The War of the Bodies

There's a lot of things in the media/social media/public opinion blur that I get sick to death of. I'm sick of watching people struggle with eating disorders disguised as healthy eating, and how difficult that makes it to actually eat healthily. I'm sick of the competitiveness- that if you aren't going balls to the wall every day you're not fit, not in shape. I'm really damn sick of the war of the bodies.

What do I mean by that?

  • I mean the constant debate over what is 'sexy', which way its 'cool' to look, what body shape is 'in'. 
  • I mean that its impossible somehow to support one body shape without striking another down. Thin vs. curvy vs. muscly. Defending the overweight with saying at least an individual 'doesn't look like a boy'; the phrase 'real woman' which should be banned, 'something is the new something' applied to bodies. 
  • I mean the idea that somehow an individual has endless rights to comment on the bodies of others and announce their opinion on that. 
I was reminded of this words-war when I posted a Vanity Fair article 'Can Spinning Make You Fat?' to my FB timeline and asked for friends opinions on it. I was bothered mostly by the conflation of muscle and fat the article made, and by the idea that vanity fair was directing women away from exercise by implying they wouldn't fit VF's preferred aesthetic. Caitlin of Fit and Feminist wrote a nice post about it here

Among the comments made by my friends (beside some deeply funny acerbic witticisms) was "I'll let you in on a secret. Thigh gap is gross and very not sexy. Any man that says it is needs his internet turned off". This person meant well, and also wasn't the only person who alluded to the concept of what men find 'sexy' in the debate. My belief is that isn't hugely helpful.

Firstly, any time anyone groups a gender as having one opinion, they're wrong, automatically. Some men will like skinny women, some curvy, some muscly, and so on (some women also like women, THIS SHOCK NEWS JUST IN!). Secondly, and more importantly, we don't need to pull down the naturally thin to support those who aren't, or those that have muscle. Even on the original article, the appalled comments are mostly, 'but muscly women are so sexy!' and so on and on it goes. 

How does that feel to read if you are naturally thin? Or naturally find it hard to put on muscle? We're acting like we are breaking barriers: Be healthy and eat meat and veg and treats! Lift weights not chew lettuce! Real women do x, y, z! Don't people get it? We're just creating another in-group, another idealized model of what we think is beautiful. The only difference is this time it includes lifting weights. And because we're creating an in-group we are creating an out-group. And ostracizing that out-group.

Now, arguably you could say that at least this idealization is healthier. That its better than idealizing either being overweight or underweight forcibly. But a quick look at some of the more extreme measures of the community will tell you that isn't the case. It can fuel the same obsession and unhealthy attitudes to food and body that we see with the others. In some cases its creating whole new classes of disordered eating. To have any idealized group also is psychologically unhealthy for those who don't fit into it or are scrambling to do so.

The same person who made the comment that spurred me to write this also made a great comment- "the article may as well say 'THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO LOOK LIKE WE THINK YOU SHOULD'" (Quoted verbatim, capitalization theirs). This applies to more than just that magazine. 

Tina Fey on body image, got this from
Tina Fey, I feel ya sistah. 

It also has similar echoes to some of my least favourite sections of the feminist movement, 'real women don't shave their legs!', and so on. Spoiler: In my opinion anyone who identifies as female is a real damn woman. Real women do whatever the damned hell they want. Real women do things that make them happy, look the way that makes them happy, and hopefully ignores this endless stream of exhausting bullshit. Real women hopefully learn that their body is a miracle of engineering and evolution (depending on their belief). Real women hopefully don't defend their bodies by pulling down other peoples'.

ETA (Oct 2014): A discussion on an online forum much later made me think of this: all these conflicting things that 'real women' must be means that 'real women' are basically the Schrodinger's cat of womanhood. We cannot win.

If we support bodies, we shouldn't need to be at war with another body type. Real women have curves or don't, have a little more body fat or don't, have muscle or don't. Yes there is a healthy way to live (subject to change as scientists and nutritionists weigh it up), but no there isn't an ideal way to look. 


  1. YES. Just YES. So much stuff in this post that I couldn't have said better myself. Also: thigh gaps are for flamingoes.

    1. Haha thanks, for women with hips like mine they are for flamingos, for women who naturally have them they are for them :)!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you! Maybe I should get writing for womens mags 'How about we all just treat our bodies nicely and like them? You're beautiful. The end.'

  3. You write so well and capture some excellent points, stuff the media driven appropriate look, be what you are :)

  4. Just a great post. Glad I clicked over and had the opportunity to read it. Thanks!

    1. Hey thanks so much for commenting! I'll head on over to check your blog out, not seen it before :)!