This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook again (thanks Natasha for bringing it to my attention!) It’s an extra-disturbing iteration of the idea that there is a thin person inside every fat person. In this case it used to advertise someone’s fitness/weight loss business with the quote “Your TRUE potential is hidden deep within. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence to sculpt a masterpiece. But once you unmask it, it will last forever…” There are a number of ways in which this is super disturbing (I’ve intentionally made the image small, you can click to enlarge it or just skip over it.)
First, any fitness professional who suggests that they can guarantee you a body of a certain size, or a body that looks a certain way is straight up lying to you. Body size, type, musculature, and even athletic potential are all complicated things, multifaceted, and not entirely within our control. They can’t even guarantee long term weight loss under the most basic definition, let alone control how many tendonis intersections cross your rectus abdominus, how uniform they are, and whether or not that can be seen (ie: having a four or six or eight pack.)
Next, it reinforces the social construct that bodies of some sizes are inherently better than bodies of other sizes and that fat people should be willing to (literally in this case) carve away at ourselves until we meet some social standard of beauty.This can take the form of dangerous dieting, taking pills that can kill us, getting our healthy organs amputated, and not focusing on, or being expected to have, any accomplishment other than weight loss. (Even if you believe, for example, that being fat is less healthy than being thin, if you think it therefore follows that thin bodies are better than fat bodies, then you are engaging in healthism. Maybe work on that.)
It reinforces the idea that – knowing of course that fitness isn’t an obligation, or barometer of worthiness – the only “good” or “right” outcome for for those who choose to be involved in fitness is to become thinner or getting closer to the stereotype of beauty. This, in turn, leads to the further stigmatization and bullying of fat athletes as if our bodies are an indictment against our fitness/athletics/movement programs.
The idea that manipulating our body to be closer to our current social stereotype constitutes finding our “TRUE potential” is super messed up and indicative of a culture absolutely obsessed with thinness. The idea that “it will last forever” is completely laughable when we’re talking about weight loss, especially since most people gain any weight they lost back withing 2-5 years. The one thing for certain is that our bodies will change over time, and when we suggest that looking a certain way is our “TRUE potential” set ourselves up to come crashing down when we find out that societies stereotype of beauty is completely unattainable to us, or if they are unattainable they are not maintainable.
People are allowed to believe whatever they want about manipulating body size. People are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, including attempting to manipulate their bodies to look a certain way for whatever reason they want. What’s not ok is anyone who suggests that the choice to try to lose weight, or any success someone might have makes those people or their bodies, better than people who make difference choices or get different results. What’s not ok is people who suggest that anyone who doesn’t pursue thinness is wrong, inferior, or “making excuses.”
What’s wrong is telling fat people that we should think of ourselves as thin people covered in fat, a before picture, a perpetual potential future thin person, anything but a fully realized authentic person. I’m not a thin person covered in fat, just like I’m not a blonde covered in brown hair, or straight-haired person covered in curls, or a green eyed person covered in hazel, or clinically under-tall – I’m a brunette, curly-haired, hazel-eyed, short, fat woman, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What’s not ok is the suggestion that fat people who see a graphic of a woman literally hammering away at herself with a hammer and chisel, should find it to be inspirational or motivational, rather than seeing it as a clear sign that our cultural ideas about bodies are fucked up in very serious ways.
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