Obviously, the video was created for my female followers to see what body acceptance, neutrality, and liberation can look like, not for men to ogle. It was also accompanied by a caption about how women in our culture are taught that our boobs are so potent and dangerous that we must never let them be seen in their natural state… along with an explanation of why I was breaking the rules.
Over the next 24 hours I got hundreds of comments and DMs from men ranging from so-called compliments like “nice tits,” to bids for attention like “hi I want to be your friend,” and all the way to straight up unsolicited dick pics.
I got slut-shamed, gas-lit, called bitch and whore and other names, and a lot of these guys just told me to shut up and “lighten up.” (Honestly the whole thing sucked, and perfectly highlighted why women don’t feel safe in our natural bodies, although that’s not what I want to talk about today.)
What I want to talk about is boundaries.
I responded to a lot of the men with clear and direct boundaries, saying things like “hi, I’m actually not interested in nor do I welcome comments on my body,” or “I’m not interested in chatting with you.” I thought my boundaries were pretty straight-forward and unemotional.
But do you know what the #1 response from them was?
“Oh, sorry to have offended you.”
I found this interesting. At first I was confused because what part of “I actually don’t welcome comments on my body” made me sound offended??
But then I started thinking about it, and how this kind of comment serves to protect the man from dealing with the consequences of his own actions. By acting like a woman is “offended” he makes her look like she’s being crazy, irrational, or overreacting, which immediately takes the spotlight off of whatever inappropriate thing he just said.
It’s classic gaslighting. It invalidates the woman’s entire experience, including her original boundary, and shifts focus onto her reaction, instead of staying focused on his behavior.
It’s kind of the perfect plan, letting him off the hook while reinforcing the idea that women are overly emotional, irrational nutjobs.
Anyway, I often responded (hella calmly) to clarify that I wasn’t in fact offended at all, I’m just not interested in hearing people’s opinion of my body. Most men went silent after that, and a lot of them actually blocked me– a fact that I find very funny.
But there’s something else afoot here too. This used to happen on tinder constantly.
A man would message me to say something like “hey babe” and I’d respond with “hi, it’s nice to meet you but I prefer not to be called pet names please” and they would get all OH I DIDN’T MEAN TO OFFEND YOU, GEEZE.
Every time, I would think: “but I’m not offended. I’m really not. I’m not mad. I’m not insulted. I don’t think less of them or think they’re bad people. I just don’t like pet names. Why can’t they say “oh ok cool, got it” and then we move on to getting to know each other?”
I started to wonder if maybe this is just a misinterpretation, based on experience with people who did “overreact” or blow up at them about something small.
After all, I’ve definitely been there. In an effort to avoid conflict and keep the peace, I would avoid establishing any kind of boundary with the people around me, until I exploded in a rage of irritability and resentment over basically nothing.
Perhaps you’ve been there too?
If you have then you know how, even as you’re snapping at someone to just put their fucking shoes away for once in their goddamn life, some part of you is like… shit, I’m being so crazy right now.
My friends and I used to call this “crazy girl mode” (because the patriarchy had convinced us that women are irrational and overly emotional) and we would feel guilty and ashamed after it happened.
The thing is though, it’s actually a totally reasonable response to having your boundaries violated over and over until the feelings about that happening all pile up on top of each other and tumble out all at once.
Granted, the person we blow up at often had no idea they were stepping all over our boundaries, because we didn’t express it. Which is where early and frequent boundary-setting comes in! By expressing exactly how we do and don’t want to be treated the first time (and every time after that), we can avoid the build-up of an emotional dam, and also teach the people in our lives that they cannot minimize or invalidate our experience.
Boundaries are pure magic, both for the person expressing them, and for the person receiving them, but they only work if you’re willing to speak up the first time, instead of exploding on the 100th time.
One more thing.
Boundaries are, at their core, about holding other people accountable for how they treat us, instead of holding ourselves accountable for how they treat us.
For a lot of people who were socialized as female, this is a nothing short of a revolutionary act.
In a world of victim-blaming and shaming, where dozens of men told me I shouldn’t post pics or videos of my body if I don’t want to be sexualized, commented on, and sent dick pics, we desperately need to stop holding ourselves accountable for other people’s bad behavior.
If you’ve ever struggled to speak up or set a boundary because you didn’t want to make someone feel bad or guilty, think about it this way: those bad feelings and guilt don’t belong to you.
Those feelings belong to the person who created them (for doing something inappropriate, or that you’re not ok with), but that person is counting on the fact that you’ll hold onto them so they don’t have to.
By speaking up, you’re handing that garbage back to it’s rightful owner and saying:
“hey I’m not gonna hold this for you anymore. I’m not offended, it just doesn’t belong to me.”
First and foremost, it’s wild to me how capitalism is portrayed in US public education as the only viable way to structure an economy, and how challenging capitalism is considered blasphemy. (Like, it literally used to get people thrown in jail.)
Second, this booked helped me understand that what we take for granted as “just the way things are” in terms of financial inequality between men and women is, actually, only the way things are under capitalism.
The short version of this story is that women are financially disadvantaged under capitalism, which makes them reliant on men for financial stability and resources, which then perpetuates sexist and unequal treatment of women by men.
