A few weeks ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram – as you do – when this photo of the gorgeous Freddie Harrel caught my eye on the Tu Clothing page:
I probably should have known better than to click onto the comments section, but, for some reason, I did, and here’s what I found:
And on, and on, and on it went. There have been some more positive comments added since then – mostly, I think, because I posted this screenshot on my Instagram Stories, to call out the body shaming – but, when I first came across this image, every single comment on it (With the exception of the first woman, who was simply drawing her friend’s attention to the outfit…) was in the same kind of vein: an absolutely breathtaking example of women ganging up to bully and shame another human being, just because of the shape of her body.
“Yuck!!!” says one woman, who was so shocked at the sight of the clearly “malnourished” Freddie Harrel that she needed, not one, but three exclamation points, to fully express her outrage.
“And we wonder how people have body issues!” gasps another, in a comment so totally mindless that at first I thought it must be some clever kind of parody. Because, I mean, I dunno, Sandra, but I think it might be YOU? Like, YOU are the reason people have body image issues? You, and all of the other women who commented on this photo to express their absolute outrage at this woman’s body shape? Maybe? Just a bit? Because, you can’t seriously think this woman – who, lest we forget, is an actual human being, with real feelings, who was tagged in the photo, and who would therefore have had a very good chance of looking at it, and reading the comments – would actually LIKE hearing that she’s so disgusting she shouldn’t be allowed to wear a bikini, can you? Or seeing people use the word, “YUCK” to describe her appearance?
Now, I obviously can’t speak for Freddie Harrel, who I sincerely hope just rolled her eyes, flipped her fabulous hair, and continued on her way, if and when she read those comments. I think, however, that I can probably speak for most of the rest of us in saying that no one wants to be spoken about like this – and, sorry, Sheila, but your tone of faux-concern (“Why, I’m just worried about the poor, malnourished, thing!”) isn’t fooling anyone here, so don’t think you can wangle out of it that easily.
The thing that troubles me most about this kind of thing, however, is that, when people aren’t trying to justify it by claiming to worried about the model’s health, they’ll try to tell you they do it out of concern for those who might see and be influenced by her. In a comment further down the page, for instance, one woman scolded the Tu marketing department for setting a bad example to young girls by posting this photo. Because, I mean, heaven forbid young girls see an example of a happy, confident woman, who is clearly comfortable with her body, huh? No, far better to teach them shame at an early age, and to make sure they truly understand that, no matter what they look like, there’ll be a bunch of women just waiting to tear them down and make sure they feel appropriately awful about themselves. What a wonderful example the comments section on this very photo is setting, isn’t it? Anorexia, let’s not forget, is a serious mental health issue, which is trivialised by the casual way people like to diagnose women in the public eye with it, and then body shame them for it, and you’d have to be very hard of thinking indeed to truly believe that bitchily criticising other women’s bodies is in some way going to help people feel better about themselves, and thus avoid it.
The fact is, though, you don’t develop body image issues by realising there are people in the world who look different to you, and you don’t overcome body image issues by trying to insist that everyone should look the same. And if you do, well, honestly, you need to understand that that’s your issue, not theirs. You can’t insist that thin people should be hidden from society’s view, or shouldn’t model swimwear, just in case the sight of them makes you feel bad about yourself, just as you wouldn’t try to say that curvy women should hide themselves away, either.
Time and time again, though, I see this happening: and while I totally agree that brands should be doing more – much, much more – to represent women of ALL sizes, I can’t help feeling it’s a shame that the people who put pressure on brands to do exactly that have a tendency to do it by putting down one body shape in order to promote another. I’m sure you’ve all seen that ludicrous Facebook meme which pits Marilyn Monroe against a runway model, with the caption: “THIS (Monroe) is better than THIS”. So, not even bothering with the concern-trolling in this case, just outright stating that one body type is “better” than another, no bones about it. Er, no pun intended.
Marilyn Monroe, though, people. Marilyn. Freaking. Monroe. A woman whose shape was – for many of us – equally unrealistic to that of the runway model. Honestly, it wouldn’t matter what I ate, or what kind of exercise I did, I couldn’t ever hope to look like Marilyn – or not without surgery, anyway – because she was a classic hourglass, and I’m … well, I’m very much not. And yet, hers is the figure I’m repeatedly told I must aspire to, because IT is the figure of a “real” woman. Which brings me neatly to another photo posted on the Tu Clothing Instagram account: this one, featuring the stunning Louise O’Reilly, a.ka. @StyleMeCurvy:
Now, I don’t doubt that Louise has had her share of vile comments about her body, too, but here’s a small sample of the ones posted on this particular image:
The first comment I totally agree with: it IS nice to see curvy women represented, and she is beautiful. So far, so good, But then … “”thanks for showing what real ladies look like”? “A ‘normal sized‘ model”? A “woman with shape”? I mean, as opposed to WHAT, exactly? Pretend ladies? ABnormal sized models? Women WITHOUT shapes? Because that’s what seems to be implied here, and you can see why brands like Tu end up getting just a little bit confused, can’t you? Because, on one photo, they have people applauding them for their apparent commitment to diversity, and telling them (Rightly, I think) that there’s “a place for all,” in fashion/on Insta, but then, as soon as they take that to heart and think, “OK, cool, people want to see a variety of different shapes, and we’ve just shown them a curvy model, so now we’ll show a thin one,” they instantly get this chorus of outrage, saying, “Actually, Tu, when we said we wanted to see a variety of shapes, we really meant, “Just the curvy ones, tbh, because they’re the only ones we consider ‘real’.”
And not only do people SAY this, they really seem to THINK it, too. Because, if you don’t see Freddie Harrel as being a “real” person, well, you can say anything you like about her, can’t you? You can even use the word, “YUCK!” to emphasise your disgust at the sight of her, or demand that her image not be shown in public, because what does it matter? She isn’t a “real” woman, so she probably doesn’t have “real” feelings either, does she?
She is, though, and she does. Because thin women ARE “real” women. So are curvy women, mid-sized women, and everyone else who identifies as a woman.
We are ALL “real” women.
This seems to be to be one of those truths that is so self-evident, it shouldn’t even need to be said. If the kind of comments I keep seeing on social media are anything to go by, though (And I’ll just quickly add here that, while I’ve used the comments on thin women as my example, I’m very aware that curvy women are also subject to this kind of abuse, and that it’s often much, much worse: as I said, it really doesn’t matter WHAT shape you are, someone, somewhere, is going to want to shame you for it…), it most definitely does. Isn’t that sad?
In closing this post, I just want to say that I really hope the comments on it don’t degenerate into opinions on which woman looks best/is the most healthy, because that really isn’t the point. For myself, I think they’re both beautiful, but honestly, what I think, or what you think, really doesn’t matter: because they’re both “real” women, who deserve to be spoken about with respect. I know the people who comment on my blog will be able to do that: so why can’t the same be said of the internet/society in general?