Around five years ago I first read Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue (FIFI) and re-read it over and over. Fast forward to the present day and I have just attended a discussion at the Feminist Library, and am now at the pub, having a beautiful, fascinating, intellectual, uplifting and brilliant conversation around a table with seven fellow feminists. We cover a massive span of areas, from MPs and politics, to gender-specific toys, to literature and our work. At one point, though, one of the group makes a claim that “we’re all feminists, we’re all intelligent and totally aware of the media pressure put on women around body image. But we all worry about our weight and our body shape. We’ve all cried over being too fat.”
I sat there, a little stunned. Surely one of us, at least one, would object to this sweeping statement? Surely one would look baffled and announce “well I’ve never cried about my weight”. No? No.
Not one. At this point I should probably point out that no one in the group was elephantine. Looking at the eight of us, you’d probably say that we were all ‘normal sized’ (that is, a healthy weight). If anything, a few of the group were on the slimmer end of the spectrum. Yet all eight of us, intelligent, independent women, have been made to feel so shit about ourselves that we have CRIED because we have been made to FEEL as though we are FAT.
This shocks me. Of course you hear and see body image issues all the time, stats in the news, the women at work scoffing biscuits and then berating themselves, increasing levels of eating disorders. I know that I myself, and friends of mine, get upset about being “too fat”. News in just yesterday tells us that we may be right to do so: ‘British women are officially the fattest in Europe’ ran the headlines. But I am confronted with the fact that it is not just me and a few of my friends. It is a collection of beautiful women, amongst the most articulate and intellectually curious that I have ever met, whose lives are so negatively impacted by poor body image and low self esteem. It is a huge shame.
There are ways we can tackle this problem, but it is hard when so much is stacked against us. Every day we see so much that indoctrinates us that women are there to look ‘good’, to be looked at and admired for their attractiveness rather than for their achievements. Page 3 is a prime example of this horrible tendency in society.
One way of dealing with the problem is, I believe, to talk about it. The more women who realise that they are not alone in being made to feel shame of their own bodies, the more we can begin a dialogue about how something needs to change. Reading Orbach’s book can help too. Another way would be for those in charge in society (often, still, men, but women too) to realise that making women feel shit about themselves is not a good thing, funnily enough. The result of that might involve, for example, removing gratuitous images of sexualised young women who all conform to a certain notion of beauty from newspapers or billboards.
It might involve questioning whether all music videos need to show clothed men touching or staring at skinny, hyper-sexualised women.
On TV and in films it could even involve showing differently sized and shaped women going out with differently sized and shaped men, rather than just skinny women with any sized guy.
We can do something about healthily sized women crying because society has made them feel like they are not good enough, on the basis of the way they look. Fat is a feminist issue.