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The Bethenny Frankel Body Debacle

July 22, 2014


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Trigger warning: Discussion of eating disorders, weight loss and a posted image of a thin celebrity.

One good thing about social media is that fat-shamers can instantly get called out on their hateful attitudes in real time. Maria Kang took heat on Facebook for her “what’s your excuse?” posts and her negative opinions on larger women taking pictures of themselves wearing Curvy Girl lingerie. Marie Claire writer Maura Kelly faced immediate backlash and threats of subscription cancellations for saying she didn’t want to see fat people being intimate on TV, much less walk into a room. There was the Cintra Wilson incident, where she was boycotted by fat activists and allies (myself included) for her scathing review of JCPenney clothing, that included a not-so-nice dose of fat hate. And who can forget the Wiscon controversy, where pictures of fat people, disabled people and/or people in the LBGT community were taken secretly by blogger Rachel Moss and posted online for ridicule.

On the flip side, we have thin women who get bashed for posting pictures of themselves wearing a bikini right after they had a baby. Rihanna (who I can’t stand because she cyberbullied her fans on Twitter — but I digress) posted naked pics of herself on her Instagram account and they were removed. The latest social media outrage happened just last week to reality TV star Bethenny Frankel.

Frankel is widely known for the pride she takes in being thin. She named her product line of cocktails, sweeteners, nutrition bars and shapewear Skinnygirl. She has given some horrible advice on eating.  To be fair, she’s admitted to suffering from eating disorders and obsessive dieting, and claims she grew up in a home where her bulimic mother was very controlling toward food, so it doesn’t surprise me that she followed in those same footsteps. It also doesn’t surprise me that, due to her history, she was  so widely criticized for her now-infamous selfie of wearing her four-year-old daughter’s pajamas.

Some people told her she was gross and to eat something. Many wondered if she was setting her daughter up for eating disorders and unrealistic body goals. Others said she was doing this as a cry for help and attention.

Frankel defended herself on Twitter by saying that her daughter asked her to put on the pajamas, so she did it for fun. That very well might be the exact reason she did it. We don’t know her actual eating habits or her lifestyle routine, just like we don’t know the eating habits and lifestyle routines of fat people. It’s not our business.

But since Frankel chose to make this picture public, and given her history, it does make me wonder if deep down fitting into her daughter’s pajamas was a moment of happiness regarding her body and she wanted to shout it from the rooftops by taking the photo. Women, famous or not, are expected — even demanded — to be thin and to stay thin at any cost.

Our diet culture takes pleasure in seeing women proudly exclaim they dieted down to the size they used to be in high school, to be able to fit into the dress they wore on their wedding day 20 years ago, or to get back to their “pre-baby” figure as soon as possible. So should we really be upset and angry when we see women online showing off their slim bodies? After all, it’s what most of society expects from them, while at the same time, expressing disgust for fat women (and men) who take pictures of themselves happy no matter what they’re wearing or doing. The disgust is so high that Facebook pages have been created to mock big women and reddit has probably as many fat-hate sites as all the galaxies in the universe.

The more social media dominates our daily lives, the more of these pictures we’ll continue to see, and just maybe more people will start to think about how our culture imposes unrealistic body standards on women, and work towards eliminating those standards.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer Hansen permalink
    July 22, 2014 10:55 am

    I feel a poem coming on.

    I am petite yayzors

    you too can be petite

    like me

    it is WILL POWAH

    I am at the low end of the boobie bell curve

    you too can be at the low end of the boobie bell curve

    like me

    it is WILL POWAH

    I have a daughter who is not petite

    you too can have a daughter who is not petite

    like me

    it is WILL POWAH

    But seriously, I never thought I would see somebody as absurdly un-self-aware as my old boss, who was never sick even a day in her life due to one of those leathery immune systems that kills everything, and solemnly lectured the rest of us about killing germs with WILL POWAH.

    Take full credit for your genes, gurl. It’s all you. It’s all you.

    • July 27, 2014 12:42 am

      I love your poem. It is WILL POWAH! I am going to start saying that to myself–a lot!

  2. Happy Spider permalink
    July 22, 2014 4:56 pm

    I don’t get this. It’s a photo of a woman wearing clothes. There is no offensive caption like ” what’s your excuse”. She didn’t photoshop herself. And the reaction is ” she’s gross and should eat something.” And concern trolls saying, ” oh no, what a terrible example she is setting for her child, going around wearing small clothes.” I feel like you’re shaming her for her body type.

