In the Fat vs. Skinny Smackdown, Everybody Loses

Skinny women are more often thought of as mean, controlling and superficial, while fat women are seen as lazy, sloppy and slow.

Jul 13, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

Are skinny girls bitches? It turns out that some people would answer this with a “yes.”

Recently, Glamour magazine did a study on how fat and skinny women are perceived in terms of personality traits. What it found was that skinny women are more often thought of as mean, controlling and superficial, while fat women are seen as lazy, sloppy and slow.

Who’s doing all this judging? It seems like you and I are. From the Glamour article:

Perhaps most striking, women of all weights hold these stereotypes: Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as 'sloppy,' and skinny types pegged their thin peers as 'mean.'

Woah. So it seems that even those of us who are victims of these thought systems are actually sometimes the very perpetrators of such body stereotyping. The only explananation I think if for this is that these perceptions have been so ingrained in us that we can’t help but think this way. Depressing.

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This is my surprised face. 

But it doesn't have to stop at making internal judgments about each others' bodies. Thanks to the iIternet, our opinions about other people and their bodies can be broadcast to millions, of course.

Over the last week or so, one thinspo blog has gotten a lot of traffic over a post on the body of model Kate Upton. I’m not going to link to it here, because I think Emily and I both agree that this blog has probably gotten enough traffic already, but if you are unfamiliar with it, you can take a look at this Jezebel piece on the situation.

(Of course, it would be easy enough to stop right here and pit fat against skinny and let us just sling insults at each other via anonymous Internet comments, but let’s look a little deeper. I know all of you xoJane readers are up for it; you were born ready, right?)

Basically, this blogger used an assortment of unflattering adjectives to describe Kate Upton and made assumptions about her lifestyle based on her weight. The one that jumped out at me the most, however, was the claim that the size of Kate Upton’s body was over-the-top-sexual, “almost pornographic.” 

While I don’t necessarily see “pornographic” as a negative thing, I was confused about this assessment. But it did make me think about how fashion models are generally very thin, while models such as Kate Upton, who appear  in Maxim or Sports Illustrated, are “allowed” to be a little bit heavier. Is this because heavier = sexier? Is Kate Upton’s body just downright pornographic, by virtue of its size and shape?

Maybe the key here is the perception (thanks, Glamour survey!) that thin women are more in control, which could also mean “less sexy.” And that heavier women are perceived as being less in control, and that translates to S-E-X. So, a skinny woman walking down the runway in a string bikini is Fashion, and a heavier woman wearing the same is Almost Porn. 

And maybe you’re thinking, “Great! Fat is sexy! 'Real women have curves!' Hurrah!” But that’s no good, either. This is a knife that cuts both ways. 

One issue the Glamour article points out is that even “good” labels can be harmful, not only because we are assuming personality traits based on physical appearance, but also because by assigning a favorable trait to one body type, we assume that the opposite must be true of the opposite body type. 

So, for example, if heavier women are considered “sexy,” then thinner women are viewed as “unsexy” by default. If heavy women are considered “empathetic,” then skinny women must be cold and unfeeling. By labeling thin women as “ambitious,” we are indirectly labeling fat women as “lazy.” And so on.

And now my head just exploded, because no one wins. There is no body that is immune to criticism. Sometimes it feels as if all of us are judged and judging, even though that may not be the case. These are the times I refer to the infinite wisdom of Mr. Rogers: “Everybody's fancy. Everybody's fine. Your body's fancy and so is mine.” 

I would like bodies to just be bodies. They are vessels in which our souls (or robot innards, depending on your particular beliefs or non-beliefs) reside. We eat, poop and cry with them, though perhaps not all three at the same exact time. We make babies with them, or we don’t. We have sex with them, we adorn them with impulsive midnight Etsy purchases, maybe we take them out for a run on occasion, or we remove our bras in public.

Sometimes they are sexy and “almost pornographic,” and sometimes they are just there to carry us along through the day so that we can go home and catch up on our TV watching. Bodies. We have them. 

 Help me wrap my head around this, xoJane commenters! I know you have opinions on this subject. Do you think you subconsciously make personality assessments based on a person's size, or is that total B.S.? (It's total B.S., right? Please tell me it is.) 

I leave you with this pretty video from Amanda Palmer, who is probably naked more often than she is clothed, and has a pretty solid handle on the body acceptance thing:

WARNING: NUDITY. Not safe for most workplaces.