It’s been funny watching the media deal with Christina Aguilera not beating herself up for being a bit ‘curvier‘ than your average gal in Hollywood. The undercurrent varies from one of mild astonishment to one of repulsion, but all runs along the lines of ‘she is BIGGER than she once was and yet she’s not performing in a Snuggie!, WTF?’ Of course, most don’t outright criticize Aguilera, because that wouldn’t be fashionably “body positive.” But entertainment bloggers, lifestyle-section reporters et al. are masters of the fat-shaming code.
Even if you don’t think you’re familiar with fat-shaming code, you probably are. It’s all those insidious ways that people — in the media, in real life, in comments sections — talk about women’s size that implies criticism or negative judgement without saying it directly. Take the Daily Mail article Briana wrote about yesterday. A comment on Aguilera’s body and outfits at the at the American Music Awards Sunday night, it’s titled ”Christina Aguilera is unapologetic about her curvy figure as she spills out of two costume changes at the AMAs.”
Oof. Describing someone as “spills out of” something is obviously a dig. But the use of “unapologetic” is more high-level fat-shaming code. It could be read as positive, in a ‘f**k yeah you show ‘em’ kind of way. But in the context of the rest of sentence/article/everything the Mail has ever published, the word ‘unapologetic’ is clearly more of a subtle suggestion that Aquilera should have something to apologize for.
The Mail is really the master of keeping fat shaming (or general woman shaming) pieces just contradictory/convoluted enough to leave room for plausible deniability, and so the Aguilera article begins by tittering that she “burst onto the AMA’s” Sunday followed a few sentences later by a description of “the blonde superstar in two jaw-dropping, clinging outfits.” It also suggests that Aguilera’s “fuller figure” is an act of “defiance to the skinny” — another statement that could be read as either a (misguided) attempt to celebrate fuller figures or a backhanded way to call Aguilera not skinny.
I know the Daily Mail exists to troll us, but look around at other media — you’ll see the same coded fat shaming language and machinations. Here’s Fox News, leading with a bit about what a bombshell Aguilera was at the AMAs followed quickly by a roundup of nasty tweets about her appearance. Here’s a writer from Complex magazine deciding that Aguilera being “a tad plus-size” is okay because it makes her cleavage “way more noticeable” and because for reasons he can’t fathom, she does seem comfortable with it. Here’s a blogger starting a post about Aguilera’s AMA dress by pointing out that Aguilera “vehemently insists she’s happy with her fuller physique.”
That’s the biggest weirdness, perhaps — everyone’s reaction to the way Aguilera ostensibly feels about her body. We don’t know how she really feels about her body, of course, but the fact that she’s wearing curve-hugging dresses and performing in corsets seems to suggest she’s cool with it. And this just boggles people’s minds. We do not know what do with (white) women above a size 4 who aren’t actively trying to lose weight or recovering from an eating disorder or on the cusp of some terrible downward spiral. We do not have a familiar narrative for it.
I think that’s why you get the the suggestions that Aguilera can’t actually know how she looks like, because if so she would never be out in public or dress like that. This is an amazing conceit because it involves someone being sure so that their particular version of what’s attractive is the most correct/important that anyone not living up to it should be ashamed.
I also think it’s why people are so ready to cast Aguilera or other “fuller figured” celebs as rebels, in a defiant crusade against prevailing body standards and thin women everywhere. Maybe Aguilera et al. actually just don’t give a shit; maybe they’ve just decided they have better things to worry about right now. But that goes against what women are supposed to be like and hence the more familiar skinny vs. fatty narrative.
Seen any particularly egregious fat-shaming code or ‘I can’t believe she’s not skinny’ articles yourself? Do share.