My Confidence as a Fat Woman Is not Fodder for Slut Shaming

(*Trigger Warning: rape culture, sexual misconduct*)

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The scenario I am about to jump into will be very familiar for fellow fat women:

“Plus sized girl posts an image of herself on social media that she feels confident in. Maybe she has a fabulous new outfit on, Maybe it’s the way she felt about herself when the photograph was taken. Maybe, she wants to share this image with her friends as she looks forward to their empowering messages, so that even if she feels unsure of the image they might get her to view herself in a more positive light.

An hour after posting the image, she reads the words of encouragement with a smile on her face. Maybe she can try dressing up for work beyond her comfort zone for a change tomorrow? She might opt to go sleeveless but keep a sweater handy Just in case. After all, change cannot happen in a day, right? Going sleeveless is a pretty big step!

Before going to bed, she checks in on her social media account to see what her friends were up to in their world. Being curious she clicks onto the notifications that have seemed to pop up.

And this is what she reads:

Commenter 1: Ugh look at that fat body

Commenter 2: Hey baby, I love your fat bbw body, here’s my Whatsapp number. Let’s have some fun 😉

Commenter 3: I’d love to see those hands wrapped around my long, hard c***

Commenter 4 (slides in a private message): How would you feel getting pounded by this you fat f***? (sends a dick pic)

She trembles and feels nauseous after reading these comments, feeling violated. She does not understand how an image of her feeling good about herself in a sleeveless halter neck dress could derive such lewd language from complete strangers. She wants to cover herself up and hide. She decides against going sleeveless the next day and avoids eye contact with any male colleagues. Her mind works overtime and she wonders if this is how they perceive her – either with disgust at her form, or some weird fetish. She has not been able to trust men during her growing up years, because she blossomed into puberty much earlier than most and the guys that she did end up dating were disappointingly shallow, only interested in her cleavage and some had tried to rough her up. Her girlfriends and family have never been understanding and this made her believe for a long period of time, that her weight and body proportions were to blame for the unwanted attention and poor treatment by people.”

Fat shaming is an aggressive form of prejudice, and everybody – regardless of size – has been fat shamed at some point in their lives, while Thin Privilege thrives. Both of those come together to form one particular intersection that I am articulating in this post: Slut Shaming.

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Why does this happen?

Why are fat bodies hyper-sexualised and slut shamed so often? Is there no other way for a fat women to exist, aside from being the voluptuous siren? With numerous fashion outlets coming up with sporty, alternative fashion for the plus size community, and women showing up for hashtags like Alternative Curves there is a clear message: Like straight sized fashion, we embrace diversity in style and have unique fashion senses.

Fat shaming and the slut shaming that follows has part of its origins in prejudice towards diversity. By that, I mean prejudice towards people of colour. Cultural, demographical differences obviously play a part in how we are shaped, physically. What some people cannot understand, they choose to turn their noses up against or regard them as exotic, sexual beings based on their voluptuous figures. Ironically, the traditions and thought processes people of colour have been brought up with tend to hyper-sexualise the female body as well. For example, as a South Asian it is common for me to hear “Cover yourself up, Do you want to be a slut looking like that?”, when I simply am a fat POC (person of colour) who cannot help that she shows some cleavage in a V neck t shirt. So it’s a case of the chicken and the egg. Let me be clear on something: People of all races and walks of life are submitted to fat shaming and slut shaming. With the world shrinking in proximity thanks to mainstream media and social media, beauty standards have become homogenous to a certain extent. I derive my opinions from the literature out there as well as from being an observer of the world around me.

Another aspect of the origins of women being shamed is Rape Culture. That we are sluts or whores if our outfits happen to hug our curvaceousness, That we are disgusting for wearing ‘ill-fitting’ outfits that show off our VBO (visible belly outline), décolletage or dimpled thighs. Personal space and lifestyle choices are not respected. We Asked for the sexually crude or hateful comments by posting any image of ourselves, because it is freedom of speech right? So it becomes permissible for men and women alike to pose as self-righteous pillars of society and invade your space that way? Cyberbullying is totally okay when it comes to targeting women who show ample amount of skin or look aesthetically displeasing?

