Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Weight of the Matter

So there's been something on my mind a lot lately. It's kind of a sensitive issue - but hey, since when do I avoid those? Still, I wasn't sure I wanted ot talk about it here. Then, last night, I became so frustrated that I decided to blog about this.


I live with two other girls. They're actresses. They're my height (about 5 feet tall), and they are both beautiful. But do you know what they say everyday?

"I'm so fat! Why can't I be skinny?"

I hate the word 'skinny.' I hear it every. single. day. Skinny, skinny, skinny - unless it's in the song song "Skinny Love" I never want to hear that word again. Because even though the girls are putting themselves down, they are putting me down, too.

I"m going to be honest here. I'm not a thin girl. I don't like to identify myself as "fat" because I'm not. I'm a bit chubby - I always have been - and you know, I'm usually okay with it. It took me a long time with lots of failed diets and lots of food shame and lots of self loathing, but eventually I moved on. I realized that food is never something to be ashamed of. I realized that being healthy was more important than being "thin." And I realized that there are lots of ways to be beautiful that don't involve having a flat stomach.

But I'm much bigger than my roommates, and despite all of my confidence, hearing them constantly putting themselves down has me starting to put myself down. I try to shake it off, to remind myself that I am healthy and that my relationship with food is more important than my vanity. But when I am constantly subjected to self-loathing, it's hard not to let it seep in.

So weight has been on my mind a lot lately - weight and how people perceive it. But last night I started watching the TV show AWKWARD, and while I love the show, there was something I found very troubling.

The villain is a girl named Sadie. She's not thin. I'd actually say she looks like a normal person - something I always love to see it on TV. Yay normal sized humans! But my happiness was short lived. Because Sadie is cruel, Sadie is judgmental, Sadie is sneaky - but what do people say most about Sadie?

That she's fat.

Even the protagonist stoops to this fat shaming. It left me startled and angry. If the "good guys" are calling someone fat (and frequently!) then what message does that send to the audience? That it's okay to insult people based on how they look? That those same "good guys" judge people based on appearance? How does that make the normal-looking members of the audience feel?

I was infuriated. Let me repeat that I like AWKWARD, but this choice of the writers really disappointed me. How can I support Jenna as a positive character if she thinks its okay to call people names? Doesn't that make her almost as bad as Sadie herself? And why is the villain the only normal-sized person? Why isn't one of Jenna's friends curvy?

I guess the point of this post is that people need to think more about what they put out there. Whether it's insulting yourself or insulting others, your words can leave serious marks. Especially in the media. Sadly, in our society, people's relationships with their bodies are fragile. A few words can ruin it. I wish it wasn't that way. I wish people could love themselves. I wish they could see past the superficial appearances. Maybe it's human that we can't, but we are in control of what we put into the universe.

It comes back down to almost everything I've ever written. Think about what you say. Whether it's calling someone fat or a slut or using a racial or homophobic slur - you may not know it, but that can be damaging. Judgment is bad. Even if - especially if - your harshly judging yourself.

UPDATE: A friend of mine just pointed out that my use of "normal" is unfair, because it isn't fair to lump naturally thin girls into the "not-normal" category. She's right, and I was wrong. Instead of "normal" I should have said "average." Because I think it's fair to say that the average woman in the U.S. is somewhere in the middle. I'm sorry for my insensitivity on that front. It was the wrong word use.


Elizabeth Briggs said...

Thank you for this post!

Kirsten Hubbard said...

great post! I'm glad you're discussing this topic. I rewatched Love, Actually recently, and though I love that movie, I had a lot of problem with all the fat jokes -- mostly targeted at people well in the "healthy weight" brackets.

(but you might want to rethink your use of "normal" just a bit. I know you didn't mean it quite the way it came off; naturally thin girls are def fortunate, but it still doesn't feel good to be called not-normal)

Kody Keplinger said...

Kirsten - Good point. I"m going to edit in a post script now. When I said "normal" I meant "average" because I do think the average woman is not on the thin side but instead somewhere in the middle. Thanks for calling that to my attention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I'm an overweight teen and while I've always struggled with my weight, I've only recently begun to care and I've been putting myself down constantly, sometimes without even thinking about it. I've begun to eat healthier and I'm losing a healthy amount of weight, but I still see myself in the mirror and think horrible things.

