*DISCLAIMER and TRIGGER WARNING*
Some anecdotes discuss sensitive topics regarding toxic and/or abusive relationships that are not safe for everyone to read. If you do not feel ready to read this article yet, it is okay. You can always come back. Lastly, all the quotes used in this article are from real people and real experiences. We ask that you respectfully read their stories while putting your feet in their shoes.
Brief History of the Racist Origins Behind Fatphobia
Now, before we talk about toxic relationships and the negative impacts that they have on our body image, let’s dig into and address some of the complex history of the racist origins behind fatphobia. Both preceding and during the Renaissance Era, “full-bodied” physiques were one of the top beauty standards for white women in Europe. However, the trans-atlantic slave trade transformed the way that white Europeans viewed their idea of the “ideal” body type.
In the beginning of the slave-trade, white skin color was deemed enough of a designation to publicly determine someone’s beauty and worth. However, approximately two-hundred years after the trans-atlantic slave-trade began, Europeans wanted a way to distinguish enslaved people from themselves, even further from the color of skin. Biracial children became a “threat” to the white ideas of beauty. Fatphobia surrounding Black women, and especially Black enslaved women, shifted the ideal body type to a skinny body. So, a new standard began. Essentially, white women needed to eat the least amount of food possible to keep the ideal “thin” physique, which contributed to the further characteristics of anglo-Christian purity and white superiority over Black women. Additionally, many Black women were exhibited for white European onlookers to stare at their “otherworldly physiques.” The “skinny” body type, and fatphobia, were literally born from European discrimination against and enslavement of Black bodies, in which were characterized as unhealthy and undignified.
As you read the following stories, you need to cultivate health within yourself that does not stem from the racist-rooted idea of fatphobia. Someone’s outward appearance does not tell health history, or the stories of one’s natural bone density, muscularity, and/or any other genetic factors that influence the weight of your body. Anyone, of any body shape, size, appearance, age, and more needs to understand that you can be healthier at a heavier weight.
“I always thought that there was something physically wrong with me, because my boyfriend would subtly tell me I wasn’t skinny enough, wasn’t perfect enough for him. I realized that my body is as perfect as any human body, and that I needed to ditch him to be happy.”
Self-confidence and body positivity are two virtues that everyone aspires to manifest. However, self-esteem attributes are ultimately destroyed and consumed by toxic relationships. Someone in a toxic partner or friend relationship may question themselves, “Am I just being insecure today?” or tell themselves, “I have gained weight, and my partner is just trying to be helpful.” I am here to tell you that your insecurities are not the sour apple in your relationship, and that you are experiencing these feelings for a reason. This relationship is not worth your time, and if your body confidence is constantly being knocked down, then your partner needs to be put in the past.
Have I Ever Experienced a Toxic Relationship?
“I think I started dating too young. My partner was fully engaged in sports, and I was more of a chemistry junkie. He taught me more about how I need to change my body than I learned to change a formula in the lab.”
In high school, and even college, it is a peer-pressured standard to find a perfect girlfriend/boyfriend/partner, and most students do not realize how unhealthy it is to start a relationship while already having a fragile body image. The best advice that I can give you is to wait until you find someone that you really feel comfortable around, someone who will not classify you based on the way your body looks. Your body is perfect, no matter how old you are, or what phase of life you are going through.
What Classifies as a “toxic relationship”?
“I met my ex-girlfriend on social media, and she was very controlling. At the time I thought that she was just trying to make me a better person, or that it was cute or something. She was literally telling me what clothes I should buy for our Instagram pics, how I should cut my hair, and what I should eat to be healthier. I was so unhappy with starving myself over salads that I eventually broke it off. I think I still stress over my weight because of her control.”
First, if anyone other than yourself forces you to live your life so that you are unhappy, you need to run away. Second, any partners that ever tell you that you need to “lose a little weight” or “you’re looking a little chubby today” are probably struggling to deal with their own self-worth, and you do not need that toxic talk in your life. Finally, any relationship that restricts your life to the point where you are starving yourself, rationing your food portions differently, or changing your lifestyle habits needs to be broken up. Removing controlling relationships is the key for self-growth so that you can finally allow your inner confidence to shine through.
Social media platforms, especially TikTok by popular demand, hold an appalling habit that condones toxic relationships with others. For example, many TikToks tend to show a male character threatening the viewer if the viewer does not do exactly as they say, almost replicating the mentality behind the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise. If the person posting a crude fifteen-second video is beautiful, hot, and sexy “af,” then surely, we can ignore the harmful message that the creator is perpetrating? No. These controlling creators do not dictate our actions in life, just like controlling relationships. Keep scrolling.
When Should I Speak Up About my Toxic Relationship?
“She was my ‘best friend,’ but always put me down, called me stupid, and treated me as the lowest person in the friend group. It felt like no one had my side and that if I spoke up about it, then I would lose all of my friends.”
The moment you start to have thoughts like “my partner would like me better if my body was different this way,” or “I need to change my behavior for this person,” you need to raise your voice and tell them. When you speak to toxic people in your life, no matter if they are a friend or more, you need to firmly tell them that they are not a good influence for you. They are not making you feel great about yourself, right? So, explain that and how the space that they have invited you into is not good for your mental health. You need change -, or you need out.
What if I Don’t Feel Safe Talking to my Partner About Their Toxic Influence?
“I finally realized that my boyfriend was manipulative when I looked in the mirror and started criticizing myself with his image in my head. I haven’t told him about it, though.”
In any relationship, it is OKAY and NORMAL to ask for help. If your partner is worth staying with, they will react just fine if you reach out to others. If you do not feel safe asking for help from outsiders while being in a relationship, that is a strong signal to reach out even MORE.
It is never too late. Staying in the toxic relationships that only spur on your insecurities will only set you back. Seek help, especially if you feel unsafe.
Who Can I Contact if I Want Help Getting Out of This Relationship?
“I did not feel comfortable telling anyone about how overprotective my partner was, because my entire family loved them. I knew that I had to tell someone though, or else it could have been too late.”
In many relationships, partners can be abusive. Possessive behaviors, stalking, and any other mental or physical abuse needs to be reported. Victims do not always feel like they can tell anyone for a long time, for fear that they will not be believed or respected. If you do not feel that it is comfortable and safe to talk to close family members, speak with friends, or call your local law enforcement officials, and rightly so, here are many other resources to help you speak your truth.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: On the website, there is a chat feature to speak to a representative, and you can call by phone:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and there is also a video phone for Deaf callers: 1-855-812-1001
Resources on Instagram: @spacetospeakorg, @survivorsisters, @menhealing, @myeasytherapy, @safesquad_app
NPR. (2020, July 21). Fat Phobia And Its Racist Past And Present. Retrieved July, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/07/20/893006538/fat-phobia-and-its-racist-past-and-present
Springs, S. (2019, September/October). The Racist Origins Of Fatphobia. Retrieved July, 2020, from https://bust.com/feminism/196525-racist-origins-of-fatphobia.html
Greenwald, M. (2020, July 21). Unpacking the racist roots of fat phobia and diet culture. Retrieved July, 2020, from https://www.intheknow.com/2020/07/13/unpacking-the-racist-roots-of-fat-phobia-and-diet-culture/
Molly Kate Sullivan
Transcriber, Writer, Editor
This is Molly Kate Sullivan, but you can call her MK! Living in a small town, MK is always striving to bring awareness to folks on issues facing the globe. MK is a passionate advocate and ally for BLM and women’s rights, and she plays volleyball on both a high school and club team in the hopes of playing collegiate level one day. MK is all about personal growth and body positivity, as well as spreading all the good vibes!