Culture //

An injury to one is an injury to all

Clo Schofield reflects on indelible experiences of body consciousness.

Back in high school, maybe year eight or so, a friend of mine said “I hate it when girls wear undies that are too small for them.”

“Huh?” I said. I didn’t know it was a thing. “Why?”

“Because then the fat on your hips and bum bulge out around the sides,” she said. “Mia Chang from the grade below was wearing undies way too small, walking up the stairs in front of me
and it was all I could see.”

God, I thought. I’d had most of my undies since I was ten. After that, I started looking for the error on others, and feeling anxious about it myself.

My friend wasn’t a bully, she was a sweet un-malicious person. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I must have made similar comments as a younger girl, and I probably continue to do so in less direct ways. I don’t know that friend anymore, but I think of that conversation roughly once a month, when I’m getting to the point where I haven’t done my laundry in ages and I have to start picking between nana knickers and the size eights. Will the fat on my sides and my belly bulge out under my clothes? Who’s watching? What are they thinking? How can I mould myself into the prescribed shape?

It occurred to me over the summer that every time I criticise my own body, I’m criticising a million other women at the same time.

Every time I despair about my sagging breasts, I’m commenting on the breasts of others, those whose sit lower than mine. I’m naming them inadequate.

On Saturday night at a party I suddenly started getting pretty bad abdominal pain. While I was lying down I tried to figure out what was wrong; had I developed a sudden and severe allergy to hummus and Lebanese bread or even worse, red wine? I realised the day after that the pain had come from the control brief stockings I’d been wearing to flatten the line of my stomach under my clothes, and ease my anxiety. I had injured myself out of fear of the critical gaze of others. I did that to myself, and I’m blessed to exist within supportive, feminist social circles where people who make body or fat shaming comments will get a swift slap on the wrist, or a lengthy sit down conversation. As a young, white, cisgender woman I’m privileged not to experience oppression and body hate from the white supremacist, industrialised patriarchy on the basis of my race or ability.

I’m thin, I guess. It’s hard for me to say that, because every time I do I think of the aspects of my body I’ve been socialised to consider inaccuracies, flaws, flaps, bulges, bumps. But I think it’s important to acknowledge. Every time I comment to someone else about my weight or the way my tummy sits, I’m reinforcing a social order that stigmatises the bodies of many other folk, a lot of whom experience more social disciplining, more stigmatisation, and more discursive violence resultant of ubiquitous body shaming.

I think self-love is an important part of undoing the hierarchy of bodies that holds the thin over the fat, those of white people over those of people of colour, those of the gender-conforming over those non-conforming, the abled over the disabled.

If anyone knows how to translate this theoretical recognition into something I can practice, please get in touch.