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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