If we want to call ourselves feminists, we need to stop treating being plus-size as a failing

Have feminists ignored the issue of "sizeism"?

There are many forms of shaming and prejudice, which I think it’s fair to say that feminism, and perhaps society in a broader sense, has made significant and much-needed steps towards addressing in the last few years. One key area that I think many of us have unfortunately ignored for far too long is the issue of “sizeism”.


Although this is an argument which has re-surfaced more notably in the past few weeks due to the appearance of Tess Holliday, a fat (a term which she is attempting to reclaim as non-negative) model and body positivity activist, on the cover of Cosmopolitan there are several reasons I have heard given for why plus-size people should either be pressured to ‘slim down’ or not be seen by the public eye that I have been hearing for years. Even - to my considerable surprise - from some of my ardently feminist friends. The most frequent one is that it ‘promotes’ being ‘unhealthy’, which I find bogus for many reasons.


First of all, there is the assumption that health and slimness are necessarily equivalent. There are many, many people who live an active lifestyle and eat well, but simply do not have the genetic body type that fits what society deems slim enough. Secondly, the prioritisation of thinness arguably has significant and problematic racial and socio-economic undertones to it. Many of the body standards women face could be said to partially stem from a Western-focused standard of beauty, and not everyone has the time or resources to purchase a gym membership and go there several times a week. Finally, the fact that it seems acceptable to judge people on the basis of ‘health’ where weight is concerned also perplexes me because there are plenty of far unhealthier things that people deemed thin enough may do regularly - such as smoke or drink to excess - which someone would (rightly) be labelled as highly judgmental and intrusive if they lectured a person to stop. If we recognise that people should be able to make those choices for themselves, why can’t people be left alone for their weight (which is arguably much less of a choice)?


I do think that we are all beginning to make some progress in recognising how persistent “sizeism” is, and trying to reduce it. I am by no means saying that I view myself as blameless in the perpetration of standards of thinness and there are several problematic behaviours which I have only recently noticed in myself. Next time we compliment someone on a weight loss, saying something to the effect of ‘You look so good’, I hope that we will begin to realise that what we are effectively saying by means of subtext is that the person didn’t look good before. As has been said many times by many people: if feminists don’t stand for everyone then what they’re advocating isn’t really feminism; therefore, I hope we all will think next time we glare at someone’s stomach roll coming out over their jeans, or comment ‘body goals’ on someone’s Instagram.


Carolyn VIII