Embodying Bravery? Really?

So apparently Lady Gaga is speaking out against body shaming in the wake of being a recent victim of public body shaming herself. That’s pretty cool, but might benefit from a view through a critical lens. Here’s an article on Bitch about it:

Body Revolution: Is Lady Gaga’s New Project Resisting Beauty Standards or Reinforcing Them?

Wait a minute. Sorry Bitch Magazine, but did you really seriously use the phrase “it’s wonderful that this conversation is even happening at all”? Did you somehow forget about all the fat positive blogs and size acceptance activists?

Let’s make one thing very clear. Lady Gaga is not “starting a revolution” here regardless of whether or not she uses the language of traditional beauty ideals to praise the “flawed” bodies she is trying to “redefine”. The revolution has been going on for DECADES.

I think everyone should jump on the size acceptance bandwagon, and I’m sorry for Lady Gaga’s eating disordered history and glad if her signal boost of the size acceptance message is reaching people who had not heard it before. But I’m heartily angered by the trend of pretty, thin women being praised for how brave they are in “finally speaking out” against fat hatred when they are not. fucking. fat.  Jezebel’s article on this so-called body revolution even has a headline image of Lady Gaga’s photos of herself in her underwear emblazoned with the heading “EMBODYING BRAVERY”.  Um…how?  By being thin and conventionally attractive in your undies?  It’s true that it can be scary to show people what you look like semi-dressed, especially if you have an eating disorder or body image issues, but it’s not like Lady Gaga is a stranger to being semi-dressed in public.

And here is a newsflash for you: PEOPLE ARE ALREADY SPEAKING OUT ABOUT THIS. Fat people like me and fat people before us have been speaking out against fat hatred for a very long time. Famous fat people like Gabourey Sidibe and Camryn Manheim are already talking about this.  Fat Acceptance websites already have galleries where people proudly show off their supposedly socially unacceptable bodies.  What Lady Gaga is doing here is not even a tiny bit new.

I do not wish to imply that pretty, thin women aren’t welcome in size acceptance, or aren’t welcome to spread the message. Any signal boost is a wonderful thing! Women of all sizes are subject to body policing and that is an important issue for anyone who is committed to improving women’s lives. But the body policing that happens to thin women and the body policing that happens to fat women are not identical, and it hurts fat women to suggest that spotlighting thin spokeswomen for body acceptance is somehow revolutionary.

Even when thin women are being defended from body policing, the policing of fat bodies comes into it; how many times have we heard feminists decry media claims that celebrity women are “too fat” because they are not really fat? The Jezebel article about Lady Gaga’s “body revolution” includes this delightful aside:

“Last week, a smattering of very misleading photographs were published by various outlets; the singer looked significantly wider, chubbier, fleshier than she has in the past. She was called “meaty” and and the “news” was that she had “piled on the pounds.” As some have noted, the photographs did not reflect her real, true shape — whether they were stretched in Photoshop or flattened and distorted by a long lens is unclear. But video from the same show demonstrates that this woman is by no means fat — though she has admitted to gaining around 25 lbs. recently.”

Excuse me, but what does it matter if the photographs were “misleading”? Sanctioning a woman because she has “piled on the pounds” is wrong whether she has actually gained weight or not. It is true that Lady Gaga (or America Ferrera or Christina Hendricks or Kim Kardashian or whichever famous woman is being criticised by the tabloid media for her big hips today) is not fat, but that isn’t the point. If she really was fat, would the scrutiny of her body in the press be okay? We really need to stop defending against fat hatred by saying “but she’s not fat at all!” When you say that, you are propping up the belief that it is okay to hate on people if they are really fat. When you say that, you are hurting fat people and setting back the cause of body acceptance, not supporting it.

Actually, maybe the fact that Lady Gaga isn’t really fat is salient here. It begs the question: why do actual fat people’s voices not seem to count when we’re talking about fat hatred? Why do we need to hear the message from a thin woman who is being called fat “unfairly” – along with a lengthy explanation as to why the allegations of fatness are untrue, as if fatness were a crime one needed an alibi for – before it can be taken seriously?

Hearing young fans of Lady Gaga thank her for helping them find the strength to try to recover from eating disorders is one thing. I am glad for them. But Bitch is supposedly feminist media. Jezebel is a website “for women” which has had the very famous Fat Acceptance blogger Kate Harding as a regular writer, and has encountered conversations about fat before. They should damn well know better.

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3 thoughts on “Embodying Bravery? Really?

  1. Ollie NcLean says:

    “why do actual fat people’s voices not seem to count when we’re talking about fat hatred?” Because it’s easy to dismiss concerns of minority groups as minority concerns. Same goes for groups that might be numerically significant, but small in power.

    Unfortunately, the voiceless and disenfranchised often require assistance from enfranchised groups. The Suffragette movement generally relied on the votes of males to give women voting rights, that they could then work towards abolishing other forms of bias against women. We often speak of disenfranchised groups “obtaining” rights and so forth, but in many cases, this requires cooperation from the dominant forces of society. Where the majority has a vested interest in keeping the disenfranchised voiceless, it can be a pretty hard struggle for the disenfranchised to get the tyrannical-majority to surrender its advantage – even if that advantage is just the amusement of picking on people.

    What about when disenfranchised groups aren’t polite, but take robust action, to demand rights? Even when the disenfranchised are in the majority, it can still turn out badly, if empowered groups are determined to stick to their oppression. Just ask Spartacus how his slave revolt turned out for him.

    • Sarah says:

      That’s true in the grand scheme of things, yes. We do have to rely on those in more privileged positions – and use our privileged positions too – to forward the causes of disenfranchised groups. But you’d think within our own spaces we’d have our own work recognised. Jezebel and Bitch aren’t Fat Positive spaces per se, but they do both pay lip service to fat politics and have discussions about fat oppression on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a slap in the face to see “it’s wonderful that this conversation is even happening at all” on a website where this discussion has happened numerous times before. Why not “it’s great that Lady Gaga is bringing this discussion to a new audience”? Even Gaga herself says she is “joining” the body revolution.

  2. Ugh, I’m so glad you took on this topic! I am just so weary of thin white women getting all the attention around body policing and judgement. Really? We need to hear more from thin white women who have bodies that are culturally acceptable? Yeah, I get that the treatment Lady Gaga has received about her body is shitty, and it’s not acceptable. But how about listening to those of us who have been at this for years who have bodies that are deemed a disease?

    I stopped reading Jezebel a long time ago (about the time Hugo Schwyzer started writing for them in fact) but I was disappointed in Bitch.

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