Dear Men Who Comment On Women’s Weight:
Every time you make a snotty, snide, deprecatory, or disparaging comment about a woman’s weight, you implicitly endorse an unreasonable and unattainable societal standard for beauty that women are subjected to from the cradle onward. You contribute in a direct chain of causality to a culture of death that values women for the size of their jeans rather than the content of their character. You indulge in exactly the kind of time-honored platinum dickishness that has f-cked with the heads and hearts of countless women irrevocably. Enough’s enough. It doesn’t matter if weight-related assessments of women are meant in jest; lest we forget, C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters points out that the most pernicious and insidious sort of cruelty is cruelty that masquerades as humor. After all, a lie can be disseminated so much more easily when it has a punch line.
There is absolutely no excuse for ignorance, apathy, insensitivity, and callousness about women who struggle with body image; eating disorders are an issue that affects us all. Eating disorders are not some fringe sociocultural issue, and its victims are not some barely on-the-map eccentric subset of the general run of humanity. I’ve been battling one myself for over a decade now, and I am far, far from alone. I stand shoulder to shoulder with ten million other women in this country who are also struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and/or binge eating disorder. Ten million women — and more than one in four between the ages of 18 and 30 — are suffering from a debilitating mental illness that consumes their lives and causes them untold daily psychological and physical anguish which you will never understand. And for one in ten of these women, the disease will claim them at a prematurely young age. If that’s not sobering, think of it this way: statistically speaking, in your lifetime, at least one woman you know and love will die of eating-disorder related complications. So if you wouldn’t crack bald jokes around a chemo patient or cripple jokes around a paraplegic, then you damn well better think twice before cracking fat jokes around women who are literally dying precisely because they’ve been told their whole lives that their human worth is derived from their physical appearance.
You know, I didn’t spontaneously wake up sick one morning. A lifelong destructive complex was triggered by — what else? — a boy taunting me about my weight at age 16. I went home, sobbed my little half-grown-up post-adolescent heart out, and resolved that never again would I give any boy the opportunity to condemn or dismiss me in that way. I would be skinny — or die trying. I succeeded at the former; I very nearly succeeded at the latter. I embarked with Captain-Ahab monomaniacal fervor on a quest to conform to my culture’s standard of “beautiful” — a quest that has haunted me, destroyed me, nearly killed me, a quest that landed me in the hospital over and over again with life-threatening dehydration, hypokalemia, and multiple kidney and heart failure scares. I can recall a host of times when some off-hand, idiotic, cruel remark by a guy — even if not directed at me — triggered a major relapse, or a major depressive episode, or at the very least, major psychological pain. Because your comments like that merely reinforce our conception of ourselves as sex objects on display to be ogled — our definition of ourselves as aesthetically appealing pleasure-vehicles whose chief purpose is functional.
But guess who wrote that definition?
It wasn’t us.
I’m not abdicating personal responsibility. Certainly, we women must take it upon ourselves to turn a deaf ear to the siren song of a sterile and superficial culture. And if men will persist in objectifying and denigrating us, we are ultimately tasked to ignore you as best we can or, when possible, to re-educate you. But at the end of the day, you could make being a woman in a world where womanhood is scorned a hell of a lot easier on all of us by personally committing to a radical new methodology: refusing to make negative comments about a woman’s appearance. Ever. Under any circumstances whatsoever. Balls to the wall, boys. Alleviating human suffering and bringing hope to the lost is not merely at your option. Loving people — loving them with every ounce of strength you’ve got, alleviating their suffering rather than exacerbating it, treating them with empathy and dignity and sensitivity and charity — is your obligation as members of the human race, a vocation you have no right to reject. When you’re an asshole, the echoes of your assholishness — and the lives destroyed in its wake — may be farther-reaching than you could ever imagine.
If you take nothing else away from this letter, take away these precepts:
Real men don’t feel the need to put others down to advance their own self-interest.
Real men don’t hurt others, even in good fun.
Real men don’t mistake caddishness for humor.
Real men appreciate real beauty that proceeds from the heart, demanding nothing more and settling for nothing less.
Real men take seriously their call to protect, preserve, and defend women.
Real men think before they speak.
It’s a hard line, but somebody’s got to hold it. Why not you?
Women everywhere will thank you.