The Space Between…

Jennifer Hawkins, a white woman, poses nude with her arms purposefully placed, on the cover of Marie Claire magazine.This post originally posted at random babble… on 06 January 2010

The policing of other women’s bodies is never OK from a feminist standpoint. I can’t stress that point enough. It doesn’t serve any productive purpose in feminist discourse.

It is mostly an understood concept among people outside of the mainstream of feminism. Those who are able to work their theory around the concepts of white, straight, cis, upper-middle class, educated, able-bodied privilege.

Yet, a concept that still slips into the space between understanding is the difference between criticizing someone who comes from a place of thin privilege and tearing someone down for a body that is not like your own.

This article at Bitch, to me, was the latter.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago that I was a size 0. And yet, looking at myself now it feels so far away. That is something I am coming to grips with even today. But my mind remembers it all so well. How can nothing be something? And even at nothing I felt all my flaws. I covered in my towel so I didn’t have to glimpse myself in the mirror and be disgusted by what I saw. I still do that now! I refused to own a scale, afraid of what I would see (I still do that now!)…because it would send me into fits of fear and rage and crying…because no matter how much I threw up and refused to eat I could not weigh what all the charts said someone of my height and weight should…and my thighs jiggled and my belly bulged and my arms — while muscular from kitchen work — wiggled. Even though I was actually nothing. My clothing size was nothing.1

Jennifer Hawkins has thin privilege. Yes. She most certainly does. But when I was struggling I had two kinds of people to look at in magazines and on television: overly photoshopped women who were too perfect, and purposefully imperfect women meant to make me hate myself so that I would work to not be like them. There was no campaign of women of any size coming out to say “we are imperfect, but here we are“.

I will grant this: The Bitch piece does criticize the way that Jennifer Hawkins’ flaws have been the main focus of her nude cover. That is not the conversation that this cover should be invoking in feminist circles. But if she is talking about how hard this was for her, that is not something we should be criticizing. Dismissing her hesitancy, her own insecurities just because she is thin and has a different body type than someone else… that is not feminist either. When has it ever been OK for us to dismiss another woman’s experiences?

Why can’t we, as feminists, understand that?

She no longer has the protection of her Photoshop Deflector Shields, so she is in a vulnerable place, but her thin privilege doesn’t put her in the same place as all the fatties of the world who are crying in clothing stores because shirts are not made for their bodies. I get that. I think Kelsey Wallace at Bitch, for whom I just did a mostly lovely guest blogging stint w/ some of the FWD/Forward team, even gets that despite what I am garnering from her post.

Jennifer Hawkins is not the same as me. She does not know what it is like to walk into a doctor’s office and have hir assume that the pain or illness is caused by my weight before they know anything about me. She does not know the pain of the stares when I have trouble walking somewhere, as if it is definitely because I am a fattie. Or how clothes are made for people like her and not for me…or how society is made to make me feel like I am a big worthless pile of shit whose only chance at redemption is to adopt a “Lifestyle Change” for just sixty bucks a month or whatever.

But while we are throwing stones at Hawkins and scolding her for making us all feel like crap, let’s remember that she is entitled to feel like crap too. And other women who look like her, who aren’t models, who might feel like crap about themselves, they are allowed to feel that way too if they want too. Because some of them might be trying to recover or hold on or what the fuck ever. Maybe they are healthy, and have been told to Eat a Sandwich2, as if it funny or hip, but they can’t gain weight or can’t eat that much for whatever reason.

Or, maybe we, women of any size, are allowed to love our bodies and just be fucking happy, no matter what, and these women on these covers should show us that at any size we can all be beautiful (and maybe we will see more variance soon…but I am a silly, idealistic girl3).

We can criticize thin privilege without policing other women’s bodies.

Just sayin’…

  1. Why are women’s sizes arbitrary numbers? Why can’t they be waist measurements? That would be more consistent?
  2. Yes. I linked to them. I want people to see how awful that thread is, and how flippantly and dismissively that is defended, even when it is pointed out to the mod to be harmful. As in, she doesn’t care that some people find it harmful.
  3. I can’t back this up. I am not.


  1. What this reminds me of is when the media was all a tizzy about how high school girls were quick to forgive Chris Brown and wonder what Rihanna’s culpability was because “How could girls think that?” As if girls are socialized on some other planet from boys.

    Even very thin women are socialized in the same culture as fat women. I’ve been both, and even at my thinnest I still thought I was repulsively huge. I believe this woman thinks what she says she thinks.

    The editors of Marie Claire, on the other hand, do strike me as cynical, to take a body that’s impossible for 99% of all women and say: “See, look at all the hiiiiideous flaws!” I wouldn’t mind it if this were one among many images, but to have Jennifer Hawkins as the spokesmodel for the flawed figure? No. Just… no.
    .-= Gnatalby´s last blog ..Guidos, Guidettes, and a tub o’ hair gel =-.

  2. Thank you for this. Our society is good at making all women feel bad about their bodies, regardless of size. And while I would never deny that thin people have it easier than larger people, it can be really difficult to talk about your own body issues when you’re on the smaller end of the scale for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Especially when you are having issues related to your low weight. In a world where women often bond through sharing their weight loss trials, there’s rarely a time when you can feel safe talking about how you really need to gain five pounds.

    (And on note 1, I’ve seen waist measurements vary to a ridiculous degree too. In the same store. WTF?)