    If she finds joy in being tiny and thinks it’s funny that she can wear children’s clothes, then fine. What do I care? It’s appropriate for people to enjoy whatever body size they have. If you can wear teeny- tiny clothes, fine. If you have an androgynous build and want to dress in men’s clothes, fine. If you want to show off extra large breasts, whatever.

    When I think of tiny women I think of women complaining about being infanticized and not being treated with respect, of feeling obliged to convey an extra-tough aura in an attempt to be treated seriously. Wearing children’s clothes isn’t helpful on that front, but why should she be obliged to act in a special way so as to take into account the sensibilities of non-tiny people? Why can’t she just be relaxed and do silly things?

    Your saying that the woman has had problems with bulimia just makes me want to distance myself even further from all this. First of all., it sounds like concern trolling again: “doesn’t she know what an unhealthy impression she gives by dressing in these clothes that fit her and smiling? Impressionable children will think her body is acceptable!” Second, I don’t want to say anything bout the body of someone who has body image problems. I don’t want to say something that will trigger something.

    I saw reports of this controversy elsewhere on the internet. Again, the gist was never “”reality star says woman should be able to fit in children’s clothes” but always “reality star makes an unseemly spectacle of herself by wearing children’s clothes”. I really don’t like that,

    • July 23, 2014 9:17 pm

      If you really don’t care…feel free to leave. That seems to be a pattern of yours, to write long-winded posts about why you don’t care about something or why something doesn’t make sense. I don’t know about you, but when I get to that point, I move on.

      • Happy Spider permalink
        July 24, 2014 12:46 am

        I care a whole lot about people being mocked and made to feel ashamed about themselves.

      • Happy Spider permalink
        July 24, 2014 1:06 am

        Your comment has hurt my feelings.

    • July 26, 2014 11:09 am

      I don’t see how Frankel’s own statement that she’s had an eating disorder amounts to concern-trolling by lifeonfats. There’s no conjecture here from lifeonfats. She is mentioning something that Frankel herself had said previously.

      • Happy Spider permalink
        July 26, 2014 2:43 pm

        I agree with you. Further, I think this is a really good post. Lifeonfats described something that had been showing up on the internet and gave it a colorful name–Frankel’s debacle–and then provided lots of useful context: this is part of a pattern of social media outrages, Frankel has a history of anti-fat comments that have probably been a low level source of irritation to people, being happy to fit into children’s clothes seems like a natural extension of the socially applauded act of fitting into an old wedding dress or high school clothes. She expressed some skepticism about the whole thing herself: how does the internet end up being outraged by both fat and thin people both? So mentioning that Frankel has spoken about having an eating disorder was useful context.
        I was just unhappy because I saw elsewhere on the internet all these people piling on Frankel and I still felt unhappy even after reading this post. I think they were having a really good time ripping Frankel to shreds and it wasn’t because they thought it was for Frankel’s own good. I will think more about what lifeonfats said, there is lots to think about in this post.

  3. sportzriter13 permalink
    July 26, 2014 2:18 pm

    In a perfect, not sizest world, it would simply be a cute/funny picture of a mom and daughter who thought it would be amusing to swap clothes.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the world we are in. Bodies, particularly women’s, are very emotionally charged. Someone with an ed may see the photo and make it their wish to be small enough to wear children’s clothes. Then, on the other hand, people forget that body policing can happen to really skinny people, and that it is wrong, just as body policing fat people is wrong.

    It’s basically a no win situation.

  4. July 27, 2014 12:47 am

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    I really don’t have much of an opinion one way or another on Bethenny Frankel, except that I hate that “Real Housewives” crap, and I will never buy any of the crap she shills. I imagine that the woman does have issues with eating disorders, and as far as that goes, I feel sympathy for her. This is what our fatphobic culture causes. It helps no-one of any size. I fear that there is a great likelihood that Bethenny’s daughter will develop an eating disorder too, if she hasn’t already.
    I have no reason to hate Bethenny for her size, and I think it’s wrong for people to belittle her for such. However, she does seem to have a need to show that she can fit into her daughter’s pajamas, thus saying “look how not fat I am. I deserve to be liked.” This is what goes on in the psyche of every person who struggles with an eating disorder.
    On the whole, I wish Bethenny and her daughter well. I have no reason not to.

  5. BarlowGirl permalink
    January 15, 2015 8:34 pm

    You know what I saw once that this doesn’t talk about – I saw somebody compare a child’s large shirt with a women’s small shirt, and they were VERY close in sizes, pointing out that women are basically expected to grow taller, but not gain any weight, and how messed up that is.

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