What Nike's Plus-Size Mannequin Means for All Women, Even Tanya Gold
Body acceptance is the starting line to a healthy journey.
The debut of Nike’s plus-size mannequin at the brand’s London flagship store last week was a huge win for many women who’ve been advocating for inclusivity in the health and wellness space. But not for writer and self-described recovering addict Tanya Gold. Gold recently wrote an article in The Telegraph claiming “the war on obesity is lost” thanks to a mannequin that “heaves with fat.” Cue the justifiably indignant rage.
Here’s a look at some of the reactions Gold’s piece has received on Instagram so far:
Gold’s stance that Nike is peddling “lies” that damage women just as much as “the child ballet dancer” walking down the runway is hyperbolic and misguided to say the least. The very point of the Health at Every Size movement is to raise awareness of our biases, as medical providers, as journalists, as people. Scientific research supports the notion that our implicit biases do nothing to help curb obesity rates or affect positive change in any way. Also, let’s be real for a minute—no one can truly diagnose someone’s health simply by looking at their body. There’s a whole hell of a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to whether a person is healthy or not. And, quite frankly, I believe the word “healthy” has been hijacked and weaponized to shame others, especially women, for not fitting a standard of beauty.
In a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “Smash the Wellness Industry,” Jessica Knoll wrote:
“The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear.”
Can I get an amen?! I am a thin-ish white woman. I was a fat child. I’m still on the I-hate-my-body ride. And I’m mad as hell about it.
Gold writes: “I would never want a woman to hate herself for what she finds in the looking-glass. But to have control over your body you must first know it; to be oblivious is not to be happy, unless you are a child.”
This is the kind of messaging many of us have battled our entire lives: just control your body. Those of us who’ve struggled with our self-image can attest to the fact that no fat person has the luxury of oblivion, not even a child.
I’ll never forget my brother’s words after one of the many times I lost weight: “You finally look like a woman.” He was always stunned to learn I vacillated between a size 10 and 12. (The double-digit horror!) I was in high school and it was Easter, so I was dressed up. This had probably been after my fourth diet at that point in time. The earliest, clearest messaging I ever received from other kids—and the men in my life—was that you are not the feminine ideal and you should be ashamed. Control your body. The words and the physical blows that are directed toward females of all ages, of all ethnicities are a direct result of this insidious mindset. Your body is unruly, fix it.
Being a health editor is nothing I ever aspired to be. I always joke that I wanted to be a music journalist, but women’s magazines were where I found jobs. But really I never saw myself as a health editor because I was never allowed to view myself as someone who could serve as a paradigm of fitness and beauty (because “health” is synonymous with these things?). My earliest memories involve being physically beaten and verbally abused because of my size. I was never obese, but I was never thin either. And in a world where Cindy Crawford and Kate Moss were the feminine ideal, why wouldn’t I be attacked by other kids and adults alike for not conforming to expectations?
Me (left) in kindergarten and me in high school. Both were times of disordered eating; can you tell my health in each photo?
The double standard still drives me mad and fuels my belief that women’s health is a feminist issue. My brothers were allowed to eat junk food and even be “husky,” but as a girl, I was not afforded the same luxury. In my lifelong quest to control my body, I’ve been all kinds of weight. I’ve worn four different clothing sizes. I’ve had all kinds of body dysmorphia issues. I’ve had all kinds of disordered eating. And I’m still not off the train.
What I can say is that representation is everything. At Health.com, our stance is on par with Nike’s—come as you are. Nike’s plus-size mannequin represents all the females out there who love ourselves enough to put on some workout clothes and get moving, unshackled from a desire to control and conform. We are moving in the direction of body acceptance because that’s the starting line to a healthy journey.
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