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Articles > Current Affairs February, 23, 2015

Skinny shaming: the wrong way to empower curvy women

Louisa Johnson
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With the ever-expanding use of social media, teens are exposed to many memes, gifs and photos which could often be used to promote derogatory messages. I recently noticed a reoccurring trend on the internet; the increasing attack on young girls’ bodies. Particularly, the skinnier girls…

Photo by Todd Huffman

Photo by Todd Huffman

There seems to be growing resentment towards girls of smaller body types, with more people ‘retweeting’ or ‘reblogging’ images designed to dis-empower petite women. To demonstrate, I’m sure many of us have come across pictures of prominent public figures, such as Marilyn Monroe, with the caption “REAL girls have curves!”. Have you ever thought about what this message implies? Are ‘curveless’ women fictional, should they be discounted? By saying they are ‘nothing but skin and bones’ do you mean to say they are withering away, invisible or unhealthy?

What perplexes me most about these comments is that they are often supported by people who feel insecure about their own body, or who have felt humiliated about their weight in the past. Maybe they believe that they have not been accurately represented in the media, so this implies that they cannot be beautiful. All everybody desires is the acceptance of their body type.

This is why I cannot understand why someone who has possibly been discriminated against in the past for the way they look, would do the same to others. What is the difference between telling one girl to ‘stop eating’ and telling another to ‘eat something’? Why is it offensive to make judgments about larger girls’ health by calling them ’emotional-eaters’, but the presumption that all models must be ‘anorexic’ is condoned? Why are girls allowed to love their ‘curves’, while others are not allowed to love their ‘bones’? Is it really true that you need to have something ‘for men to grab on to’ to be perceived as sexy? Why can Nicki Minaj proudly proclaim “F**k skinny bitches” in her song ‘Anaconda’, with there being few repercussions?

The way I see it, discrimination is discrimination, no matter who it is against.

On the other hand, and perhaps even more disturbing, some people pass comment out of admiration, with complete ignorance to their potentially harmful connotations. For example, some compliment the ‘anorexic look’ of a slim woman! Is this really what it has come to? Has the deliberate exclusion of various body types by the media led young girls to romanticise the effects of eating disorders and even intending them to be complimentary?

I have also found that skinny girls are rarely allowed to express issues with their body image. Concerns and insecurities are brushed aside on the basis that ‘at least you are thin’, whereas girls of larger body types can drum up more sympathy, often using their prejudice of smaller women to do so.

I would like to emphasise that I am in no way accusing every one of participating in ‘skinny shaming’ or trying to brush ‘fat shaming’ aside on the basis that it is no longer in existence. Quite the contrary – I know many girls are still bullied for their weight and I know that ‘skinny shaming’ only exists because ‘fat shaming’ is so severe. I am merely pointing out that instead of attacking the other side to ease our own insecurities, we should be striving to end the shaming of all body types.

So please don’t think that shaming one end of the spectrum is a viable way to comfort the other – remember that in order to be accepted we must all demonstrate acceptance.

Promote body positivity for every body.

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  1. Amelia Robinson

    I love this post so much. As a sufferer of anorexia at the age of 18, since the age of 13 I can totally relate to this post and can appreciate the misconception and disturbing messages which are distributed regarding body image. Megan Trainor “All about that bass” is another one who gets away with commenting on skinny girls, with again few sparks arising.. However when Kim Kardashian gets abuse for weight gain, their is a social media uproar. A body is a body and as humans we have the free will and autonomy to make our own judgements and do as we like; however not to the degree where health is compromised (e.g. I wouldn’t say developing anorexia or an excessive eating disorder is ok)- but I’m saying the stigma around them and the expectations of women in particular should be eliminated. Thank you so much for writing this post, your so talented and I have just had one published on here re my anorexia and an awful American Halloween costume which mocks my disorder. Thank you though, fab. X

  2. taylor c

    I absolutely agree with this! However I disagree that ‘skinny shaming’ is all due to ‘fat shaming’. I have been small since a child and due to a fast metabolism I am unable to gain weight easily, however I have found that the fact I am a slim girl has attracted rude comments/opinions and lots of dirty looks. I would not dream of shouting across a public area for ‘bigger women’ to diet, yet I have had many comments made publicly to my own body size such as ‘get a burger in you, you skinny b*tch’. I can’t help but think that it’s a way of making themselves feel better about their uncontrollable eating habits and it’s a way of coping and justifying themselves in the desperation of being somehow ‘better’ than ‘skinny girls’. It’s ridiculous and I feel very strongly about this. I have also found that if a larger girl is called ‘fat’ it’s fine for them to say they are ‘bullied’ and quite frankly use it as an excuse for many situations, however smaller girls would be laughed at if they were called ‘anorexic’. This debate between big and small girls is degrading to sisterhood and is increasing jealousy issues

  3. Lily Norman

    Finally someone acknowledges this!

