I wrote this in response to a query over on the IBTP forum, and thought it worth repeating here. Why is fat a feminist issue?
Another forum member asked this question:
But being overweight/obese is unhealthy, and why would you encourage anyone to embrace being unhealthy?!”
And here are my answers:
There's no SOLID MEDICAL EVIDENCE that being overweight is necessarily bad for you. A couple of points:
1. The definition of "overweight" is culturally determined, and has changed even in our lifetimes.
2. Being "overweight" can certainly be a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle, but isn't necessarily going to be bad for you. Slightly "overweight" people have longer life expectancies. It is a danger sign that one might be unhealthy, but no one has proved that it can kill you. I'm talking about being over a size 12, not morbidly, over-300-pounds obese. Size 12 is AVERAGE and it is HEALTHY and in our culture, it is considered FAT. It is a MYTH that being "overweight" is unhealthy. Let me repeat: it can be a symptom of ill health, but there is no proof that it is a CAUSE of ill health.
2a. The point at which obesity actually endangers one's health (stress on the joints, cardiovascular system, etc.) is MUCH higher than the point at which a woman is considered "fat" in our culture.
3. The culturally acceptable size for a woman in the US is actually unnaturally, unhealthily thin.
4. Genetics have at least as much to do with one's weight as one's diet and exercise habits. Expecting women to spend all of their time and energy trying to conform to an arbitrary cultural beauty standard is BAD FOR WOMEN. Like other beauty myths, the beauty and diet industry preys on women's inculcated insecurities about our fuckability. It costs us time, money, and self-esteem. It weakens us.
5. The more time we spend worrying about our weight, the less happy and productive we are. A woman who spends two hours at the gym every day will never finish her dissertation and get a tenure-track job, nor will she make partner at a law firm, nor will she have time to do things that make HER happy, whether that is knitting, political action, or doing yoga.
6. The diet industry is a behemoth designed to make billions of dollars. If diets worked, they'd put themselves out of business.
7. Why is it a feminist issue? Because only women are hounded for our weight 24/7 in every possible media venue. Because women are constantly being pressured to conform to fuckability standards - weight, hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and sexual compliance are only some of the things that women are subjected to.
8. Men are not subject to these pressures to conform. Men are only considered fat if they are well over 50 lbs. overweight. Every inch of a man's body does not have to be fat-free, sculpted, cellulite-free, etc. for him to be considered a real man. A woman with fat on her body (except breasts and hips) is hardly a woman at all.
9. Fat-hatred is rampant. The stereotype of the fat person - the fat WOMAN - is that she is a lazy,disgusting pig who eats trash all day long.
10. Being fat is considered a failure of personality, of will, of character. For women. Men are encouraged to eat big portions, giant steaks, drippy disgusting burgers and fries: this is considered manly. Women, however, are not supposed to eat in public. Especially fat women.
11. Women in our culture are taught to hate our bodies unless they conform to sexbot standards. This is not acceptable or healthy. It is highly damaging to women who are too tall, too short, too big-breasted, too flat-chested, too dark, too pale, too loud, too quiet, too fat, and even, in extreme cases, too thin. Fat is a large part of this equation.