Did you know that a lot of western men complained that “Eastern Bloc women” were too difficult to impress and date, during Eastern Europe’s socialist era last century? Those women had their own money, and therefore required that their chosen male partners had to come to the table with well-developed internal qualities like being interesting, warm, and kind.
It was, apparently, too much work for western men, who were used to showing up only with money and status, and expecting that to be enough.
When women have less access to financial resources and opportunities than men (as is true under capitalism) then it becomes prudent for women to get themselves “sponsored” by a man, either through a socially acceptable contract like marriage, a sugar daddy/baby arrangement, or through a direct exchange like sex work.
Women, having been financially disadvantaged for so long, have historically sought out men with money and material resources, because it was the only way they could acquire those things for themselves.
Which means that historically, western men didn’t have to be interesting or kind to acquire access to a woman’s body or affection; they only needed to offer financial resources or stability.
Capitalism has effectively turned all heterosexual intimacy into a business transaction.
Let’s consider the transactional agreement of a man paying a woman for sex work. It’s a straightforward exchange of financial resources for access to her body and attention, right?
Marriage isn’t all that different.
Back in the day, a man had to prove that he had “made something of himself” and was wealthy enough to support a family in order to gain exclusive access to a woman’s sexuality via marriage. He showed up with the money to support them, and she showed up with a willingness to fuck (and nurture) only him.
Can you see how this transaction might alter the way each person showed up? How a man might feel entitled to his wife’s emotional and sexual care (and she might feel obligated to give it) but he wouldn’t feel obligated to give it back to her, and she wouldn’t feel like she deserved to receive it in return?
I wonder if the ghosts of that mentality can be seen in modern straight relationships, where the majority of men drag their feet about “helping out” with domestic and childcare duties, due to an unconscious an unexamined feeling that those are just… her responsibility? (See: the domestic duty gap.)
Not to mention the effect this mentality might have on the orgasm gap.
If a man pays a woman to have sex with him, would he (or should he) then also concern himself with her pleasure, and make sure she’s having a good time?
Well… do you concern yourself with whether your barista enjoys making your latte? Should you?
Once you’ve paid for your latte, your barista’s pleasure or enjoyment doesn’t really matter, just like most men would agree that having paid a woman for sexual favors, her pleasure or enjoyment in the exchange doesn’t really matter. (Beyond, I imagine, her pretending to “be into it” to make him feel desired.)
Add to that of course, the history in the west of believing that women didn’t enjoy sex and couldn’t have orgasms, which was considered “scientific fact” until the invention of the vibrator in the 1880s.
Capitalism has ensured that access to women’s bodies and sexualities are viewed as commodities to be bought or locked down by men in our culture, and that men are viewed as a walking potential mark, to be treated automatically with smiles and flirtation just in case he has something to offer.
We still see men buying pretty girls drinks at the bar or paying for dates, and women feeling pressure to “put out” when he does, and I’ve spoken with quite a few stay-at-home moms who feel pressure to “earn their keep” with sex and domestic duties.
Since white women still only make 78 on the dollar on average compared to men, this kind of transactional male-female relationship is often the only or best option for many women. (And it’s even more true for black women, who only make 64 cents, and Latina women, who make 56 cents on the dollar on average.)
The idea that men’s value comes from their financial resources and social status is something that makes a lot of men feel stressed out an insecure (I’m told) so it’s not like this is good for men either.
But I think this idea can help explain why soooo many men might feel entitled to the bodies, time, attention, gratitude, and sexual favors from women, once they bestow their resources and status upon them.
I mean, if a man buys a woman dinner on a date, and they go home together, doesn’t it kind of make sense that some old narrative about the transactional nature of the thing would make him feel entitled to sex, even if he doesn’t consciously think that way?
I wonder how much shitty male behavior comes from the implicit and unconscious belief that he showed up and met his end of the bargain, and now it’s her turn?
I have often wondered how otherwise “good guys” can end up hurting women with sexual pushiness and coercion, but I’ve seen it thousands of times. Perhaps this is why— without even realizing it, a man is unconsciously trying to cash in on his investment?
This might explain a lot of sexual harassment and domestic violence, too. Men feel entitled to women’s time and attention, and when they don’t get it, they have a tendency to get angry and violent.
Personally, I am fully committed to the belief that men are not born acting like entitled, violent shitheads. This is learned behavior, socialized into them.
Which makes me wonder about what things might be made possible for gender equality if we let go of the capitalism-is-the-only-way mindset clung to so tightly in the west.
If we’re really committed to fighting the patriarchy, maybe we need to consider another way.
Contains distressing but fictional stories.
Lisa is 5 years old.
Her mom is abusive, screaming obscenities, name-calling and hitting her at home, while being sickeningly sweet to her in public. Her father is absent, but her mother’s boyfriends are equally problematic. Her home is a merry go round of drunks, physical and verbal abuse, and inappropriate behavior.
Lisa starts to create a fantasy, a place she can go in her mind to escape the pain and fear of her daily life. In her fantasy, she has a magical protection shield, a bubble that surrounds her body and keeps her safe, makes people happy to see her and want to be kind to her. Sometimes in her fantasy there is an adult hero, a faceless, nameless adult in a superhero costume, with a warm and gentle voice, who takes her hand and tells her “you’re safe now.”
Lisa wishes she really has a magical protection shield, or a hero friend to help protect her.
