A high school principal in South Carolina decided to use her position of power and authority to fat-shame female students. Heather Taylor stood up in front of an assembly of 10th-grade girls to engage in some back to school body shaming, joining Paul Ryan and United Airlines in policing females' bodies by trying to control their clothing. She told the young women that, unless they are extremely thin, their days of wearing stretch pants are over.
Taylor was recorded saying: “I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now, unless you are a size zero or two and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”
When parent Lacy Thompson-Harper called to ask Principal Taylor what, you know, in the world she was doing, Taylor decided that her best bet was making excuses and lying.
Thompson-Harper said: “When I spoke with her, she talked around the issue, and made excuse after excuse, effectively calling all of the students liars.”
What a shining role model for the kids, huh? Sigh. This principal needs some principles.
There are so many problems with this, let’s take them bit by bit.
“I’ve told you this before…”
Did you catch that? This is not the first time she’s delivered this message. I wonder if it’s listed on her day planner as FSFS (Fat Shame Female Students) or EMS (Enforce Misogynist Standards)?
“…unless you are a size zero or two, and you wear something like that…”
This is such crap. The idea that there should be different rules for different sizes of kids reinforces fat phobia and encourages appearance-based bullying. Sophomore Allison Veazey summed up what I imagine were the feelings of many of her fellow students: “I’m not a size zero, and I kind of felt targeted because of my size.”
Is it worth encouraging bullying and poor body image just so that Principal Taylor can enforce (what I assume are her own) body image issues on the students in her care? I think not.
“… even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”
I think that this is the most egregious part of the quote. It ensures that every kid listening understands that their principal views fat bodies as bad bodies. As usual, it’s the worst for fat kids who have just been presented by their high school principal as something that other students should fear becoming or even being mistaken for.
While it’s not a perfect comparison, as a fat, queer woman who often finds people who understand why homophobia is a problem but don’t necessarily see fatphobia in the same way, I would ask you to imagine if she had said, “If you wear this, even though you’re not gay, you look gay.” I would hope both versions would induce a public outcry. And, of course, the underlying and dangerous, suggestion here is that if girls can somehow manipulate their bodies into a size 0 or 2, then they can wear whatever they want.
This is about way more than the freedom to dress in comfortable clothing while at school. Let’s talk about some stats that this principal should know if she’s going to talk to adolescent girls about body size:
Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.
Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet.
35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
For females between the ages of 15 and 24 who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death.
So, we could risk the mental and physical health of all the girls in the school by using fat shaming to try to control the way that they dress, or we could just let them wear some damn leggings. Seriously, how is this not a no brainer?