COMMENTARY: Mackler brings up interesting points about body shaming
One of many lists in Carolyn Mackler’s "The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things," which in addition to being a fun, quick read really puts the spotlight on body shaming in the 21st century. Centered around main character Virginia, we get a first hand look at what it is like to be the fat daughter in an otherwise perfect family, and being the only plus sized girl in a private school. Virginia thinks about her weight a lot. She feels, on a fundamental level, that she is less desirable and in some cases less important than skinny girls. She lets her fatness dictate her life, believing she has to keep her interactions with boys a secret to avoid embarrassing them and, even worse, believing she has to go farther than skinny girls in order to keep a guy interested. It really hurt me to read that. No girl should ever feel pressure to do anything she may not want or be ready to do, especially not because she thinks it is her place to do so. So many women base their attractiveness, how they feel and how they act, on what men think. No matter who you are or what you look like, if you feel pressure to act a certain way around a guy for him to like you, especially if it makes you uncomfortable, your fishing in the wrong pond. You should never have to change yourself or feel ashamed of yourself because of a man. If a guy is not willing to be seen in public with you, then it is probably time to move on.
A study done by Infoplease showed that almost 50 percent of women who are deemed within a healthy weight range believe they weigh too much. Virginia hides that shame in baggy clothes that her mother, of all people, helped her pick out. That is right, her mom encourages her daughter's shame. In fact, throughout the book we see both mother and father make comments on Virginia’s weight, making her feel bad about herself and almost forcing her to diet. This ends up being a large factor in Virginia’s decision to go on a crash diet and starve herself for weeks to lose weight. Her parents even praise her for the weight she loses. Virginia feels a need to be unhealthy to the point of self harm because everyone around her is telling her that she is fat and, therefore, unattractive. This pushes her into depression. I do not know about you, but that story sounds a lot like what many teenage girls go through nowadays. It is so common that most people just look at is part of going to high school.
Mackler’s story is not entirely one sided, either. At one point in the book we overhear pretty girl Brie (one of our villains in this story) say “All I can say is, if I were that fat, I’d kill myself." Although in the moment we feel bad for our main character, we later get insight that Brie shows signs of anorexia, and that a teenage girl in today's society may actually feel that being fat is so bad that ending one’s life would be a viable alternative. Mackler also touches on the subject of date rape throughout the book, both from the victims and from the aggressors perspectives, which is expanded upon rather well in the second book. Moral of the story? Date rape is wrong, and too many guys get off scot free.
Around the two-thirds point in the book, we finally get to watch our main characters journey toward self discovery and acceptance. Unlike most books, it is not perfect, and it definitely is not finished with the last lines of the book. Virginia dyes her hair purple and gets an eyebrow piercing, expressing her true self without shame, and finally starts wearing clothes that she feels attractive in. She meets resistance from her parents almost every step of the way and waivers in her resilience, at times, still plagued by her old self doubt, but she is discovering the self she wants to be. She takes up a kickboxing class once a week because she wants to, not because someone told her she needed to hit the gym, and enjoys the judgment free atmosphere, it makes her feel good. It makes her feel healthy. And ultimately, that is what matters — how you feel, and what makes you happy. Ignore anyone that tells you otherwise.
Kyra Stevko is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in English and political science.
*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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