On Jul. 20, fashion blogger, designer, and Insta-influencer Arielle Charnas shared a photo of herself in a string bikini, captioning it "proud of my body after two kids." She placed a green heart emoji after the words to match the hue of her swimsuit. The photo currently has over 4,000 comments and over 50,000 likes, on a profile that reaches over 1 million people. Scrolling through all those comments, however, it becomes clear that Charnas' words have sparked mass social media discussion about thin privilege, economic privilege, and the role of influencers who hold the power to, well, influence. Among those who have chimed in is actor Amanda Seyfried, who has argued Charnas should consider how her privilege might factor into the body she is so proud of, and the message that such a post conveys to women and mothers who do not share her advantages.
On Instagram, Seyfried shared a screenshot of a friend's comment on Charnas' feed marked "NO TAGS HERE" in an attempt at criticizing Charnas without calling her out directly. It read, "Totally fine that you're privileged and thin, good for you (I am too-ish!) [...] but if you don't acknowledge how your wealth made your workouts/body possible, you're just perpetuating the patriarchal (totally unrealistic) notion that mothers should 'bounce back' after childbirth, an impossibility for anyone who can't afford ample childcare (which is almost everyone in this country."
Further, the friend wrote, "Honeychild, you are glorifying an unhealthy body image (I don't care if it's 'natural,' don't even try that sh*t with me) in a society that already fetishizes the adolescent female form. Young girls don't need any more images of emaciated women thank you very much."
Seyfried first shared the screenshot in her Instagram Story, and then wrote "f*ck it- this is feed material," posting it to her permanent feed and noting, "If we’re ready to get paid for flaunting our lifestyle (and inspiring some in the meantime) we have to be open to the discussions surrounding what we’re promoting."
The amount of money we have factors into what we can/can't do with our bodies, especially when children are involved.
Charnas's husband Brandon Charnas has made light of the feud in his own post, and Seyfried has since shared a public apology for criticizing Charnas specifically, posting to Instagram, "I desperately wish [my post] hadn’t targeted (or blasted) one person (there are MANY who engage in this questionable messaging) and instead started a cleaner, general conversation," she also wrote that she is pleased the "bigger, important message seems to filtering through and helping a lot of women feel supported."
There are, arguably, quite a few things we might unpack from this particular social media debate — the question of how economic privilege intersects with what our bodies look like being the most obvious one. It was, essentially, the question at the heart of Seyfried and her friend's criticism of Charnas' post.
CW: Photos and discussion of eating disorders to follow.
For most of us, the amount of money we have factors into what we can/can't do with our bodies, especially when children are involved. Being able to afford childcare, which would in turn allow a parent to set aside some time for fitness, is a luxury. In fact, childcare being "too expensive" is the top reason more people are opting out of having children these days, according to a recent New York Times study. Sure, some folks might be lucky enough to have a free babysitter in the form of a grandparent, friend, or cousin who doesn't mind watching the kids while mom hits the gym for a few hours — but many, many do not.
When influencers only share part of their story — in this case, a flat tummy, visible thigh gap, and tanned abs — they fail to account for everything needed to get their body to that point. Few among us maintain such a figure through genetics alone (although genetics certainly factor into our body shapes). More often than not, there are physical trainers involved. There are gym memberships, strict diet regimens, babysitters, and daycares, all of which require hefty checks.
We are taught that it’s the worst thing in the world to be ugly.
There is also time, a commodity often taken for granted. It isn't something all mothers have. It isn't abundantly available to single mothers, mothers working full-time, or overtime, mothers who only get to see their kids for an hour a day (if they're lucky) after a 10-hour shift, and who do not fancy giving up that hour to hop on the elliptical, mothers who are also going to school, or mothers trying to keep the home in some semblance of order.
Even mothers who have a support network still do not always have the time or energy to work out — and they should not inevitably be made to feel like failures when this is the case. They should not be made to feel like anything outside of the superheroes they are, for juggling as much as they do every single day. They should not be made to feel as though their post-baby bodies aren't glorious and worthy of pride; as if their stretch marks, or jiggly bellies, or saggy boobs aren't brilliant and beautiful emblems of their experiences in motherhood.
The pride that Charnas cited over her body also opens us up to a conversation about thin privilege, and the continued cultural glorification of thinness that doesn't just affect women or mothers, but everyone. We are all allowed to love and appreciate our bodies, but there is arguably something deeply uncomfortable about exalting your thin body without any caveats in a world that tears down just about everyone who does not possess such a body.
