the politics of fat

March 3, 2008 at 9:41 pm (-ism, health, image, patriarchal perception, quality of life, they hate you they really hate you, wtf)

ever notice how body weight is a matter of public domain?

a post over at Shapely Prose is what started me on this. go read the post if you can…really, it’s an excellent commentary, enriched by a great set of comments. they raise the interesting notion that while a lot of people refrain from making racist comments, it’s still pretty likely that folks will feel free to comment on your weight.

personally, my weight has gone down over the past several months; people have noticed, and several in my small workplace have made comments about it. these comments are generally delivered with enthusiasm, in a voice with elevated pitch. as a matter of fact, (and i am just realizing this) i have had more positive feedback over a longer period of time from my weightloss than i had when i graduated with my master’s degree last year.

what is it about a society where the closer you get to zero, the more valuable you are? how can we navigate a society where one is prized for the extent of diminishment they can achieve? it’s not about where you end up; it is the fact that encouragement flows when you move in one particular direction.

but it’s not just that. “fat phobia” or sizeism, is fed through this system. when society creates a value system, it doesn’t matter if that value makes sense; what seems to matter is the extent to which we fall in line and support it, the extent to which we are able to articulate and practice the party line.

sizeism reared its head in my office today. comments like “you’re just shrinking away!” and “you can never be too thin,” strike me as so incredibly ignorant and uninformed. in the blind rush to support the goal of diminishment, possibilities such as eating disorders, general medical conditions, or psych disorders fade. all that matters, is thinness. another co-worker referred to a client as “the slightly less rotund one,” a reference to the perception that the population of women we serve at our agency are all overweight. the person speaking this comment, then, effectively grants themselves the ability to exercise prejudice. the “but don’t you know it’s unhealthy!” defense is always present; somehow, the idea is that fat people are brining this shame upon themselves, and it’s the unbounded job and burden of the skinny folk to enlighten them as to the error of their ways.

what would happen if we as a society didn’t need to slate somebody into underdog status? what would happen if there weren’t teh blacks, teh gays, or teh muslims or teh communists or whomever is de rigeur to pathologize. would we survive? or would we actually have to look at our own issues?

can we function as a society without a scapegoat? after all, Fat People (c) are successfully blamed for raising health care costs, raising fat children, and generally contributing to the downfall of our nation.

you know how a wartime president is always re-elected? in large part, that’s because war (the active hatred of others) is a force that unifies people. sure, it also has protesters and people who want things to go differently, but for the majority it is a force that brings people together to fight a common enemy. my question is, who are we as a society in the absence of someone to hate? would we even recognize ourselves?


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a weighty issue

January 18, 2008 at 8:41 pm (healthcare, image, they hate you they really hate you)

ever doubt that there were tangible benefits given to thin folk? if so, this may change your mind.

Chris Schulz, president of Pacific Northwest Title, is offering an employee benefit with the potential to transform lives. Workers who shed extra pounds may get the added benefit of extra days off.

the local company is doing its own version of The Biggest Loser:

Thirty-two of the company’s 44 employees, including Tye and her boss, have signed up for the 13-week program expected to start next week. Schulz said Wednesday he’ll pay the program’s full cost, about $156 per person.

He’ll sweeten the pot with a gift of time. The biggest loser, by percentage of body weight, will get three extra days of vacation. Second- and third-place winners will get two days or one more day. Those are nice perks at a business where vacation tops out at three weeks after 11 years of employment.

the prize was apparently something he spent a lot of mental energy on:

“Either the first prize was going to be three days off or going to an all-you-can-eat buffet,” Schulz said. That’s laughable, but we all know the seriousness of obesity.

of course! because obviously the only people who would go to a buffet are the obese folks!

apparently the twelve spoilsports that chose not to participate are shit out of luck, getting neither free weightloss programming nor a chance at the extra vacation time. which isn’t to say that they suffer the poor employees; oh, no! they even have a “happy committee” which presumably benefits people who are achievement-focused enough to deserve other stuff:

Tye, 58, is involved in her company’s “happy committee,” which has planned outings to Mariners and AquaSox baseball games and other events.

the article goes on to talk about the local health district’s concerns about the obesity epidemic, and a King County plan to penalize HMO participants who do not adequately partake of healthy behaviors, by charging them more for their health plans.

the article closes with a flourish, noting:

At the Everett business, Schulz expects a boost in self-esteem, if not profits. “If people feel better about themselves, they’re happier, more productive employees,” he said.

because the key to a patriarchy-approved dose of self-esteem is that it’s only deserved after one has undergone suitably demoralizing actions to achieve it. being compared to your co-workers in a company-sponsored weight-loss meeting and having your body mass tracked by your boss? that’s empowerment, bitchez.

here’s the article

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the politics of hair

January 2, 2008 at 10:10 pm (feminism, gender, image) (, )

so, i’m dyeing my hair black and blue. like, right now. and what does this have to do with the price of tea?

when i graduated undergrad, i stopped dyeing my hair. after about a decade of dyeing, bleaching, and whatnot, my hair had gone from the shade of a new penny to black with a white streak (actually, that had a lot to do with james iha in the bullet with butterfly wings video, but whatev). my promise to myself, for whatever reasons at the time, was to shuck pretense and let my hair be itself.

image is a tricky thing. my profession (mental health) dictates a bland wardrobe, conservative hair, inauspicious office furniture. i have spent a lot of time cultivating a benign, yet hopefully stylish appearance; i even have twinsets in my wardrobe, for fuckssake. in the past i have used my clothes and hair to advance my position; and hence, i rationalized, advance the position of the clients i advocate for. but at what point did my nonconformity in haircolor become irrelevant in the face of wholesale image sellout? i mean, let’s be real. when you use your boobs and makeup and clothes to get what you want from people, it doesn’t really matter anymore whether you color your hair. i’ve been kidding myself. the body is politic. image is currency in this patriarchal mess of a society we have. not coloring my hair didn’t make me less femme, less of a ‘lipstick,’ didn’t make me more radical. did my grey make me more credible to the judge in my client’s trial? i hope not.

the spirit of feminism is at one of it’s highest peaks when we reclaim for ourselves, that which society has already branded as a tool of subjectivity to male beauty ideals.

the price has gotten too high. tonight, at least, i’m reclaiming my hair.

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