Now that things are slowly inching their way back to a state of normalcy with restaurants, gyms and other businesses reopening, it feels impossible to go a day on sex work Twitter and not see discussions about body shaming (and in particular fat shaming) and about dissatisfaction with the effects quarantining has had on many people's bodies. It's not entirely surprising, Western culture, particularly America, has a a peculiar obsession with appearances and bodies. We also expect women in particular to always be looking our best and to maintain our exact same looks, weight and measurements no matter what. Even if we lose a large percentage of our income. Even if we're trapped inside for over two months. Even if we're in the middle of a global pandemic.
And sex workers are in a particularly looks/body focused industry so the pressure for us to maintain is intensified tenfold. So it's understandable that not only are we all feeling self conscious and acutely aware of how our bodies have changes to one extent or another, but that we would also want to take to a virtual public sphere like Twitter to express ourselves and connect with others going through something similar.
Here's the main issue, though: The sentiments that have been expressed most often are variations on "I've gotten so fat and and I need to lose weight," "Ew, I'm so fat," or "I feel so fat right now."
Often times too, there will be push back when someone points out that these sentiments are fat shaming. The response usually goes, "But I'm just talking about myself! I'm not passing judgment on anyone else! I'm just not happy where I am!"
There are a few different aspects of this to dissect here, so I'd like to take it one issue at a time. First of all, we're never really just talking about ourselves when we talk about our bodies. What we want our bodies to be and what we want them to look like doesn't exist in a vacuum; these expectations and desires are shaped by the culture in which we live. Does that mean we have no agency, or that we can't own any sort of desires we have about our bodies? No of course not. But we also can't pretend they exist completely organically either.
Secondly, we can't pretend the words we say don't matter. On an individual level no, seeing another provider on Twitter saying "I've gotten so fat! Gross!" may not affect me one way or the other. But when that sentiment about weight gain is in 90%+ of my feed, that is going to get to me. And it is just a thread of the tapestry that is the cultural phenomena of fat shaming.
This doesn't mean that we can't talk about our struggles with weight, body image and/or self consciousness. However, fat isn't a feeling; it's a judgment. "I feel so fat" is very often a stand in for "I feel ugly/undesirable/unworthy." Also who meets the criteria for fatness is relatively subjective. Some people may consider me fat, for example. Others won't. In the end, whether I'm fat or not isn't the point (so please, no emails, DMs or messages about how not fat I am. I get the impulse but it actually just feeds into the fatphobia I am addressing). The point is why should I be made to feel ugly/undesirable/unworthy because of it? It's ok for me to express discomfort or unhappiness with where my body is. Discomfort and unhappiness are emotions and therefore are inclusive and relatable to others of all shapes and sizes. It does not pass judgement on my particular body size or shape and therefore, does not pass judgment on anyone else.
And I personally do understand those feelings very personally. Before the lockdown, I was doing ballet barre four times a week. And while the numbers on the scale didn't go down too much, I was toning up and gaining muscle. I felt stronger, more graceful, more energetic and just overall more confident in my body than I've ever felt. Then the lockdown came and while I practiced barre and yoga intermittently in my apartment, it really wasn't the same as having regular classes and a community. Plus, I was overcome by depression, which this is a bit of a chicken or the egg situation, But in either case, I lost a lost of muscle definition during the lockdown and my self esteem definitely took a hit because of it.
And even there I have to be careful, because while it was great to find a form of exercise that didn't revolve around weight loss, part of what made me feel so much better about my body during that time was toning up and building particularly lean muscle, thus dropping about a size or two. If we lived in a culture that valued fatness over thinness, gaining that type of muscle may have made me feel ugly/undesirable/unworthy. So even though there were so many reasons I loved and continue to love barre that have nothing to do with my size or shape, I'd be lying if I said seeing my body slim down wasn't part and parcel to that confidence. To suggest or argue otherwise would be insensitive and tone deaf. In short, there's no way to be perfectly removed from cultural fatphobia. But we should always be mindful of it and do our best to modify our language and course correct whenever necessary.
And frankly, all of us are likely struggling with some discomfort and unhappiness with our bodies right now. This has been one of the most stressful, upsetting times in our collective history and our lives have been drastically changed because of it. So of course that's going to have an affect on our bodies, how we see them and how we treat them. And it's a shame that there is no collective sense of forgiveness or acceptance for bodies changing, particularly when it comes to women. We see this in other instances too. A woman does something that puts a tremendous amount of stress on her body like...I don't know GIVES BIRTH, and she's expected to "get her body back." Her body is still hers, it's just changed. And that should be not only OK, but fully embraced.
Finally, we should all be considerate of our discussions about our bodies not just because of the affect it could have within our communities, but we should be mindful of the affect it could have on potential clients as well. While I firmly stand by the assertion that women and others along the gender spectrum are the victims of body policing and shaming in a way men* just aren't, that doesn't mean men are immune to it. And in fact, men often don't have the societal space to speak about how their body image affects their self esteem. Just as we expect women and others along the spectrum to have their self worth fully entwined with their body image, we often expect men's to be completely detached from one another, and I for one know that's not true. In fact, I have had many, many clients speak to me about their insecurities over the years and have expressed that their sessions with me are the only safe spaces for them to express that.
It's honestly both heartwarming and heartbreaking to hear those sentiments. I always, always, always want to provide that space for all of my clients to feel welcomed. But it is sad that there is no room for men to talk about it with each other and in the public sphere at large. And while I can wish for that to change and do my part in advocating for it, I still will always use my unique position in their lives to give them an opportunity to speak about their very real struggles and insecurities that the world doesn't give them.
So to speak to my clients directly now, I want to say to all of you that, as Kurt Cobain famously sang: Come as you are. Not as you were or as the world wants you to be. But as you are. We all deserve a space wherein our bodies can be accepted exactly as they are. Even if they're imperfect. Even if they aren't exactly what you want them to be. Even if you don't always feel perfectly at home in it. You are still worthy of touch, intimacy and appreciation. So am I. So is everyone. And it's a marvelous experience to be able to offer someone that gift that I never, ever take for granted.
*Not all of my clients are men, but a vast majority of them are. This message of course applies to all my clients but since there is a difference in how men experience and express body image issues, I thought it was important to address that distinction.