Our New National Motto: Shut Up Unless You’re Skinny

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune.

Another day, another celebrity fat-shaming.

Even the phrase is becoming problematic, given the fact that the celebrities in question are rarely fat. (Or ashamed, thankfully.)

Pink is the latest target. The 35-year-old pop singer attended a weekend honoring people who are fighting to eradicate cancer, and a bunch of non-fans jumped all over her about her weight.

Before we go any further, take a minute to watch Pink go all Cirque du Soleil at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Fat has no place in a conversation about this powerhouse.

But there it is, one of a handful of stupid accusations that get tossed at women who make waves: fat, ugly, fat, lonely, fat.
Pink was apparently undaunted by the jabs, responding on Twitter that she’s just fine the way she is, thank you very much.

“Perfectly fine, perfectly happy and my healthy, voluptuous and crazy strong body is having some much deserved time off,” she wrote, signing her note, “cheesecake.”

Not fat. Not ashamed. So let’s think of a better phrase for this foolishness.

And while we’re thinking, let’s consider the long-term consequences of it.

Even worse than the round-the-clock attacks on any public figure who dares to dip her toes outside the cookie-cutter appearance we’ve deemed attractive, acceptable, even, is the notion that these attacks come with the territory.

“Ultimately if you put yourself out there, if you’re in the media, if you’re in the public eye, then you have to accept what comes your way,” TV personality Katie Hopkins told Access Hollywood in response to calls for her to apologize for attacks on singer Kelly Clarkson.

This is an incredibly common, incredibly dangerous line of thinking.

If you have a story to tell, whether that story lives in the form of a song, an essay, a painting, a memoir, a book, a lesson plan, a film, you should tell it. You should find your voice and tell your story truthfully and without fear.

You should not have to look like Olivia Wilde to do so.

What would the world be deprived of, thus far, if we only listened to the beautiful people? If we hushed up, attacked and humiliated everyone who didn’t look like a cover model? If we told the world’s artists and scientists and explorers and activists and leaders that if they want to be heard, if they want the world to listen, they better look a certain way or face endless scorn for failing to?

We’re doing that. That’s what we’re doing in this very moment.

Now, how long will it take for that message to trickle down to one or two or 100 young women and men who have something to say, but aren’t in the mood for endless scorn? How long do we have until this foolishness turns into an ugly, cynical form of self-censorship?

Not long, I would argue.

Psychologist Stephen Hinshaw wrote about the consequences of this mess in 2009, when his book, “The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today’s Pressures” (Ballantine), was first released. When I interviewed him at the time, he mentioned the “crisis-level statistics for depression, self-mutilation, eating disorders, violence and suicide” among teen girls.

Because as his book spelled out, it’s no longer enough to excel as an athlete; you have to excel as an athlete who looks like Maria Sharapova. It’s no longer enough to have a singing voice that sends chills down people’s spines; you also need a body that looks like Beyonce. Want to dive into public service? Better watch your weight. (Just ask Kirsten Gillibrand about that last one.)

“The Triple Bind” came out six years ago. If anything, the culture’s gotten coarser. Where do we go from here?

We could try going in a saner direction, one that leaves room for people to exist in all different kinds of bodies without the distraction of public shaming.

We could start by rejecting the notion that vitriol is par for the course.

We could stop telling people to accept what comes their way, particularly when what comes their way sends a lousy message to everyone within earshot: Shut up unless you’re skinny.

Because that’s a message sure to starve the world of an awful lot of wisdom, ideas and, yes, beauty.

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