As Lisa grows up, her fantasy shifts, but always maintains a place in her mind where she is safe and cared for in a way she never got IRL. She outgrows the adult in a superhero costume, and starts to imagine different things, like becoming famous so everyone has to pay attention to her, or being chosen by a rich guy who is crazy about her.
Sometimes she still imagines the protective bubble around her body, protecting her from people who are angry, people who are cruel, people who are dismissive, people who want to hurt her just because she exists. She clings to the fantasy of this protective shield, even though she knows it’s silly.
It’s her one connection to feeling safe.
As Lisa grows up, some of her “bubble” will remain in the form of intimacy issues, inability to be vulnerable and trust people, a need to push people away to “test” them, a feeling of being unworthy or unlovable, an inability to relax and feel safe, and a need to control things which feel controllable, like her weight, food, exercise, or body.
As an adult, Lisa might be a bit rough around the edges, and come off as cold, bitter, naive, obsessive about food and her body, or self destructive. But all of those traits are just parts of her old protective bubble. She is not a bad person for having them. She’s just a human person, who developed a protective bubble when she desperately needed one.
Can you see this?
Let’s do another one.
Kayla is 5 years old.
Her mom worries about raising a little girl in a cruel world, so she’s quick to give “helpful” criticism, always guiding Kayla to be her “best self,” which includes being pretty and thin and likeable.
Kayla’s mom desperately hopes that Kayla will be able to avoid the challenge she herself went through– the bullying, the lack of confidence, the mistakes with boys. She just wants Kayla to be happy.
Kayla’s dad is her hero. He is strong, quiet, loving, though not very good at expressing his emotions.
Kayla’s parents are good people who are doing their best. Despite that, they have their own “issues” from their own childhood wounds, they’re trying to make ends meet, and theyre struggling, busy, and tired.
Kayla never feels like she gets quite enough love or positive attention from her parents. It feels like her dad doesn’t love her anymore sometimes when he withdraws, and it feels like nothing she does is good enough to make her mom happy.
So Kayla starts paying closer attention, and notices that her parents pay attention and praise her for being self-controlled, pretty, quiet, polite, humble, generous, nice, friendly, happy, and “good.” They get upset or shut down when she is loud, messy, sad or angry, selfish, mean, and “bad.”
Kayla internalizes the idea that love must be earned by hiding parts of yourself from the people who love you, swallows the shame that some parts of her are unlovable, and attempts to be the good girl her parents will love. A bright kid, Kayla starts to criticize herself before her mom can, and reject herself before her dad can.
The idea of good and bad morphs into a type of internalized perfectionism and self-loathing as Kayla grows up.
She feels like she needs to be the best at something in order for it to be good enough, and she learns to constantly pay close attention to how people are reacting to her. Her relationships become transactional: she gives them what they want and expect from her, and in exchange she gets their love and attention.
The shame inside Kayla grows as she realizes that she needs too much and wants too much and has all this “stuff” inside her that people don’t want to see. She hides more and more of herself, and starts to fantasize about finally achieving “perfection,” a state in which all of her shameful parts disappear and are absolved, so that she may finally be worthy of the unlimited love and attention she craves.
Making mistakes or asking for what she wants feels dangerous as she grows up. She can’t bear the pain of their disappointment, and what if they finally decide she’s not worth loving? She stops trying new things because the risk of making mistakes or failing is far too high.
Eventually Kayla becomes obsessed with her own flaws and other representations of her imperfections, ie: her unworthiness and unlovable-ness.
She becomes obsessed with getting rid of or hiding her physical imperfections. She diets and exercises in an attempt to fix her flaws, she buys teeth whiteners and laser hair removal and anti-aging skin care products. She clings to the fantasy of herself once she is perfect: no flaws, no badness, no shame. Perfectly nice, perfectly happy, perfectly beautiful. The perfect daughter. The perfect wife.
She wraps herself in that fantasy when she scrolls instagram and online shops at night, and she wraps herself in it when she wakes up and goes to the gym.
Some part of her might know it’s impossible, but the other part of her thinks “if I just try a little bit harder…”
The fantasy, created to protect her from vulnerability, uncertainty, rejection, criticism, and the pain of having seemingly unmeetable emotional needs, eventually becomes a violent weapon wielded against herself.
Nothing about her is ever good enough, because it’s not perfect. She’s not thin enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, too emotional, too needy, too much.
She feels like a failure, and a bad person. She feels sure that if anyone ever found out about how many flaws she has and who she really is and how many mistakes she’s made, that all connection and love and attention would be snatched away.
As an adult, Kayla comes off as anxious, awkward, self conscious, and judgmental. She gets jealous and angry when other women break the rules she so desperately follows, and uses that jealous and judgment as further proof of her inner badness and unworthiness.
But Kayla is not a bad person. She is simply a human person whose seemingly negative traits (perfectionism, self-criticism, and comparison) were developed to protect her when she needed protecting.
By sharing these two little (fictional) stories, it is my hope that you can see how:
the traits we don’t like in ourselves as adults are almost always the result of needing protection, trying to get our needs met, or needing to regain a sense of control when life felt too out of control.
This includes perfectionism, self criticism, seemingly self-destructive habits, laziness, anxiety, body image issues, food issues, insecurity, comparison and jealousy, and much much more.
Have you ever felt ashamed of some of your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors? Have you ever felt like a bad, broken, or fucked up person?
