Body Positive Politics: The Intersection of Gender and Size oppression

By Quinn, Fattitude Blogging Intern*no-fatties

Have you ever wondered if diet culture equally affects men as it does women? While many men suffer from weight stigma – women are statistically more likely to be oppressed because of their size. And I think this has something to do with a culture that focuses on female beauty rather than female empowerment. Naomi Wolf said ‘“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”  Diet culture has affected the global feminine population disproportionally more than the masculine one. Eating disorders statistically affect women and girls more than men and boys. Fattitude’s very own Melissa Fabello’s vlog is a great source of information regarding diet culture. She explains most factors influencing this destructive and controlling culture like capitalism and marketing. The marketing campaigns that make us feel inadequate to sell us products with the promise of making us right.

The link of gender and size stems from the objectification and policing of the female body by the “male gaze.”  The message in the main stream media implies that women need to look vulnerable and weak to be desired. Or rather women need to fulfil the desires of lovers – particularly heterosexual men – to dominate and use the female body as they please. Traditionally a thin body has deemed vulnerable and weak. Although we know this is just a stereotype. This may be one of the reasons why culturally we idealize women that are thin and men who are sturdy and muscular. This is a way patriarchy controls our bodies and gender roles just like everything else. The patriarchal gender and size intersectional oppression works both ways. It affects men also who are constrained by the expectations of their male gender role. They have to be able to protect the woman and their families therefore they have to be strong and strength is associated with muscular bodies nowadays more than big bodies. Although patriarchy even in this case represents the societal gender imbalance by affecting in more ways and with more pressure for women due to different reasons.

Susie Orbach already saw the link between gender and size oppression when she wrote ‘Fat is a feminist issue’. She obviously had a limited scope in her views where she did not want to acknowledge that there is size diversity. She saw fat women as troubled and disempowered. She thought that gender oppression was the cause of their fatness. She failed to see that fat women are disempowered by the intersection of gender and size oppression and the fact that most fat women will not lose weight, even if they wanted to.

equal opportunity employer

There is a link between misogyny and fatphobia. Often there are fat male characters that are respected. A fat man can be powerful – a dad bod or a bear can be sexy – but the fat woman is presented as notoriously ugly and unappealing. She let herself go and this is not acceptable because the currency of a woman is her desirability, her looks in exchange for resources. This is the classic gender stereotype that seems very hard to fight since even women have internalized this exchange. This complicity with our oppression at times is unavoidable because of the extent of sexist messages everywhere we turn.

From the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century the beauty ideals have become slimmer. The media has spread these ideals fast and effectively. The neoliberalist views – which are currently the most popular viewpoint – place an individual in the position of being responsible for their own success. And, this leads to the flawed the belief that anyone can be successful, if they work hard enough. These views do not take into account the privileges provided by a person’s birth like their family, their social environment and the unique connections that contribute to success. Intelligence is a good example of the things our capitalist society holds in high regard. Intelligence is more an inherited characteristic; it is developed by an expensive education, familial care, exposure to complex ideas and social support throughout a person’s education, all of which is linked to the money that can be invested in that education. In other words, the belief that anybody can be successful, if they work hard enough – is flawed and layered and some have it easier than others, making their success more feasible.
These kinds of ideas transfer to the belief that anybody can have the ideal body, if they work hard enough for it. But what if you can’t afford the tool – healthy food and exercise? Or what if you have to work three jobs just to put a roof over your head? Or what if your genetics is stacked in such a way that thinness and idea beauty go against your biological make up?

Rather than accept that some people may just be fat and that is okay, we moralize obesity and food and blame the individual for just existing as they are. We tag fat people as bad – because they are not over coming impossible odds and changing their bodies to be in line with an inane norm.  The moralization of obesity and food add to current fatphobia. Moralizing obesity makes for a great moral panic. Moral panics seek to control the population by resonating with society’s wider anxieties. Health and lifestyles, moralizing food and habits are the new religion.

In 2005, a survey of 3,300 women aged 15 to 64 in ten different countries showed a devastating evidence on women’s body image and the ‘appearance anxiety’ triggered by the beauty utopic stereotypes. Only 1 in 10,000 women were happy about their body image. In this survey, we could observe the link to ethnic background also by the responses of women who were not white. The link to class was not obvious from this survey. However, these two links intersect with gender and size oppression that bring to life the fatphobia oppressing women, poor and non-white women in particular to a higher degree. Those women who used to be fat say they would rather have a limb amputated, be blind or deaf. Most young people in school and college think that being fat is the worst thing that a person could be.

