Saturday, October 27th, 2012
I recently became employed full time again, and that means I sit in a cubicle surrounded by other cubicles for a large portion of my work day. Overheard conversations often waft my way, particularly from the two rows of women who sit behind me. I’ve noticed some trends in the discussions so far: job duties, complaints, family/friends/pets, jokes, politics, health care (they are nurses), and dieting/weight loss. Because they are nurses, many of them have a pretty good idea of health in that they want people to care for their bodies, but it seems even nurses try fad diets; one nurse talked about South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, and something about eating nothing but cabbage.
In all the quiet corners of office talk, I hear women talking about diets and weight loss, if only for a minute or so, but only when the men have gone. Women only seem to be comfortable talking about their bodies to each other–understandably so. Men habitually and often agressively comment on women’s bodies even when those comments are unwanted (see: street harassment), so it’s no surprise that diet talk is often a conversation women will only have with each other. In the break room during lunch, women chat about eating habits, exercise regimens, weight loss, weight gain, and diets. It seems many women bond over diet talk:
Coworker #1: “You look like you’ve lost some more weight.”
Coworker #2: “Yea, another two pounds.” [smiles]
Coworker #1: [Puts down fork in shock] “Good for you!”
Coworker #2: “Yea, look: this dress is loose on me.” [Sits up straight and pulls the fabric around her waist]
Coworker: #1 “Sweet! You can give me all your old clothes.” [laughs]
Coworker #2: “I will! Some of the stuff is brand new, tags on still and everything.”
These two women exemplify the bond between women over weight loss and gain because Coworker #2 is beyond willing to donate the clothes that no longer fit her to Coworker #1 all because Coworker #1 showed support. This a bond over bodies, and in a way, it’s excellent that women can form such bonds with each other over their bodies; I especially like how encouraging they were to one another. However, the context of the discussions women have about their bodies hinges on gains and losses (or victories and defeats) rather than the way we show our bodies kindness and respect, how we care for our bodies by responding to their needs, and how to show our bodies love and appreciation. We are always discussing our bodies as something that needs to be fixed, tweaked, lessened, or manipulated.
I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad to discuss the triumphs and challenges women share about their bodies, but wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to be part of discussion about women’s bodies that doesn’t dissect and measure them? Wouldn’t it be inspiring to instead share techniques for self love and acceptance? I think that the conversation could go in this direction if just one woman in each diet discussion could bring up modes of self love and acceptance.
Of course, we don’t hear those types of conversations coming from the body-hating media and advertisers; we see conversations about how to get the flattest stomach, reduce thigh size, and lose “winter weight.” Again, it’s all about “fixing” broken bodies. Because body hate is all we really see and hear from the media, family, and friends, it’s difficult to be the one voice of body love and acceptance in a world full of people having a different conversation. But starting that conversation is an act of rebellion; it is active dissent against beauty standards, fat shame, pro-anna, self hate, and girl hate. Instead of sharing trends for fixing bodies with diets, let’s share the trend of body acceptance.
If you are reading this, I hope you will consider asking your friends–especially those who engage in diet talk–how they show their bodies love, kindness, and respect. Mostly likely no one has asked them before, and it could open up an entirely new line of thinking about bodies. This kind of conversation could deepen our bonds to each other by letting others become intimate with the love and acceptance we give ourselves. They could deepen our bonds to our own bodies as we stop hating, dieting, and obsessing and start loving, valuing, and accepting. Let’s start a new conversation, right here, right now: one in which we discuss love and respect instead of loss and gain.
Saturday, October 6th, 2012
As of late, I’ve noticed that some folks in and outside of the fat accpetance movement have some misconceptions about what the movement encourages. Here are some of the myths I’ve come across debunked.
5. Fat acceptance says don’t exercise.
Fat acceptance doesn’t want to control your behavior. It doesn’t want to tell you what to eat, how to eat, what to wear, how to wear it, or what your body should/shouldn’t be doing. Whatever you choose to do with your body is what you choose to do with your body. If you like to exercise, great; do it. If you don’t, great; don’t do it! Your body is yours, and no one should be able to tell you what to do or what not to do. Personally, I exercise. I do for mental health reasons; it gives me a boost of the good chemicals I feel are essential for my mental stability. When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I worked with my behavioral therapist to look at options other than medication. She suggested exercise because I had mentioned that doing yoga helped me relax and gave me a positive boost. Since then, I have been exercising because I like it. However, any reason is a good reason to do what you want with your body. If you just like it, then you just like. If you don’t like, then you just don’t like it. Fat acceptance wants you to have complete ownership of your body, and whatever that means to you is whatever it means to you.