So have I. So has everyone. And one of the biggest turning points toward self-acceptance in myself and my clients comes with the recognition that actually there is nothing wrong with us, and everything “bad” about us was simply borne out of the need for self-preservation.
Put another way: nothing about you makes you a bad person. Instead, even your “worst” traits and behaviors just mean you’re a human person trying to survive.
Part of my ongoing #AskJessi Q&A series, this video answers the question of:
What to do when you find yourself fixated on wanting too much of ONE thing, whether that’s alone time, junk food, attention, sex, whatever?
Can you trust yourself to try to go get some, or will that just wake up the insatiable dragon inside you? What if you never stop wanting more??
The short answer? You are NOT too needy. This kind of obsessive need for more-more-more of something isn’t you being crazy or dangerous. It’s the predictable result of DEPRIVATION and scarcity, and by treating it with abundance, you will FINALLY be able to experience craving fulfillment and satisfaction.
I’ve been pursuing my queer side lately, and there have been many moments of realization and insight that challenge old beliefs and old conditioning– especially when it comes to sex.
For example, straight sex tends to follow a certain kind of script. I mean great straight sex goes off script, but in general there is a similarly patterned path of kissing, followed by escalating “foreplay” including oral and hand stuff, and typically culminating in penetration and finishing when the man climaxes.
No such script exists in queer sex.
There’s no need for it to, because (among two women) there are endless iterations of pleasure that can be given and received, and there is no “end point” that the whole experience is heading toward.
There is also no hard stop (pun intended) when one partner climaxes, like there is in straight sex. I actually realized even calling an orgasm “finishing” is kinda messed up, because it’s based on the concept that sex is based around men!
But there’s no need for an orgasm to finish anything when a man isn’t involved. If both participants can have multiple orgasms, then one person’s orgasm wouldn’t just be stop along the way in a sex session.
Admittedly, at first I was slightly concerned by this. I mean, without that built-in “ending” boundary, how do you know when to stop? Time constraints? Physical constraints?? What if one person wants to keep playing and the other is overstimulated?
(Don’t worry though, my friends. Like everything else, the answer is that we each get to decide for ourselves and then talk about it with each other.)
Anyway, queer sex is showing me clearly all of the things about straight sex that I’ve always found boring. Unfortunately, a lot of hetero sex is done on autopilot, because there’s kind of this forgone conclusion about where it’s going, and everyone knows the role they’re expected to play. (Thanks, porn.)
But when I think back on a lifetime of being touched by men in ways that weren’t super-pleasurable for me, I remember feeling unable to speak up, uncomfortable slowing things down, and struggling to give instructions.
Plenty of male partners would ask me to tell them what I like and I’d be like… oy that’s a big question. I mean… how much time do you have?
One big reason is that there was a massive “language barrier” between us.
Men seem generally to assume that the answer to “what I like” is a stroke, an act, a position, or a technique. But it’s not. It’s more like a vibe, a feel, an environment, an experience. And that can be really damn difficult to put into words in the moment, especially when he’s just trying to give me a few minutes of “me-time” before we get to the “real sex” part.
There’s too much to explain, like how I’ve been socialized to put his needs first, so by knowing that he wants something different than what I want, it actually scrambles my understanding of what I wanted, and unless the context is just right, trying to answer that question makes me feel confused and anxious.
It’s often just too big of a chasm to cross.
But that’s the thing about queer sex. There is no “language barrier,” and everything just feels easier. Giving instructions doesn’t seem so daunting, and without a script to follow, the space and permission to explore and play is the default.
Of course with men there’s something very peaceful about knowing they’re doing exactly what they want, because they’ve been conditioned to do so. With women I do find myself worrying that they’re doing things they don’t want to do because they too have been conditioned to make someone else happy and struggle with boundaries and self advocacy.
Honestly the whole thing is a fascinating social experiment.
Another shift I find curious is that I don’t know how to define the word “sex” anymore!
With men, I always know which ones I’ve “had sex with,” using the archaic and nonsensical definition of penis-in-vagina penetration. Oral sex doesn’t count as “sex,” only vaginal sex, and vaginal sex is… important.
It’s silly to me, but I still have some lingering resistance to crossing that arbitrary “threshold” with a man unless it’s gonna be really worth it. I suppose this is some kind of ghost of the message that virginity is a gift, and that penetration has a magical transformative ability to “ruin” a woman somehow.
Anyway, if I’m hooking up with a dude and we use hands and mouths and sex toys, even if we both orgasm, I leave the experience thinking we “didn’t have sex.” Sometimes I’m even weirdly really proud of that fact, like, hell yeah, I succeeded at resisting!
(Heteronormative programming teaches us that men are the enemy, and that our job as women is to keep them from getting what they want. Ugh what a dark lesson for so many reasons.)
But in queer sex all we have is hands and mouths and sex toys. So how the hell do I know if or when we’ve “had sex?”
For example, if I hook up with a woman and we play around but don’t orgasm, was that sex? Maybe not! (I really like the idea of orgasm being the defining factor for something to be officially “sex,” because defining sex by pleasure is a huge improvement over defining it by where a penis goes.)
BUT. If that’s the case, then what do we call it when a woman orgasms without genital touch?? Because that’s an actual thing. So… is that still sex?
I love these questions.
We could of course still use “penetration” as the definition, either digitally or with a toy. But then where does that leave oral sex? And why is penetration so significant anyway? Lots of women don’t even enjoy that!
