On Fat Girls, Bikinis, and the Internet

This morning I caught wind of this photo slideshow posted on XOJane yesterday, and I cannot lie — my immediate, gut reaction was, “oh no… this is going to be UGLY.”

And no, I don’t mean I thought that the photos themselves, which depict 31 “hot sexy fat girls in skimpy swimwear,” would be UGLY. In fact, I applaud those brave, bold women for being real and for offering up the truth of women’s bodies–without photoshopping or airbrushing or self-abusive starvation–for all the world to see. No, what I was internally gut-reacting to was born of my understanding of what the internet is (has become? Tomato/tomahtoe), which is essentially a 24/7/365 frat house pile-on of criticism and negativity relative to women and their bodies, and so I honestly anticipated something akin to a virtual bloodbath — a feeding-frenzy-like festival of fat-hating trolling.

Thankfully this is not what happened (or at least it hasn’t happened yet) (knocks wood). But what did happen in the post’s comments is, in my view, far more thought-provoking and revealing. Because although the post’s comments (and those on Jezebel’s follow-up post) appear on the surface to be overwhelmingly uncritical and “fat-positive,” they are also overwhelmingly fraught with studied tension, and offer up a floodgate’s gush of anxiety about women’s bodies and the presentation and evaluation of them.

A sampling:

Some people do find these women attractive. I’ve completely stopped understanding why people have such a problem with this. I am extremely health conscious and pretty in shape. This is me, and what I choose to do, someone being fat doesn’t affect me at all. If you’re overweight, I don’t understand why you’re criticizing people like you. If you are skinny, then just be happy you’re skinny and move on. Why do you care?

I love the idea of baring it all so that the world can see women come in all shapes and sizes. But as a plus size person who is trying to inject more positivity into my personal self image I resent the term fatkini, its a little degrading and personally, joking about being fat is just as bad as calling yourself fat.

I will be the combo breaker cause the sugar coating sometimes needs to stop. Sure you can love your body and flaunt it proudly, but objectively some girls needs to realize when an outfit just DOESN’T GO WITH YOUR BODY TYPE. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit right. Sorry, but it’s just how fashion goes, for thick and thin bodies.

Thinness is not an “objective” standard you ignorant, culturally illiterate douchebag. Those features that you are describing are those associated with estrogen, which has no effect on weight. In fact, estrogen makes women fatter! Gabi is a friend of mine from high school, and I assure you her face is very pretty and her body shows high levels of estrogen. I also get pissed when people try to act like all fat women are beautiful, it completely dilutes the notion of beauty. We have a range of beauty, just like skinny girls have a range. For you to claim “objectively” then point to a hypothetical poll you pull out of your ass, well people answering a poll aren’t really objective are they? It’s like that racist Japanese scientist who claimed Black women are “objectively” the ugliest because he had a “survey.” WTF? Also that British woman who is supposedly “perfectly symmetrical” in my opinion is just plain. So yeah saying things like “objectively” attractive makes you sound like a narrow-minded asshole. Almost every culture throughout human history would have classified Gabi as beautiful.

Aaaand cue headdesk.

The frustration and riot of emotion in these comments directed at the subject from all sides demonstrates how potent a topic this is for women. I mean, can you imagine men going back and forth in comments with such passion and feeling over a slideshow of photos of *men* with bellies? I for one cannot.

And I suppose I’m conflicted — of two minds relative to all of this myself. The first mind says that posting photos like these is needed and necessary in a world where women are bombarded with completely fabricated versions of unachievable size 0 perfection. But the second says, wearily, that this is just an exercise in self-aggravation — that this isn’t a battle that can be won on the internet of all places, where misogyny and the objectification of women are two pillars of the internet’s greatest institution and it’s most powerful economic force, i.e.: pornography. No, that voice says, this is a battle that can only be won inside women themselves. And until women stop hating their own bodies, no amount of fat acceptance propaganda is going to make even the slightest of dents elsewhere, externally. Simply put, if we don’t believe, down to our bone’s marrow, that our own curvy, womanly bodies are beautiful, how can we expect the world to? Right?

But of course that begs the question of how we as women can unlearn our embedded body hatred. How can women learn to love our bodies again, and teach our girls to love their bodies as they grow up, no matter what shape those bodies grow into? How can we change the standard of beauty for ourselves in a world where most women are a size 16, but are nevertheless trained from birth to rabidly aspire to be a size 2? And even if we manage to reach this mythical land of total body-love and acceptance, does this necessarily mean that men will follow our lead and fall in line with accepting the new standard? How much of that standard is so deeply culturally entrenched as to be, in practical terms, immovable?

I’m thinking out loud here and have no real answers or solid conclusions, but I think it’s a subject worth talking about and throwing around ideas relative to possible, even baby-step-like, solutions. Can we actively work to change the standard of beauty, and if so, how? Your thoughts – general, specific, or otherwise?


Read more from Tracey at her personal blog, Sweetney

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More of Tracey on Sweetney & Spice:

Does Your Marriage Have an Expiration Date?
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Divorce
Do Parents Have the Right to be Happy?

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