Oh, joy. Time for another post about weight, body positivity and my reluctance to engage with arguments on social media. Apart from my personal struggles with weight and my health, the last post on this topic was because I saw people being vile on Twitter about fat women. This time, it has mainly been friends on Facebook talking about the plus-size model Tess Munster.
Ok, so the background if you’re not aware of Tess. She’s a size 22 model, in the USA, who has just signed with a major modelling company, Milk Management. They are a plus size modelling agency but normally only take women up to a size 20. The reason this has made the news, though, is her body positivity campaigning, along with#effyourbeautystandards on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. She has a beautiful face, a way with makeup and hair and brings so much energy to her photoshoots. She is beautiful, whether you find her attractive or not, you cannot argue that she doesn’t have something.
What has upset me about all of this has been the uproar that it has caused. People saying that she is obviously unhealthy at her BMI and a poor role model because of this. That, because she’s a model, people are being told they must find her attractive. That body positivity is just about not fat shaming and that people still lay into thin people. The comments I’ve seen on friends’ statuses have made me sad that people don’t seem to understand the idea of body positivity. And then there are men making the usual comments that mean they just don’t understand the issues that the modelling industry have for women (although I do agree that male modelling is still not diverse enough).
Instead of retaliating on FB, or trying to justify myself on a status, I thought that I could put my thoughts and feelings about the whole weight/body positivity thing into a nice blog post. I’ve talked about my dislike of body shaming of any degree before. I think that it’s a horrible practice. I don’t like the real women type discussions, don’t like people who aspire to be glamour models and find people’s judgement hard. I think that it’s often because of my own weight and self esteem issues that I get very sensitive about these topics, even though I have modelled in my past and still think of doing some every now and again.
Our world is an odd place. We have weird standards of beauty and a massive media obsession with weight, especially the yo-yoing weight of celebrities. Everyone seems to love looking at those in the public eye and commenting on their diet struggles, their exercise regimes, their clothes, makeup, red carpet style. We also have a fashion industry that straddles the super skinny to the plus sized, the haute couture to the catalogue. Some of this fashion is really just art that influences the clothing we see on the high street, some of it is practical and some just seems to be clothing to hide in. Whatever the case, the women* we see in these clothes are generally at the smallest they can be to fit into the “fashions”. Size zero catwalk models, size 8 high street models, size 12/14 plus sized models. All tall, proportioned and pretty much sewn into the clothes they are wearing. Any celebrity with a stylist will be in made to measure or altered clothing to make the most of what they have**. The average woman doesn’t have a chance at living up to this, being a size 16, shorter and not able to take in every item of clothing they own. We are surrounded by these images of the “ideal woman” that we can’t fit in to. We buy the clothes but they don’t look remotely the same. We diet, we shave, we use every beauty product under the sun but we will never be them. I talk for the average woman, of course there are exceptions. This media portrayal also makes women believe that this is what all men find attractive, whether this is concious or not, generally totally illogically.
Body positivity is meant to celebrate bodies, whatever shape, size, colour. It’s about people learning to love what they have, learn to appreciate themselves. It’s about self-esteem, beauty of a type that isn’t media obsessed, linked to the male gaze or the pressures of others. When Tess Munster appeared in the mainstream public eye, people started to examine her, to judge her, to make assumptions. This is what we do with those in the public eye. We hold them to the mainstream standards of beauty, the mainstream ideals, those ones that are barely achievable for few, impossible for most. From what I can tell, she’s not trying to achieve these standards, she’s comfortable in her body and loves herself. I’m sure she has moments, just like everyone, but she’s doing something she loves. More people can probably relate to her and her body that they can to the usual plus sized models, who are barely any concept of overweight. And, personally, I’d rather see clothes on someone I can relate to, in terms of size and shape (although I am not remotely like Tess, but I would love to see other women of similar ilk). Diversity in body types and people’s general look mean that we can’t find everyone attractive. Models so often fit a very narrow idea of beauty, one that I don’t personally find attractive. The ones that have been the most successful normally sit outside of this idea anyway so I don’t see why people seem to think that the world is trying to tell us that we have to find Tess Munster attractive. I don’t find Kate Moss attractive personally but I know some people do but I don’t feel that I’m supposed to just because she’s a model. She has a strong look that makes her interesting. So does Tess. And much as people can argue that they are both bad role models for various reasons, I still think that someone who speaks out about mainstream beauty standards so loudly is a better role model than one that doesn’t.
So far, I’ve not touched on my main anger. That is the assumption that Tess Munster is unhealthy. This is something that is none of our business really but she is in the public eye so she’s going to be scrutinised. Firstly, if she is “unhealthy”, that is her business. We have plenty of role models that do unhealthy things, especially mainstream models; binge drinking, drugs, bad eating habits, smoking. I don’t know exactly what unhealthy things that Tess may do but everyone is allowed vices. From what I have heard, she actually eats pretty well and exercises. The other aspect of unhealthy that people seem to be assuming about her is that she has health problems or will definitely get them. Joint issues, heart problems, fatty organs, diabetes etc. I can understand why people are thinking this. We are constantly told that being obese means we will get ill and die. Sure, a high BMI (assuming that the person in question doesn’t have a particular high bone or muscle mass to account for it) is a risk factor for many illness. That’s right, a risk factor. You generally need more than one risk factor to get ill. And even if she does have any of these illnesses, is it our problem? She’s not saying that having heart disease and joint pain is beautiful, she’s saying that the we should be able to find our bodies’ beautiful without the pressures of mainstream beauty standards.
You may recall that I have said that I want to lose weight, that I’m not 100% happy with my body right now. Does that make it hypocritical to write this? I don’t think so. My reasons for losing weight and getting fitter are my own. I am seeing a health issue with my joints that had eased when I lost well over a stone*** and I do not feel happy with how my clothes fit. But I don’t care what others see. This is about me. I am still positive about my body, just not as happy as I could be. I want to be fitter so that I have better stamina. I want to eat better because it will help me mentally. This is for me. I am just so sick of seeing so much judgement on a woman who is beautiful doing something that she wants to do with her life.
* Male modelling and fashion is an entirely different subject that I may cover at a later point.
** Let’s just pretend that Photoshop is not an issue too, as that’s just another evil of printed media.
*** A broken leg and thus walking all levels of weird are not making my joints happy. Uneven distribution of weight, additional impact from hopping and muscle wastage have massive impacts. I have kept the weight off, at least.