I feel like 2013-2014 has been the season for the marginalised and the oppressed. I say that without sarcasm – maybe I just didn’t notice it as much before, but there seem to be more articles about feminism, gay rights, anti-racism, anti-ableism and other isms, floating about the interweb. Much to the chagrin of the ‘political correctness has gone mad’ crowd, aka the “I reserve my right to be bigoted and mildly offensive to minority groups without any retaliation” crowd.
With the rise of picture focused social networking sites like Pinterest and Tumblr, it seems that there’s also been a bigger spotlight on the politics of women’s bodies. One term that I’ve seen been used more frequently, is the term ‘fat-shaming’.
I am a self confessed petite, conforms to mainstream societal standards of weight acceptability kinda chick. So I come to this topic knowing that I exercise a form of privilege. I have the privilege of opening magazines and generally seeing women who are a similar weight to me.The fact that in “mainstream” magazines they are generally white women whose face, hair and booty size differ quite vastly from mine is another post, but if, for example, I pick up a magazine aimed at black women, I have the privilege of seeing women who look somewhat like me. I have the privilege of walking into any store and not wondering whether they stock my size. I have the privilege of people assuming I’m healthy, rather than the converse (because not every slim person is healthy and not every fat person is unhealthy). I have the privilege of not being subjected to horrifically vitriolic tweets just for being comfortable with my size a la Gabourey Sidibe. I acknowledge that the ideal weight that is suggested to us by mainstream media is unrealistic for the vast majority of women. In fact, I looked at the standard measurements for sample size clothes used in modelling and realised that my size 8 self with my 27 inch waist is still considered too big to be a high fashion model.
Having acknowledged that, I’m a bit worried that fat is starting to be framed as an identity in a similar way to race, or gender as opposed to what it actually is for many fat people – a health problem. Not a health problem that means they should be abused or mistreated by anyone. Not a health problem that means that larger ladies shouldn’t be able to buy nice clothes in their size at any mainstream store. Not a health problem that is easy to fix or self inflicted in the way that some of us think it is. (Studies show that there are changes to your body that occur once you reach a certain weigh,t that make it extremely difficult to lose weight without surgery). And not necessarily a health problem for everyone. But there is definitely a correlation between obesity and poorer health outcomes, no matter how many students of gender studies try to spout dubious scientific claims about fat and health being unrelated. I appreciate their work in removing some of the stigma around being overweight, and I completely agree that there are massive issues with how we talk about fat people as a society, but I don’t think being fat is something we should encourage people to ‘accept’. Isn’t it a perfectly normal human response to be unhappy with something if it’s negatively affecting your health and well being?
I think that we have to draw the fine line between accepting yourself as a whole, and having aspects of yourself that you would like to, and should want to change. In this case – if you are very overweight, for the sake of your health, you should want to change that aspect of yourself. Even if there were no other adverse outcomes of obesity in relation to heart disease, diabetes and the like, I can tell you from personable experience watching an anaesthetist put a spinal in someone who was obese, being overweight DOES have a negative impact on heath outcomes. Sorry, it just does, regardless of whether you want it to or not- ask any healthcare professional who works on the front lines every day.
I don’t think we do fat people any favours by burying our heads in the sand and pretending that their weight is healthy and normal and something to be ‘celebrated’. Human beings should be celebrated, yes, but this idea that you should be happy with your body no matter what state it is in, is self indulgent and ridiculous. Of course you should be happy with your body if you are healthy and fuller figured, but there is a certain point where you should be concerned. And your doctor is not ‘fat shaming’ you when he or she tells you that, he is looking out for your well being.
This shift in Western thinking where we’ve decided that any emotion that makes you feel bad about yourself is ergo negative, is not helping us. You can be beautiful and fat and unhealthy all at the same time, and I think we should be working towards acknowledging that fat can be beautiful,without denying that for many, it is unhealthy. What do you guys think?