OK, so. I have to make a confession. At first, I didn’t know that fat was a feminist issue.
I really didn’t. When I started reading about fat activism and getting involved in it, I saw it as being its own thing: another kind of activism fighting against another form of inequality. I considered it to be related to feminism in the same way that most types of inequality-fighting activism are interrelated, but I didn’t think much more of it. After all, feminism fights against inequality towards women, and fat activism fights against inequality towards fat people. While people can obviously be both fat and women, it never occurred to me that fat discrimination and sexism were interwoven.
As I have learned more about the fat activist movement and current issues in fat activism, I have also learned more about feminism — almost by default. The more I have learned, the clearer the correlation between discrimination against fat people and discrimination against women has become.
Anybody who is fat knows well enough that fat people are considered second-class citizens and are treated as such in a number of different ways — such as not having as many clothing options made available to us, not being considered as often for employment, being paid less than our thinner counterparts, being judged and/or mistreated in doctor’s offices, and being verbally and physically harassed on the streets. The purpose of fat activism is to fight against these varying forms of injustice, and it is safe to say that we have a ways to go. What we are fighting, after all, is a deeply situated societal mindset. This mindset depends on the New Testament notion of sin and repentance. Fat people represent a sinful lifestyle of gluttony and sloth, which society translates to mean that fat people are ‘evil.’ Fat people can repent by acknowledging that they have committed the sin of being fat and seek forgiveness from society by trying to lose weight. Whether we are religious people or not, that mindset is ingrained in our psyches — unless we take conscious steps to train ourselves out of it.
Anybody who has experienced life as a woman knows that we face many of the same issues that fat people face. We are not considered as often for employment, we are often paid less, we are often told that men know more about our health than we do, and so on. Despite the dramatic improvements society has experienced thanks to the feminist movement, women are still seen as second-class citizens in many areas of life. Feminism is still necessary and still has a lot of work to do.
One of the most important things feminism has provided for women is a collective voice. For women to be treated as people, we need to be seen, heard, and thought of as people, and a collective voice makes that possible. It continues to be tricky for women to be seen and heard, because traditionally a woman’s place in society has been to be hidden or invisible. Women are expected to hide in the kitchen, stay at home to look after the family and, when they are seen, to be seen only as a convenient and pretty object for a man to own. We should not take up space, and we should not be bothersome. We should be nice to look upon when men choose to look upon us. That is how women have long been expected to be.
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What makes fat a feminist issue is the fact that fat women take up more physical space, are seen as more bothersome, and are viewed as less desirable to look upon.
Whether we want to or not, fat women take up more space. The societal mindset telling most of us that fat people are sinful means that we are bothersome. We are not following societal expectations because we are refusing to be good (where ‘good’ in this case means ‘thin’). We are also, by and large, seen as ugly. Because we are seen as taking up more space than we should be, as being more bothersome than we should be, and as being uglier than we should be, fat women are an embodiment of exactly what patriarchal society does not want women to be: visible. And so patriarchy has taken it upon itself to make sure that fat women are discredited and made to feel as ashamed and as unfeminine as possible. I would post examples of comments on news stories about obesity here, but I refuse to taint my article with that sort of bile.
This is not to say that fat men do not also feel the burn of fat discrimination. However, men are not expected to be invisible. Men are expected to take up as much space as they want or need to. Men are expected to speak up and be heard if something is bothering them. And, perhaps most tellingly of all, men are not expected to look aesthetically pleasing to the world around them, because the worth of a man depends on more factors than just his appearance. Because men have male privilege and everything it entails, it is more acceptable for men to be fat than it is for women.
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Fat is a feminist issue because fat women are embodiments of what our patriarchal society insists that women should not be. Fat women take up space. We appear to lead bad lifestyles that make us bothersome. We are thought to be less pleasing to look at. Fat women are made to be less credible and more invisible than our thin counterparts. But through the combined recent efforts of feminism and fat activism, society’s attitudes towards fat people — and fat women, in particular — are slowly starting to change.
And to that, this fat woman punches the air with her fist and cries out, “Long may it continue!”
Love and Milk Arrowroots,
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I think that it is OK to say Fat is a Feminist issue if all you are speaking to are Fat Feminists.
I am a fat black man and Feminism which primarily geared to support Cis-White Women does not do a good job in describing my experiences and the roots of the Fat Bias that I face….