen!” and you’ve had 1 goddamn chocolate.

    Here’s the real, and I know naturally thin people don’t want to hear it: Though you may have other disadvantages in your life, your body is at least not one of them. People say a comment to you once in a while and you think that’s bad enough to be considered shaming, you have *no* idea.
    People have comments no matter WHAT.
    But talk is cheap.

    It’s our actions and behaviors that show how we really feel about people.

  12. Charlie says:

    You are completely ignorant!!!!! Never want to attack someone in anyway for doing there job, but years of depression for this very reason makes the inner teenager get super frustrated.

    I’ve always been silly small, hated myself from a young age because i realised being able to see your bones wasn’t normal or considered healthy and unfortunately so did everyone else around me.

    This so called “privilege” makes people believe they are allowed to say whatever they like to someone with a small frame.

    Im grateful that it made me tough and im confident in my own body, but i refuse to let me future children who im assuming has a strong chance of having the same body type to endure this shaming for something they cant control.

    Women should be promoting confidence at any shape.

    • Brittany says:

      Thank you so much for this. I’ve had the exact same struggle and its sickening. Our thin figures are not an invitation for people to voice their opinion’s on our bodies.

      All women deserve to love the body they’re born with.

  13. Brittany says:

    So essentially you’re saying that because I was born with a high metabolism and am naturally thin that the hurt I’ve experienced from bullying, from the names I’ve been called, from every doctor and teacher assuming that I have an eating disorder, from stores never having clothes that fit me (its not just for bigger girls), from being made to feel inferior by EVERY lingerie store I visit to buy underwear is LESS valid than women who are fat shamed? That my feelings don’t matter because I have so called “privileges”?

    Well guess what, we don’t have privileges we have our own set of unique struggles that we apparently aren’t even allowed to feel badly about since we have some sort of hegemonic “power”. Unless you’ve lived as a naturally underweight person in America you have no right to assume that we have it ANY easier.

    All body shaming hurts. All body shaming is harmful. Not one person has the authority to decide that one form is MORE destructive to self-image or self esteem than the other. Women picking on women in the name of feminism and the right for everyone to love their body has to stop. Love your own body and shut the hell up about your neighbor’s.

  14. Youder says:

    Sorry, no one is going to apologize for living a healthy lifestyle and staying in shape. Be happy with YOURSELF, but don’t try to force others to respect things that are biologically unattractive. The United States has a HUGE problem with obesity. It is surpassing smoking as the leading cause of cancer here, as well as in the U.K. We’re trying to make fat shaming this terrible thing, while shaming smokers is perfectly fine. Criticism about things that are detrimental to public health should not be taboo. I think we need to focus more on helping people live healthy lifestyles instead of catering to people who don’t respect their own bodies.

    • HIIT girl says:

      I workout 3-4 days a week. I include HIIT, pilates, and strength training into my routines and I’ve had people get angry with me when they ask me how I manage to stay so thin, how I have such a small waist, or how I got such a perky butt. They get angry with me when I tell them it’s all down to watching what I eat and being active. Or I’ll get dismissive comments; I remember one time in particular where my step mom asked how she could get a butt like mine, once I showed her and explained to her what I do she just looked at me and said “eh, never mind”. I’ve had so many derogatory comments thrown at me about my level of fitness. I’ve gotten so tired of it, I purposefully piss people off now by lying and telling them it’s all genetics. They just don’t want to hear that it takes hard work and discipline, but they get even more frustrated when you tell them you just lucked out on the genetic lottery, because you know, life isn’t fair. I don’t expect anyone to be able to be in my level of fitness, or even to make it a priority like I do, however it is exhausting when they ask YOU what YOU do and when you reply they don’t like the answer and they’ll insult you or say something they deem is “smart” just to make themselves feel better, (I think the one I thought was the funniest was the whole “oh well I’d rather know what ice cream tastes like”) funny thing is I sometimes use ice cream for my smoothies.

  15. kitty says:

    Okay, but how many of the thin commenters crying on this website would be just as happy to be fat? Since, apparently, being thin is just as hard and everything.

  16. Avery says:

    Well this article makes me mad. I’ve been skinny my whole life. saying that I have the “ability to find clothing in your size at the vast majority of retailers” is a blatant lie. I can never find ANY CLOTHES. ever this article is super biased.

  17. Beth H. says:

    You people who think skinny-shaming is the same thing as fat-shaming sound like the “All Lives Matter” crowd. Do you also think racism against white people is the same thing as racism against those of color?

  18. Kelly says:

    And skinny prejudice can also be driven by ableism, assuming that a person is skinny by choice. I did not choose to have my digestive tract revolt against me, to have a good portion of my colon and lower small intestines removed, and replaced with a bag to collect my human waste. But I have an invisible illness, and on the street I am just that “skinny bitch” who looks “masculine” (sexist too!) needs to put “meat on my bones”. I don’t think that people are often aware, whether we are above or below average weight, that often times any form of body shaming or prejudice can also be an exhibition of ableist attitudes
    .

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