December is coming. I love December. I’m usually on a high from mega sales for Black Friday and Christmas is nearing, which means it is once again socially acceptable to listen to Michael Buble’s Christmas album. December is a magical and happy month, except for one little trend that I’ve noticed. And the -25 degree weather– not a fan of that either.
Each year in December, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show airs. And each year, people bring up the issue of body image– not surprising since it’s a show of petite (please notice the use of the word petite instead of twiggy, anorexic or any other derogatory term for skinny people) women strutting down a runway in lingerie.
Cue the “skinny vs curvy” campaigns… plus a long stream of tweets about going to the gym the next day.
Now let me be clear here. I like that there is a discourse about body image. I completely agree it is a problem that there is a serious lack of confidence in women and young girls today. I do not think it is fair that you see more size 2 models than size 6 or 12. I do not like that size 8 is what the fashion industry calls ‘plus size’. I like that people are taking a stand and challenging this ridiculous idea that beauty is defined by size.
Now here’s what I don’t like.
I’m not sure who decided that the best way to combat diminishing body confidence was to teach people to put down skinny people, but it’s not right and it doesn’t solve the problem. That just shifts the hurt from one size to another.
There are two common campaigns that I often see, especially around the time of the VS Fashion Show. The first is “zero is not a size”. The second is “real women have curves”.
Seeing those campaigns now, I get annoyed. I don’t feel less confident, but that’s because I’ve learned my lesson about not letting other people dictate how I should see myself. I’m a confident
person woman, but it took me a lot of years to reach this point. If I were looking at these campaigns as a young teen, I’d be unrolling my sweater sleeves to hide my tiny wrists and making a note to buy more long-sleeve shirts. I had so many people point out how skinny I was in early high school that I wouldn’t wear short sleeves unless I had a sweater. I remember in later high school years liking skinny jeans, but thinking I couldn’t wear them because my legs were too small.
Everyone struggles with confidence. If you can honestly say you don’t and never have, congratulations, you should write a book. But I don’t think that’s the case for most people. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to assume the vast majority of us have had low self-esteem at some point. Guess what? Some of those girls are skinny. Gasp!
My self-esteem was probably lowest from age 12 to 14. My peers were shopping at stores that sold clothes I couldn’t fit into and there was nothing I could do about it. I’ve always been one of those people who struggles with gaining weight. At age 12, I was 72 lbs. It took me until I was 17 and in my first semester of university to tip the scale over 100 (I’d like to thank Tim Horton’s and the residence dining hall for the help). Being underweight made it difficult to make the transition from kids stores to teen stores and I hated clothes shopping because nothing fit. Looking back, it’s probably why I became obsessed with shoes and accessories, but that’s beside the point.
Not being able to dress the same as your peers makes those painful awkward years so much worse.
For me, the worst was bathing suit shopping. I have a very distinct memory of crying in a change room because I tried on the last bathing suit I had selected and it didn’t fit. It was the last bathing suit from the last store in the mall that my mom could think of that might sell a bathing suit I could buy. I was devastated and felt so defeated and frustrated. I was young at the time. My friends weren’t yet wearing bikinis, but they were able to find things that fit. It got worse when they could buy bikinis and I was wearing the same bathing suit as my neighbour who is four years my junior.
When I wasn’t crying over bathing suits, I was struggling with pants. Everyone started buying jeans from Garage or American Eagle and I was trying to buy denim that had no details on it that could give away the place I bought it, which was usually the kids section somewhere.
That’s why this “zero is not a size” thing pisses me off. Zero is a size. In fact, so is double zero. Double zero is the size that let sad little 13 year-old me start shopping at stores designed for teenagers. Double zero saved me from the kids section and kickstarted my shopping habit. Don’t tell me zero is not a size. I’m now 21 and I’m still a size zero in most places. Does that mean I’m not a ‘real woman’?
No? That’s crazy? I thought so, too. Please, pass that reaction along to whoever came up with “real women have curves.”
If you’re a girl, I’m sure you’ve seen those charts online or in change rooms that show the different body types we’re supposed to fit into. Apparently, we can be characterized into seven body types. I swear it used to be four, but all of a sudden there’s this expanded version. Now it’s not just ‘hourglass’, it’s ‘neat hourglass’ and ‘full hourglass’. I thought I was a rectangle, but apparently the system has been kicked up a notch and I’m actually a ‘lean column’. The characteristics listed for ‘lean column’ are: narrow shoulders, flat chest or small bust, small and non-defined waist, and narrow hips and flat bottom.
Dear boys, I’m single. Line up.
Okay, back on track… the point is I definitely don’t have curves. Apparently that means I can’t be a ‘real woman’. That’s bullshit. I may not be able to wear a plunging V-neck dress or shirt, but that doesn’t mean I should be ashamed.
My point here isn’t to get some pity and make you want to come give me a hug. In fact, I have a thing about personal space, so I’d really prefer if you didn’t do that. My point here is to hopefully make you think. Next time someone posts a picture of a skinny model and captions it with something pointing out how gross it is that you can see her bones, remember that some people are that way naturally and they’re reading that, too. Actually, that comment probably just highlighted some of their deepest insecurities.
It’s not fair to push other people down to make yourself feel better and that’s what these campaigns do. Size shaming is hurtful regardless of the size you’re putting down. I understand people are trying to point out that girls should be healthy and eat well instead of trying to look like the models they see in magazines or on runways, but it doesn’t necessarily come across that way. And it doesn’t necessarily make girls stop trying to lose weight, it likely just makes them want to stop before they get to a zero.
The campaigns that are on the right track are the ones that advertise that every body type is beautiful.
It is absolutely ridiculous that people want a round of applause for posting these images that are so hurtful to girls who may be struggling with their body image. I get that their heart may be in the right place, but stop being so selective about who gets to be deemed pretty. Imagine if someone posted a picture that said ‘size 14 is not a size’. The social media storm that would unleash would be insane. Please explain to me why it’s appreciated from the other direction.
We need girls to understand that size does not determine beauty and confidence is about loving yourself, not just your waistline or cup size. It’s time that people realize this needs to be done without stripping away someone’s confidence to take it for themselves.