ANYWAYS. Thank you for the reminder that, in the end, health is what matters, and that hardly anyone is as perfect as they appear in the media. I really needed it.

Feaky Snucker said...

I was a bit overweight in high school - nothing major, but high school can be vicious. After high school I got skinny - at 5'6 inches I was down to 98 pounds. I was unhealthy. I started gaining weight, nothing major, but I didn't like it. In the past 2 years I've gained 40 pounds - and been diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis. Though I just look a bit chubby, I'm the biggest I've ever been, but it's not because I'm lazy or over eat. I walk 5 miles a day, eat 1100 calories a day and can still gain weight if my meds are off. I really am one of those people with a gland problem, and I know people probably judge me. My skinny sister (who is skinny from doing illegal drugs) was bashing a bigger girl one day. I was like, 'hey, I'm not skinny.' She said, 'You're ALLOWED to be fat because you have a gland problem.' That offended me for so many reasons I can't even begin to explain it. It's way more important to be healthy than to be thin. We all need to love ourselves a bit more. :)

-This is my body and I live in it. It's twenty nine and ten months old. It's changed a lot since it was new, done things it wasn't built to do. I sometimes try to fill it up with wine. And the weirdest thing about it is, I spend so much time hating it. But it never says a bad thing about me. This is my body and it's fine. It's where I spend the vast majority of my time, it's not perfect but it's mine. It's not perfect, but it's mine. -Tim Minchin

The Romance Bookie said...

This is why I read your books and blog Kody! You write about issues that everyone has. Issues that matter!
I, myself, have never felt quite comfortable in my body, I've tried numerous diets, (always failed! What can I say? I LOVE MY CHOCOLATE!!). But somehow, getting older, not being in the horrible place called High school, has allowed me to see that no matter what happens, I need to feel comfortable in my body. I always worry that I won't ever find a man in my life, but I've realized if a man can't accept me for who I am, then screw him, he isn't worth it!

Semi-off topic, yet still on. My all-time favorite author Meg Cabot wrote an adult series called "Size 12 is Not fat". In it, even though the character is picked on a number of times because of her weight, she tries to never let it get to her, and goes by the motto "The average size of an American woman is 12!" Even Size 14, like Meg says in the second book in the series "Size 14 is not fat either". I LOVED that series, because the character was kick-ass and accepted herself (while at the same time, still being a girl and human, once in a while letting it get to her).

Bee said...

Thanks for putting in that 'update' because otherwise I felt a little offended.

I totally get where you're coming from. It's insensitive when people are labelled something because of their physical description, race, sexual preference, etc. And when popular tv shows or movies or books put in quips about that, where they are used dismissively, it's appalling, because they influence the viewer/reader's mindset, like no other.

But I don't think the matter's just restricted to overweight people where issues of weight is concerned. I've been underweight all my life. I don't have any disease. I'm just naturally thin. So when I see movies or read books where the thin girls are all the mean girls who are called, 'skinny bitches', it's not pleasant. It's insensitive and derogatory and it angers me. I come from a country where women with hourglass figures are considered sex symbols and I'm okay with that but when popular tabloids bring out issues that scream 'Real Women Have Curves' - it's extremely offensive. Because, basically, they are implying that women without curves are 'not real'.

It's unfortunate that they don't realise that they honestly cannot uphold the cause for one section of people by putting down another. That's just not the way. And unless people start accepting each other for the way they are, nothing's gonna change for the better.

Anyway, I'm sorry for the rant, Kody. But your post gave way to a lot of thoughts. Thanks for opening up :)

Michelle Zink said...

Love you for writing this, Kody. You're a gem.


Kassiah said...

What a great post, Kody! I appreciate your willingness to not only blog about this sensitive topic, but to admit that you were wrong (by using the word "normal") and to always triumph growth in your characters. That's one of the things I love about you.

Kody Keplinger said...

