On March 25th I will be doing a presentation at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mi titled “Dissenting Bodies – Visibility, Fat Politics and Challenging Normal” during their Women’s History Month Series. Part of the presentation will center on people reclaiming their bodies by becoming visible. This will be very similar to what I wrote about in my post on selfies and how they can be used to challenge the gaze on your body by having control over how your body is visible.
Photo example, totally going to be in this presentation..
Since the theme of the series is to discuss feminist expression, I really want to tackle visibility by challenging feminist discourse on body image and reframe the discussion around people who don’t conform to beauty ideals. This will be done to show how focusing on what beauty ideals are and not the social consequences of what it means to live in a deviant or non-normative body has built body positive spaces around people with the most privilege, while also creating a movement that is often considered depoliticized or disconnected from systemic / institutional oppression.
A lot of the discussion will be about how fat bodies are viewed in society and imagery of fat people in the media but I want to start the discussion with how the bodies of marginalized people are viewed in society differently depending on the identities they possess. This is something that has been severely lacking from feminist politics and I want to give context to understand how constraints of visibility while they can differ between people all have a common thread, which is to restrict or limit difference.
If you want to be part of this presentation, send your photo to me via email (as an attachment) to email@example.com
I’m going to collect photos until March 10th and I should have more information about the talk soon.
**Just an fyi, the sendtodropbox email sends all of the email attachments and puts them into a dropbox folder. It’s super awesome and free.
"Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that our widespread societal anti-fat bias is taking a toll. Yale researchers have shown that weight discrimination in the United States has increased dramatically in the past decade and is now comparable to rates of reported racial discrimination, especially among women. Heavier women are less likely to be hired, to earn a higher salary, to marry, or to marry a higher-earning spouse compared to their similarly qualified thinner peers.
My colleagues and I have conducted research that suggests that exposure to moralizing messages promoted on shows like The Biggest Loser worsen anti-fat prejudice. We found that people who read a news report discussing an alleged obesity health crisis were more likely to agree with stereotypes of fat people as unlikable, untrustworthy, and less intelligent than thinner people. By aligning herself with The Biggest Loser, Michelle Obama further legitimizes anti-fat attitudes, and the ills they spread."
— Memo to Michelle: Fat Shaming Is Not OK! - Abigail C Saguy
"The truth is Black women have always found ways to live in our skin with a dignity that the world has not afforded us. More often than not, when Black women’s bodies are acknowledged it is to pathologize them. A Google search of black women + body image leads to scores of internet hits on the “obesity crisis” in Black communities. Whereas, when the word “black” is removed, the same search generates article upon article of White women embracing body positivity.
In Western culture, White womanhood is held as the epitome of beauty and desire. Part of the machine of size discrimination is stripping White Women of that status as punishment for fatness. There is a way in which body positive movements both reject the notion of the body as object while reclaiming it as beautiful by dismantling the definition. Black women’s bodies have always been objects in the social sphere but never exalted as beautiful. The fat Black woman’s body has been rendered an object of service whether for food, advice, care-taking etc., but never has it been a thing to aspire to, at best perhaps to fetishize, but not a thing of beauty. The mammy, a stereotypical trope born out of slavery validated large Black women’s existence only through their service to White women and White families, think Gone with the Wind, Gimme a Break or The Help. Our society tells us fatness is not beautiful. Blackness is historically, not beautiful. So even while battling weight stigma and reclaiming size diversity as beautiful, the presence of Blackness complicates the narrative. We don’t deal well with complication. This often means we don’t deal with complications, particularly in the realm of race. We simply don’t tell those stories. It is this unwillingness to wade through the murky waters of race that make Black and Brown women invisible even in the places where we say we are trying to make people seen."
Weighting To Be Seen: Race, Invisibility and Body Positivity - Sonya Renee - Read it all.
Why fat positive spaces need to be intersectional spaces. Why it’s important to deconstruct how fat white women have white privilege when fat women of color do not. We need to have more discussions around this topic.
Now, before I get bombarded with angry comments from skinny people, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being skinny. I’m also not suggesting that being skinny and strong are mutually exclusive. I’m only pointing out that strength only sells when it’s sexy and, make no mistake, advertisers want very badly to make you feel like you are currently failing at both.
Strong isn’t really replacing skinny; being skinny is no longer enough. Now, ladies, you need to be skinny and ripped. It’s an additional layer of self-loathing (perfectly suited for hypergymnasiacs), just in case people had started to get desensitized to the omnipresent and psychologically crippling display of corpse-thin women in the media.
And what’s with the Playboy cover poses? The one on the bottom is basically a picture of an ass. The young lady on the top right is either confused about how to wear pants or the ad was meant to double as a promotion for whoever did her impressively thorough bikini wax. According to these photos, all this notable strength that is the new standard of beauty is only useful for the exact same thing being skinny was: sex appeal. Not adventure or longevity, or even ability; Nope, just for sexy times.
So I guess “strong is the new skinny” is, in fact, a totally accurate statement, just not so much in an inspiring way as in “the gears of modern culture crushing young women’s dreams” kinda way.
The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible “Fitspriation” Photos
Read them all but “#5 Strong is the New Buzzword for Manipulating Women’s Body Image” has really good commentary how “strong” is being used instead of “skinny” while reinforcing the same standards of embodiment. This is only one part of the section I would go and look at the photos and commentary.
Trigger Warning: Rape. The author uses the term “rapey” which is horribly problematic in the last section of the post.
"Levitt echoed this sentiment. Aside from tweeting at Special K and posting images of her original measuring tape on her Tumblr, she feels frustrated that there’s not much else she can do to stop the company from using her idea to sell a product that is completely antithetical to her beliefs.
“All of this work I did was at my own expense and my own time,” she wrote to me in an email. “As an activist I already live on the margins as a fat woman, further more so as someone who can barely afford to survive, so a giant corporation taking something from me that I did out of love and passion makes me angry. I’m not trying to sell products that create further fat stigma. I’m trying to make people have a better relationship with their body regardless of their size and not putting limits on that by thinking people need to be thin in order to be worthy of that.”
It only takes a quick glance at the Special K website with it’s “Lose Up to 6 Pounds in 2 Weeks (ASTERISK ASTERISK ASTERISK)” promise to see that Special K is not exactly on board with Levitt’s approach."
The Wolf In The Cereal Bowl: How Special K And Other Companies Co-Opt Body Acceptance To Sell Body Shame - Claire Mysko
I was interviewed about the whole issue with Special K by Claire last week. This is a bit from my own portion.
The AMA’s decision is not only a dangerously flippant dismissal of the complexity of body size (and body diversity) in the heterogeneous United States, but also a complete refusal to engage with the realities and dangers of stigma loading. A disease classification may lead to Health Related Stigma (HRS), which is considered both a “feature and a cause of many health problems.” (italics added). HRS would, of course, be on top of other stigma a fat person is likely already facing from peers, family, media, and, oh yeah, doctors.
Obesity (fatness) – as an identity or an experience - does not exist in a vacuum. One’s experience as a fat person is mediated by their gender, race, class standing, ability, and citizenship status; these realities overlap, intersect and complicate the way that a disease classification may be stacked onto other marginalized identities. Furthermore, because women, poor people and people of color are likelier to be classified/seen as fat in our culture, the AMA decision de facto upholds sexism, classism and racism.
— Stigma Loading: The Effects of Disease Classification & AMA’s Decision to Call Fat a Disease - Virgie Tovar