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Of feminism and fat acceptance

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Paprika has like, Legionnaire’s disease or something, and I am pretty sure I have the strep-throat-of-the-apocalypse so, we haven’t been bloggerific, the two of us. You know what? My husband, who smokes  I don’t even god damn know many a day is compeletly healthy. I personally credit his African childhood for this, but it could be his god damned burnished cheek o’ health smugness (it won’t isulate you forever, Mr. Lee Hales. There will come a time, and that time will be a head cold. I know that sentence makes no fucking sense shut up, tylenol.)

Anyway. I want to work out some thoughts about food, bodies, shame and policing as I write, so, warning cause this will most likely ramble.

Over at feministe, http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/09/06/shameful-behaviour/ went up, which I urge everyone to read because it’s awesome.

So I’ve been thinking, before that went up, and certainly after, about my own journey as feminist into wide open nod-alonging with the fat acceptance movement. I have a shit-load of thin white cis het middle class appearing educated talkin’ woman privilege. So, there is that. I have to acknowledge that privilege, because not acknowledging it is how things stay fucked up and miserable for people who aren’t me.

I also needed to make the slut shaming/ fat shaming analogy in my head. I was quite maliciously slut shamed as a young woman, and that slut shaming was a catalyst for my whole hearted rejection of the kyriarchy. I don’t want to do that to anyone else. Bodies, as I’ve said, are not ever public property.

But I have also thought about the roots of fat shaming in our culture, and I want to keep thinking about that, because  I need to mentally see the foundations to really tear down the tower, you know?

First of all, I abso-fucking-lutely believe that fat-shaming and body policing are feminist concerns, because these issues disproportionately affect women who cannot or choose not to conform. This is not to say that it doesn’t affect boys and men too, it does, but women’s bodies are still social objects in a way that mens aren’t so, yeah.

The roots of this stuff are intersecting, binding and touching on all your other favorite isms as they go. Racism, sexism, classism, religious thought, scientism, social darwinism… Oh the delightful list.

So lets go back to ye olden tymes, and racism, because you have the thin, moral white white woman, (preferably blonde, because the Victorians were terrified of any hint of miscegenation, or ladies breathing from the sternum, but I digress) contrasted to the “thick” lascivious non white woman. And that woman’s body has another awful connotation cast on it, because that woman’s body is considered open for rape, and this is part of our American cultural landscape, and should never be forgotten.  The thin white woman is pure, and Christian, she has the will power to escape and avoid sex, and food is sex sublimated and made visible in this awful labyrinth of history and femininity that we find ourselves lost in. The white woman with the 18 inch waist and the pinned up hair, well, she can also look down on the working class woman whose stays are loose, because she is heaving and lifting and walking and carrying and bending and grunting and gasping for breath all day, and when she walks home in her her short skirts, she may need to run a little because her body is also always threatened with rape. And these women, women of color, white women who are working class, they eat cheap starches and grains, they must eat what they can eat when they can eat because there is almost never enough.

This is magical thinking, this is the idea that if you just cinch your waist small enough, if you just play by the rules and do the patriarchy right, it will do your right in exchange. It doesn’t, of course, and no amount of self immolation on its altar will ever make it so.  This is also where we get the narrative that a womans true power ultimately always lies in her beauty, which is not really a fair exchange for respect. But thats another post.

And then there is the fascination with asceticism as a holy act, abstinence from the pleasures of life in pursuit of a higher knowledge. This is really the only explanation for the injuctions we see against gluttony, because seriously, in ye olden olden tymes, the people being converted to the newly minted Christian church  (prostitutes, beggars etc) probably didn’t have enough to be terribly concerned about over-eating. Maybe the church was worried that their farthing would be spent on wine.

But mostly, I think we really do have this odd cultural equation that associates starvation with holiness (maybe because starving can lead to hallucinations?) and food with sin.  If you have the moral fibre to be thin, it says, you are made of the right stuff, you are a good person, you are in control, you are closer to god, and your inner beauty is shining through.

I think this reveals a profound fear of being embodied, of the vulnerability of having a body that is subject to constant change, that is, on many levels, uncontrollable.

There is always the way that food is sex made visible, because it is so intimate, and so public all at the same time. Because it is communal and necessary.

