No Fat Chicks: The Media & Body Image

Beauty

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

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Everyone plays the weight game. There are hundreds of articles on everything from the tendency towards obesity to weight-loss tips, eating disorders, how to dress to look thinner, and so on and so on. The weight issue is a big one in our society and everyone can relate.

I myself can remember when I was maybe ten, in that age when how you look starts to matter, and I couldn’t wear leggings because my legs were too skinny. Yes too skinny, I was at the other end of the weight spectrum, I was always very thin. That became my identity, I was the skinny girl. But it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t find clothes to fit and I had to get everything tailored because even a size zero was too big sometimes. I never thought much of it, it was just the way I was, I ate what I wanted but I was just built smaller.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

As I entered high school I soon realized that my thinness was a commodity, and for the first time I became aware of the reality of weight: size matters and the thinner the better. Rather than reveling in my thinness, in an attempt to not be left out of the weight game, I joined my friends and declared that I was fat. I didn’t actually believe it, but I knew that if I told people that I liked the way I looked I would be an instant outcast.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ ClubFast-forward to college and things began to change. I never gained the freshman 15 but I did gain the sophomore 10, followed by the junior 5, and the senior 5. Grad school proved to be more fattening, so much so that when it was all said and done I was 35 pounds heavier than when I was 17. I had “ballooned” to a size 10. But just like before, I liked the way I looked. I actually liked being a bit bigger. I liked the way clothes looked on me, even though I was now a size large in many of my favorite stores. But I soon realized, again, that what I thought had nothing to do with it.

People began asking me “what happened,” and “oh you better be careful, once you go down that road there’s no turning back” and of course, my grandmother’s: “Oh no, you’ve let yourself go”. I was suddenly the social outcast again, and just like when I was ten and had to avoid leggings, now, bright prints and horizontal stripes were my enemy, or so the magazines told me.

I never fully understood the absurdity of it all until I lost just ten pounds – after having my wisdom teeth removed. Suddenly everyone noticed and praised me for the weight loss, as if I’d just achieved something monumental. No one mentioned anything about my new job, or having undergone major dental surgery, it was all about those 10 pounds.

I didn’t care, I was just living my life, like I had been since I was a child, sometimes thin, sometimes a bit bigger but I was still the same person. Why couldn’t anyone else see this? Author and journalist Terry Poulton answers this question in her book, No Fat Chicks: How Big Business Profits By Making Women Hate Their bodies – And How To Fight Back.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

Poulton was an established Canadian journalist by 1982, when she was commissioned by a well-known women’s magazine to lose 65 pounds and document her weight loss. She managed to lose the weight in six months but gained it all back only to realize that the problem was much bigger than her. While researching for her book, which was meant to be about her experience as a heavier person in a thin-obsessed society, Poulton came to the conclusion that what was actually going on was a “billion-dollar brainwash”. Corporations gain from making women think they are too heavy and set unreasonable standards for them to aim for and fail.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

Poulton traces the starting point of this mass market strategy to 1967 and a 92 pound model named Twiggy:

Since her debut in 1967, when she became the darling of the fashion world and the incongruous ideal of nearly everyone else, her image – and that of her latter-day clones like Kate Moss – has been milked for billions. During the first decade after Twiggy’s debut, the annual take from the labyrinthine American anti-fat industry soared to $10 billion, 95 percent of which was spent by women. And in the following decades, that total has quintupled.

Could it be that all that dieting, guilt, constant worrying, strategic dressing, and money spent has nothing to do with “health” and “beauty” at all but is all about big corporations making a buck, or billion? Yes, and to prove it Poulton cites examples of beauty ideals pre-Twiggy.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

Marilyn Monroe

Arguably one of the most desirable women of all time, and a beauty icon still, Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 (in today’s American ‘vanity’ sizing, she’d probably be a size 8). Even before her, the beauties of the late 1800’s like actress Lillian Russell, who was the most desirable woman of her time, weighed nearly 200 pounds.

Clearly if these heavier women were beautiful then, women like them can’t possibly all of sudden be considered abhorred, and be discriminated against, without some catalyst to have changed our views. That catalyst is big-business and the only way to fight back, according to Poulton, is for women to accept their bodies as they are.

The ‘No Fat Chicks Allowed’ Club

Poulton makes it clear that she’s not endorsing a life of obesity, rather she is bringing attention to the fact that women, thus far, have been driven less by their own concerns over health and more by their roles as consumers.