Bee - You are totally right. When I used "normal" I never meant offense. I meant "average", which does not mean the same thing as "normal" I realize.

You are SO right, though. Because it is wrong for people to be all "Real women have curves" and insult the other side. I have several naturally thin friends who are constantly accused of being anorexic or people say things to them like "you must never eat." It bothers them because some of them would kill to gain weight.

The fact is, image should never be used as a weapon. Think about fruit and vegetables - we don't eat the skin, we peal it back. It's the inside that is important. This is true with people, too, and it amazes me how some people still can't see that.

Sara Z. said...

You go, woman. Great post.

Jen Zeman said...

Thanks for sharing Kody. I agree being around negativity makes it easier for it to seep into your life. But you seem to be doing a great job rising above. You couldn't pay me enough to consider acting! That's no way to live (i.e. constantly scrutinizing yourself based on other people's wants/needs/ideas).

Kayla + Cyna said...

Nice post on a really great topic. I've never seen Awkward, but the media's handling of weight really ties in to the whole "Hollywood Ugly" trope, and the representation of the non-supermodel-looking populace in general :/ It really bugs, and I mean, it's insidious enough (and arguably worse) when they don't call attention to it, and you maybe only subliminally notice that everyone's gorgeous and a size 2 with awesome hair, but you can at least figure "Well, it's Hollywood, they're not thinking about things in that context."

But it's at the very least a lot dumber when they do bring that up in the er, canon? of the show/movie and still utterly fail. You'd think that if they're going to show that they're aware of the difference in their characters' weight/looks/appearances in general, they'd be a little more careful about the way it's handled, and any unfortunate implications this may lead to.

LOL, apparently not so much.

Sharon Morse said...


Jazzy said...

Well said!!! And you should really consider doing a part II to "The Duff."

L.C. said...

Hi Kody! Thanks for the post. It's hard to bring up something where it's so easy to step on toes. (#girlgotskillz.) There's been some great points brought up in the comments, too. :-)

Yeah, it feels like in the media there always has to be negativity pinned to somebody, for whatever reason; in shows I think it's a really cheap excuse for characterization. Last time I checked "character looks" wasn't on the list with "character says" and "character does."

The Romance Bookie said...

LC: That is such an great point!!! I couldn't agree more!

Bee said...

Kody - Exactly. I get called an anorexic, too, even though I'm not and have never been. And I'm like, DUDE, live with me and you'll know how much I eat! Fat or thin or in-between, it's unacceptable for people to judge you based on how you look and not what kind of a person you are.
I love that image you use about fruits and vegetables! Maybe you should put that in a book :)

Leonora said...

Hi Kody!
I love this post! You express yourself so well!
I came to think of a TV Show where they have a good way at looking at weight.
There is a girl named Terri in the first few seasons, who struggles with issues about weight. She is convinced she is fat. However her friends tell her otherwise. I recommend it to you. It's a great series!

Leonora said...

Oh my god how stupid of me! The show is Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Cindy Petrova said...

I'm so glad you've addressed this issue- it's one of the reasons I fell in love with your first novel, 'The DUFF'. Every day in school, I see all the girls starving themselves and talking about how 'fat' they are, when most of them are actually really skinny. In fact, only about 1/5 girls at my school probably weight more than I do (I have a BMI of 23, so Im not actually overweight) because they've all been dieting since high school started. Even though I know Im healthy and I have a stomach problem which led me to gain 20 pounds after I got sick, it still hurts when someone calls me 'fat' or 'chubby', especially when Im just a US size 6-8 and dont look much different than I used to before. Anyway, I just wanted to say that there is no real 'perfect' body, I guess, and if you feel healthy and comfortable the way you are, you shouldnt feel a need to change just because of someone else's opinion.

kg said...

this is a trailer for the movie "miss representation" and while it doesn't focus only on the pressure and concept that women ought to be skinny, it definitely shows how society focuses FIRST on how we look. it's empowering.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I have never thought of myself as fat but i know i'm not a size 2 either and it always bugs me when people get called fat when they really aren't, so just thanks for this post!

Aisyah Putri Setiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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