    I’m reasonably thin but it has nothing to do with what I eat. Nevertheless I constantly receive comments, people telling me to eat more cake or trying to fatten me up as if after complaining about my weight for so long I hadn’t thought of that! I used to be called names like ‘stick legs’ and ‘twiglets’, even ‘anorexic’ and I’d find myself having to explain the disorder of anorexia to people just to prove that not only do I not have the condition, but it isn’t something to tease and joke about! A lot of my friends will mention going on diets or getting exercise in order to lose weight, as soon as I dare mention exercising in order to become, not skinnier, but just healthier in general, I am met with disapproving looks and am told flatly that I don’t need to because I’m skinny. Skinny shaming puts pressure on people like me to eat unhealthily and avoid exercise just so we can appear as though we’re not trying to be bony, and it means that we can’t speak our own minds without being hastily shut down. My friends understand my situation, but they usually just brush it off and say that they wish they could eat as much as they wanted and stay skinny.

    Recently for my AS mock art exam I focused on this topic of body image, creating a small survey on the issue and even managing to receive a reply to an email I sent to Lesley Fairfield, an author and illustrator of the graphic novel ‘Tyranny’ which literally draws attention to the disorders Anorexia and Bulimia.

    Its great to read an article I can relate to! I also believe that no one should be insulted for the way they look, be it curvy, bony, large, tall, small, whatever.

  4. Lia Minty

    This is an issue that really gets to me, as it supports the idea that you need to put other people down to lift other people up. Why do we need to tell eachother what the ‘perfect body’ is? Why do we obsess over dimensions like ‘thigh gaps’ that literally no one cared about until it became a fat vs skinny issue. I consider myself borderline in most of these arguments as I often fall under both categories. Sure my thighs touch but only slightly, if I stand a bit differently they don’t touch at all, why should it matter? According to social media one way is gross and unfeminine and the other is perfect. I am so close to both that it leaves me somewhat neutral in this argument. I don’t aspire to be bigger or smaller to make myself more attractive and neither should anyone else. People come in all different shapes and sizes that they have no control over and putting one woman down for being naturally slim and another down for being naturally fuller are both equally bad. Shaming people for something they have no control over is never ok, whether it’s appearance or size or whatever else.

  5. Caoimhe

    The email that I got for this frustrated me. It says “why is no one happy with their bodies”… I personally LOVE my body and have a very healthy relationship with my body. I have had so many struggles with people almost wanting me to hate my body to “fit in”. I find that girls are almost told to hate their bodies through all the media surrounding it and I’m sick of it. Girls have told me I’m full of myself and vain purely because I can say “my body looks great today” “feeling really pretty today” etc.and maybe post a picture or two of me in a bikini or crop top. I get it that if you’re having a bad day and feeling bloated and see a friend posting about how good they feel in their bodies you might feel like you have a right to shame that person for making you feel worse but you should just be happy for them feeling good and move on! Jesus, if I was having a horrible day and someone posted about being in Disney land I would have NO RIGHT to just bitch to them about how I had a bad day and they’re making me feel more awful about myself!

    This was a lovely article and as a skinny girl I completely agree. Thank you

    • Ruby

      THIS. It feels like a constant struggle to remain happy with my body when everyone seems to expect me to hate myself, despite the fact that I’ve always been slender. I can’t eat a muffin at work without colleagues going “oooh, how come you can eat a muffin and still be so skinny?” There’s enough pressure from social media without getting it from friends as well! Let me eat my muffin in peace!

  6. Nataliah Khan

    I love that we are learning to appreciate fatter bodies, and understanding that fat isn’t a bad word, it just has negative connotations due to the world we live in and beauty standards and whatnot. But definitely i’ve noticed the way a lot of people feel the need to only appreciate one body type by shaming another. Megan Trainor’s like ‘boys like a little more booty to hold at night” like, okay but why does your body approval have to come from a place of what men think of us. In her song she talks refers to skinnier bodies as ‘stick figure, silicone barbie dolls’ and i just think that’s so gross, if the only way you can be positive about your body type is by insulting another then you’re doing it wrong. I’m skinny and just tiny in general and i understand the world caters to my body type more in terms of beauty standards and what society sees as acceptable so i understand people with bigger bodies wanting to take that for their own but i don’t think shaming any body type is acceptable because we all need to see each other as beautiful. Unfortunately there are a lot of negative opinions attached to both skinny people and fat people and it just needs to stop because people are more than what they look like.

