Fatphobia – yes, it is a word, and I thank The Huffington Post for explaining this! This is in defense of all the women who have been victims of sexism and chauvinistic remarks, judged strictly by their appearances: I am sick and tired of being told that I am not slim, that I am overweight, my nose is too small, my lips are not normal, am too short, too old, too Asian, or simply do not measure up to the ideal standards… Hang on, whose ideals, and whose standards? What gives the world and the chauvinists out there the right to impose someone else’s standards on me? Whatever the criticism, I am on the warpath this time am lashing back at everyone who places primary importance on weight.
A tasteful sense of fashion, neatness, and cleanliness, are just as important to me as anyone else, perhaps even more because I don’t believe in drawing attention to myself through accessories and layers of make-up, but that is beside the point today. It wasn’t that long ago that I was accused of failing to understand the importance of appearances (i.e. body shape, or body mass index, perfection of nose or lips, etc.) in the relationship between men and women simply because I don’t consider physical appearance essential to any significant relationship. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read those words and felt a mixture between rage and hurt all at the same time. Believe me when I tell you that if there is anyone on this planet that knows how insignificant the role of appearances is in a relationship that would be me.
I was born with a hare lip (Hasenscharte, labio leporino) and cleft palate (Gaumenspalte, paladar hendido) – a monstrous baby by any standards, to the extent that my own mother had trouble accepting me in the beginning. After an entire childhood spent in hospitals for reconstructive surgeries, my face now is something I have spent decades learning to look at in the mirror without nausea and even appreciate. To me, deformity and lack of physical beauty are one and the same thing, simply because I have not known otherwise. I endured the cruel of children in their brutal honesty and naiveté, and all the taunts and snickers thrown my way, either in my face or behind my back, all chipping away at my self-esteem. It was only when I showed people what I could actually do or be did these comments diminish. I hated being “on display” as part of medical case studies or the object of curiosity from other adults who should have known better. This resulted in my being constantly terrified of looking in the mirror, scared of what I would see, and be disappointed that I did not measure up to whatever social pressures were out there.
My entire life has been all about proving to others that in spite of my looks, my weight, and my nasal voice, I actually do have a brain, a heart, and a soul. If anything, I understand all too well how important it is to look beyond the superficial standard of physical beauty and dwell instead on the intrinsic need of establishing interpersonal relationships based on character and sensitivity, but definitely not appearances.
What person has not struggled with weight over the years in one form or another? We are constantly bombarded by social standards about what the ideal weight is and what the perfect figure is – as if that is going to make a difference in the type of person you are. My closest friendships are based on our connected personalities, love, understanding, support, and the love of food. We all had our slim phases at some point in time, but that did not change the core of our being one iota, or our ability to love, be kind, or be generous. In fact, as we all approached midlife, my college buddies and I decided to embrace curvaceous selves more publicly and characterize our group by being BBW – Big Beautiful Women.
The accusation of my apparent lack of understanding of the impact of appearance in human relations went on to point out that fat people lack self-discipline and are narcissistic and self –indulgent, equating them with alcoholics. I thought I had turned my back on all this, but being back in Germany and surrounded by the social pressure to be super slim and trim, to walk more than the average Asian is used to, to indulge in a sport as if there is no tomorrow, live with the precept that hiking in the mountains or biking are second nature to the locals, or have to be ashamed about asking where the Plus Sizes are, has brought back ugly resentments and pushed into a dark corner.
Is this rant on weight and pressure to be thin another figment of my imagination like the discrimination in the housing and labor market? Not quite. In a 2015 study on eating disorders, Germany ranked #11 among the countries with the highest cases of anorexia and bulimia, with USA at #3 and China at #1. Another study presents the pressure of Western culture and media on weight and beauty standards that lead to alarming rates of eating disorders worldwide. Furthermore, in a May 2017 survey of the healthiest countries in the world, Germany did not make it into the top 10. Take a close look at what is floating out there in social media, the internet and television – the subliminal brainwashing telling teenagers that pimples are a crime, or overweight people have no business wearing leggings and sleeveless tops, and being fat is socially unacceptable is devastating, but there are so few ads and campaigns in comparison for balanced, healthy lifestyles for attainable goals for overweight people. The online bullying and fat-shaming is not something society should accept hook, line and sinker. Hats off to France for leading the pack in changing perspectives in the fashion industry by passing a law banning models who were far too thin. Brazil, on the other hand, has beaches that banned fat people at one time resulting in the curious phenomenon called the Fat Acceptance Movement or The Fat Activists. Fatphobia – yes, it definitely is a word, a very ugly word that corporations around the world are getting rich on and using the most cruel marketing techniques.
No, I am definitely not the one who will turn heads when I walk by, or enter a room, nor will I ever be the woman others fantasize about, but my curves and I will stand by a friend through hell or high waters. I will pick up the pieces when your soul is shattered, and I will listen when nobody else will. Would this make a difference if I were 20kg lighter?
(NB: An earlier version was published in my former blog under the title Don’t Judge The Woman By Her Weight)