Monday, September 13, 2010

Link Roundup: Fat Is a Feminist Issue Edition

Within the last week or so, there's been a spate of really good feminist blogging about intersections between feminism and fat acceptance.

From Feministe, three guest posts: one by Atheling, who blogs at This Wicked Day, about similarities between slut-shaming and fat-shaming; one by zuzu, who used to be a Feministe contributor and now writes mostly at her own blog, Kindly Póg Mo Thóin, that deals with how fat-shaming health alarmism actually harms fat people's health, both by keeping them out of doctors' offices and by leading doctors to look no further than their patients' BMIs to explain their various health problems; and one by Spilt Milk (who writes an eponymous blog) about how body-shaming permeates mother-daughter relationships and how fat acceptance is radical because it's based on kindness and, well, acceptance, first of yourself and then of others.

There's also this terrific post by Meowser at Fat Fu, which contrasts the reasonable things fat-acceptance advocates are actually saying with the raving denialism everyone else seems to hear:
We say, "Weight is, for the most part, not a very good proxy for health, and there are much better ones, like socioeconomic status." They hear, "Being dozens of pounds over (or under) your baseline weight is just ginchy for you, and your doctor should never bring it up ever." ...

We say, "What causes people to weigh what they do is complex and multifactorial, and varies a lot from one person to another - and you can't tell what people's habits are from their pants size." They hear, "Weight is purely inherited and has nothing whatsoever to do with behavior." ...
We say, "Hounding kids about their weight is not likely to result in happier or healthier kids OR adults, for the most part." They hear, "We don't care if all the children lose their toes to dry gangrene by the time they're 12, as long as we can eat all the baby-flavored donuts we want."
Finally, there's this post by Aunt B at Tiny Cat Pants. She talks about two important things that often go unacknowledged in discussions about fat, public health and how U.S. society has changed: first, the class aspects of sitting around waxing oracular about why Those People are so fat and what they must be doing wrong ...
... [W]e talk about obese people having no self-control or being too stupid to know what to put in their bodies or lacking access to experts who could tell them what to do with themselves; the narrative is all about how obese people put all kinds of things in their bodies because they're too stupid (or uneducated to know better) and they thus have really negative life outcomes. Now, read that same sentence and swap out "obese" for "poor."

It works just the same.

I find that interesting. In both cases, it's about a group that has too many people in it, who need education and expertise and guidance, and who are deemed failures or troublemakers if they resist efforts from the outside to improve them.

The word "class" doesn't quite fit, but I think it has to do with demanding people want to strive to remove evidence of what has been deemed their shitty circumstances. Yes, of course, you will be punished for striving. But you will be punished worse for not striving.

It's almost as if the obese/the poor, by their very existence, insult their "betters" by not recognizing and properly responding to their "betters'" expertise on how best to live life.
... and, later, about implicit sexism in how most people --- even most feminists --- talk about fat:
Is it really not clear to feminists how the "obesity epidemic" is about reasserting the right to police women's bodies? Except now, we're doing it for your health!When people talk wistfully about how "nobody cooks at home anymore" who do you think that "nobody" used to be? When people talk about how kids don't get the same free rein of the neighborhoods they used to have, who is the unspoken monitor of all that free time?

Who has, supposedly, fallen down on the job causing us all to be fat?
Spilt Milk also addresses the mother-blaming aspect of obesity panic in her post --- she describes the double bind mothers find themselves in where, if a daughter develops an eating disorder, it's the mother's fault for being too uptight about food and teaching the daughter to hate her body, while, at the same time, if the children are fat, the mother is blamed for being too lazy to cook healthy food and make sure her children get enough exercise!

EDIT: Radical feminist blogger The Bearded Lady has also written two recent posts on fat acceptance: one --- like zuzu's that I linked earlier --- about fat women and doctors, and how doctors both miss underlying conditions that need treatment because they think fat people just need to lose weight, and also how doctors will see a fat woman's fatness as so dangerous, so unhealthy, that they will prescribe extremely aggressive measures to get them to lose weight. Her other entry is about her personal journey toward fat acceptance, and how for her, accepting her body came as part of her radical feminism, and her rejection of heterosexuality:
[A]lthough I had previously strenuously denied any connection between hating my body and wanting men to like me, when I stopped wanting men to like me, I stopped hating my body. Not immediately, in a flash of insight, but gradually, over time, I realised that I was looking at myself in the mirror and not thinking 'ugly' -- not thinking anything at all, really, just looking for toothpaste on my chin or whatever.

Hating my body/self was, for me, expressed not only in extreme dieting and thinking myself deeply ugly, inside and out. I also hated my body by allowing men to use it, by letting men fuck me, when I (the tiny little voice inside me that was barely allowed to speak) knew that I was being violated and used. It was a joyful moment when I realised I could just stop.
I especially liked that entry of hers, because it's probably the closest any other woman has come to describing a relationship to her body, and to the concept of "attractiveness" and whether one possesses it or not, that resembles mine. It's not a total match, and some things are actually very different between the two of us --- I never went through a period of intense dieting and *wanting* to be thin and conventionally attractive like she did, for instance --- the end state she describes is very close to what I have, and it entails a rejection of beauty and attractiveness rather than the reclamation of those things that seems to be a lot more common for large women who learn to love their bodies. I might write more about how that came about for me later, but for now I was just really happy to see someone else articulate these feelings that I also have, and have struggled to characterize accurately.


Leah Jane said...

Spilt Milk's post really opened my eyes; I was one of those daughters who developed an eating disorder because of my mother being "disappointed" in my weight, telling me about how pretty I could be if I just lost 40 pounds, having the doctor spring surprise lectures about my weight during routine check-ups, and sneaking mineral oil into my food and drink to act as a laxative.
I don't really blame my mother though. I think the real culprit is the fat-shaming culture that both of us were immersed in.
One thing I'd like to see more of is talks about how disability, both physical and mental/intellectual, plays in with fat hatred. I think there's a lot in that territory unexplored, especially for the latter category, and it would be interesting to see what's there to talk about.

Meowser said...

What gets me is how some of the worst logicfail on fat comes from the IT'S SCIENCE! crowd -- as if there was tons of data about fat out there that wasn't bought and paid for by some combination of Big Pharma, Big Food (which sells diet foods at huge markup AND benefits hugely from people being so hungry after a diet that they'll eat anything!), and Big Pharma. There isn't, at least not in the U.S. Linda Bacon actually goes into some detail in her HAES book about how nearly impossible it is to procure funding for any U.S.-based weight-related study that doesn't come from private industry. That ought to be giving the IT'S SCIENCE! crowd serious pause, but it doesn't even seem to slow them down.

Thanks for the shout-out.

Lindsay said...

@Meowser --- yeah, I noticed that, too. Being a very science-y type myself (hello, biochemistry degree! hello, entire semester spent studying the ins and outs of metabolism!), I look at the studies about obesity, health, metabolism and heredity and go, "Man, is this stuff complicated!" I do *NOT* go, "How simple! Calories in = calories out, OMG!"

Meowser said...

I know, right?

Aaaaand the next day, I notice that I said "Big Pharma" twice. One of those should have been "Big Diet" (as in Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.) Awake =/= alert, blargh.