Are you snarky about bodies?
You know what I mean: Have you ever elbowed a friend who’s gained some weight and thought (or said!), “Hey, leave some for me!” Do you look at super-skinny models and comment under your breath, “Ouch. Someone give that girl a sandwich.” Honestly, even saying to someone, “You look great, have you lost weight?” is unintentionally snarky. Think about it: you’re implying you thought all along they should lose a few pounds… and well, they didn’t look so hot before. Plus, I’ve had enough friends go through cancer that I make a point of not mentioning someone’s missing pounds. Seriously, once you overhear someone’s reply, “Oh yeah, I got my diagnosis last month and the chemo’s really killed my appetite,” you’ll never mention weight loss again.
In fact, I still get triggered if someone asks me I’ve lost weight.
My mind spins off, “Did I look fat before? Why are they keeping track of my weight? Everybody’s looking at me. Maybe everybody thinks I’m fat. Why do I look skinnier? Maybe I’m not eating enough. Maybe I’m becoming anorexic again. Now I’m hungry.” My thoughts zoom away on their own wild roller coaster. Most days I have the peace of mind to step off before the ride gets too scary, but not always.
Yet I’m guilty of overt snark myself.
Just the other day while walking in San Francisco, I saw a gym ad on the side of the bus with the skinniest woman I’d seen in a long time. My first thought was, “Ew. When did they start using famine victims to advertise gym memberships?”
This is a complicated sentiment for me.
At first, I was pleased with myself. Not so long ago, this recovering anorexic still wanted to be that super-skinny model. I take my mean comment as proof that my inner anorexic is off-duty, and that I no longer equate skinniness with health and desirability. I also feel justified in acknowledging that holding up super-skinny women as what all women should (want to) look like is a mean-spirited practical joke for most of us.
However, labeling all super-skinny women as famine victims is just as unfair as labeling all fat people gluttons. Several of my thin friends have trouble keeping weight on, not because they are starving themselves, but because of their metabolism and body type. They don’t need my labels or my snarkiness. Or anyone else’s. Thin, fat, or anything in between, no body enjoys insensitive criticism.
Many of my fat friends don’t mind being called “fat”: in fact, in some circles, identifying as fat is empowering, like reclaiming the word queer (although you should ask people what term they prefer). But they don’t appreciate ignorant comments from random strangers like, “Why don’t you join a gym?” (They probably already do), or “Lay off the burgers and fries,” or “Keep eating those salads and you’ll lose those pounds” (Maybe this burger is the only thing I’ve eaten today, or maybe I just like salad, I’m not trying to lose weight). One blogger, Dances With Fat, calls going out a “Public Display of Fatness,” during which a fat person can be subjected to all kinds of unhelpful and insulting advice from folks who can’t just mind their own beeswax.
When will we finally admit that you can’t tell anything about someone just by looking at their body?
You don’t know if they are happy or sad, active or lazy, if they love their body or hate it, if they wish they had a different body or enjoy their body and their life just the way they are. Actually, it’s none of our business.
At the first Love Your Body workshop last spring, one of the students suggested a new rule about bodies: “No commenting on bodies without joy, love, and praise for life.” In other words, no snark.
Can you see what’s genuinely beautiful in your friend who’s gained weight? Can you praise your fat friend’s radiance and glow? Can you be joyful about your skinny friend’s body, and the bodies of all shapes and sizes of those you love? Every body you see houses a person’s dreams, hopes, wisdom, joy, and sorrow. Look for what’s good in them, what’s right and lovely. No one needs our snarkiness… is that really what we want to put out there into the world? But lots of people need our love and acceptance. Including ourselves.