And what about the BDSM community who engage in acts which feel sexual to them but don’t include genital touch, like spanking, whipping, submissive and dominant roleplay, bondage, and sensation play?
I was talking to a friend about this who suggest that maybe it’s all sex from the time we get naked. To which I asked about all the times I’ve had sex with clothes on??
Maybe it starts from the first stirrings of arousal while kissing, then. Which I suppose would mean I’ve been having sex with people on public sidewalks for my entire adult life without realizing it.
This has me cracking up right now.
The truth is that it really doesn’t matter. Why do we even need to know when sex has officially started and ended? What’s the point of having such clearly defined end points?
That said, I’m so into the reshaping of old beliefs and narratives, and the breaking down of patriarchal and heteronormative socialization, so this kind of thought experiment absolutely delights me.
I’m here for it all, and frankly I’m stoked to have this platform to share what I’m learning with you, and to open up the floor for these kinds of fascination conversations.
I suppose I’ve probably written about this before, but even if so, it’s worth exploring again as my understanding of my own privilege has shifted over time.
First of all, let’s get out of the way what it means to have privilege of any kind, and why it matters that people with privilege acknowledge it.
Having thin privilege just means that a person doesn’t face specific obstacles, challenges, marginalization, or oppression as a result of their weight.
Meaning, since I’ve always been relatively thin, nobody has assumed I’m lazy or stupid based on my weight, I’ve never been passed over for a job due to my weight, I’ve never gotten shitty medical care due to my weight, I’ve always been able to find clothes in my size, and I see other people who look more or less like me represented in films and tv, etc.
That’s not to say I haven’t been presumed to be stupid, or been passed over for a job, of course. It’s just that those things didn’t happen as a result of the size of my body, whereas people living in large bodies experience those challenges and more on a regular basis, due exclusively to the size of their body.
This is where a lot of people (especially those with thin privilege) get stuck, and think… well, fat people deserve those things, because being fat is a choice. They can always lose weight if they don’t want to struggle.
These are very normal thoughts, given the anti-fat biased culture we’re all steeped in! I used to have them too, I get it.
As a thin person, the marginalization and oppression of people living in fat bodies was completely invisible to me, and even when I started to get educated on the patterns of injustice happening daily based on the size of a person’s body, I still felt some resistance to calling it “oppression,” because I was still attached to the lie that weight is a choice, and that being thin is better than being fat.
There is so much wrong with that way of thinking, and I don’t have time or space to get into it in under 1500 words.
The short version is that body diversity is real, being thin is not better than being fat, and nobody deserves to be oppressed no matter what they look like.
Some people live in fat bodies because they live unhealthy lives, yes. But others live in fat bodies due to genetics, natural body diversity, sickness or disability, medications, and (this is the biggest one) a lifetime of dieting in an attempt to lose weight.
Yes you read that right. Due to the way dieting decreases the metabolism, dieting is one of the most common causes of long term weight gain.
Thinness doesn’t equal health, and fatness doesn’t equal lack of health. Even if everyone engaged in fantastically healthy habits starting today, some people would still be fat and have large bodies. Being fat is not inherently unhealthy, problematic, or bad, and a person’s body size doesn’t mean anything about their character or moral status.
But to be perfectly frank, even if fatness was automatically unhealthy, and diets worked, it still wouldn’t be ok to treat people in fat bodies as less worthy of autonomy, respect, kindness, happiness, love, or belonging.
Because everyone is worthy of those things, no matter what they look like. Nobody deserves to be bullied, shamed, violated, marginalized, treated badly, or put in danger.
Endless unsolicited advice, food-shaming, and body-shaming by strangers, friends, and family
Less effective medical treatment
Lack of representation in marketing and media, leading to a feeling of not belonging in our society
Encouragement to adopt habits which would be called “eating disorders” in a thin person (restrictive dieting and over-exercising)
Minimal clothes-buying options and representation in mainstream media
Constantly have to overcome biases people have against them, like the idea that they are lazy, stupid, weak-willed, incompetent, untrustworthy, or friendly/nurturing.
The anti-fat bias in our culture is so deeply ingrained that we don’t even notice it. The result is that, while most of us consciously recognize that it’s not ok to shame or endanger people of color, women, disabled people, or transgender people, no such understanding applies to fat people.
Otherwise liberal and compassionate people will explicitly shame, marginalize, and violate the boundaries of people based on the size of their body in a way that would no longer be acceptable for any other physical feature.
Not to mention, it’s nobody else’s business what a person does with their body! Some people smoke cigarettes, some drink too much, some overstress themselves at work, and some eat fast food. None of it is anyone’s business but their own, because we all have complete autonomy over our own bodies.
But also, a person should never have to force themselves to get closer to some false cultural “ideal” in order to be treated with kindness, autonomy, acceptance and respect.
This is why it’s so important to me that I talk about thin privilege– because we live in a world where being thin is praised, celebrated, represented, and held up as the standard for being “worthy” of things like autonomy, love, respect, and belonging.
As a naturally thin (and white, able-bodied, cis-gender, conventionally attractive) person, I have always been praised, celebrated, represented, and taught that I was worthy of things like love, respect, and belonging.
That’s not to say that I always believed I was worthy of those things, of course.