  7. OLDYA MUTHAWALLY

    I think…It is okay not to be okay, for instance when a shaver company that promote a clean shave man is better than a moustache and bearded man, that is purely media that shapes our opinion.

  8. Amy

    In previous years there have been a lot of discrimination against people who are seen to be over weight in the eyes of our society but now people are degrading people who are perceived as thin/skinny and pressing the fact that “men like curvy women” in order to make someone who is over-weight feel better about critics. This as a result is making thinner people feel bad and want to put on weight just to be accepted.
    Megan Trainer’s – ‘All About That Bass’ song portrays that curves are looked at as ‘perfect’ from her but she doesn’t mention that EVERY size is beautiful and perfect. This is what society should be portraying.
    Society will always be corrupt and this would only change if people started accepting eachother’s appearances and being in a more positive mindset.

  9. Samantha Atherton

    finally someone said it. the pressure on girls to be skinny but not too skinny, curvy but too curvy and pretty but not covered in make up is awful. as a someone who is skinny its degrading when celebs glorify the curvy body and make people feel ashamed to be flat.

  10. Dominika Gemra

    I completely agree with this article! Todays media push young girls to loose weight even if they really don’t have to. One must never go to far neither ways!

  11. Isabel

    We need to simply stop trying to fight bodytype fixations with more body.

    It does not work to spread photos of skinny or chubby bodies to gain acceptance among the public. Feel great about yourself, stop looking around to compare. We need to stop treating certain bodytypes as taboo and to do so we need to move our focus away from it, normalize it and accept it. It seriously does not need to breed so much self-loathing, bodies are all we see lately.

  12. Francesca Debernardis

    I absolutely agree with skinny-shaming not being the solution to empower curvy women. Acceptance should be for every type of body, without having to out someone else down. I do think though that representation for skinny girls is much higher than representation for curvier people, and that should be something to work on.

  13. Kery

    I love the article.

    Everyone’s beautiful, if you want to put on weight to be healthier feel free to do so. If you want to lose weight to be healthier then do so. But that’s the only reason you should be wanting to change yourself: to improve yourself.

    Xxx

  14. lucia

    While in all fairness I agree on terms that everyone should be accepted for what theirs body looks like however on the hand I disagree for the simple reason its not the fact they are skinny that people dont want to accept but what everyone now expects of a women is to be big both sides back and front if they dont have that its nothing to be a problem about its just many want to have a better view on those who have the looks as well as the perfect body in their version. Nevertheless its not to say I take sides I totally agree that everyone expectly women should be happy with what they have without having to change their body to gain better views

  15. P.A.

    Finally someone intelligent enough to see the repercussions of these nonsense trends.

    We need to realise that shaming thinner girls does not empower bigger girls at all. It is simply popularizing the objectification and degradation of female bodies as a whole and rather pulls us backward than forward.

    And yes, song lyrics do largely play a part in the destruction of the female esteem. “f a skinny bitch” -Nicki Minaj

    When a song is being popularized so are the ideologies within the theme and the lyrics, thus leading masses of people to instill these ideologies into peoples minds as though it is fact. We all look towards singers, actresses and icons as a means of mass communication and pioneering our culture. What may sound like “a joke” or “a silly lyric” to you becomes the basis of another persons mental and physical deterioration. After all, was this not the origin of the great “fat girls are ugly” consensus?
    When humans finally realise that these vile and negative comments and representations- no matter who they are being directed to- strengthens discrimination further, no female will ever truly feel respected in this society.

    I really do hope you win the prize money for this brilliant and REAL article.

    • Louisa Johnson

      Thank you for your wonderful comment!
      I agree, we cannot deny the influence singers and artists have in society. It is therefore imperative that such high-profile figures learn that skinny shaming is not an effective way to achieve body positivity.

  16. Roberta Borg

    Hi there,

    First of all, I agree with a lot of Alfie’s points. The ‘Real women have curves’, can most likely to reflect on evolutionary factors. People always liked curvier women than those who are not. However, obviously there are exceptions and different people view women in their own different way. It is, thus, a matter of opinion.

    I do agree that most of the arguments come from those who had been negatively impacted in their lives or those who have insecurities. But we will always be insecure about something we personally have. In this world, we are always competing with others, if we’re beautiful, if we are prettier than this girl or how we can improve that – which leads to negative comments passed on to others. This is why we always compare ourselves to film stars,singers and celebrities. We always strive to look the best. Also, there are many reasons why some people who have insecurities promote these negative comments on to the opposite body type. One of them could be the state of their mental health and the fact that they strive, by nature, to compete against those who they find looking better than them. I do agree that more emphasis should be put on the consequences of anorexia.