While society polices fat bodies in the interests of 'health,' it celebrates those who are suffering from disordered eating and body dysmorphia when the symptoms are a thin body.
As Vanessa Rochelle Lewis explained in a piece examining beauty and white supremacy for Wear Your Voice, "We have all been brainwashed into thinking that there is one narrow, widely-accepted concept of beauty and that we are all in agreement of what it is and what it is not."
She continues, "Similarly, ugliness and unattractiveness are considered equally as universal. When comedians, musicians, and writers name someone ugly, we all have a general idea of what they mean, and when they get specific with their descriptions, the qualities are nearly always the same — imperfect teeth, 'nappy' hair, non-distinct eyelids, darker skin with indigenous features, wide/long noses and lips, large bodies, visible physical disabilities, hairiness, visible illnesses."
"And we are taught that it’s the worst thing in the world to be ugly," she later concludes.
When our bodies and faces fit into the constructed image of "ugliness," it isn't just day-to-day bullying or a poor sense of self-love that we may have to face. It is a completely different sense of access. It is exclusion. It is fewer opportunities, professionally, academically, or interpersonally. Bodies that are not white, or thin, or "beautiful," or able are at risk of some form of targeting every day.
To be asked to recognize your thin privilege is not to be attacked. In fact, in the words of Dr. Melissa A. Fabello, PhD, an expert in human sexuality studies and body politics, for Everyday Feminism, no one is saying that "thin privilege means that thin women don't have struggles." No one is saying "thin privilege means you're not allowed to express bad body image," or that "it's OK to be skinny-shamed," or that "it doesn't matter if you have an eating disorder or other illness." Rather, learning to recognize thin privilege simply means better understanding how your body fits into the dominant cultural narrative of what is and isn't an acceptable body, and examining how the language we each use to talk about bodies further impacts others.
Many commenters thought Seyfried's friend was out of line for possibly maybe suggesting that Charnas was not healthy, and the discussion proves how tricky it is to talk about our bodies generally, and eating disorders more specifically. That is, while society polices fat bodies in the interests of "health," it celebrates those who are suffering from disordered eating and body dysmorphia when the symptoms are a thin body.
World-champion obstacle-course racer Amelia Boone recently wrote about her eating disorder for Outside Magazine. The piece was a raw account of her struggles, which began with inpatient treatment for anorexia during her teens, and acknowledged her privileges. "Weight stigma and thin privilege (which I have, and benefit from) are real," she writes. "I’ve become passionate about fighting weight stigma and speaking out about thin privilege and fatphobia because, regardless of what size of body you are in, it hurts us all."
Conversely, actively working toward eradicating hierarchies and narratives that suggest all women must look a certain way, or all mothers must look a certain way, or that there are such things as "inferior" or "superior" bodies, or that our bodies are far more important than who we are and what we do in this world, benefits everyone.
One additional matter to unpack in the wake of this social media debate is the notion of who we choose to listen to when it comes to these sensitive issues. The truth is, there are myriad fat-acceptance activists and advocates, body politics influencers and anti-diet culture enthusiasts, shedding light on these important, essential topics every single day. They are, more often than not, people speaking on or writing about these things from an experiential position rather than that of an ally. In an ideal world, their work and their stories would have just as much of a reach as Charnas or Seyfried have. In an ideal world, these people would have just as many followers; just as much influence.
The sh*ttiest thing is that this isn't the world we live in. The general public very rarely listens to the oppressed or marginalized, by default, often choosing instead to listen to those who, perhaps, do not seem to have any personal stakes in the matter. Or those whose lives, and bodies, and work fit into the narrative of what is "aspirational." It's for this reason (however unfortunate it may be) that allies are important — and that push-back against tone-deaf representations of thin privilege or economic privilege by someone like Amanda Seyfried has value.
Hopefully, for many, the conversations this has all sparked won't end here. Hopefully, a post like Seyfried's might encourage some of her followers to further research thin privilege, or economic privilege, or mom shaming; to seek out the words of those most affected by beauty and body image culture. We all must keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to do better, and keep pushing others to do better, too. Maybe, then, in time, we won't have to worry about our own kids, and how they will experience the world based on how they look, quite as much as we do right now.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.