As you probably already know, many thin people still struggle with body image issues, lack of confidence, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia.
(Like I said, privilege doesn’t mean a person will be happy or have an easy life. Anecdotally I’ve even discovered that the closer a person is to the beauty/body “ideal,” the more pressure she feels to fake or achieve her way to perfection.)
But it does mean that even when I hated myself, and compared myself to women who were “more perfect” than me, society didn’t also hate me. Even when I was a nightmare to myself, society was pretty forgiving and supportive, compared to if I had been a fat woman — or, to get really intersectional for a moment — compared to if I had been a fat black woman, or a fat woman with a disability, or a fat black woman with a disability.
By acknowledging my own privilege, I am acknowledging that other people face challenges on a daily basis that they have done nothing to earn, just like how I have done nothing to earn the avoidance of those challenges.
Along with white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and beauty privilege, I have thin privilege.
It’s important to talk about this publicly, because I am a body confidence coach who fights for the rights and equality of people in marginalized bodies, all while living in a thin body.
It can sometimes be misunderstood that my thinness is a part of my message, but it’s not. It just happens to be the body I live in. A big part of my message is that being thin (or hitting any other social-status markers) doesn’t make a person happier, more fulfilled, or more confident– but it can’t be denied that it DOES come with some social advantages.
The truth is that whether I’m eating for pleasure or for health, whether I’m working out or not, I still always have a more or less thin body. This is due to a combination of factors, some of which I was born with, and some of which are the result of my behavior patterns (like the fact that I enjoy being active, and have never dieted) but none of them make me a better, more worthy, more fulfilled, or happier person.
Denying your own privilege is like taking credit for someone else’s work.
It’s like saying: yes, I earned this, and anyone else could be in the exact same situation as me if they tried hard enough.
Denying thin privilege denies the existence of body diversity, continues the myth that diets work, and blames people for their own oppression.
All just to protect our own egos.
Because that’s the thing about privilege, especially thin privilege. We’ve all been encouraged to believe that if we have it, we earned it and are better people. It can feel good to be praised and celebrated, and tempting to let yourself believe that maybe you are smarter and more hard-working and worthy of love than a person in a fat body.
It’s tempting, because it feels good, but it’s a lie. A lie that hurts a lot of people.
If you believe thinness is deserving of celebration, praise, respect, or admiration, then you automatically believe fatness is deserving of shame, disconnection, disrespect, and disgust.
If “fat” isn’t an insult, then “thin” can’t be a compliment. We can’t have it both ways.
So here’s the truth:
I live in a thin body, and that means I automatically have certain privileges that a person living in a fat body doesn’t have. I have not done anything to earn these privileges, just like people in fat bodies have not done anything to be denied them.
By following and participating in the works of racial justice leaders like Rachel Cargle, Layla Saad, and Catrice M Jackson, I’ve been able to identify and challenge many problematic patterns, biases, and behaviors inside myself, all of which reflect the racist conditioning I (like all of us) was brought up in.
From the first seeds planted about “intersectional feminism” years ago, and fueled by Trump’s election, my journey of self-education and self-inquiry about racism and racial justice has led to many conversations, a lot of journaling, and endlessly falling down internet rabbit-holes.
Admittedly though, my process has been extremely slow.
If you’re a white person who has done any of this kind of work on yourself, you already know why: discovering the truth can be very confronting, exhausting, and painful. While it’s nothing compared to actually being racially oppressed, learning about how racism currently functions to keep black and brown people down is extremely destabilizing.
For me, it feels like I was lied to my entire life, and that everything I thought was good and true is actually dangerous and false.
It’s been a bit like having the rug of my reality pulled out from underneath me over and over. Since the foundation of anti-racism work is about unpacking your own shit, I have frequently found myself confronted with some previously unknown truth about racist practices, policies, violence, or biases bother externally in our culturally and internally within myself, and had to move through various stages of processing.
First there is usually anger and defensiveness (because I didn’t mean to be offensive!) and a desire to protect my ego. Then at some point, there is guilt and shame, because it’s genuinely embarrassing to realize that in response to someone else’s suffering I made it about me (again, ugh!) and focused my attention on how their suffering made me feel.
More reading, more discussion, more thinking and processing… and eventually I would land on acceptance, usually paired with an understanding that I was completely wrong and have to start over again, plus a commitment to changing my behavior in some subtle way, and start speaking up when I see that pattern happening in others.
My slow processing of this information and emotion went slowly because I would stop, breathe, consider, and take breaks from it. All while understanding that it is my privilege as a white person to just stop reading when I want to, while people of color are suffering and don’t get to take breaks.
All of this is to say that I have gone at this work slowly, and I have gone at it mostly alone.
Then last week I went to a meetup in Santa Monica called AWARE (an acronym for Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere), and was overwhelmed with gratitude for the fact that anti-racism communities like this exist, that people are coming together to talk through and support each other in their journey, and that I was welcomed with open arms.
I took away two major insights from the meeting.
The first is that I can no longer go at this work alone. That part of my journey has come to a close; from now on if I want to expand my understanding of anti-racism work, and my own role and identity as an anti-racist white person, I need to be doing so in community.
The second is that I have been shying away from sharing my journey with anti-racism publicly, because I have been afraid. Afraid of doing it wrong, afraid of offending, afraid of misstepping. In truth I have already misstepped many times, and the feedback and backlash I felt each time made me want to just buckle down and learn more before I shared again.