And so, here we are. Food is still a moral issue, even though food has no moral component. It is starting be seen as backwards and gauche to slut-shame, even in the guise of “OMG HER HEALTH THOUGH!”

We have an upper class that can afford to work out 7 days a week, and eat the best possible foods, and have lipo, and binge on coke, and take adderall, and be very thin.

We have a lower class that is blocked access to the best foods, and told to grow a fucking garden, because WHO HAS TIME? Or chickens. But nobody is going to start reorganizing our whole stupid food system to make good food available because INDIVIDUAL CHOICES!

And beyond this, in the middle somewhere, we have people who could afford better food, and choose not to, and god damnit, here is your guilt parade you guys!

Except, of course, its not always about what food someone chooses to eat, sometimes its just the way that their body is, and wow is it not really any of my business. And sometimes it is about what they choose to eat, but it’s still none of my fucking business.

Life is a risk, and we all know how it ends. Some of the freaking out and shaming of fat people, sounds a whole lot like “stop reminding me that we all die by having a body! STOPSTOPSTOP LA LA LA LA LA I WILL MAKE YOU FEEL BAD SO I FEEL BETTER AAAAAAAH SWEET SCHADENFREUD!”

There is, I think, this idea that you can bargain with the universe by making sure you always, always appear outwardly healthy and appropriately fuckable, that it will say, I am valued, so don’t rape me, I will be missed if you dissappear me, I have access to money, I am important, and ohmygod I have this temple of a body so I will not die an unfortunate death.

And of course, it is often times just a nasty minded competitiveness. Because we aren’t allowed to do any fucking competitive thing without it being sexualized, as  women, we compete for fuckability, for virtuousness, to show our mental and physical strength, our moral fibre. And our self hatred shines right on through, because the game was rigged from the start. We could never win. So I, for one, am trying to win by not playing.

The solution to this shit is to stop concern trolling about the health of people whose bodies aren’t yours, and start working together to figure out how to correct the real gaping food inequities that the world faces.

What say you, readers?

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About Pepper

Pepper Lee Hales is a twenty something, married, vicious feminist liberal. She likes dogs, cats, spiders, epistemics and cake.

3 responses »

  1. You know this is a tough one for me.

    I truly believe food can be addictive – and there are companies that want it that way. Being overweight (whatever that means – nothing to do with a size, necessarily) and unhealthy is bad for you. Eating wayyyy too much DOES use up resources. Limited resources. And not just potatoes for french fries – oil, too.

    Regardless. As I have learned, the issue of limited resources is not a moral issue. This is an important distinction, as it plays into all other points, leading to the bottom line of: other people’s bodies are not my business.

    SO I think it’s learning to distinguish between shaming other people and discussing their weight, and focusing on the things that are actually what bother me: namely, the way food is done in this country. Kind of period.

    Even if, in a perfect effing world, all my issues were solved – guess what. Some people are still going to overeat. They just are. They may know allll about using up resources – they may give me the finger while they do it. It’s the same as the dude in the SUV that almost ran me over yesterday morning while I was riding my bike. He might understand climate change and limited oil resources – and he just likes the SUV.

    Of course – that whole thing irritates me. Why do we all have to go to hell in a handbasket because you like your SUV? When is it personal choice over community good? I like both these things, but… Same thing with children (and here’s where I get really crazy). In my book, it would be flippin awesome if we could make having children a privilege you had to earn, and that you could only have two. Why? Because it’s better for the planet. It’s actually better for your freakin’ kids. But – what about the people who love big families? Why are my values more important, even if, in my eyes, I’m thinking about us all??

    I don’t know!

    Anyways. I have realized the distinction I have to be careful about between what I really care about and telling someone they’re fat. You know, shaming people doesn’t actually help, either. When I feel depressed/stressed out/worried, what do you think I do? I eat.

    Another thing (last one I swear) – I think (it’s been awhile since I read it) in Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse, he makes the point that societies made the switch to farming and agriculture because it allowed some people to flourish over others. One of the consequences of this was the poor ate a lot of farmed grains – and their health deteriorated. Did the wealthy care? Not at all. Any chance that poor health (eating too much of some things encourages weight gain, right?) has indicated poverty for a really freakin long time?

