Journalism student Gemma Michael, in a recent opinion article in The Charlatan student newspaper at Carleton University, wrote that “fat-shaming” is “society’s final ‘ism.’” According to her, “ideas about beauty, and the outrage and disgust that persists when someone in media doesn’t fulfill that idea, is a social issue.”
It’s an example of how activism against those who promote smaller body sizes has gained ground on campuses. Last week the idea of “sizeism” entered the mainstream consciousness when blogger Jes Baker’s letter addressed to clothing-maker Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries went viral. The Militant Baker, as she’s known on her blog, also posted provocative pictures of herself and a parody of the brand’s logo: “Attractive & Fat.” Some of these pictures have her posing nude, others in an actual A&F t-shirt and one has her flipping both middle fingers at the viewer—or perhaps at an imaginary Jeffries.
What did the CEO say that so offended her? “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told online magazine Salon in 2006. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ comment was undeniably offensive, but is being overweight really the next “ism?” Can the experience of fat people really be compared to racism or sexism? Or is this an overreaction?
In my opinion, the comments were akin to Kanye West’s antics—more insensitive and attention-seeking than horrific.
Those who cry “sizeism” ostensibly see themselves as the sole victims of Jeffries’ offhanded remarks. But it’s a cruel world. Schools have cliques and kids and adults alike are scrutinized and criticized for being ugly or fat or poor or stupid or different. It’s wrong, but until the day we all dance around a bonfire holding hands and singing Kumbaya, people like Jeffries will continue to exist. Young people need to learn to overcome this taunting rather than see themselves as victims.
And “sizeism” is hardly the new Civil Rights Movement. Are bigger people kept from the polls as women and African Americans were? Is it illegal for fatter people to marry? Last time I checked, no.
Being overweight doesn’t mean one can’t have a successful career. Just look at Girls creator Lena Dunham, actress Melissa McCarthy and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Or look at Ryerson University fashion communications student Diana Di Poce, 22, a self-described big girl. She recently founded Dare magazine, a digital publication featuring only plus-size models. Her goal is to increase representation of “curvy” women in the fashion industry and show that “style has no size.” That seems like a more productive reaction than nude photos and middle fingers.
Vivien Chang recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia.