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In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, film star Jennifer Lawrence denounced the way we are taught that to make fun of someone is funny. Lawrence took particular issue with calling people “fat,” and asserted that if we can regulate television advertising related to cigarettes, why not also limit the way it presents harmful images and discussions of people’s bodies? I applaud Lawrence for using her platform to shed light on this important issue, and want to share here an additional perspective.
I completely agree that American culture demeans people whose body does not fit the unrealistic images presented in movies, television, and magazines. It is true that women in particular are told they must be thin, young and sexy to have value. Women and girls are taught that if they just buy one more product or pony up for reconstructive surgery they will at last be beautiful.
Equally harmful, however, is the open ridicule that some women and girls experience precisely because they happen to be thin without engaging in excessive consumption, eating disorders, or dangerous procedures. As one of these women, I want to call attention to the fact that it is not OK to make fun of people for their looks and their weight regardless of where they fall on the weight spectrum.
I have been asked multiple times, to my face, “Do you ever eat?” “You probably only eat salad,” and “You’re anorexic, right?” Rather than asking, others simply declare “You should go back to Ethiopia” (or some other country they perceive to be dealing with famine).
And then there’s the declarative I disdain most: “Go eat a burger.” As if only “good” or “healthy” people eat meat. All of this comes from the same place as calling someone fat—that for whatever reason, my body, as it is, is not OK and it is someone else’s business to inform me of how I can become more acceptable.
Calling someone out for their perceived bodily inadequacies is, as Lawrence remarks, terrifically damaging to their self-esteem. Sadly, most of these comments come from other women. That, to me, is the worst part because it represents how we have been taught to pick one another apart rather than build each other up. Rather than helping others be healthy and happy, this harassment results in dissatisfaction, depression, and disorders.
I am thin. I work out. I am a vegetarian. Deal with it.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology. Her column is syndicated by Peace Voice.