AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
I was flipping around cable and happened upon what used to be known as The Learning Channel, now a repository of shows about little people, multiple-birth families, and polygamous marriages. A new TLC reality series called My Big Fat Fabulous Life caught my eye (how could it not). It follows Whitney Thore, a 380-lb. woman who is — you guessed it — fabulous. On the surface, it seemed like a show that irresponsibly celebrated being fat for fat’s sake, but it wasn’t until I Googled Whitney that I discovered she suffers from a hormone imbalance that makes losing weight very difficult.
This essay isn’t about people like Whitney, who are putting a positive spin on a tough situation. This essay is about people who use the ever-popular movement of “body acceptance” — the notion that all body types and sizes, and their public visibility, are good — as a smokescreen to defend unhealthy, unsightly, or just plain old socially awkward behavior…and I think we all need to reconsider.
A Little Fat Shaming Goes a Long Way
Shame gets a bad rap; it’s a great motivator of change (I should know – I’ve been fat shamed…more than once). They used to put criminals in stockades in the town square back in colonial times, and that worked out pretty well. Now, I’m not saying we should put fat people in stockades (though it’s pretty hard to eat a Big Mac without the use of one’s hands). And I’m not saying that bullying someone for the way they look is ever acceptable, nor am I saying that it’s bad to be naturally curvy or healthily carry some extra weight — female or male. All I’m saying is, we need to stop promoting the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being obese. Not only is it a blight on one’s health, an overweight workforce is a drain on the economy and on health care costs. It’s OK to look in the mirror and say, “this is a problem.” I say it every day.
Just Because You Can Show It, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should
This larger body acceptance movement has emboldened a series of ancillary movements encouraging people to expose those body parts in which they feel so much pride — from #FreeTheNipple, #DadBod, and similar campaigns on Instagram and Twitter to widely publicized pants-less subway rides, topless book clubs, nudist meetups, and naked yoga classes here in the City and beyond, not to mention the recent crop of nudity-themed shows on TV like VH1’s Dating Naked and Discovery’s Naked and Afraid. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being naked — unless you’re preparing my food or hanging around kids — but time and place need to be considerations.
For instance, here in New York, women are legally allowed to be topless in public, just like men. But also like men, there are better times than others for ladies to go without a shirt (and this is coming from a guy who loves boobs). Lying out in the park? Feel top-free. Shopping at the Union Square farmers market? Probably a bit unnecessary. It’s not a gender thing; I think guys who walk around without a shirt all the time are douches, too. The only places you’ll see me topless are at the beach, at a pool, or at an ill-fated model casting I got talked into doing as part of a video for this website. Besides, the City is fucking gross; we should limit the amount of skin with which it comes into contact.
Certain Bodily Functions Aren’t Socially Functional
What kinds of bodily functions are we talking about here? Breast-feeding, for starters. Before I catch flak from the Mammary Mafia, let me say that I’m not grossed out at all when it comes to breast-feeding. And ladies, I think you absolutely have the right to do it in public. But can it wait until your appointment at the Apple Genius Bar is finished? On top of all the things humans multitask these days — texting, emailing, Snapchatting — do we need to add to that list “nursing our young while asking a college kid why our iCloud isn’t syncing”? I’d like to think we’re better than that.
And when it comes to actually bringing those babies into the world, while I’m sure it’s a beautiful experience, Facebook probably isn’t the venue for chronicling your all-natural home birth. Your child has his or her whole life to build a social media presence; there’s no need for you to jump-start it by posting an awkward iPhone pic of them covered in amniotic fluid at the bottom of your bathtub.
All of this isn’t to discourage people from accepting and feeling proud about their bodies; I just think we don’t need to see so much of them in certain settings. I can’t see Pluto, but that doesn’t mean I don’t accept that it exists, and that it’s probably super rad.
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