Skinny shaming, if you don’t already know, is when people hate on skinny girls or women, telling them they need to eat a sandwich, that they must be anorexic, that they look like a bag of bones, or mainstream media’s current favourite: that real women have curves.
There has been a lot of ongoing debate and conversation revolving around the issue of skinny shaming in America, but not so much in Asia, presumably because the average female in Asia is significantly smaller than their American counterpart, and because the norm in Asian countries tends towards skinny. It’s a worthy conversation to have, nonetheless.
Let’s start with the “ideal” body type championed by media and society in general – or, to be more specific, the ideal body types, plural because the standard is ever-changing.
Skinny women are real women, too
When The Hunger Games first came out in 2012, there was an extensive debate about whether Jennifer Lawrence was a good fit to play the role of Katniss Everdeen. Many lauded the choice to cast Lawrence, stating that Hollywood was finally taking a step in the right direction, and that Lawrence was striking a blow for “real women” everywhere. Others, however, felt that the role should’ve gone to an actress who was smaller in build.
Jennifer Lawrence herself responded by making it her own personal battle, and she made it clear to everyone who was paying attention that she was proud of her figure. She described Katniss as “a wonderful role model for young girls”, due to her being “strong and healthy” rather than overly thin. Lawrence also made a dig at Kate Moss, saying that Kate Moss running at you with a bow and arrow wouldn’t look scary.
The fact of the matter was, long-time fans of the series weren’t questioning the choice of having Lawrence play Katniss just for skinny’s sake. It was because the novel revolved around power, and the hunger inflicted upon the characters – they were perpetually living on the edge of starvation –was central to the entire plot. It was because in the novel, it was stated that Katniss was at least 50 pounds lighter than the smallest Career tribute, and for Katniss to be played by Lawrence, who has a great-looking, but also decidedly non-malnourished body, it feels like the narrative is somewhat compromised upon.
This wasn’t about people wanting their Hollywood actresses to remain thin and unnaturally so; it was simply about die-hard fans of the book (we’ll call them Team Hunger) wanting the casting decision to remain congruent with the central theme of the book. And yet a large portion of people reacted with outrage. They declared that Jennifer Lawrence’s body is beautiful (even though no one from the opposing camp had said anything that would imply that they thought otherwise) and took it upon themselves to skinny-shame, to inform Team Hunger that they were promoting unhealthy body image and that skinny bitches could suck it because women with curves were so much more “real” and “beautiful”.
Hating on “skinny bitches”
Let’s move on two years later, to 2014. As a society, we’re no stranger to controversial song lyrics, but just when we thought we had seen it all, Nicki Minaj came along and broke the internet with Anaconda.
Her music video for said song created a new Vevo record for most views in 24 hours – it racked up 19.6 million clicks on the first day of its release. The contents of the song? She raps that “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun”, and leaves little room for interpretation with lyrics like “fuck you, if you skinny bitches”.
After Nicki, there was Meghan Trainor, who also weighed in on a similar topic (although with a notably different genre of song) with All About That Bass.
In her song, Trainor says that “boys like a little more booty to hold at night” and to “go ahead and tell them skinny bitches (that)”. All About That Bass was named one of the best songs of 2014 by several publications, and received Grammy Award nominations for best record and song of the year. The song also topped the singles charts in over 50 countries, and sold over six million copies worldwide.
As Ms Norbury (played by Tina Fey) in Mean Girls once said, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Similarly, calling someone a skinny bitch, and trying to tell her that she’s less of a woman – that she’s somehow less legitimate – because her body doesn’t look a certain way is both demeaning and destructive.
As a rule, it’s pointless to hate on someone due to factors that they have no control over. Being prejudiced against someone because of their gender, their race, or their metabolic rate simply doesn’t make sense. It’s considered extremely offensive and in bad taste to call someone a “fat bitch” and to make fun of her weight, so why should it be any different when the situation is reversed?
That having been said, skinny shaming can be seen as not only a problem in itself, but also as a symptom of a larger issue at hand: fat shaming. Which brings us to another question altogether: if skinny shaming was borne out of a place of fear and vulnerability, where people who have been fat-shamed (or those who identify with this group) react with an instinctive sense of abrasion and aggression in order to protect themselves, can we then be more empathetic to these people who have turned around and started skinny-shaming?
The answer is yes, but at the same time, we have to recognize that this is a zero-sum game, and by pointing fingers and refusing to concede, nobody’s going to be better off. Let’s look past all our weights, and focus on the things that truly matter.