Supermodel Tess Holliday recently posted a nude picture of herself to “advocate for women’s equality.” Her husband Nick posted the picture, writing, “Women deserve respect, whether they are completely naked or covered head to toe.”
The caption and the mere fact that the model is nude technically have nothing to do with fat positivity, but the undertones are there. Holliday is known for being a plus size model (size 22) and a fat positive activist. Thus, it’s a difficult issue for some viewers to navigate. Fat positive fans will adore the exhibition, and many critics of the ideology will be content to announce that they do not find Holliday attractive, and won’t these fat positive people stop posting unappealing pictures already and stop trying to change people’s conception of beauty?
I can respect Holliday as a person, but I don’t have to respect the fact that she posted a picture of her naked backside. That has nothing to do with her size; I would apply the exact same standard to a thin person. Even if you think conventional standards of beauty are too narrow (they are) and that women shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to those standards (they shouldn’t), there’s something wrong with the way Holliday and many other feminist activists are pushing “equality.”
Whether the cause is fat positivity, unrestricted abortion, or “equal pay,” radical feminists embrace public nudity as a form of protest and display of pride. But when will they learn that getting naked doesn’t get them even — either with men, or thin people? Why do they insist that stripping is dignifying?
Over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that wearing less clothing encourages viewers to objectify women, and to view them as more sexually available, less capable, less intelligent, and less self-respecting. As far as I have read, revealing more of one’s body has never been shown to encourage more respect. The body positive notion that women should get more respect for wearing less clothing goes against the entire body of data indicating the exact opposite.
And it’s not just hurting their cause. It could be negatively affecting the women themselves. A meta-analysis of multiple studies on dress and body image explains one study in which “college women self-objectified if they viewed themselves in a mirror when wearing a swimsuit, but not if they viewed themselves wearing a bulky knit sweater.” In another study, women who imagined themselves “in scenarios wearing body revealing clothing (i.e., bathing suits) resulted in higher state self-objectification, negative mood, body shame, and body dissatisfaction than when imagining themselves wearing non-revealing clothing (i.e., sweaters).”
In other words, the data so far seems to indicate that revealing more of yourself contributes to your own body dissatisfaction, which is exactly the opposite of what fat positivists are aiming for.
Stripping down for the public is not dignifying. Men and women alike rightly admire the beauty of the female form (as conventionally imagined, more or less), but the women who bare it all for the public don’t earn more respect for themselves as people through these exhibitions. Since the vast majority of our interactions with others have to do with what’s in our brains and our hearts, not with the shape and size of our bodies, doesn’t it follow that our non-physical traits should be the focus for people of all body types?
Now, it’s true that one’s self-care, partially evidenced by one’s size, does tell us something about them as people. Our mind, body, and soul are deeply connected. But body positivists are right to point out that people who struggle with managing their weight are too often stereotyped as incompetent, lazy, or less worthy of respect. It’s not fair to judge someone off their shape alone. Seeing as the average American woman is between size 16 and 18, if extra weight tells us anything about overweight people, it’s that it’s a common struggle. Over-indulgence and sedentariness are faults of most members of Western society, to varying degrees.
But it is a mistake to try to spin our faults as virtues, as somehow deserving of more respect. No, being what advertisers have taken to calling the “real woman” doesn’t make you any better, or more authentic, than thin women. Bragging on social media that you are a size 22 doesn’t make you exceptional or brave; it just means you’re admitting to something most people struggle with, but refusing to admit that it is the result of vice.
Yes, overeating and under-exercising are vices. Extra weight carries significant health risks, something fat positivists like Holliday like to downplay by claiming that right now they are “healthy.” Obesity is linked to cancer of the colon, breast, and kidney. Type 2 diabetes is closely linked with obesity, and being overweight makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which makes heart disease and stroke more likely. Sleep apnea is common for obese people as well, which further increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.
Overweight or obese women also have added risks involved in childbearing, including preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Obesity during pregnancy carries a 20 percent greater chance of early miscarriage, and obese mothers also have a slightly greater risk for birth defects.
Is all of this data to be ignored in the name of body “equality?” Should we ignore the link between smoking and lung cancer in the name of “lifestyle equality?” Of course not. Everyone, thin or fat, has people that care about them and want them to live long, healthy, active, productive lives. The reason we encourage a loved one to quit smoking is the same reason we encourage loved ones to lose weight.
Of course women shouldn’t beat themselves up or suffer shame for being fat. They should love their bodies and feel confident in their dignity and femininity. But to really love your body means to care for it, just like loving and caring for your children means exercising discipline and restraint. We need to accept that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and not stake so much of our identity around our faults — or worse, try to convince ourselves they aren’t faults at all. Posing nude doesn’t accomplish any of the goals that good people are aiming for on either side of the fat positive debate. It doesn’t earn respect, boost self-confidence, gain equity for the body type, or have anything to do with caring for and loving your body.
It’s time for feminists to realize they’re worth more than the revealing images they propagate.