Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Fat Acceptance

Over at Bitch PhD, Ding discusses her decision to actively diet and lose weight, choosing to place her health above 'fat acceptance'. In her post, she talks about her struggle with choosing to diet, due to its implications for her feminism and her desire to accept her body the way it is. The fat acceptance movement is about helping women to love their bodies despite living a patriarchal culture that places a premium on being unachieveably thin. It is supposed to liberate women from obsessing over their body's seeming imperfections and to give them solidarity in that choice. It is meant to put women back in control of their own bodies; to wrest it from the grip of a patriarchal culture. Yet, increasingly, fat acceptance has come to mean never doing anything about your weight or body shape; never being allowed to change it. It is as if we are expected to imagine that our bodies just exist beyond or outside our control and we must just accept them, and never be actively seen to be adjusting them. If we do, we must dress up this choice as 'healthy' or about 'fitness'.

This is problematic as it once more removes a woman's body from her control. She is denied choice over what her body should look like or what size it should be. And, while our bodies can be frustratingly resistant sometimes to change (and certainly we are limited by our physiology), we do have some choices over what we do with our bodies, how we want them to look and behave. If we want to diet, we shouldn't have to say 'it's for health reasons', we should be able to say 'I am dieting because it's my damned body and I'll do what I like with it'. What this does not mean is that our bodies should be dictated to or that, because we can, we should change our bodies. It certainly doesn't mean condemning woman who have different bodies from us. It's about recognising that feminism is about putting us in control of our lives and our bodies and that we shouldn't have to apologise for what we do to our bodies.


Anonymous said...

a couple of things...I actually don't read in fat acceptance the idea that the body is beyond our control and can't be changed. At all. The sense I've gleaned from the conversation is that bodies are always in flux, influenced by a whole host of factors that go way beyond calories in/calories out.

The objection is to diminishing the body's complexity to that simple formula and then vilifying women (and men) for failing to appropriately manage calories. It doesn't necessarily follow that the body's contours can't be manipulated or that certain actions don't produce certain results.

the second point is that dieting for "health" is actually contrary to much of what I've read in fat acceptance circles, where striving for health at any size is the goal. The liberation is not only from patriarchal expressions of beauty, it's from the discourse of thinness as the measure of health as well, which provides a pseudo-scientific warrant for criticizing people about their body size.

Calories in/calories out fails as a description of how the body works. And Diet + exercise = Thin = Healthy = FAIL.

Exercise of all kinds, fashion, makeup, all of these are all discussed on the fat acceptance blogs I read in a positive way. The more basic point is that exercise, or choosing whole foods, or whatever may or may not produce a thin body for a given individual. It may produce a healthy body, a strong, capable body. But those things do not equal thin.

Restricting calories to achieve thinness, in that case, is construed as basically counter-productive and potentially harmful to one's health. You may disagree with that, but the objection to dieting is not that women are cannot or are not allowed to engage in practices that might alter their physical appearance.

Feminist Avatar said...

No, you're right that people who are more deeply engaged in fat acceptance tend not to have such a simplistic view of our bodies, but I think that the way fat acceptance has been translated into the mainstream feminist movement has reduced it to a simplified 'don't change your body'. Similarly, I think this can feed into debates on hair removal (is there a simple do/ don't, feminism pass fail?) and other body issues. True feminists don't interfere with their bodies. This means that on many mainstream feminist sights when we talk about dieting, or exercising, we feel a need to apologise for or explain our 'anti-feminist' choice.

I also shouldn't have used 'dieting' in the last paragraph as I was really using it as shorthand for changing your eating, exercising, toning up, changing your body in anyway, (and the best of it was that after I posted I thought I might get pulled up for this, but you know... lazy). I absolutely agree that thinness is not a measure of health and neither is calorie intake. And I generally do think that 'dieting' (in the sense of calorie control, rather than changing one's eating lifestyle) is more destructive of health than beneficial.

I lived in a calorie controlled/ fad diet household my entire childhood and it wasn't a measure of health, happiness or sanity. (And no, none of us were overweight (then), even by the most stringent imagination.)

Proud FA said...

Did God forget to install your brain?

You jealous fat girls have ruined the fat acceptance movement. You kicked out all the men and now everyone thinks that fat people are a bunch of flakes.

Fat feminists are rebels without a cause and most organized fat acceptors are rebels without a clue.

Come to my blog for a reality check!

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