    As I agree with Alfie, no one should pay attention to Nicky Minaj’s lyrics! I do Agree that promoting anorexia is no good, and health information should be provided.

    I think that the way how people see themselves is a matter of opinion. No matter if an overweight girl sees another girl too skinny and negatively comments or vice versa – we will always find something in someone to compare ourselves and strive for being the best. Definitely the media has a lot of power, however this will not change. We just need more awareness of these 2 extreme body types and their health issues.

  17. Jenny Bowden

    This is a great article pointing out an issue which I have struggled and still struggle with. Through my school years I was called ‘anorexic’ and ‘too skinny’ but if I ever complained about getting called these names no one would listen and girls my age couldn’t understand why it would upset me.
    I agree that those pictures saying ‘real women have curves’ have deeply negative connotations for slimmer people yet makes people ‘curvier’ feel better about themselves. Imagine if images had gone round social media saying the opposite… there’d be an absolute outcry! From what I’ve experienced, it doesn’t seem socially acceptable to complain about your body image if you’re a size 6-10.
    Of course, non of these polar opposites should be encouraged. A healthy body and lifestyle should be what we are encouraging not if someone has curves or can pull of a certain dress or not.

    • Louisa Johnson

      Thank you! And yes, we should NOT dismiss a slimmer person’s body insecurities just because their body type is more favoured by the media. We should recognise that everyone can have issues with their self-image, and do our best to make everybody feel more comfortable in their own skin. Body positivity will not be accomplished through the shaming of either end of the spectrum.

  18. Alfie

    Well the “Real women have curves” pics are usually posted by women who are fatter than those of the pictures they show such as your example of Marilyn Monroe.

    A matter of opinion is not discrimination however. Some people like certain things and thanks to evolution men will prefer women with curves as it shows better childbearing capabilities. These days if someone does not fit what a person perceives as ok they will shame them or encourage them to make a change to fit what they want. That fitted with a majority liking curves will of course cause a shame trend.

    The truth of the matter is i still see plenty of people getting fat shamed and less women getting skinny shamed on the internet and media I get the sense this topic is personal to you and so you will of course have your own bias towards either side of the shaming.

    Ultimately for their own health and emotional wellbeing women should eat healthily and live a active lifestyle. So long as both requirements are met no one should shame the other however if a girl is skinny because of eating too little then she should be encouraged to eat more.
    If a fat woman eats too much then encouraged to eat less and work out.

    On the topic of Anorexia an anorexic girl will not listen to anyone when they say she is too skinny or encourage her to put on weight but shaming them for being too skinny may just help them realise they need some extra weight.

    Last point now, bringing up Nicki Minaj really? first of all no one should take what she says seriously but apart from that maybe she is sick of seeing skinny girls parade around on magazines etc.
    Because certainly i am, i see no attractive qualities of a model these days.but i wouldn’t go ahead and write a song with those lyrics but its part of her character to do so.

    Its all a matter of opinion both sides are to blame.

    • Hey Alfie, thanks for your comments. Really interesting to see that you’ve raised a fascinating theme within the skinny shaming debate – the evolutionary bias towards curvier women! As you mentioned, men historically have shown a preference for curvier women (consicous or sub-conscious). Do you think that this ‘innate’ preference is what makes the discrimination of curvier women seem so much more offensive than the discrimination against skinnier women? Skinnier women are praised in the media, catwalk etc, but it still seems as if it is less offensive to discriminate them – perhaps this evolutionary preference (and protecting it) overrides a more modern, slender preference?

  19. Charlotte Swale

    This is a great article and emphasizes a point I’ve been making for years. I’ve struggled with self esteem and body confidence for years, but the fact that I was a size 6-8 rather than a size 16-18 mean that I was regularly told I wasn’t allowed to complain about my body. Instead of shaming one end of the spectrum and glorifying the other, the emphasis should be on promoting a healthy weight and body type. As long as your weight is healthy for your height then it doesn’t matter what weight that might be.
    Really great article 🙂

    • Louisa Johnson

      Thank you so much for your comment! I agree – if the person is healthy, then we shouldn’t feel the need to comment on their weight.

  20. Alexa Lei Ponce

    Society has always been corrupted, or maybe that is too much of a strong word. We should never sham people no matter what their size is. Who is to say that being curvy is better or being skinny is the best, whats best is to love you for you and for people accept each other for who they are. Remember how curvy women weren’t seen as fit to become models because they were too “big” but now there some agencies saying that girls are too “skinny”. F*ck society and its claims we are who we are whether they approve of it or not. People should not conform to these sort of views because they are not true and honestly everyone is beautiful the way they are.