    In addition (ok so wasn’t quite done) – is it possible that we’re missing something important here? Isn’t providing the poor with shitty food is one way of oppression?

    Reply
  2. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    Yeah, it is tough to parse out wanting to give everybody the best possible options versus shaming them into doing whatever I think is best.

    I totally feel you on the children thing. OhMYGAWD do I feel you. I want to shriek “TWO IS ENOUGH!” But then my prochoice logic-brain kicks in and says it’s none of my business how many children people choose to have as long as they also have access to the choice . So I want to work toward free contraception and reproductive healthcare, (free healthcare in general, actually) de-stigmatizing abortion services, and de-stigmatizing the choice to be child-free or have only one child.

    I think you really cut to the heart of it– we have to work on how food is done on a broad level, instead of maligning individual choice, or acting like people live in a perfect ideal vacuum where class, race, and gender don’t mean anything at all.

    For me, thinking about the roots of my feelings about my own body and other peoples bodies really helps to crystallize just why/what it is I feel.
    I do think that we (especially white ladies with stakes in toxic privilege) are sold a weird, awful, hideous pile of horseshit about our bodies and what they mean, and it warrants some examination.

    I think that we have this awful paradox with our bodies– on the one hand they are social objects, display objects, culturally, and they have been commodified for-fucking-ever in terms of marriageability and “power” over teh menz.

    On the other hand, there is tremendous pressure not to take up too much space, not to be too visible, too audaciously embodied because then whatever assault happens to you is your own damn fault.

    So, I think that women who do not meet patriarchal standards by making themselves into display objects on the one hand, and making themselves take up little space on the other catch it coming and going. And other women police them viciously, because of the buy in to the idea of our bodies as commodity objects, as things that are not really ours so that we treat each other like competition, and reassure ourselves of our own “power” by policing.

    I feel like our cultural narratives about rape do really play into this fucked up dynamic, because desirability=value=protection

    When I hear that someone is worried about someone else’s health, because they aren’t thin, I think that many, many thin people, myself included, have terrible eating habits, probably worse than many fat people, and what we are really worrying about is whether that person is making themselves valuable enough to be protected. And if they aren’t maybe that decreases our own value, or makes us ragey that WE work so hard to be valuable and thus safe, and THEY don’t.

    I don’t think it comes from some hideous monster place all the time, but for serious, I don’t honestly worry about other people’s health, except maybe my husband with his cigarettes, and things like STI’s and infectious diseases, and environmental degradation. But things that don’t affect me personally? Nope. When I think I am merely “worried about her health” I have to take a minute and really parse out what I’m thinking, and a lot of it is ugly patriarchal shit like “god I’m glad I don’t look like that!” “She really shouldn’t wear that skirt with her calves, thats so gross and inappropriate” “should she be eating/drinking that?” “OMG how can anyone have sex with her?” I’m not saying that this is the underlying process in your mind, obviously, or anyone else’s, just using myself as an example.

    But yeah, that shit? That awful, awful hateful vile shit? That is not about her health. That is internalized patriarchal venom. That is my own self hatred, my own fear of having a vulnerable body in a world that shows every sign of hating me for existing.

    Reply
  3. Fat acceptance is even more of a task after kids. You are faced with the three “types” of mothers- dumpsters, Kelly Ripa-offs, or the ‘rest’. Those of us sort of in the middle. It gets old when moms talking to other moms revolves around what I call “The Holy Trinity”- your shit-ass husband, your perfect better than anybody elses kids, or the dimples on your thighs. See why I shy away from other mothers? UGH.

    Anyways, two articles from Bitch that went up online, spoeaking of fat acceptance, schadenfreude, etc. Enjoy. http://bitchmagazine.org/post/size-matters-celebrity-schadenfreude & http://bitchmagazine.org/post/size-matters-fat-acceptance-and-you

    I love an interview with Nigella Lawson where the interviewer very crudely asks if she “hates herself because she’s fat”. She flippantly remarks proudly “I think anyone who hates themselves has a very poor sex life, don’t you. Well. I happen to enjoy my sex. And my food.” I could have blown fireworks of joy out of my ass right then.

    Oh and my chain smoking, potato chip by the bag inhaling, 10 mini candy bars a day husband IS.NEVER.SICK.EVER.EITHER. Fucktard ducks.

    Reply

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