Privilege and prejudice

Screenshot from Meghan Trainor's "All About that Bass"
Screenshot from Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass”

It’s a tragic reality that discrimination still exists in our society. I don’t think I really need evidence that people are treated differently—looking around at the world would indicate that—but let’s make a short list anyways.

Things like discrimination against First Nations people, where the RCMP’s 2014 report, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, stated that “[the 225 unsolved cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal females] indicates that Aboriginal women are over-represented among Canada’s murdered and missing women.” Or how, as Laverne Cox said in an interview with Katie Couric, “The homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest amongst trans women.” Or how in a 2013 study, 56 per cent of respondents preferred to “lose $1,000 than gain 20 pounds.”

Discrimination, inequality, and outright hate are huge problems. There’s also another problem that emerges, when marginalized people empower themselves with movements like #BlackLivesMatter, or the big-body-loving song “All About that Bass” from Meghan Trainor: the issue is many respond with #AllLivesMatter, or accuse Trainor of skinny-shaming; some even suggest these are examples of reverse discrimination.

I’m not saying these movements are without their problems: for instance, #BlackLivesMatter has been criticized for not fully including trans women of colour, and Trainor has been critiqued as anti-feminist. But while it’s true that all bodies are beautiful and all lives matter, saying so in this instance glosses over the empowerment of long-marginalized groups.

For example, an excellent article on Everyday Feminism by Melissa A. Fabello broke down why skinny-shaming isn’t reverse discrimination. Now, I’m not saying that skinny-shaming is at all acceptable. It’s downright mean, but it isn’t the same as fat-shaming. This is partly because fat-shaming emerges from fat-phobia.

On the meaning of fat-phobia, Fabello gave an example of two friends, one skinny and one fat, chowing on some ice cream: she describes how, while the skinny friend might count calories, she wouldn’t be judged by others. “My fat friend, though? People might be passing her, looking disgusted. They might be giving her unsolicited diet advice. They might even openly comment on what she’s eating. The sexist standards plaguing my mind are awful—but the rest of the world isn’t shunning me because of my body.”

There’s also the issue of institutional fat-phobia, which Fabello points out is part of the power behind fat-shaming: fat-shaming is reinforced by how our society encourages us to be slender. That isn’t just in the ever-present images of slender bodies as examples of conventional beauty; that’s reinforced in never being “asked to pay more for a seat on an airplane—because the seats were designed with my body type in mind. I’ve never experienced a doctor dismissing my health concerns by telling me that if I just ‘lose weight,’ all of my problems will be solved … I can walk into a clothing store and (most likely) find items in my size—because I’m considered ‘standard.’”

Of course, anyone could struggle to fit into clothing; I’m short and I have to get my jeans hemmed, but that doesn’t mean clothing stores discriminate against my body. Long pants perpetually dragging on the floor is not the same as being actively discouraged from shopping at certain stores—as Abercrombie & Fitch was criticized for doing in 2013, with women’s clothing only going up to a size large. Robin Lewis, of The New Rules of Retail, is quoted saying about A&F’s CEO Mike Jeffries that “He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.”

As I said before, of course all bodies are beautiful and all lives matter—nobody’s saying otherwise. But as Fabello explains, “only some lives—and only some bodies—are given that privilege as a birthright. … Something can be body-positive and at the same time, leave thin bodies out of the conversation. [E]radicating oppression sometimes means decentering the conversation from around the oppressor.”

It’s inaccurate to equate skinny-shaming and fat-shaming, because they aren’t the same; it’s short-sighted to say all lives matter, because there’s a larger picture. The intentions are good, but in an attempt at equality, saying all bodies are beautiful re-centres the conversation back to its original, unequal position. In trying to position yourself as an ally to all, you ignore the marginalization of many.

Hello gorgeous,

Natalie Serafini