A week after a blog she wrote on bodyshaming drew interest from the media all over the world, Michelle Thomas tells us why she hopes it might help to start a new conversation.
Blimey. It’s all kicked off a bit, hasn’t it?
ICYMI. I went on a first – and only – date with a man. The next day the man said some horrible things about my weight (pretty sure he regrets that now). I wrote a blog about it.
That blog has now had over 130k views. I’ve been in the national and global press, from Australia to New York, and have received thousands – T.H.O.U.S.A.N.D.S. – of messages of support from all over the world. I’ve gone from having 70 Instagram followers to 19,000.
As I said, it’s all kicked off a bit.
I’m a café manager (I love my job). Earlier this week I took a couple of days off to attend to the press requests. I spoke to the Indie, The Mail, The Evening Standard, The Mirror. I did three radio interviews. Dozens of news companies and publishers picked up the story and re-ran it.
I got excited when I heard it had reached Ireland. I was delighted when I saw an Italian version of the story. And, as I watched the comments plinkity-plonk onto the blog, I squeaked with delight with each new country that was represented. There’s one from the Netherlands! The States! Hang on – Pakistan?! Australia? Brazil? Columbia….?
I watched agog as the 800 words I’d lashed together before going to the pub on Friday spread in wider and wider circles, around friends of friends, around the country, around Europe, and eventually around the world. I’d flung a message in a bottle into the open sea, hoping for it to return it with a note saying “me too”. I had no inkling that my bottle would return as a conduit – a lightning rod – for thousands of other bottles from every corner of the globe (please excuse the mixed metaphors. As you may have gathered, it’s been a full and busy week).
I was concerned about missing comments and messages so I set up a free email account. Within 24 hours it had collapsed under the weight of the torrent of emails I was receiving and was flagged and closed due to “suspicious activity”.
“My personal favourite response? ‘Don’t worry – you’ll find someone.’ Thanks guys. I’ll just sit here eating tub after tub of ice cream, using flapjacks as edible spoons, until my Prince Charming comes along.”
Sorry if I’m over-egging the pudding (you didn’t think you’d get through a blog post from a fat lass without a mention of pudding, did you?), but the point is: we need to have a frank and honest conversation about bodyshaming.
Our bodies are such an emotional minefield that talking about my own, frankly and honestly (telling readers that I’m 20 pounds overweight) with warmth and – I hope – a little humour has been viewed as an act of rebellion. It’s so outside of our realm of comfort the readers’ natural response is to cry – “But you’re not fat! You’re not overweight! You’re not!”
It comes from a place of love; these comments are made to comfort and validate me. This is very kind, but I don’t need it.
Imagine the same response to the statement “I have size six feet”.
“SHUT UP! YOU DON’T! YOU SOOOOOO DON’T! YOU DON’T LOOK IT! REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVY, VOLUPTUOUS FEET! THE WIDESPREAD FETISHISATION OF SMALL-SHOD WOMEN CREATES UNNATURAL EXPECTATIONS OF BEAUTY! MEN LIKE A WOMAN WITH A BIT OF PLUMP IN HER PUMPS! WITH LOVE-HANDLES AROUND HER SANDALS! END FOOT FASCISM!”
My personal favourite response? “Don’t worry – you’ll find someone.” Thanks guys. I’ll just sit here eating tub after tub of ice cream, using flapjacks as edible spoons, until my Prince Charming comes along.
Also a very (very) few men have responded to my perceived cry for validation by propositioning me. “I’d have a go! If I were in bed with you I’d be harder than rocket science! Bring your fanny to me! I’d tap that!”
Thanks SO MUCH lads, but you couldn’t be barking up a wronger tree. And aren’t you the same guys who take the piss out of girls for using pouting bikini shots on their social media profiles with no thought to the fact that your Instagram feed is full of gorgeous models doing just that, thereby reinforcing the pervasive idea that that’s the only way to be attractive? Yeah. Thought so.
There’s so much value misplaced on women and girls’ physical mass. It’s incredibly harmful, and will impact all of us well into the future.
I was contacted by a lovely nutritionist called Sophie Pelham Burn. She told me: “I hear an awful lot about body image and shape every day. A lot of what I hear is people being negative about their own bodies, driven by what they hear in the media and ridiculous people such as the guy you met.
“I also hear people berating others for ‘not taking care of themselves’. Often those comments are well-meaning, but that doesn’t make them any less destructive, or factually incorrect! With the use of hashtags across social media we’re seeing more and more ‘fitspo’ type influences on top of the pre-existing high fashion pressures that have been prevalent for decades. These additional influences assume body weight to be a proxy indicator for health, which is simply not true. Skinny does not equal healthy, neither does athleticism.”
We need to examine this stuff in the macro sense. Our experience of real-life attraction is one thing. Our perception of what makes us attractive is drip-fed to us by the media and by our experience with those we attract. Attraction is a shape-shifting and unpredictable beast. We all have a good friend who we look at ruefully and think, “You’re smart, you’re funny, you look good… but you just don’t tickle my pickle.” We wish we were attracted to them, but our bodies and our brains don’t work like that. And that’s fine.
Initially, I’m as susceptible to physical charms as anyone else (and contrary to some reports, yes, of course I found Simon attractive. I wouldn’t have gone on a date with him otherwise). Personally? I like a pretty face. There’s nothing wrong with that. The important thing is, however, that I would never in a million years write a message like this:
“Look. I know we’ve only just met, but I presume you want to know me in the biblical sense. But I just have to let you know that the sight of your face would render me unable to perform physical sex on you. In fact, if the future of our race depended on the two of us making the beast with two backs, I would have to request that you wear a Michael Sheen mask. And it’s only fair to let you know NOW that even in that very specific instance, I’d probably still be sick on you.
That’s rude. Uncivil. Poor etiquette. That’s being a bad human.
Let’s start a campaign to encourage people to knock bodyshaming on the head.
There’s only one thing wrong with the idea as far as I can see. The word. Bodyshaming. It sounds a bit dreary, doesn’t it? That’s no way to start a campaign, with a dreary buzzword. Let’s start a new hashtag. #healthyhappyhot. Aim for the first two, guys. The third will take care of itself.4019 Views
Blogger. Feminist. Person with manners. Author of Healthy, Happy, Hot (Unbound), https://unbound.co.uk/books/healthy-happy-hot