Recently I found myself engaged in a drunken conversation with a friend about how great his girlfriend’s bum is. One comment he made in agreement was ‘yeah it’s huge!’ in a completely enthusiastic and positive tone. However, my brain instantly rejected this as a compliment and my internal response was of shock.
A similar exchange also ensued after a colleague referred to a custumer as being the ‘chubby one on table x’. My immediate response ‘but she’s really lovely though!’ thus prompted his reply, ‘yes I know, but she’s also chubby, what’s the problem?’. This was an adequate physical description which aided another waitress to give the vegetarian option to the correct guest, so why did I feel the need to justify this woman was a good human being ‘despite’ her physical attributes?
Conversely, the ‘overweight man on table y’ remained named ‘the overweight man’ for his entire stay, with little or no objection from my mind. One could argue this due to the medical connotations of ‘overweight’, suggesting a fact, rather than ‘chubby’ which suggests an insult. However, this is highly unlikely- I’d rather be referred to by the softness of ‘chubby’ than the brutal honesty of ‘overweight’. The only real difference between the two guests therefore was their gender. I instantly jumped to the defence of the unknowing woman, yet let the man be. The solidarity we feel as women clearly contributed to this but the instantaneous defence of a woman against a fact was excessive.
The connotation of adjectives with regards to our size is a fascinating subject. Being a ‘big girl’ conjures up the image of a rounder woman, not necessarily tall, but definitely wide. A ‘big guy’ however, though could signify a rounder man, can very often imply a tall, muscular, broad man. This big guy has worked and achieved his physique in contrast to the woman burdened by her own weakness leading to her obesity.
‘Skinny’ on the other hand is also an etymologically extremely interesting word. Though ‘slim’ has always has relatively positive connotations of health and fitness, both the word and the concept of being ‘skinny’ have gone through a huge change. In Medieval and Early Modern society, being thin was a sign of malnourishment and illness- a bad thing- and to be rotund was an expression of wealth- a good thing. Up until Late Modern culture, characters in literature described as ‘small’, ‘thin’ or ‘skinny’ were still presented as weak or unhealthy. But, that the availability of food for all and the spread of international fashion and advertising in Western culture have paralleled the positive presentation of a smaller frame no small coincidence. ‘skinny’ girl now? acts as both a symbol of self control against the fattening foods we present as so evil, and as a coat hanger for designers . The skinny women was no longer ill, she became a universal goal for women.
The other adjectives we obsess over regarding size and intake of food are the moral opposites- ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Is the food we eat clean or dirty? Much too frequently we use statements such as ‘no I can’t eat that, I’m trying to be good’ or ‘I’m going to be naughty and eat these pringles’. We constantly chastise ourselves for normal levels of self indulgence, for being an average size, for not living off fruit and vegetables alone. Our consumption of food is not a principled question, yet we use such black and white adjectives to describe our lifestyles.
Our problem here therefore is not our actions, but the words we use to describe them. We have formed cognitive links towards negativity through the ideas of size and correctness creating ‘hate’. According to most studies on body image, the majority of women, and a large proportion of men, admit to ‘hating’ the size of their bodies. For example, the Glamour Magazine study of 300 women, presents the results that women have on average 13 self-critical and hateful thoughts- 97% of these women admit to having at least one ‘I hate my body’ though each day, and some in the study having up to 100 thoughts like these on a daily basis. We use our words to spiral into perpetuate self-hatred. We are the wrong size. It has become the norm to hate one’s body.
Women have been told what to wear and say since the dawn of time. We have never been taught to have any level of self esteem; we have been told to change. But when did we start ‘hating’ our bodies? The issue now is that the word ‘hate’ is being thrown around much too frequently. Perhaps you may dislike the ways your elbows stick out, or your chin pad, or that your eyelashes aren’t the ideal length, but ‘hate’ is a very strong word which is losing its meaning.
I don’t believe that we do not hate our bodies any more than 100 years ago . We are simply more exposed to self-hatred; we use the word hate more lightly than ever. We are also now told that big signifies bad, but I hope that we are becoming conscious that this association is in fact ridiculous. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words and connotations hurt too.
I’m Bea. Like the insect, the letter, the verb. Any jokes have already been made.