The economics of the weight loss industry affect the message we are getting regarding fat people. 60 billions of dollars are spent on diet and weight loss products in the US per year. In addition, online dieting increased up to 842 millions of dollars. These two immense markets have targeted mostly women.  We have become more and more obsessed with the ‘flawlessness’ that only photoshop can help us achieve under the illusion of it being reflected onto real women. The pressure to look ‘skinny’ is not so common between men. Women, however, are not meant to occupy much space politically, socially or literally

If a woman wishes to have access to some power, they have to be slim and conform to the beauty ideals of the media. Women find persistent messages conveying the loss of their value if they get fatter. The culture has influenced greatly how women relate to their body.

Fat women are represented in the media which dehumanizes them whether by being stripped off any value, sexuality or presenting them overly sexual. Fat women are ridiculed openly in mainstream media and social media every day.

Fat is indeed a feminist issue and at the same time an intersectional issue. Intersectional feminism, fat activism, and a radical self-love seem to be the antidotes to this oppression.

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*This blog post is the opinion of a particular Fattitude interns – and does not necessarily reflect the position of Fattitude, Inc.

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8 thoughts on “Body Positive Politics: The Intersection of Gender and Size oppression

    1. In the preface of Susie Orbach’s “Fat is a Feminine Issue” she says that she never developed any theories on sexism and male bodies, yet she went on in that book to have a lot of marginalizing thoughts about fat bias and men.

      Orbach goes on to say in that book that “….male fat is difficult to conceptualize as anything other than an individual choice or pathology lacking in broader symbolic meaning or political connotations…..”

      When people start quoting Orbach or other Feminists who build their ideology about men and fat from Orbach’s works there is no room for true inclusion of fat men in Fat Acceptance Ideology.

      1. William – awesome. This is Lindsey, the producer of Fattitude – i 100% believe that fat men struggle and that the male experience needs to be discussed which is why we have spoken to men and interviewed men for Fattitude. I also think that sexism exists and that we have to consider the intersection of these oppression when we are discussing fat women – which is what I think our guest blogger was trying to do. Also your comment about Orbach is quite logical but I tend to think that all people are flawed and you can take one thing that they’ve said to heart – while fully realizing that other things they’ve said are tainted by the writer/speakers limited vision or prejudices. For example Darwin was a ridiculous racist who justified the supremacy of white people using concepts like survival of he fittest. I think we can recognize his racism and still consider his other theories… Thoughts?

  1. I think that Orbach has a lot to offer in regards to women and fat bias, but if you base your ideas about men and fat on the foundations built by Orbach and the Feminist who follow in her footsteps then you nothing positive to offer fat men.

    Some of the statements in this very article sound like Kim Chernin’s sexually-apathetic propaganda:

    ……By now it must be evident that the fat man has been spared this burden of negative symbolic meaning [attached to fatness] only because the fat woman has taken it on. One of the great advantages to men, in a culture they dominate, is the ability to assign to those they oppress whatever it is they wish to disown or ignore in their own condition. It is because the fat man believes the imagery his own culture has created that he can gorge himself with impunity and
    strut about the pool with his bulging belly, while the fat women are all wearing blouses in the water. Because his wife has agreed to carry the general shame our entire culture feels about the body, he can proudly walk up to the younger women who are absorbed in one another’s
    company; and now he insists upon opening conversation with them, his belly neatly held between his proud hands, as if it too were an estimable possession. (Chernin, 1981: 124)……….

    Most fat men know that there is something wrong in Fat Acceptance in regards to fat men, if they researched the roots of Fat Acceptance they would know why.

    I know that fat women face so much more fat bias than fat men, but I also know that Feminism has few of the right answers of why things are that way.

    1. Yes all people are flawed but because Susie Orbach never really did any research on men and fat, nor formulated any researched theories on men and fat, the information released in her books about men and fat is flawed and biased.

      It is a shame that I still see people today quoting statements about fat men made by Orbach and by the Feminists who built their ideology from information coming tom Suise Orbach.

  2. Naomi Wolf’s mindset on Fat Men

    “Women’s flesh is evidence of a God-given wrongness; whereas fat men are fat gods.”

    ― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

    She really is not fit to speak about the lives of Fat Men.

  3. The early Feminists all had negative or at the very least apathetic thoughts about male fat. This lack of intersectionality pollutes Feminist thought of male fat even today because so many Feminist quote and use the ideology of those early Feminist to make statements about men and fat.

  4. I lost track of this conversation.

    I liked the analogy of Darwin’s Racism in his theories, but Society has filtered out or replaced his statements.

    In the case of Feminism and fat men, people are still using ignorant statements about fat men made by early Feminists like Susie Orbach, Susan Bordo, Marcia Millman, Kim Chernin, Carole Spitzack, Naomi Wolf and Susan Wooley. Today somewhere a Feminist may be using these statements as if they were true facts.

    William

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