Fat Feminism: Health At Every Size

Being the seventh part in a series on different feminisms, the sixth part was, “Postcolonial Feminism: Combating Colonial Rhetoric in Feminist Theory

Fat-positive feminists promote acceptance for women of all sizes and oppose any form of size discrimination, and they argue that overweight women are disadvantaged economically, educationally, socially, and physically due to their weight.

Originating in the midst of second-wave feminism, Fat Feminism is a growing field within third-wave (modern) feminism. Closely affiliated with the broader fat acceptance movement, Fat Feminism focuses on women who are discriminated against because of their size.

In her essay, “Fat and Feminist: Large Women’s Health Experiences,” author and member of the Feminist Women’s Health Center, Monica Persson, states that “Over 56% of obese or overweight women have answered that they have been treated disrespectfully by their physicians, and 46% view their physicians as uncomfortable with the women’s unhealthy weight.”

Some, such as W. Charisse Goodman in her book The Invisible Woman, suggest that weight prejudice is similar to racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia:

“… Weight prejudice is a true form of bigotry in every sense of the word. Like racism, it is based on visible cues; I.e. that fat person is discriminated against primarily because of the way she looks. Like anti-Semitism, it defines an entire group of people numbering in the millions within a narrow range of negative characteristics and behaviors. Like sexism, it elevates the status of one group of people at the expense of another. And like homophobia, it serves as a vehicle of projection for the bigot’s own anxieties, frustrations, and resentments, in effect using the hated outsider as a repository for the bigot’s emotional debris and refuse…”

Some may disagree with this, positing that weight, though mildly affected by genetics, is mostly in the control of the individual through diet and exercise, while othering factors, such as race and gender are not controllable. However, the University of Michigan Health System, in a list entitled, “Ten Reasons to Give up Dieting” stated, “Diets don’t work. Even if you lose weight, you will probably gain it all back, and you might gain back more than you lost.” More importantly, size and weight discrimination is similar to other forms of discrimination in that it creates a dichotomy, a binary, wherein one group of people are perceived to be better than another.

Weight discrimination perpetuates this dichotomy in very real ways, teachers give higher evaluations to the work of traditionally attractive children and have higher expectations of them (which has been shown to improve performance). This does not end with school. Attractive applicants are found to have a better chance of being hired and of receiving higher salaries. (Fox)

Moreover, Fat Feminists oppose the concept of a fixed ideal figure  imposed on people by society. Persson elaborates, “The entire concept of an ‘ideal’ weight for any woman or group of women should be abandoned. Humans come in all sizes. Learning to love and accept yourself just as you are will give you self-confidence, better health and a sense of well-being that will last a lifetime.”

In fact, according to Vik Khanna, an independent Health Consultant, “Targeting people based on body mass index (BMI) is an intellectually, morally, scientifically, and mathematically bankrupt approach.”

Fat feminists scorn fat jokes on sitcoms as well as the promotion of skinny figures seen on television, in Hollywood, and on fashion catwalks. On average, supermodels weigh 23% less than the average woman, and fewer than 5% of the female population have a supermodel figure (Fox).

It is not, however,  the goal of Fat Feminism to shame those who are not fat, but simply to discourage and eliminate fat shaming, and to deter the penchance for encouraging overweight women to take on unhealthy diets and extreme workouts to reach an ideal that is literally physically impossible.

Fat feminists long ago adopted the idea of Health At Every Size (or HAES), which, as a philosophy, dates back to the 1960s with the work of Lew Louderback and Bill Fabrey, although Linda Bacon is  credited with officially creating the belief system. HAES is an approach that focuses on healthy behaviors, including self-acceptance and regular exercise while also eliminating the obsessive focus on the need to lose weight (find out more at HAESCommunity.org).

Ultimately, Fat Feminism is about self esteem, about size esteem, about self-acceptance, about good mental health, and about overall health and well being.

However, Health At Every Size is not a predominant philosophy within society. BMI charts, medical doctors, ads across every medium at all hours of the night and day perpetuate the idea that it’s more important to be skinny. To be skinny is more important than regular exercise or the food necessary to fuel your body.

But fat feminists combat this. They combat this with health at every size, they combat this by reminding people to love themselves and to love their life, and to find peace and happiness regardless of their exterior, regardless of what their size or shape is.

And even though we are not there yet, we can be united. We can be united in realizing that the main enemy is a desire to shame or other, to shame or other for being ’too big’ or ’fat’ or ’too small’ or ’skinny’. None of us are others, of course, we are all humans and togetherness will always be more powerful than cattiness. Learn to accept and love yourself and learn to love and accept others.

And body-love, as Mary Lambert calls it in her spoken word song of the same name, is something that all people of all variables struggles with, because the ideal bar has been put so far out of reach. But we can love ourselves, and Mary gives us advice on how to get there.

Fat Feminists of Note

Judy Freespirit – Fat Liberation Manifesto

Aldebaran (now Sara Fishman)

Lynn Mabel-Lois (Now Lynn McAfee)

Karen Jones (Now Karen Stimson)

Ophira Edut

Leslie Segar

Tigress Osborn

Deborah Burgard, Ph.D

Mimi Nichter

Katherine Phillips

William J. Fabrey

Heather Corinna ?

Jodee Rose ?

Nomy Lamm – Fat!So?: Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size

Llewellyn Louderback

Alice Ansfield

Sara Fishman – Fat Liberation Manifesto

Dr. Franklin Igway

Lisa Schoenfielder – Shadow On A Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression

Barb Wieser – Shadown On A Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression

Max Airborne – Queen Size: For Queen-Sized Queers and Our Loyal Subjects

Cherry Midnight – Queen Size: For Queen-Sized Queers and Our Loyal Subjects

Kate Harding – Lessons From the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body

Marianne Kirby – Lessons From the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieiting and Declare a Truce With Your Body

Works Cited

Fox, Kate. “Mirror, Mirror”. Social Issues Research Center.

Goodman, Charisse. The Invisible Woman. Gurze Books. November 6, 1995.

Persson, Monica. “Fat and Feminist: Large Women’s Health Experiences”. Feminist Women’s Health Center.

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Categories: feminism, Jessica Fisher | Tags: | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Fat Feminism: Health At Every Size

  1. Pingback: Anarcha-Feminism: Rejecting Assimilation as Liberation | Being Feminist

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