The internet feels like a fucking minefield when it comes to talking about this stuff.
I’ve seen white women get cancelled for what I saw as small mistakes, and white people attempt to do the right thing and then get called out for how offensively wrong and hurtful their actions were, and I decided I wouldn’t share until I knew more.
For example, when Glennon Doyle Melton announced that she was hosting a free webinar for white women to come together and be introduced to racial justice 101, she was completely hung out to dry, and it took me hours and hours of reading through angry comments and educational blogs to understand why her actions were problematic.
The whole time I read, I kept thinking jeeze if people of color want us white people to stand up for them, maybe they shouldn’t attack us every time we try. It makes us (me) want to hide under a fucking rock and wait until it’s all over, not get back out there and try again!
For the record, this was the exact experience that helped me really understand the term “white fragility,” because I had discovered it inside myself. I felt attacked and uncomfortable and annoyed. In my mind, I blamed the people who were being oppressed for not making it easier for me to help them.
Upon identifying this new level of internalized oppression inside myself, I felt ashamed and guilty and embarrassed. I wanted to share what I had learned, but I couldn’t figure out how. I wrote dozens of half-finished drafts, but then gotten caught up in the fear of doing it wrong and uncertainty of what to say.
It’s so tempting as a creator to only share things we have fully processed, shined up and tied with a bow; to only share the things we have totally figured out and are reading to teach. But if I waited for that when it comes to anti-racism work, I will be waiting forever.
The truth is that I’m in the middle of the process of unlearning my own internalized racism, and I still don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
I know that many people I respect disapprove of my views or insights right now because I haven’t gone “far enough,” and that tons of people who follow me haven’t even started this work and will feel alienated because I’ve gone “too far.”
I know that every book, every conversation, every day I shift a little bit to a different understanding.
I know that I am embarrassed by what I thought one year ago, and that in one year I will likely be embarrassed by what I think today.
Even sharing this now, I have the urge to tie it up in a pretty bow and say “this is what I learned and I get it now.” But the truth is that I’m still in the middle, these moments are still happening, and I’m still learning all the time.
Doing anti-racism work as a white person is complicated, painful, and challenging, but it’s also necessary. There is no “one right way” to do it, and there is no one right way to talk about it.
But I haven’t been talking about it at all.
And I want that to stop.
Because I think it’s important for white people to see other white people going through the process of unpacking and dismantling their own internalized racism, and doing the work of shifting their entire worldview in an effort to reflect newly understood truths.
Even when those truths are confusing.
Even when they’re painful.
Even when they cause discomfort, and shame, and fear.
So here we are.
I’m going to share more of my racial justice and anti-racism journey as a white person.
And I want to start by asking you where you’re at with this topic in your own life. What does this bring up for you? What are your thoughts?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “big” when it comes to body image.
Similar to “fat” and “huge,” many of my clients use the word “big” to describe what they hate about their bodies. Big is often the ultimate insult, the height of self-criticism, the worst “feeling” they can imagine, while “small” is often a way of describing how they feel when they feel their best.
Why, though? Why does something like a person’s relative body size lead to such strong positive or negative feelings at all? Is this purely fatphobic diet culture at work, or is there more to it?
To explore the topic, I brought it to the table for discussion. First with the women in my group coaching program Authentic Body Confidence, and then to my followers on Instagram, I asked what “feeling big” was really about for them, and was met with a flood of personal stories, insights, and observations that I’ve been mulling over and want to share with you.
One thing I discovered about how body size affects a person’s experience is that according to one fascinating study, being taller seems to make a person feel more confident and calm, while being shorter inherently makes a person feel more anxious, self-conscious, and paranoid.
This kinda makes sense, right? Being shorter might make us more vulnerable to being overpowered, and therefore lead to feeling unsafe. I can’t help but wonder how much female height (typically being shorter than the men around them) might contribute to our self-consciousness, anxiety, and insecurity.
It’s interesting to note here that while a few tall women resonated with feeling more confident and self-assured than their shorter female friends, for other women, being tall just made them feel self-conscious for sticking out.
Which brings me to how “big” is a relative term.
A person can only be big compared to something, or someone. For example, a big dinosaur is only big when compared to other dinosaurs, right? When compared to planets, even the biggest dinosaur is tiny. And when compared to insects, even a tiny dinosaur is gigantic.
So what are women comparing themselves to when they feel “too big”? Big compared to whom? Too big for what?
The answer seemed to be unique for everyone. Some people compared against their own bodies in high school or college or during some other specific time in their lives. Others compared against a sister, mother, childhood friend or rival, or the vague size zero “ideal body” portrayed in the media.
For others it was just a general sense that if they could only get or keep a smaller body than this one, something wonderful and magical would happen: they would be transformed into a blissfully happy, gloriously fulfilled version of themselves and all their problems would disappear.
Some people told me haunting stories about how they lost weight (due to sickness, diet, growth spurt, or otherwise) and started getting tons of positive attention and praise from well-meaning congratulators, which made them feel like the way they looked before must have been secretly unacceptable, bad, or gross.
This is one of the reasons I am dead-set against complimenting weight loss, by the way. These individuals felt not only like they needed to maintain their smaller body (if not keep making it smaller), but also felt ashamed and paranoid that they had previously been unaware of their own badness or wrongness.