  3. I don’t really have anything meaningful to add, just a lot of SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY! SERIOUSLY.

    BUT! The EU agrees with you :D! I don’t know how likely it is to catch on but my bff is fairly convinced it will eventually, and she’s the fashion nerd.

  4. aargh that “eat a sandwich” thread (and song) is unbearable! I can’t stop reading it, unfortunately. I like how they keep telling you (or the person I assume is you) that 14-year-olds couldn’t possibly understand all the “theory” in your comments–i.e. that “eat a sandwich” is a cruel, unhelpful thing to say. I like how if someone doesn’t agree with something/think it’s important, then it becomes “theory.”

  5. I have nothing to add. Awesome post.

  6. Why are women’s sizes arbitrary numbers? Why can’t they be waist measurements?

    YES! Men can just run into the store, grab a 32 x 32 (or whatever) pair of pants, and be done with it. I hate shopping because I hate having to try on outfit after outfit, only to discover that it’s too big/small/whatever, before I can even get to the point where I analyze if it’s a flattering cut or comfortable fabric. Plus, I can shop for my boyfriend without him being there, but he couldn’t even begin to hope to find me anything that would fit. Now what if I were unable to shop for myself, and required someone else to do it for me? The current system simply isn’t accommodating at all.

  7. I totally agree with you. I’m coming at it from a somewhat different position – that of someone who lost a significant amount of weight for disability related reasons. I always thought that my life would be so much better if I lost weight, that I would be more confidant, more attractive, etc. And now that I am a thinner, I realize that it’s bullshit. There are definite advantages, and some thin privilege stuff has become ever more obvious to me, but I still hate my body, and I still live in a world that encourages me to hate my body (and reinforces that I will never be thin enough, tall enough, or WASP-y enough to meet the standard of beauty). Oh, and that everyone is just THRILLED that I lost that weight, and they don’t really care how or why.

    As for clothing: waist measurements might be an improvement if they were actually standardized, but I think that would be hard to do since there is such a variety of cuts (low rise, skinny, relaxed fit, etc), fabrics, etc. I own jeans ranging from 27-30″ waists, and they all sort of fit (the waistband on the “biggest” pair is actually uncomfortably tight). I knit and I sew a little bit, and clothing sizing/fit is a really difficult thing, not only because people’s bodies come in such diverse shapes, sizes, and proportions, but because we all have different preferences and comfort levels in terms of fit. I think that one of the reasons that (some) men have an easier time buying clothes, is that men’s clothing tends to be baggier than women’s clothing, so having a precise fit isn’t as important. I’m thinking specifically of things like jeans – the difference between the fairly relaxed fit of regular men’s jeans, and women’s skinny jeans, for example.

  8. “[L]et’s remember that she is entitled to feel like crap too.”

    Egad, yes. When I first started reading Fat Acceptance sites, I was blown away by the concept that it’s okay to be fat. That I am ‘allowed’ to be fat, as silly as that phrasing is, and still be a real person.

    Then I started reading more intersectional blogs and was *utterly* blown away by the notion that it’s okay to not be perfectly abled. I am ‘allowed’ to have disabilities and still deserve to live and be part of humanity.

    And yes, it’s okay to feel like crap. I am ‘allowed’ to feel like crap. And it’s not any of your business if I do, Mr. or Ms. Relative Stranger, nor is it your right to police my feelings or criticize me for feeling like crap.

    (I was just recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and autistic spectrum disorder. I fell apart at first, but it was concepts like the above — and places like this blog — that helped me decide that these diagnoses do not make me a lesser person. So .. thank you.)

  9. WOW, that feministing link was shocking (I know, I know, I shouldn’t be shocked). Each time they shock me, I swear I am just gobsmacked at their blatant disregard of everything I call and most others call feminism. Seriously.

    But, great post. I think this is something really important that woman of all sizes need to embrace and talk more openly about. Thanks for writing it!

  10. I don’t have much to add here, but I just wanted to say that the “Eat a Sandwich” thing at Fauxministing is why I abandoned the site. The blatant disregard of those who are unable to eat, naturally thin, or have a medical condition(eating disorders included) was the last straw for me. And shock me, shock me, nobody replied when I e-mailed with complaints.

  11. I think the Marie Claire piece is ridiculous. I had to look at this woman’s photo for at least a minute to identify the so-called flaw. I’m also very annoyed that “flaw” is used over and over. How is it a flaw to have a crease in your belly when you’re sitting down? To not have literally glowing skin? To have teeth that are not chiclet-like in their uniformity? Who/what is this mythical perfect bodied creature that all these magazines are referencing? They will never tell you. This is one reason why I stopped buying and reading those magazines. All they do is tap into people’s latent desire to desire, and it is so repetitive and unending because there is no end to desire.

    There are definitely better ways to size clothing for women (such as listing measurements), but I do believe women will always have a harder time shopping for prefab clothing than men simply because women are more genetically diverse than men. Still, listing measurements would go a long way to help people ordering clothing online, and would also remove some of the value judgment (are you a size 6? 20?). I hope sewing makes a comeback as a hobby and skill. When I was a kid, almost every grown woman I knew could sew (and we were low income women of color living in urban areas). Now I can count on one hand the number of friends my age who can sew. I never had any consciousness about what “size” I was – all I knew was that I was made up of different sizes that fluctuated over time.