4. Fat acceptance is a “women only” movement.
It may seem like the conversation is dominated by women, but fat acceptance isn’t trying to keep men out of a women’s only conversation. Men face an increasingly rigid standard of beauty that is being marketed through the media. We have only begun to see the repercussions of a male beauty standard, as it’s something that folks are just starting to research. Women are usually the ones writing about fat acceptance because there has been a lot of in depth research into the harm female beauty standards cause to women and girls. However, men are encouraged to participate in the discussion. If you are interested in reading fat acceptance writings from men, here are a few to blogs with male/gender neutral FA bloggers:
Fat acceptance also seems to be cis centered, meaning it tends to focus on cisgendered bodies. It’s imperative that trans* individuals are part of the discussion about body image. My one big criticism of the fat acceptance movement is its lack of trans* visibility. I suggest that the fat acceptance community involve trans* bodies in their campaigns because, if we don’t, we are guilty of maintaining a power structure that would like to erase trans* individuals.
3. Fat acceptance wants to reverse the power dynamic between thin and fat.
If you belong to the blogging community–hell, if you’ve logged into Facebook lately–you might I have seen images like this:
These message, in effect, undermines the struggle for fat acceptance. Fat acceptance is not about when thin became hotter than curvy women, what straight cis men find attractive, or the policing of bodies. This type of argument only seeks to reverse the power structure of thin/fat so that fat (or curvy) is favored, and therefore privileged, over thin. Regardless of what the beauty standard is, it’s still oppressive in that one must adhere to it, be shamed if one doesn’t adhere to it, and bodies that don’t fit said standard are seen as not real, good, or worthy. True fat acceptance wants to smash the power structure that says one body is “better” than another. Fat acceptance is about people loving their bodies without having to fit into a standard of beauty: it says that all bodies are real bodies; all bodies are good bodies. Pitting bodies against each other should never be the focus fat acceptance activism.
2. Fat acceptance glorifies obesity.
To me, this myth is nearly laughable. The idea that loving your body regardless of who says you are beautiful glorifies obesity really just translates to “but isn’t being fat bad for you??” The short answer is No, being fat is not bad for you. In fact, fat acceptance is linked to better health outcomes. The fact of the matter is that no one should be shamed about their body. No standard of beauty can tell you whether someone is healthy. Most importantly, shaming someone into being who you want to see is not going to help them feel good about themselves. If one doesn’t feel good about one’s self, one is less likely to care for one’s body and mind. It’s important to understand that the only things being glorified by fat acceptance are self care and self love
1. Fat acceptance demands complete confidence and self-love at all times.
Some mornings I wake up and I can’t look at my body in the mirror. Some mornings I wake up and feel fabulously fat and fierce. Some mornings I wake I and don’t feel anything about my body at all. How we feel and what we think about our bodies fluctuates as often as our moods. No one is asking for complete and total self love, no exceptions, no excuses. Self acceptance is a process; there are challenges we face in that process. Most of the challenges come in the form of self-doubt, insecurity, self-hate, and feelings or inferiority/invisibility. The reason why fat acceptance activists are constantly shouting from roof tops, “Love Your Body!” is because we struggle with loving our bodies on a daily basis. When I say Love your body it’s more like a reminder to myself: Hey, you, don’t be so hard on yourself; see your body for what it is; care for it and love it and treat it with kindness and respect.
In addition, self love and acceptance is more difficult for some than others. No one is giving you a time frame to work in; no one expects you to wake up tomorrow from the slumber of self-hate, bursting with a passionate love for your body. Loving any aspect of yourself is a day to day challenge that requires a plethora of strategies to overcome said challenges. Fat acceptance simply asks you to work on undoing years of shame and self hate through compassion, care, and love. Some folks my not be ready to establish that relationship to their bodies yet. Perhaps there are other things a person needs/wants to accept about themselves before they can begin work on fat acceptance. That is great. Work on whatever aspects of self that will challenge how you see yourself and what you can do. Again, there is no timeline, and there is no one cracking a self-love whip. However you experience your journey of fat acceptance is right.
Friday, September 14th, 2012
As many of you know, I have been documenting my journey through Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach on Axis of Fat. Some of my previous posts have been in direct response to Orbach’s book, and this will be my final post about book one of FIAFI. (Although, I will probably refer to from time to time.)
Fat is a Feminist Issue has a mostly clear main idea: women become fat due to compulsive eating, which is a response to systemic sexism. This position has many determinants, the first of which begins with the relationship between mother and daughter, or as Orbach puts it, feeder and fed:
“I suggest that one of the reasons we find so many women suffering from eating disorders is because the social relationship between feeder and fed, between mother and daughter, fraught as it is with ambivalence and hostility, becomes a sustainable mechanism for distortion or rebellion.” (Orbach, 34)
This is not to say that all mothers are responsible for their daughters’ eating disorders, but that the relationship between mother and daughter is where the daughter learns what eating and feeding means for a woman. This relationship could be the beginnings of distortion or rebellion as the mother introduces the girl child to “what is means to be female;” that is, mother is the one who introduces the girl child to her gender role.
Gender roles prescribe many different “requirements” for womanhood, as many of us know. These include but are not limited to: thinness, passivity, purity, and self-sacrifice. As girls become women, a distortion or rebellion begins because these requirements do not validate the many experiences of being a person. Sexism requires that women fulfill these social obligations, lest a woman risks being ostracized. As a response, some women begin to compulsively eat as a means to rebel against or skirt these requirements.
