06 January 2014 by

Fat-shaming Is Wrong – But Will Banning A Word Change Anything?

Last month, actress Jennifer Lawrence said she thought ‘it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV’, following criticism of her own figure on the red carpet. Here, writer Tanya Gold argues that while fat-shaming is a terrible thing, banning the word isn’t necessarily the answer…

Jennifer Lawrence Is Right That Fat-shaming Is Wrong – But Will Banning A Word Change Anything?

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior [Getty]

Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar-winning star of The Hunger Games trilogy, is a decent egg, who does not share the spindly malice of so many Hollywood  actresses. But she went too far when she said it should be illegal to call someone ‘fat’ on TV. ‘If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect they have on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?’ she said.

Jennifer, 23, was no doubt thinking of the teenage girls who stand in the rain to see her, and the responsibility she feels towards them. But can it really be rational to ban words in a country where it is legal to own an automatic weapon? And how do you ‘regulate’ it? Are we going to fine gangs of mean girls, or send them straight to prison, where they can weep into their princess costumes? Lawrence is attacking free speech, and this is dangerous. Free speech is  not a cigarette. Free speech is essential.

Bad female body image is a problem with many causes. First, the growing obesity crisis: 41% of British men are overweight and 33% of women. Obviously, people should not be judged on their appearance, but we are steeped in denial. Modern girls are fat because they are not educated about the perils of sugar, which I think is the most dangerous, over-promoted and widely used drug on earth. That could be regulated, if governments had the will to stand up to Big Food. Nor do girls exercise enough. Perhaps we could get two hours of mandatory sport in schools back, and the lost playing fields?

And so to misogyny, which can operate girl to girl as easily as man to woman. Jennifer herself has been called fat, and says, ‘Why is humiliating people funny? I get it, and I do it, too – we all do it.’ This is the darker, more insidious problem – that we are so obsessed with surface that no woman, no matter how young or lovely, is immune to the idea that she is hideous, and will use that knowledge to hurt another woman. But will banning a word change that?

The solution is not in censorship, but in ourselves. There are many things we could do if we were serious about loving our bodies: have body-image seminars in schools to understand what we feel and fear, and learn about nutrition and the danger of ridiculous ideals of beauty. Physical self-hatred sits at the centre of a web of female disempowerment: a place where women feel thwarted in many areas and, therefore, end up bitching about their bodies. From gender segregation to low pay to the lousy percentage of women in Parliament (around 20%) to your frenemy’s hated thighs. Criminalising the word ‘fat’ will change nothing.

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