A funny thing happened in the comments section of my previous essay, “Will the ‘Real Women’ Please Stand Up.” What I thought would be an uplifting piece that would cause some women to think about how we label ourselves and how those labels can sometimes divide us, turned into a veritable war of words.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, however. Any issue that we are passionate about or can relate to has the potential to strike a nerve. Apparently, many of you could relate to feeling excluded from the clichéd “real women” definitions floating around. Although I mentioned some overused phrases like, “Real women don’t need to depend on anyone,” and, “Real women know how to treat a man,” there was one that caused the most controversy.
Body image, and how we view ourselves (and are told to view ourselves by the media) is a very touchy subject. No matter what size we are, we often times receive messages stating that how we look is not good enough. Whether it’s an ad campaign that features super-skinny models living the “good” life, or a film that claims, “Real Women Have Curves,” we are all sometimes left on the outside of what’s en vogue.
We could devote article upon article to this subject, and engage in endless conversations discussing why these things are so, but we would still not capture the breadth of the debate, so I knew that many would be able to relate. However, I wasn’t prepared for the blame game and expressions of victimhood that poured from some of the comments.
Instead of agreeing that no one type of woman has cornered the market on being a “real woman,” the conversation quickly devolved into a who-has-it-worse, skinny vs. fat women debate.
The emotions ran high on both sides. Many sisters, like Aisha Soleil, respectfully shared their experiences of being petite women who are viewed as “less than” because of their small size, while others shared how they’ve been ridiculed because they were plus-size.
I can sympathize with both sides of the argument, because, like everyone else, I don’t always fit into the limiting definitions of femininity. The gray areas, where our experiences either echo or differ from one other, are prime territory for emotionally honest conversations about what makes us unique as women. It is there—in the middle of the not-so-easy parts—that I always aim to reach as a writer because I love the discussion and varied perspectives we hold.
However, there is one thing that halts any open discussion almost as fast as calling someone out of their name: victimhood competition.
As an example, the discussion between two readers (Emelyne and Carol N.) began innocently enough. Both sisters started by sharing their experiences, recounting how they’ve been treated based on their body types—but inevitably the conversation turned somewhat personal.
Emelyne expressed her frustration of being “hated on” by those who dared to try to discount her womaness simply because of her size: “[Just] because thin women do not have it as rough as fat [ones] is no reason to say that they are not real when that statement in itself makes no sense whatsoever (I exist, therefore I’m real).” She continued, “Also, it’s usually the fault of that fat woman and no one [else’s] that she’s fat. Body fat is one of the few things that a person has within their control so I don’t see why fat women should get a free pass in the dating and social world, as well as a right to try to put down thin women simply because they are (in general) gluttons with a complete lack of self control. . . . Most fat chicks with a man are simply lucky enough to have caught one with a fat fetish or unfortunately, one who wants someone to bone and has slim pickings for slim women (since thin women are now a dying breed in the U.S.).”
Carol N. countered that Emelyne’s statements were a result of her “thin privilege” and pushed back against her contention that plus-size women are only acceptable and attractive because of some sort of fat fetish. “@Emelyne: Really? Your thin privilege is showing. This is why Fat Acceptance is needed. Because fat people are forced to endure bullish like you purport. Fat women are not disposable. Fat women are not to be treated like they are expendable because of their weight. They deserve respect, love and adoration as much as anyone else. Also, [your] BS comment about “fetishes” is telling. It’s funny how we can say it’s a “fetish” when a man chooses a fat woman over a skinny woman, but not a fetish for a skinny woman to get chosen over a fat woman. Shows how much we worship skinny.”
To be fair to both women, many others expressed similar sentiments, but I felt their exchange (which is much to long to post in its entirety) was both extremely interesting and very emblematic of individuals trying to outdo each other in terms of whose pain is the greatest.
Although I believe these sisters both have a right to share their opinions, and both have viable points to contribute, this compulsion to out-victim each other is neither helpful or productive.
When we turn our experiences and pain into a competition, everyone loses.
As I read the comments (which sometimes vexed me to no end), I kept coming back to this idea of a victimhood competition. Although many comments were very positive and emotionally honest, I couldn’t shake some readers need to discount others’ experiences simply because they felt that their pain was greater. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on the “my-pain-is-greater-than-yours” meme.
One reader (lei) summed up my thoughts perfectly: “’There is no suffering scale and nobody has the right to insist the pain of their experiences hurt more than another’s (i.e. a fat person’s painful experiences hurt more and cut deeper than those of a skinny individual!!)’ I believe this is the underlying point. No one can tell another one that their plight is less then the others.”
We live in a competitive society, and because of this we oftentimes can find ourselves trying to outdo our neighbor—be it for a job, a mate, or for the latest fashions; however, we cannot minimize the experiences of others simply to illustrate our own pain. Let’s face it; we’ve all had it hard. So arguing about who has had it worse is not only a waste of our time, but it can also create even more barriers—which we claim we are sick of dealing with.
Why do you think some of us still try to out-victim each other? Sound off!