I recently hosted an awesome post by my friend Rebel Mony about skinny shaming and her own experiences. This week I read an article on Everyday Feminism on the same subject. The second article discussed how skinny shaming and fat shaming is not the same thing. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely accurate.
Ableism is defined as “a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities (Thank you, stopableism.org)
Skinny shaming is ableism in comfortable shoes. People are entirely comfortable with skinny shaming and try to package it as speaking out against thin privilege. It is possible to speak out against privilege without using demeaning language. Us “skinny bitches” don’t take kindly to that sort of thing and that’s not about privilege, thank you, it’s about expecting a basic level of decorum and respect on at least a human level in a conversation about an issue that is important.
Eating disorders are disabling, life threatening diseases. How many times have you heard “Ew, she looks anorexic!”in a derogatory manner. Skinny shaming based on the symptoms of a legitimate mental health condition is ableism. It’s a disability. It’s saying someone is “less than” because they appear to be diseased. Obesity is also a medical condition for which people are shamed and told they are “less than”. How is discrimination based on medical conditions not the same thing just because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum?
The author purports that the high level of medical care she receives in contrast to the experiences of obese people is due to thin privilege. I would suggest it’s equally possible that the quality of care might be more related to economic privilege. The sad reality is that many people in the US have struggled to obtain medical care in relation to their life threatening eating disorders and there are those who have been denied medical coverage based on their risk level from pre-existing conditions. My friend Laura Dyan Kezman is working on a documentary about this very issue.
The other reality is that while obese people may have all medical symptoms dumped in a bucket called “too fat” without further investigation, the same thing can happen to eating disorder patients, where their troubles are labelled “too skinny”. I would suggest it may be in part an unconscious bias, the result of medical professionals being trained to think horses instead of zebras when they hear hoof beats. A neurological condition was explained away by Anorexia, delaying diagnosis until after recovery ruled out “too skinny” from being the cause. The risk is the hoof beats are horses AND zebras. That’s a reality when you are diagnosed as “too fat” or “too skinny”, your medical advice comes down to sandwiches, whether you shouldn’t be eating so many or you need to eat another one.
Beyond the ableist parallels of “systemic barriers” of both ends of the spectrum, fat shaming and skinny shaming are the same in that they are both examples of lateral violence. People with bodies who have experienced shaming lashing out at other people with bodies who have experienced shaming. Life as an anorexic and life as an obese person are both hard and dangerous and scary. We don’t really need to make it any worse by picking on one another.
The challenge with the Everyday Feminism piece is that it does not acknowledge skinny shaming to be a form of oppression against the disabled. It pits the obese (a medical condition) against naturally skinny people (a genetic predisposition without necessarily a medical cause). It’s not true intersectionality without considering ableism. It says that skinny people aren’t hated or feared, but people with mental health conditions that make them skinny experience these very same things. Crazy is used in a derogatory, dismissive manner. Variants of “anorexic” are used to sell products by pointing out their thinness as if selling a flat iron based on symptoms of something that could kill you is perfectly okay.
People fear the mentally ill. People struggle with hiring the mentally ill. People avoid relationships with the mentally ill. People fear the unknown. People question our ability to parent. People question our ability to function. People question our value and ability to contribute meaningfully to society. There is a tremendous amount of stigma associated with mental health conditions that sound a lot like stigma people experience through fat shaming and fat phobia, so don’t tell me it’s not the same thing. It might not be “reverse discrimination”, but we know that isn’t a thing anyways, so that’s a straw man argument. What it is is ableism and lateral violence in comfortable shoes and they are wearing thin from overuse.