Around the world, the female body is regularly seen to exist for the benefit of— and as belonging to— the male gaze. In Argentina, and Buenos Aires especially, the idea that women’s bodies must fit a very particular and largely unattainable look is particularly prevalent. Advertisements across the city are plastered with a single body type: young, blonde, light-skinned, light-eyed, and impossibly thin women. Those who do not fit into this archetype, especially when it comes to weight, are often left feeling excluded from Argentine society. Narratives of fatphobia are rife within Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires, where women’s sizes in clothing shops rarely ever dare to venture past an 8, and where it is not unusual for US size 4’s to be labeled as L.
Not surprisingly, Argentina’s obsession with thinness—impacting all gendersm yet most acutely focused on women—has been devastating for the self-esteem and sense of worth of many of the country’s youth. Argentina was ranked in 2017 as second in the world for the most cases of bulimia and anorexia, three times higher of that of the US, with rates rising dramatically, particularly in the past ten years. One in ten Argentine teenage girls between the age of 14 and 18 suffers from an eating disorder, according to the Association Against Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA). Meanwhile, even though Argentina passed a law in 2005 requiring clothing stores to stock larger sizes or face a fine, with little to no enforcement, compliance with the law is estimated to remain under twenty-five percent.
Unrealistic body standards have seeped into almost every aspect of Argentine society, with tangible and highly detrimental repercussions. According to the records of the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), weight is the second most common cause of discrimination in Argentina, behind poverty. Stigma surrounding weight in Argentina not only affects social lives, but also job prospects as those who are deemed to be “overweight” routinely face barriers in the employment sector. According to INADI, roughly one complaint of weight-related discrimination is logged every two days in Argentina, the most common one being workplace discrimination. Meanwhile, common activities such as going to the movies or traveling can become complicated tasks for those who do not fit into stigmatized weight norms in Argentina.
Countless incidents across the country in the last few months alone have brought Argentina’s deeply entrenched gordofobia to the limelight. In January of this year, Stella “Luli” Vázquez was assaulted while shopping at a grocery store in Belgrano by another customer, who according to Vázquez became irritated that Vázquez was attended to first. The other customer, an older woman, repeatedly barraged her with insults that she was fat and “disgusted her,” and when Vázquez began to film the woman, she threw her phone to the ground, hitting and scratching her while the grocery store employees stood by and made no effort to intervene. In March 2018, twenty-five-year-old Agustina Ríos Martínez, celebrating a friend’s birthday, was not allowed to enter popular nightclub “Rose In Rio” on the Costanera after being told by the bouncer Fernando Díaz de Liano that she was too fat, and that she didn’t “meet the target” of the club. In April 2018, a man accused of rape in Chubut province was acquitted after the defense argued that it was improbable he would have assaulted the survivor because she was overweight, and thus supposedly too undesirable to assault. “We are looking at an attack against an obese woman,” the defense stressed in making their case. The Puerto Madryn court ultimately agreed and acquitted him, despite the fact that forensic evidence collaborated the survivor’s story.
To counter Argentina’s deeply entrenched fatphobia and weight-related discrimination often seen by most as normal—if not to be expected— in Argentine society, an emerging XL activist movement has aimed to deconstruct stigma and fight against sexist, discriminatory, and dehumanizing rhetoric. To many XL activists, the crux of the issue lies within a system that systematically rejects and discriminates against bodies that, in breaking from socially acceptable parameters, are seen as unruly by threatening the supposed status quo—especially with regard to weight. Across Argentina, XL activist movements such as Taller Hacer La Vista Gorda and AnyBody Argentina, which organized a Plaza de Mayo march against beauty stereotypes in June 2018, have gathered to brainstorm strategies of resistance and promote ideals of body positivity in the public sphere.
Furthermore, recognizing that fatphobia affects all genders yet is disproportionately wielded as a way to oppress and control women, XL activists hope to revolutionize the way the female body is seen by countering narratives that construct women’s bodies as existing for public consumption. They seek to reclaim both bodies and ideals of beauty. Two figureheads of XL activism in Argentina are Laura Contrera and Nicolás Cuello, who co-wrote Cuerpos Sin Patrones, which combines theory and activism to investigate the structural condemnation and attempt at erasure of bodies deemed too unruly, subversive, or willfully recalcitrant by societal standards to exist.
“Fatphobia is everywhere, when you get on a plane, when you go to the movies, the world is designed for you to have standardized bodies and, if you don’t, then you are obsolete, uncomfortable, a nuisance to society in every possible way,” Brenda Mato, an Argentina plus-sized model and body positivity activist told La Nación. To Mato, the issue is not with her body, but with the discomfort she often perceives in others. Modeling and placing her body in the public sphere is thus to her synonymous with a political statement of resistance and defiance.
Thus, while legislation has been important in the struggle against weight-related discrimination and fatphobia in Argentina, no amount of laws will make a difference unless the hearts and minds of Argentine citizens are changed as well. This is why the work of activists such as Mato, Contrera, and Cuello, as well as organizations including Taller Hacer La Vista Gorda and AnyBody Argentina—which work to deconstruct and uproot deeply entrenched fatphobia, body dysmorphia, and dangerously unrealistic beauty standards from a bottom-up, grassroots approach— are so important. Together, they comprise a crucial step in the growing effort to fight back against the rhetoric that deems certain bodies unworthy of existence, much less public recognition and support, in Argentina.