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I do not exist for sexual objectification and approval

I can assure you, my fat friends and I share these images because we want to see ourselves being represented. We want to be part of the global community of women who have taught us that it is okay to exist in our fat bodies. For a lot of us, the outfits we wear are a constant challenge to the norm. We are asserting our place, We are asserting our worth. You will not see me going off on a regular sized person for the absence or presence of ‘appropriate dressing’ or the kind of physical features they possess. That is highly subjective! The optimal solution to this would be to eradicate shaming, but I think getting rid of something so ingrained in the human condition will be something the Psychology journals would consider a paradigm shift in humanity itself. Translated without jargon: that’s some tough shit. 

So what can we do? How can we exist as confident plus size women while deflecting the slut shaming that we experience so often?  

Don’t be a Bully, Don’t be a Bystander. Be an Encourager, Be an Ally.

It is understandably really easy to go with the ‘eye for an eye’ approach and deliver low blows like the shamers have. Sure it helps us blow off some steam for a minute! Being a bystander is understandable as well. Why get involved in somebody else’s drama? But how helpful are these two approaches? How does bullying the bully make you feel better about the situation? Do you believe silently observing someone being shamed make you unaccountable?

The answer lies in that same community you are a part of. If you see someone being slut shamed, Report the bully and alert friends in the community to do the same. Call the shamer out because claiming the shame is Powerful. Contact the person who is being targeted, be of support to them emotionally. Remind them that these hateful people and words are Not indicative of their value. Remind them that they are appreciated and loved. Guide them through this experience if you have endured a similar online ordeal. Give them space if they need it, but check in on them from time to time. Reaffirm their confidence and self image in ways you think will get through to them. We may walk similar paths but our individual experiences are different. 

 

What about when I am the person being fat/slut shamed?  

I can only speak from my personal experiences and from what I have learnt in the plus size community. First off, speak up about this with the people you feel safe and supported by. Vent about it, speak about why this is triggering and hurtful. If you feel extremely triggered, tear yourself away from social media. Journal about it, call a loved one or write to a body positive advocate for solace and strength. Speak to your therapist if you have one, immerse yourself in relaxation techniques that work for you. Crying about it is not a sign of weakness! Rumination for an extended period however can be damaging so set a date on when you will choose to stop ruminating. If you are a blogger, blog about it for catharsis. Engage in activities that calm you down, however simple.

While the seeking of external validation is a major part of why people are active on social media, it is so important to work concurrently on our body positive journey behind the screen. If your sense of self crumbles often at the appearance of shamers, know that this is reason for working towards personal growth. Again, turn to the community for inspiration – read through blogs and articles, develop your own body positive community in real life if possible. When such shaming happens in person, it is just as upsetting if not more upsetting to deal with.

A number of us also live with mental health disorders like Anxiety and Depression that afflict us because of our life experiences as fat people, or other damaging experiences. Quite a substantial number of us are fat shamed, racially profiled and slut shamed on a daily basis. This makes self preservation, developing coping strategies so very important. To remain a compassionate citizen of the world while working with your demons. To keep your head clear of the labels and slurs. To practice self love. To prevent yourself from questioning whether you ought to post that image of yourself in a bandeau and pencil skirt, out of fear. To wear what you want, when you want and live how you want.

Surround yourself with positive affirmations, literature from the community that can be so insightful and healing. Instead of upsetting yourself by making comparisons, learn to appraise yourself – physical and beyond – daily. Uplift the women around you who struggle like you do and stand strong for them. Most importantly, do what you love and let no-one stop you from doing so. Embracing your body is a confidence boost and if people don’t like that, that is not a reflection of you.

This blog post is part of the Confidence Blog Carnival hosted by my fellow body positive advocate Victoria Welsby of http://www.BamPowLife.com. Here is a line up of some amazing badass women who will be contributing to this topic. So check out Victoria’s blog to read the other posts!

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