We get started on it very young, this kind of hyper-awareness of our bodies.
It happens at around the same time we become sufficiently cognizant of what gender expressions are expected of us. Every comment we hear about how chubby our cheeks are, how squishy our bellies, how dimpled our limbs reinforce to us that our bodies are not just flesh-and-blood vessels that are at our disposal but are also objects of other people’s gazes—something that can be trussed up, parsed, and weighed at a glance. The comments are done out of love most of the time, sure, but love isn’t always harmless. And through time, their frequent repetition creates the bedrock of how we come to view ourselves, a choral backdrop we get so used to that we stop noticing how we’re playing them on a loop inside our heads. They’re also the start of the lifelong onslaught we’d experience every time we step out of the house, out of our rooms, even out of our un-self-conscious bubbles and onto the path of an unforgiving mirror.
We know what fat-shaming is and how pervasive fatphobia is in society. Thin-shaming happens too, no doubt, but there’s a significant difference between the mock-concern we express for women who are too thin in our eyes (a mock-concern that’s laced with envy that somehow, they’re succeeding at something we all try so hard to achieve) and the way we berate those who dare to weigh more than we think they should, who take up more space than they should. “You’re skinny!” will never be as cutting as “You’re fat!” especially when all public spaces are designed to accommodate thin people and when most clothing options are available only for people of a certain size and weight.
That’s actually the more insidious side of fatphobia. Because fatness is seen as undesirable in anyone over the age of five, we take as normal the underhanded ways we talk about fat people—and that includes the body shaming we subject ourselves to. I admit, I still look back with longing at that summer when I got so thin, people were commenting on how much more pronounced my cheekbones were—and I loved it. Never mind that I was suffering from goiter and getting dizzy multiple times a day, even while crossing the street. Whenever I catch a glimpse of my current-day back, the straps of my bra cutting into flesh that’s progressively getting softer no matter how many Superman sets I do at the gym, I conveniently forget the multiple tests I went through that time to figure out what was wrong with my thyroid, the hours I had spent in the doctor’s office and the radiology lab; I just marvel at how sculpted my back must have looked then, and feel bad over how I might never get it back again. I remember joking with someone about how it was neither my yoga regimen nor my boxing and weightlifting classes that brought me back to my early 20s weight, but a disease that was totally out of my control. “At least, it wasn’t one that made you blow up,” she “reassured” me.
This hyper-awareness over our own bodies that we also subject other people to: is it a case of misery loving company? Is commenting over someone’s weight—whether out of concern or in praise over their weight loss (or gain, in select cases)—our way of keeping everyone on the same miserable boat of being hypercritical of our bodies? Talking about health and wellness becomes a land mine of micro-aggressions, because of our inherent belief that fat is immediately bad and is the sole fault of the person who’s keeping around all that weight. What some fitness enthusiasts naïvely believe as empowering messages and images could feel accusatory and offensive, especially when they lay all the power, responsibility, and blame on the shoulders of those who would like to lose weight. I mean, it’s hard to win when you’re set up for defeat. How many fat people feel intimidated to go to the gym, to enter athletic clothing stores, to eat at “healthy” dining establishments, even to consult the doctor in the first place because of the hateful glances cast upon their bodies every time they go out in public? And that’s not even touching on the issue of what resources are available to them, depending on their economic status.
Catch the second leg of #PreenSessions happening on May 21, Sunday, 2 p.m. at the SM Makati Ground Level Concourse.
We’ll be talking about the highs and lows of loving your body with amazing women like Iza Calzado, Iya Villania, Riki Flores, Lexi Gancayco, Coco Quizon, and PLUMP’s Danah and Stacy Gutierrez.
Art by Dorothy Guya