The reasons why a woman turns to compulsive eating could range from desexualizing herself to societal invalidation of women’s anger. Each meaning given to compulsive eating is documented via Orbach’s group work with compulsive eaters. You may remember my last post, “Fat as Rebellion: My Fat Says ‘Fuck You,’” in which I determine that one of the meanings I give my fat is one of rebellion against the norms of femininity, specifically the denial of female rage. Reading Orbach’s book will give you a list of possible meanings in which you may or may not see your fat.
This brings me to my response: although I found the book to be very enlightening and helpful to my particular body and mind, my biggest contention is that Orbach’s thesis demands that every fat woman has some “meaning” behind her fat. That is to say, every woman gives attributes to her fat that she unconsciously believes aid her in navigating a sexist world, and I don’t agree with that. While this is true for me, it is not true for every woman.
Another contention I have with the book is that, overall, Orbach does advocate for weight loss. Although it is advocating for weight loss without diets and is more a reframing of food, eating, and fat than a slimming of the body, the book still says that most, if not all, of the women who went through Orbach’s compulsive eating group did stabilize at a “normal” weight. Keep in mind that this book was written in the 70s, but this is still the main attitude about fatness and fat people: if they change some key aspect of their lives–whether food intake, exercise, or reshaping the way they think about fat and food–they can “stabilize” at a “normal weight.”
To be fair, I am simplifying Orbach’s arguments to only a few paragraphs; therefore, I am not really doing it complete justice. The ways in which Orbach suggests women get comfortable with their bodies as is (instead of imagining that one’s life will better or more fulfilling once one is thin) are some of the basic practices of body acceptance. The first suggestion offered is Mirror Work. Women, alone or in groups, use a full length mirror to look at their bodies without judging what they see. First, they look at themselves standing, then sitting, and finally from a side view. This practice can be done clothed or naked. “Start with what feels most comfortable and stay with that until [you] can have the experience of looking in the mirror [without] flashing to feelings of disgust” (Orbach, 75). The second portion of Mirror Work is about breathing through your body and feeling yourself in your fat thus excepting fat as your body. “Many women experience their fat as something that surrounds them with their true selves inside or, alternatively, that their fat trails them, taking up more room than it really does” (Orbach, 75). When one becomes aware of each part of the body, how its connected, and what it does for a person, it “provides a holistic view of [the] body,” which aids in the process of acceptance (Orbach, 75).
Practices like those mentioned above actually can undo years of self-hate and shame, and this is where Orbach’s book succeeds; however, it still seems as though the practices are used as a means to an end. There are, however, a few desired outcomes: acceptance of the body “as is,” discontinuing compulsive eating behaviors, and weight loss. I recall a few posts back that one reader commented that it would be interesting to see what I thought about whether Orbach’s book advocates for weight loss once I’d finished the book, and after reading it, I think it does advocate for weight loss. I don’t think, however, that is a reason to stay away from Fat is a Feminist Issue as a resource for overcoming fat shame and fat stigma. Most of Orbach’s work is insightful, meaningful, and well delivered; it provided me with vast insights into my own views on fat, fatness, eating, and food. The best conclusion one can draw from FIAFI is that dieting is not the answer to fat shame. Orbach throroughly examines the diet industry and the effects of dieting on the compulsive eater, finding conclusive evidence that dieting does not work, and 100% of diet industry clients return to diets.
Through Fat is a Feminist Issue, I discovered that I am a compulsive eater. Many, if not all, of the descriptions and practices of the compulsive eater that Orbach writes about have resonance in my life, and because of it I have suffered physically and mentally. The emotional struggle of living with fat shame day after day made me reclusive, depressed, anxious, and inhibited. In addition, I cause my body physical pain through compulsive eating because I suffer from IBS. After reading Orbach’s book, I realized the source of my IBS is compulsive eating. I want to alleviate my mental and physical aliments, so I am going to read Orbach’s subsequent book, Fat is a Feminist Issue II: A Program to Conquer Compulsive Eating. My hope is not that I will lose weight, but that I will stop compulsively eating, as it seems to be the source of physical and emotional pain I’ve been trying to stop for years via dieting and food restriction.
I recommend Fat is a Feminist Issue to any woman who feels that what I’ve written over the past few entries rings true. It’s ripe with insights for the compulsive eater; however, if you do not feel like you fit the descriptions offered of the compulsive eater in this post or my previous posts, FIAFI might not be right for you. There are plenty of blogs and books that can help a woman accept her body as it is without discussion of weight loss. If I could alter this book in any way, I would prefer that the weight loss outcomes of Orbach’s group session patients were left out or were an afterthought rather than a selling point of body acceptance. As it is with most feminist texts, Fat is a Feminist Issue isn’t a sacrilege or a holy text for the fat feminist.