As Poulton explains, in an age of personal responsibility and a “no victims wanted” mentality, her theory of mass conspiracy isn’t an easy one to accept. But the facts are undeniable:

  • In the largest such survey to date, nearly 30,000 women stated that they’d rather lose weight than achieve ANY other goal, despite the fact that only 25 percent were overweight and 25 percent were actually underweight.
  • The average weight of models, actresses, and beauty pageant contestants is about 25 percent lower than that of the average American woman.
  • There are now 50 times more women suffering from anorexia and bulimia than are living with AIDS.
  • In a recent survey, 11 percent of respondents said that if genetic predisposition to obesity was identified in their unborn children, they would opt for abortion. What does this mean in the big weight game? That maybe your deep gut feeling that tells you you look good, in spite of some insecurity, is a better bet to listen to than what the media, or anyone else for that matter, tells you. Even if other people don’t know that you’re the same person at 100 pounds, as you are at 200 pounds, you know it.

Poulton advises women to break free from what they are told they should look like and try to only be concerned with what they know is best for them, based on their genes, health concerns, body type and such. It sounds easy, but it’s a challenge in a society that has one image and one image only to sell.

Originally from Denver and now living in NYC, Angie has been writing since she was small. She lives in the Flatiron district with her partner Tanya and their mutt Sparky (always adopt!) In her spare time she loves to paint (mostly abstract) and talk to random people on the street to find out what's interesting to them.

9 Comments

  1. Melani Kalev

    The article reminded me of the thought about a typical women’s magazine: first, you’ve got an article about how you should love yourself no matter what, then, you’ve got some tips and tricks for some dieting, and how you should lose those last 5 lbs. And then, some cake recipes… I mean, something isn’t right here.
    I like the fact that more and more you can find people who are knowledgeable and work on themselves, on their bodies but for the right reason – for being HEALTHY. However, there’s still a long way to go. If it’s the industries’ conspiracy ‘against’ women basically, then it definitely needs to be more talked about.
    Our society has changed so much these past years. I’m only 23 but I see younger girls and I’m scared for them, what they have to face what even I didn’t have to face when I was their age. I couldn’t imagine being 13 and worrying about having a thigh gap, big boobs, Beyonce’s ass, and a six pack. I couldn’t imagine that I’d be doing some workout program not in order to move myself, to be healthy, to use the energy I have, but to be appealing for others, sexy girl with a hot piece of ass… Talking about exploiting children.

  2. “There are now 50 times more women suffering from anorexia and bulimia than are living with AIDS” …and yet we never hear about it. Why??

  3. When it comes to caring for our bodies through things like weight loss, it's important to prioritize health. First and foremost, our body is an organism built to keep us alive and in the struggle to be thinner and thinner, that truth has become lost. Your body does a lot to keep you healthy and alive…in return, it deserves your love 🙂

  4. Jen Spillane

    I've had a similar experience of going from being very thin to gaining a fair amount of weight and at the time, really embracing how I looked. That's not a weight I'd be comfortable at now, and whether that's good or bad is a discussion for another time. At this time, I'm in acting, and therefore, in the business of looking a certain way. I refuse to operate on extremes or put a size before my health, but I'd be kidding myself if I thought that my appearance didn't matter; the fact is that it does. I think Chloe is right on in saying that women's body issues often have more to do with their roles as consumers than their own, independent feelings about how they look. I've chosen a career where the difference between getting my foot in the door and not has a lot to do with how marketable I am, and fit (which I try to aim for over thin), as well as talented is what's marketable. However, I'm completely aware that the level of fit I'm aiming for is due to outside forces (the market), as well as my own desire to be an actress. Great article!

  5. We live in a society that puts "overweight" and "fat" in a negative light. Everyone has a different body type and genes can play some part of it. Why cant we just love ourselves as people instead of judging on weight. All my life I've struggled with my weight. Been bullied by peers, family members, doctors would harass me to lose weight. All that pressure doesn't help, it only causes depression. Then everyone was so proud when I lost weight as if I'm a new person. I'm still the same person who is compassionate, creative, intelligent and who was hurt by the things people said. There's more to life than weight, we should just focus on being happy.

  6. Weight definitely influences how people see you. Sociologists have discovered that people see "fat" people as less intelligent. They are also less likely to be hired. It's crazy to think that someone's weight would have that much of an impact, but we're taught to judge people like that.

  7. Arabella Clarington

    Size measurements are completely different than they were back then. Her dress size measurements were 36-24-37. Just looking at the photo of her above it would be silly to think she was a size 12 by today’s measurements.

  8. Courtney Watson

    I love that this website is very different from all the others. You empower women with your articles! thank you.

  9. Hannah Mayers

    Marilyn Monroe is  concrete proof that women can be sexy even though their thighs touch! 🙂

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