Editor’s Note: The author, Amy Campbell, is a student in the spring 2011 Women’s Studies Program Feminist Theory course at The University of Akron.
Feminism is about a lot more than just fighting sexism. Sexism doesn’t exist by itself; often there are many forms of oppression linked together that work to keep people out of power and under control.
It is commonly acknowledged that feminism also includes the fight against racism and homophobia, but there are many other issues that feminism’s fight for equality can help solve. I am referring to the fight against sizeism, known as Fat Acceptance or Body Positivity.
So what’s wrong with being fat?
The use of the word fat is particularly important because it encompasses the movement’s insistence that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. Using euphemisms like chubby, curvy and overweight simply avoid the issue and try to hide it.
By denying that I was fat, I was contributing to my own oppression because I was telling myself that there was something wrong with being fat and it was negative, and that isn’t the case. It’s just like being tall or having a certain hair color.
These issues commonly slip under the radar because society seems to tolerate the shaming and ridicule of fat bodies, whereas now blatant instances of sexism and racism are usually addressed as such. Body shaming can also fall behind “helpful” advice because misinformation and scare tactics have led the country to believe we are in an “obesity epidemic” and that fat people are a public health crisis, when this is really not the case.
Mania based on BMI
Most of the mania surrounding the obesity epidemic is based on the body mass index (BMI), which has been shown to be an inaccurate predictor of overall health (Devlin, 2009). The fact remains that even if these people were unhealthy, and the numbers of drastically unhealthy people in the United States were rising, they would still deserve to be treated like humans and not a problem to be solved.
Feminism has faced criticism for not addressing issues that relate directly to sexism, like class and race. When you ignore these other factors, you aren’t addressing the issue itself in a meaningful, realistic way because in all practical applications it is impossible to untangle these different levels of oppression.
This is also true when feminists choose to ignore instances of sizeism. There are many problems that come with being a woman, being a person of color, being a person with a disability, being non-heterosexual, being fat, and many more. When you fit into multiple categories, the problems only increase.
For some fat people, even the right to simply exist is questioned. Such as in the case of the blogger Margitte, who was repeatedly questioned about why she was fat, and she was not left alone until she could provide an answer. Would you question someone about why they were tall? Would you think that you had a right to question their body at all? It seems unlikely.
Another issue is when people mistake their fat-phobia for “concern” for others. It is imperative to remember that you can never assume anything about anyone’s health simply from their physical appearance. While, yes, it is important to keep active and not eat junk food all the time in order to be healthy, this does not mean that everyone who looks fat eats donuts and sits on the couch all day. Many people who look thin do not exercise and eat food that is terrible for them, but no one ever scolds them for being unhealthy because this misleading line between “obesity” and health has been drawn.
Many attempts to help “fix” the nation’s current state of affairs have been mostly well-meaning, but not very well realized. For example, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” Campaign, meant to address childhood obesity. The campaign comes from a good place, but it may cause more harm to actual fat kids by shaming them and hurting their self-esteem instead of helping. The campaign exaggerates the crisis, exaggerates kids’ laziness, conflates fitness with thinness and underestimates the impact of body shame and fat hatred on the very kids it is trying to help (Harding, K. 2010).
While it is very common to find feminists criticizing fashion and media for creating false images and expectations of beauty that are impossible to live up to, these “healthy” campaigns are doing the exact same thing by valuing thin bodies over fat ones, without actually looking at any other indications of health.
Most importantly, Fat Acceptance isn’t about valuing fat bodies over thin ones, and it isn’t about telling people how to live their lives. It’s only about recognizing that all people are valuable for who they are and what they achieve, not what they look like. Fat or thin, male or female, black or white, it shouldn’t make any difference. As long as inequalities between these groups exists, feminism should be there to fight against oppression, and make this world a better, equal place for everyone.
- Devlin, K. (2009). Top 10 reasons why the BMI is bogus. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439
- Margitte. (2010, August 10). I don’t have to explain my fat to you [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://margitteleah.com/2010/08/10/i-dont-have-to-explain-my-fat-to-you/
- Harding, K. (2010, February 10). What michelle obama’s childhood obesity project gets wrong [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2010/02/10/michelle_obama_weight/index.html