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