I remember the first time someone called me fat in an internet comment. We were having a debate about the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. The person on the other side of the conversation was saying incredibly offensive homophobic things, and I was working very hard to stay level and calm. He then told me that my "girth" would prevent me from joining the military so I didn't get to have an opinion. Then he bragged that he didn't care what a "fat liberal feminist" thought anyway.
I had never met this man. The only thing he had to go on was the picture in my Facebook profile, but it was enough for him to find the words that would cut me down and push me out of the conversation.
|Here's the picture he saw of my offensive girth. Rawr.|
Since then, I've been called a lot names on the internet. I run a blog that talks about feminism and equality, and I tend to not shut up very easily, so I guess I make myself a target. I've been called a "fat cunt," a "Miss Piggy-looking bitch," and several other versions of the same insult.
I tell you this because I want you to have some context for my reaction to Rebecca Sparrow's Mamamia post about fitness blogger's Caroline Berg Eriksen's post-pregnancy picture on Instagram.
Sparrow calls Eriksen's posting of her incredibly svelte picture an "act of war." This war is, according to Sparrow, being waged against the rest of us, all of the women who did not have sculpted abs four days after giving birth to a human being.
I don't object to Sparrow's bristling at yet another image that could (and likely will) be used to shame women over their post-pregnancy bodies. The Maria Kang controversy has been fresh on everyone's minds, and there are plenty of celebs revealing their "post-baby bodies" to mount the pressure on a nearly obsessive preoccupation with physical appearance during a time of vulnerability and emotional chaos in women's lives.
However, in critiquing this image, Sparrow says this about Eriksen:
A woman with watermelon boobs and long glossy hair and a thigh gap reminiscent of when my daughter sticks matchsticks in a lump of play-doh.Yikes. Like I said above, I've had people say a lot of cruel things about my body in anonymous internet commentary, and I'm not seeing the difference. Calling out Eriksen's legs as "matchsticks in a lump of play-doh" is cruel body shaming. There's no other way to spin that.
Then, later, Sparrow takes issue with Eriksen posting a picture of herself without her baby present:
But here’s where I have a problem.Even though she embeds an entire series of Eriksen's Instagram shots that include pictures of her baby, her baby's room, her baby's toys, and her holding her baby, she ignores all of them to hone in on the shot of Eriksen solo and uses it to create a narrative of narcissism and neglectful parenting.
Who? THE BABY. Remember her? THE BABY that was until last Monday a tenant in Caroline’s stomach.
A woman has just given birth to a beautiful baby girl and it’s not the new life Caroline appears to want us to focus on.
Caroline wants us to be talking about how HOT she looks. Now see, I think that’s a bit fucked up.
This implies women are not allowed to present individuality once they become mothers. When the baby comes into the world, motherhood is the sole identity we're allowed to put forward. Anything else is seen as a selfish, ungrateful distraction from "the most important job in the world." This is the exact same narrative that shames working mothers or mothers who go out to party with friends, the same narrative that has people calling the police on a breastfeeding mother drinking a beer, and the same narrative that leaves mothers feeling like they can't turn for help when postpartum depression or just day-to-day life overwhelms them.
Sparrow is ostensibly standing up against a "war" on women's bodies, but all she's really doing is shifting the same body and life choice shaming around. Maria Kang fat shaming women on Facebook, Rush Limbaugh slut shaming women on his radio show, people throwing blankets over breastfeeding mothers, and mocking someone's legs as "matchsticks" stuck in play-doh all come from the same place: one built on shaming others to shore up our own limited resources.
It's a game of hierarchy that we will never win. As long as we keep insisting that someone's appearance/life choice has to be on the bottom, we'll keep going round and round this same nightmarish merry-go-round.
I just want to add that after I wrote this, I talked to Rebecca Sparrow on Twitter, and she agreed that she shouldn't have shamed Eriksen and that she should have made broader commentary about the expectations of post-pregnancy bodies in general. As someone who has hit "post" a little too quickly on my own rash writings, I want to say that I respect Sparrow for admitting to that and think there's a lot of opportunity for some good conversations about women supporting one another here.