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Skinny Shaming and Fat Shaming Are Not the Same Thing

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at PSU chapter.

A vast majority of us have been body shamed at some point in our lives, and it is often a violating and humiliating experience.

Unsolicited criticism and negative remarks about a person’s body are never appropriate, and it is appalling how many people choose to waste their and others’ time with such comments. No matter who you are or what you look like, body shaming can have long-term negative consequences.

However, while body shaming in any form is wrong and potentially detrimental, it comes in different forms, and not all of them are equal. Not everybody experiences the world the same way.

I am talking specifically about the size and the comparison that many seem to draw between fat shaming and skinny shaming.

Comment sections full of remarks regarding the size and shape of others are in abundance on most social media platforms. When celebrities or influencers receive comments attacking them for their being “too thin,” common responses in their defense run along the lines of “telling someone to eat more is just as rude as telling someone to eat less” or “skinny shaming is just as harmful as fat shaming.”

Skinny shaming can most definitely be damaging to an individual’s mental health and self-image, but making this type of comparison to fatphobia is flawed — skinny shaming and fat shaming are inherently different.

Fatphobia is a systemic problem with a nuanced history that is intimately linked to anti-Black racism. In 2020, NPR released an interview with Sabrina Strings, author of “Fearing The Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.” During the interview, Strings explains how this issue is centuries old, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade.

In the 18th century, white Europeans, the French in particular, came to label Black people as lovers of sex and food, that they were too sensuous and too fat. In their eyes, Europeans had self-control, which is part of what made them superior, and in terms of body size, they should be thin.

In her research Strings also discovered 19th-century magazines warning American women, specifically middle- and upper-class women, to watch what they eat. Stating that they needed to eat “as little as was necessary in order to show their Christian nature and also their racial superiority.”

For centuries, thinness has been a tool of white supremacy and systemic fatphobia is undeniably a layer of racist oppression.

While it is definitely true that people are shamed for being “too thin,” images of thinness are, as we are all aware, glorified and fetishized to a great extent at the same time. To return to the social media comment section example, comments claiming that people are “too skinny” are often accompanied by commenters declaring that the people in the photos have their “dream body,” a type of glamorization reserved for privileged body sizes.

A few weeks ago one of my professors was discussing the Academy Award-winning movie “The Whale.” While he raved about Brendan Fraser’s performance in the film, he also mentioned that he was glad “somebody actually of that size” didn’t play Fraser’s role because he would’ve been “distracted by how unhealthy they are.”

What a cruel thing it is to declare your repulsion toward another’s body so publicly. Praising a movie with a fat main character while also announcing that you wouldn’t have been able to watch it if the actor was actually obese is deeply troubling.

The use of fat suits in film and television is all too common (ex: “New Girl” and “Friends”) and is in itself fatphobic. Time and again people prove to only be able to handle fatness in media when it is being used as a costume or the punchline of a joke.

Fatphobia carries a history and connection to other forms of oppression with it that skinny shaming does not come close to. The two cannot be equated. Criticism of one’s body is inescapable and harmful regardless of size, but not all types of body shaming function the same way or are as consequential.

Lucy Martin intends to graduate from Penn State University in 2025 with a BFA in Acting and a minor in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.