In Roxane Gay’s powerful piece for Medium, where she talks about her experience with weight loss surgery, she brings up the complications she had with herself and what she thought others would say because she is a person who speaks against fatphobia and at the same time went through surgery to lose weight. Medium gives you the chance to listen to this piece, which I did, and at the end, there is a short interview on which Gay claims that our society still has to tackle discrimination against fat people. This reminds me of the “you are so brave” discourse that is often directed towards fat women, most of them celebrities who receive these type of comments implying that because their body looks a certain way, one thing that needs to be added to their clothing, pictures, and even just presence, is braveness.
This brings me to Lizzo who she said:
“When people look at my body and be like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so brave,’ it’s like, ‘No, I’m not,'” Lizzo, 31, tells Glamour. “I’m just fine. I’m just me. I’m just sexy. If you saw Anne Hathaway in a bikini on a billboard, you wouldn’t call her brave. I just think there’s a double standard when it comes to women.”
Camila, you make a great insight on the complexities of fat-shaming. In the Lizzo piece, the supposed compliment of calling her brave for doing what other-body-typed female celebrities are expected to do is in fact calling up this fat-shame (I am also recalling all the comments that Billie Eillish received for intentionally covering up her body with baggy clothing). When I read the quote and the article the first thing that came to mind was, if Lizzo is brave for wearing what she wears, what is that implying about the people (or even other celebrities) that don’t choose to wear bikinis or revealing clothing on social media? Out of curiosity, I looked up in Merriam-Webster the antonym’s for “brave”, I got “chicken, chickenhearted, chicken-livered, coward, cowardly, craven, dastardly, fainthearted, fearful, gutless, lily-livered (Oh, Merriam-Webster!), and the list goes on. Lizzo is absolutely right to to call out that “she is just me”, she can’t be brave for just existing.
Melinda, your post was so interesting. It’s got me thinking about the ways technology invites different levels of scrutiny. Decades ago, the technology of the camera “added ten pounds.” So, models who wore a size 0 or 2 or 4 were photographed to look like the more common size 6 or 8, and so much of our focus was and still is on weight. But, of course, thinness ages women quickly. So, with the rise high definition technology, the aging effects of thinness shorten the lifespan of the media-attractiveness of women further still.
My understanding when calling them brave is the way they share themselves in ways that go against social norms. In this case, it is often heard that a heavier person needs to cover up because “no one wants to see that!” With her putting her true self out there against strong criticism can be called brave. However, because the stereotype and the history are there of fat-shaming causes the term “brave” to be wrong, sharing that they are not allowed to show self, yet they are.
It seems like there’s a contrast with how people will react when someone with a body shape or appearance steps out into public. Either a) “you’re so brave” or b) “ugh, you’re taking up too much space/making me uncomfortable”. Both are really selfish responses. As you mentioned, Lizzo says, “I’m just fine. I’m just me.” And Roxanne Gay said in her piece, “I am fine with my curves… I enjoy the way I take up space, that I have presence.” It’s only until she steps outside and sees other people’s reactions that makes her lose her confidence. Why can’t people just let others feel fine and normal in their own bodies? Why does there need to be a response/reaction at all? Is it to make themselves feel better?
This was such a great piece, thanks for sharing. Whenever I think of “bravery” it brings to mind the idea that there is something to be fearful of, so in this case, it feels like people are sending the message to women like Lizzo that they should almost be scared of their own bodies, or the response they might illicit from others. That feels like others projecting their fat-phobia onto someone who clearly loves the way she looks, and therefore has no reason to be afraid of anything.
Hi Camila, Thanks for sharing this post. Yes, I think there is a double standard when it comes to women. There is also a general set of different standards for what is bravery with men and women. In our society, brave is associated with something that is not the mainstream standard of beauty, but is yet another type of beauty. I remember a French black poet, Kyémis who talked about being confident even without being beautiful. It would be interesting if Lizzo could incorporate the idea of being brave and confident apart from being beautiful and sexy. The two should not always have to go together for women.
I think a lot of the conversation surrounding “fatphobia” is misguided. After all, the WHO lists the following “common health consequences of overweight and obesity”:
• cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012;
• musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis – a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);
• some cancers (including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon).
So I think it’s completely appropriate to think that obesity is problematic. On the other hand, meta-analyses also show “childhood abuse was clearly associated with being obese as an adult.” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25123205/)
Neither praise nor blame seem like helpful responses.
I like the part in the Glamour piece when Lizzo states that the body positivity movement will have done its work once plus sized people are able to live their lives with authentic joy. It’s only currently considered brave to show off a body that is not mainstream because society expect those who possess such bodies to want to cover them up, act to change them and feel ashamed. When, instead, the person is confident and feels empowered in their skin, it causes a cognitive dissonance for the audience used to the former response.
I love Lizzo so much. She has done incredible work by creating representation for so many people by sharing herself with the world.
In regard to the comment by Nick- I would argue that there are “common health consequences,” or at least some form of health-based risk, associated with countless practices present in our modern-day lifestyles (vaping, drinking soda, riding in cars, crossing the street, eating foods grown using GMOs, I could go on). The discussion around fatphobia has little to do with medical implications and much more to do with social stigma and the way that certain bodies face undue difficulties and disadvantages compared to other bodies when navigating the same world. Health risks are present in humans of all shapes and sizes; thinness is often created and upheld by practices that are objectively “unhealthy.” When we see a person on the corner having a cigarette, or someone laying out in the sun to tan, the conversation does not immediately go to the health implications of their lifestyle choices; the same cannot be said about people with fat bodies. It is incredibly reductive to route conversation about fat bodies to one about (what I interpret as feigned) concern regarding health.