Both fat-shaming internet trolls and those who shame them for their intolerance are falling for the same unhealthy message that body types are objects to be evaluated. If our culture embraced body neutrality, both behaviors would become irrelevant.
In London, a strikingly pale and hairless woman wearing sleek, black Nike gear has caused the internet to re-think its body standards.
If she had eyes or a mouth, we'd know more about her. Sadly, she's just a mannequin, yet she somehow disgusts people for the way she "heaves with fat." When Nike London introduced plus-size mannequins in its flagship store, they stated their intentions: "To celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport, the space will not just celebrate local elite and grassroot athletes through visual content but also show Nike plus-size and para-sport mannequins for the first time on a retail space." While many celebrated the body positive message and inclusive representation, outspoken detractors argued that Nike was "normalizing obesity" and promoting unhealthy lifestyles. Truly, the most outrageous aspect of Nike's first plus-size mannequin is the overblown reaction on social media.
The body positive movement, with its intense push to love one's body and accept all body types as "normal," feels strangely personal to all, no matter their personal fitness levels. In truth, associating any kind of intense emotion with one's body is borderline unhealthy. As a result of our cultural push towards body positivity, people display highly emotional reactions to subjects of obesity and "plus size" clothing, instead of a healthier, "body neutral" stance. In reality, both fat-shaming internet trolls and those who shame them for their intolerance are falling for the same unhealthy message that body types are objects to be evaluated. If our culture embraced body neutrality, both behaviors would become irrelevant.
"Where is the body shape between the tiny and the immense, which is where true health lives?" Tanya Gold wrote in an op-ed in The Telegraph. "Where is the ordinary, medium, contented woman? Where, oh where, is the middle ground?" It's a reasonable plea that concludes an otherwise inflammatory piece that's filled with false equivalencies, from taking weight as a direct indicator of health to assuming all obesity is the result of "addiction to sugars." What Gold finds to be an "immense" size is approximately a UK size 16 (US size 14), which is statistically an average women's size.
Gold writes, "The new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast...She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement."
Fat-phobic, fat-shaming, poorly argued, and mean-spirited, Gold's article prompted a lively defense of plus-size mannequins on social media, from correcting false assumptions to personal testimonies. One user wrote, "Wow @Telegraph - nice job with the Tanya Gold click bait. I look like that @nike mannequin, and I've done a 10k, a half, & a marathon this year. And there's another 10k & a half coming up. If you think obese women can't run you've clearly been living under a rock."
Wow @Telegraph - nice job with the Tanya Gold click bait. I look like that @nike mannequin, and I’ve done a 10k, a… https://t.co/vJotvOuq0j— Tegwen Tucker (@Tegwen Tucker)1560112499.0
Are we not going to acknowledge that @Telegraph allowed @TanyaGold1 to publish an article degrading plus size women… https://t.co/xoNwgUWQUI— marie salazar (@marie salazar)1560104183.0
How could a simple mannequin elicit such strong responses? In truth, it is abnormal—not as a body type, but as a feature in retail shops. Most female mannequins displayed in stores meet slim criteria: The US sizes 6-8, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 34B bra, 24/25 inch waist, and 36-inch hips (with 32 inch inside leg with a 3/3.5 inch heel), according to Tanya Reynolds, creative director at a mannequin manufacturer called Proportion London. In contrast, a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that body mass index (BMI) is not a reliable indicator of an individual's health. Specifically, the study found that nearly half of all Americans who are classified as "overweight" by their BMI (34.4 million people) are healthy; so were 19.8 million others who were considered "obese."
Still, Tanya Gold names her harangue, "Obese Mannequins Are Selling Women a Dangerous Lie," and she begins, "I fear that the war on obesity is lost, or has even, as is fashionable, ceased to exist, for fear of upsetting people into an early grave." Later on, she adds, "The word 'fat' should not be a slur. But it should be a warning. So, it worries me to see Nike, who promote athleticism, treating the obese model as potentially healthy in the cause of profit. It is as cruel as telling women that the child ballet dancer and the porn body are ideal."
Additionally, according to The Telegraph's own Snapchat poll, 55% of its readers agree that a plus-size mannequin is "not a healthy example to be setting for women." Online, some commenters agreed that a plus-size mannequin was taking the "body positivity" movement too far. One user colorfully posted, "Class from Nike showing fat customers how awful yous would look if ye purchased these items."
wow okay so the latest @Telegraph story on snapchat is ridiculous. it bashes @Nike for having a plus size mannequin… https://t.co/sL8kH8dskh— Sophie💫 (@Sophie💫)1560095475.0
Class from Nike showing fat customers how awful yous would look if ye purchased these items. https://t.co/jecDSET1fQ— RMC (@RMC)1559845900.0
The reaction over a mere mannequin in the center of a store selling workout gear is a reflection of how personal and sensitive the body positivity movement has become. Despite its good intentions to validate every body type and combat media's history of promoting unhealthy thinness, "body positivity" is flawed. The movement's emphasis to "love your body" in whatever state it's in does have drawbacks (but not what Gold wastes time arguing as "fat-acceptance" that endorses unhealthy lifestyles). Namely, the self-love of body positivity encourages people to associate an intense emotion with their appearance, which can quickly become unhealthy.
Even positive fervor to embrace and celebrate different body types attaches a dangerous amount of feeling to one's body—so why not promote body neutrality, instead? Rather than loving one's body, body neutrality is a simple belief that "you have the body you have and accept what you have. It's an essential part of yourself," in the words of Joan Chrisler, Ph.D. and psychology professor in New London. Psychotherapist Allison Stone adds that body neutrality "provides an opportunity for a middle ground. It provides an opportunity for acceptance. It's simply about being. It's about being without passing judgment or harboring strong emotions about how we look." It's the "middle ground" that Tanya Gold calls for without her fat-shaming and implications that obesity is a moral failure.
Above all, body neutrality is even more conducive to inclusive representation than body positivity, since it promotes acceptance without judgment. Megan Jayne Crabbe, author, and activist, responded to the controversy on Instagram with a good-natured post that dismisses fat-shaming but acknowledges the small role that plus-size mannequins play in how far society progresses towards inclusive representation. She writes, "I thought I'd go and visit the babe responsible for thousands of fatphobes on the internet losing their shit this week...And do you know what I noticed during my death defying encounter with a plus size piece of plastic? People of all shapes and sizes were in the store. Some bigger than the mannequin, some smaller, and every single one deserves to see themselves represented and be catered for….This is a very small step in the right direction, and the reaction to it has shown exactly how necessary it is."
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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