Isms part 3: Sizeism

Sizeism? For heaven’s sake, I’m not even sure if it’s a word.

“You long, lanky streak of p—” was one of the more imaginative insults directed at me as a teenager. “Oi, you, lofty!” was my father’s greeting from a Glaswegian in 1945, when on National Service. Sizeist?

Times change. My father was 5ft 10in. I am 6ft 4 (and a bit) but increasingly see guys bigger than me in the street. And… oh dear, taller and taller girls. (Was that sexist? “Look but don’t touch”, as Mrs Oblique says.)

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It increasingly strikes me that these posts on ‘Isms’ are confusing the use of language with behaviour. But then… I wrote that sentence a week or so ago, and now realise that language and behaviour are not independent of each other. (I told you I was using this blog partly to organise and clarify my thinking.)

If you use a certain mode of language, then your thinking conforms to that mode. If you think in a certain way, then that tends to make you behave in a certain way. (I’m sure linguistic philosophers could argue about this for years.)

I’m no longer bothered about being picked on for my height, except that Mrs Oblique wishes I was taller. However, there are comments (and behaviours) directed at the size or body shape of others which DO bother them and which COULD be called sizeist. No, I don’t think that’s just political correctness.

img039An example, which for some rather sexist reasons I only know second hand, concerns wedding dress shops. I have, on the rare occasions I have been in one, felt like a spare part. (Nudge nudge, wink wink.) Much worse, I know that ladies of a certain large size are on occasion made to feel that they are abnormal; that if they are not size 12 or smaller, a special size will need to be ordered to cope with the enormity of the body. Not a good way to approach a special outfit for a special day.

The issue of clothing sizes is a real problem. We are now familiar with the skinny model syndrome: usually girls, they are unusually slender. The example of their use in advertising encourages others to aspire to this body type, even if detrimental to health.

People of below average height, I am told, often have a patronising attitude directed towards them, as if they are really children.

There are really only minor issues with being a bit above average height. You learn to duck. (My father-in-law raised a low doorway in their ancient house to accommodate me. Truthfully.) Nowadays, I can easily get size 12 shoes, but as a teenager I could only get very boring shoes, in special shops.

There you are then. Sizeism? Not a big problem for me. Whoops. But for others… if we use language that is derogatory about people’s size, we think in a derogatory way about their size and about them. We behave in a negative way. Has this clarified your thinking? Oh well.

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