More than two out of every five American adults is obese, meaning that more of us are experiencing fat shaming to the extent that it’s become a mainstream topic of public discourse. In just the past week, this public discussion has fixated on Darren Aronofsky’s new film “The Whale,” which some see as fat-phobic; and the public bullying of plus-sized supermodel Ashley Graham, who was shamed for being “fat” by former Miss New Jersey Sameera Khan. Of course, most fat-shaming in the United States does not happen in discussion forums that millions read, but rather in quotidian moments in everyday people’s lives. And many may be surprised to know that it wasn’t always this way: beauty standards — along with which body sizes are seen as attractive — are nebulous, and have changed frequently throughout history and culture. Rather, we are socialized to desire a specific size.
Opal Stacie is a wellness blogger and YouTuber who recalled to Salon that, although she struggled with her weight as a child, as a teenager she was regarded as thin and desirable. Instead of being ignored or rejected by the men that she liked, Stacie felt she had pretty privilege, a term for the social benefits that accrue to individuals widely regarded as physically attractive. She became, in her own words, “a party girl” — but when she gained more than 100 pounds after her pregnancy, her friends stopped inviting her out and men started ignoring her again.
While many cultures and individuals still preferred slender women and muscular men, others idealized being “plump as a partridge” as indicative of both health and wealth.
“My friends would go to exclusive parties in South Beach [Miami] clubs and, as a larger woman, it’s a lot harder for those promoters to look past the fact that I’m ‘the big girl,'” Stacie told Salon. “They don’t want the big girl in the club. They want all the pretty skinny girls in the club.”
That Stacie used the terms “pretty” and “skinny” separately is apt, as “skinny” has not always been a social prerequisite to being regarded as “pretty.” Indeed, human cultural history is proof that our ideas of what constitutes beauty are ever-changing, and not tied to a specific weight. In other words, “pretty” is not hardwired into our DNA. Subjective social mores alone lead to “thinness” and “prettiness” being viewed as inextricably linked — and if that status quo ever changes, shifting social standards will be what changes it.
“If you look at beauty magazines, thin has been in for the last hundred …….