Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The fat wars

Deja Pseu's thoughtful, informative comment on my last post inspired me to start a new thread, which I've been thinking about all day, between reading and responding to comments here.

Deja asks why it's so much easier for people to accept the realities of a fast metabolism than a slow one. Good question. I think it's like the "career women" (in quotes because that was how they were known at the time) of the 1950s and 60s, at a time when most women didn't have careers outside the home. They were the women who made it by playing hardball with the boys, by becoming one of the boys. They paid dearly for their corporate successes, and they were considered freakish by the cultural norms of the time.

Those women were harder on the next generation of striving career women than any men. Their attitude was, "I had to suffer, sister, and by God, so do you."

And that's what Deja's question, and the whole notion of fat wars, reminds me of. In a culture where thinness confers status, and fatness confers untouchability, of course those who have it, who are thin, will hang on to their notions about it forever. To acknowledge that fat and thin are largely functions of genetics would be to give up that special status. And if you're not a naturally thin person, and you've practically killed yourself getting and staying thin, well, it's human nature to want others to suffer right along with you, isn't it?

Depressing thought.


RioIriri said...

People who are reluctant to accept that fat is not the result of bad behavior are often those who have gained things based on thin privilege. If they accept that they could become fatter as they age, then they stand to lose what they have acquired as a result of being thin.

I suppose I can relate; it would be scary to think that all it would take to lose my spouse would be my gaining weight. Fortunately, I was fat when we met, so I'm secure in the knowledge that our relationship is based on who we are, not on my having a thin body. I suppose if I had starved myself thin, I'd be terribly phobic about gaining weight, as I'd be uncertain what my spouse would do if I were no longer the "ideal" beauty that he fell for.

One woman that recently freaked out at me for implying that fat is not a choice, well, she does not have the luxury of knowing whether her new marriage is based on her looks or her personality. And, from what I know of her spouse and her personality, I have a pretty good guess. So of course, she must protect her idea that gaining weight is purely choice, and that as long as she's a good girl, she'll stay thin. Good luck to her, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

In response to this:

People who are reluctant to accept that fat is not the result of bad behavior are often those who have gained things based on thin privilege. If they accept that they could become fatter as they age, then they stand to lose what they have acquired as a result of being thin.

I think also that thin people who have gained things based on thin privilege need to insist that there is an inherent "goodness" to being thin, and that thinness is "earned", so that they can feel that they "deserve" the benefits they enjoy by being thin. (Holy scare-quotes, Batman!)

Unlike racism/white privilege, it's harder for the average person to deny that thin privilege exists, and so they need to convince themselves that thinness is a choice and a moral one at that, otherwise they would have to admit that they don't really deserve the privileges they receive.

And considering we live in a culture where no one is celebrated as much as the person who has "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps", admitting that a person's success is even partially a result of privileges and luck, as opposed to nothing but the sweat of their hard-workin' brows? That undermines how a lot of people see the world, not just about fat/appearance discrimination, but also about racism, sexism, poverty, and a host of other issues.

Just my pair o' pennies. ;)

Harriet said...

So . . . what we're really talking about here is thin entitlement.

Susan B said...

I think so, yes. Weight has become the new moral barometer in our culture. In my experience, many people who are naturally very thin are the equivalent of someone "born on third base who thinks they've hit a triple." If on the other hand, they battle their bodies daily to stay thin, they resent that someone who doesn't should be able to garner the same levels of acceptance that they do.

Unknown said...

The parallels with race issues are so clear. It takes a lot of forcing the issue and conversation and some DISCOMFORT to stop this kind of prejudice.

LavaLady said...

I also think there are plenty of parallels with race and gender inequities - there is the idea that if you WORK HARD ENOUGH, you will "make it", and if you don't, you deserve your 2nd class status.

Unlike some levels of gender and race bias, however, fat hatred is still widely accepted.

Snarky's Machine said...

Um, Lavalady please tell me when racial and gender bias went away, cause as a black chick I really haven't noticed it, but the according to you I deserve my second class citzenship. Of course your own post demonstrates the folly of comparing oppressions. Most people don't even see fat as an oppression like race since it is assumed that fat people are just lazy and they can change if they want to. My race and gender, even if I wanted to (which I do not) aren't going to change ever. So there is a problematic nature to compariing oppression as it ultimately devalues both things instead of gives a clearer perception of the ways in which people are discriminated against based on physical characteristics that they may not always have 100% control over.

Harriet said...

hi cupcake,

i think lavalady was saying that *some* levels of race and gender bias have eased up some, and that it's the prejudiced few who believe that confers second-class citizenship on people. i'm quite sure she doesn't agree with that.

so. just to get things straight: IT ALL SUCKS.