Several women were insightful enough to recognize that feeling too big physically was something else entirely though— a kind of stand-in for feeling too big emotionally, mentally, and energetically.
Taking up space as a woman is a rebellious act.
We’re often shamed for being too pushy, too loud, too opinionated, too shrill, too sensitive, too hysterical, too emotional, or too needy, just for being ourselves. We’re shamed for having too much desire, wanting too much attention, making too much money, or (god forbid) having too much sex.
Despite how far we’ve come toward gender equality, women still feel the pushback when they advocate for their needs or wants instead of centering someone else, and playing a supporting role. When women take up an equal amount of intellectual or emotional space as men, it’s often seen as taking up too much space, whether in the workplace, bedroom, academia, high level leadership positions, heterosexual relationships, or even when it comes to speaking roles in tv/movies.
Women feel pressure to defer to others, play a supporting role, and put ourselves last so strongly that most women I talk to often feel like having needs, opinions, boundaries, desires, and even basic self-care is too selfish.
For a lot of women the feeling of “bigness” is actually a representation of feeling like they take up too much emotional/energetic/intellectual space, in a world which resents them for it.
One woman told me that because her body is fat, she feels like she has to make up for it by being extremely nice, deferential, supportive, and never burdening anyone with her own stories, preferences, or limitations. As if the contract she made with everyone around her is “they’re letting me exist in a fat body, so I owe it to them to be as small as possible in every other way.”
Personally I had the inverse experience growing up, feeling like since my personality was so demanding and “difficult” (a message that has been ingrained deeply into me from childhood) I owed it to the people around me to make my body as thin, desirable, and perfect as possible. The contract I felt I had made with everyone was “their reward for dealing with me is that I’ll be pleasing to look at.”
In a totally different direction, I heard many associations with “bigness” tracing back to childhood, when a person discovered they were “too big” to be picked up or carried by their parents anymore.
This angle was an interesting one, because we rarely think about the nourishing intimacy of being held and carried as a child, but it’s undeniable that when we outgrow that, there is a real loss: one that may not be acknowledged by parents. Often the parents might not realize how a sensitive child would feel to hear something like “you’re getting too big to carry, it hurts mommy’s back!”
Quite a few parents wrote in to share stories of the heartbreak and rejection their children seemed to feel when they were told they were too big to carry, a fact which seemed to especially affect girl children.
I wonder how much of that is the result of how boy children are already socialized by that age to know that they must hide their feelings of heartbreak or rejection. Or perhaps it’s because boys are incentivized to get big and strong, praised for it, and aware there is a benefit to getting bigger. They may feel a loss of being held, but I imagine that’s balanced with pride and excitement.
Meanwhile girls might feel the loss of intimacy and touch that comes from being carried, while also becoming aware that their size is a burden on their parents, and having absolutely no incentive or positive association to getting bigger.
Even at a young age, children know that girls and women are not praised or celebrated for being big the same way boys and men are, and so getting big comes with no great new source of pride or confidence. Instead, for many girls, it seems to just represent loss– a loss made even more painful in some cases by the fact that around the age that little girls get too big to be carried, they also tend to receive significantly less touch from their fathers, who either feel uncomfortable with physical affection in general, or start to see their daughters as “too old” for cuddles and hugs and kisses and other affectionate comforts.
Let’s not forget of course the fact that getting bigger for girls is often synonymous with the onset of scary and unsettling sexual objectification and harassment, if not outright sexual abuse or violence. One woman wrote me to say that she developed her eating disorder around the age that her body started to develop, in a determined (and intuitive) effort to avoid getting curves or becoming a “woman,” because she knew too well that becoming a woman meant being subjected to constant danger.
Add to all this the obvious fact that the beauty/body ideals for women in our culture revolve around being very thin, and the fact that body shape and size are believed in our culture to broadcast truisms about the person underneath.
We often look to our bodies to be the walking proof of certain desirable internal qualities we want to broadcast, and feel shame when our bodies broadcast the wrong message.
The idea that any woman can be “thin and acceptable” if they try hard enough is underneath a lot of shame about being “too big” for many. Thinness is often seen as the visual reward for (and display of) a woman’s hard work, discipline, self-control, and self-denial: character traits which are celebrated in all genders, but are especially cherished in women, who are praised for denying their own needs in favor of serving others.
Given the explicit fat and thin biases in our culture, being small and thin can feel like wearing a billboard that you are a good person, a good woman, the “right kind” of woman, a woman worthy of love and belonging.
If thinness and smallness are seen as good, strong, and impressive, then fatness and bigness are seen as the exact opposite: bad, wrong, weak, and embarrassing.
In such a case, a woman may catch sight of her body in the mirror or in a photo, and feel disgusted by how “big” she looks, with the bigness functioning as a stand-in for the self-criticisms she has about her personality, character, or inner self.
I say it all the time, but body image isn’t just about the body. This body image subtopic is a big one (pun intended) and I could keep going and going. There’s so much to unpack and explore about feelings related to body size!
But for now I simply want to challenge you to consider this topic for yourself.
Do you like to “feel” big or small? What makes you feel that way, and why? What context or comparison do you use to determine your own bigness or smallness? If one of these is negative, why? If one of these is positive, why? What does that feeling feel like for you, and what’s underneath it? Do you like your partner to be bigger or smaller than you, and why?