Marianne Lindberg de Greer’s statue Bronskvinnorna, shown in the photograph above, is alternatively titled “I think of myself” and both female forms bear the artist’s face. De Greer created this piece as a demonstration against modern society’s obsession with how we look and as an encouragement to society to see people of all body types as having equal value. The authors of this week’s readings express similar sentiments as they write in response to the fact that, as Susan Bordo puts it, “whether externally bound or internally managed, no body can escape either the imprint of culture or its gendered meanings” (p. 109). As I read about slender bodies and fat bodies, anorexia and obesity, compulsivity and obsession, I found myself in an intellectual wrestling match with the fat activists. I don’t know that I have come to satisfying conclusions just yet, but hopefully writing this entry will help me flesh out my thoughts a bit more.
I want to begin by saying that I appreciate the work being done by fat activists to reject a monolithic conception of the ideal body and to encourage self-love and positive self-image. I understand and accept the argument that weight in and of itself does not cause health issues; rather, poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle are to blame. I appreciate that fat activists like Kate Harding are proclaiming this information for the benefit of the healthy fat people and the unhealthy skinny people. I agree with Le’a Kent that it is problematic and reprehensible that people are discriminated against because of their weight; that, as Max Airborne writes in FaT GiRL, “Just as we see gender and race before we see an individual, we see FAT . . . How people react to your identity is wrapped up in your physical presentation” (qtd. in Kent, 2001, p. 144). Authors like Kent and Harding are fighting back against a society that responds to non-ideal, non-normative bodies as disgusting and something less than human. They are asking that ALL people be treated with dignity and respect and they are asking people to love themselves for who they are, inside AND out. They are combating the self-hatred overweight people have for their bodies, as demonstrated in this video:
I agree with Tyra that it is really sad to see such beautiful people internalize so much hate towards their own bodies. That being said, I worry a little bit about the glorification of fat bodies glossing over the physical difficulties that are undeniably related to being overweight. For example, excess weight wears heavily on hip and knee joints. Obesity makes physical exercise more difficult because just carrying yourself can become laborious. On another episode of the Tyra show (the online video has been removed, so I can’t post it here) a woman named Donna talks about how she is 600 pounds and wants to reach her goal of 1000 pounds. She has to take breaks just walking to the mailbox and says that generally speaking, she hates moving. This woman loves her body, which is great, but she is killing herself through her efforts to maintain (and expand) that large body. Clearly this is an extreme example, but I relay it in order to say that, although I agree with Harding’s claim that weight in and of itself is not a health problem, at a certain point, too much weight makes a sedentary lifestyle hard to avoid.
Ultimately, I agree with the authors who argue that in our discussions of weight and body size we often turn our own flesh into the enemy or, at the very least, into an object to be mastered and controlled. I praise these authors for their efforts to advocate positive self-images for all body types, and I hope we are learning to love ourselves and each other as whole people (intellect, personality, appearance, and health).