Why Do You Think You're Fat? Why Do You Think You're Skinny?

Do you feel as if you're always too much—or too little? Take a quiz.

Posted Mar 11, 2021

Ever since God gave Eve a diet plan in Eden (“Do not eat the apple; despite being high in fiber, it still contains 116 calories”), women have had issues with body image.

Body image issues are connected to the idea that you’re not taking up the space allotted to you by the world—you’re either too much or too little.

Men have issues with body image as well as women, and no one should be forced to diminish their talents and strengths in order to squeeze into a miniaturized or abridged version of who they really are.

Men’s body image issues might begin when they’re swaddled in blue and deemed “a big, strong boy” or as someone destined to be “a bruiser.” Women’s body image issues arrive the minute girls are swaddled in pink blankets and told how tiny and cute they are, as if tiny and cute are all women should ever be.

Baby boys are given caps. Elaborate bows are taped to the tops of the heads of little girls in order to signal gender identity. And little girls—if they are loud, or big, or messy, or energetic—are told they are “too much,” and that they need to “contain themselves.”  

If the future is going to be better than the past, we’ve got to make some changes. Those changes need to be substantial, weighty, and large. One of the ways we can start to change is to realize that the words “substantial,” “weighty,” and “large” are not bad words.

Even though hundreds of studies published by the American Psychological Association and elsewhere have demonstrated that tormenting ourselves and others about body image has done nothing but harm, why does the pattern persist?

I’m not talking only about “other” people here, either. It’s with genuine frustration that I’ll admit that every potato chip I’ve ever eaten has added another chip to my shoulder. The chip on my shoulder about weighing 15 pounds more than I should is a lot more annoying to carry around than the pounds. Can you say “no-win situation” in gender-specific language?

The world’s narrow ideas and concepts of our lives, bodies, and conventions need changing far more urgently than anybody needs to lose 15 pounds. Let’s look at how humor and body image, as well as social and cultural attitudes, shape our personal narratives:

True/False

  1. Self-deprecating humor can be just as positive as any other kind of humor. (False: You can undermine both your own sense of self and your reputation in the eyes of others.)
  2. What’s funny is universal and we all laugh at the same things. (False: Humor can be a weapon or a shield, but rarely is it one big umbrella-smile everybody gets to shelter beneath; for much of history, conventional humor has been driven by a need to diminish one group at the expense of another.)
  3. A quiet or shy person rarely has a sense of humor. (False: Some forms of humor and wit are best expressed sotto voce, or murmured beneath the roar of conversation, passed between individuals; some humor is best served chilled.)
  4. A sense of humor is a gift and cannot be learned or developed. (False: Humor, like other skills, can be cultivated, developed, polished, and sharpened; learning about the many forms of humor and the ways in which it can be used, for better or worse, can improve a person’s ability to use humor and to protect oneself from the misuse of it by others.)
  5. Women are needier than men. (False: Men also need comfort, security, attention, love, and compassion, although conventionally narrow versions of masculinity sometimes prevent them from being able to appear to need as much—emotionally, psychologically, spiritually—as their female counterparts.)
  6. Men have more confidence than women. (Both true and false, depending on which studies you read and their context: Women trust themselves less often and with less conviction than men because, historically, their right to have and hold opinions and make decisions was questioned, given that women were regarded as the property of either their fathers or their husbands—it is only within the last hundred years in America, remember, that women won the right to vote. In contrast, men have been encouraged to enact and perform self-confidence even when they are uncertain about their decisions in order to be regarded as fully realized sons, husbands, colleagues, fathers, and leaders. But is the performance of confidence the same thing as having confidence? This is one of the questions being asked about the construction of masculinity today.)
  7. It’s more important to ask the right questions than provide the right answers. (True, with some queries attached: Questions are what lead us to an earned sense of understanding, to honest connections and relationships, to valuable and flexible new approaches that will aid us in transforming ourselves and the world around us in the future. The repetition, however loud and pervasive, of unexamined dogma, shibboleths, and doctrines which have passed as truth for generations, will be unable to withstand smart, sharp, incisive, and subversive questioning by someone with a genuine interest in getting to the heart—or hearts—of the matter.)