“Feminism: the radical notion that women are people.” – Anonymous
“Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” – Pat Robertson
Feminism. The word can rouse the twin specters of angst and animus out of even their most latent slumber. Feminist ideals are still attacked from every dominant cornerstone of America, from law and religion, to philosophy and social politics. When not under direct assault, feminism is often rolled through the mire of ridicule and humiliation – as if the concept of women as equals was a socially embarrassing fad that should be bumpersticker-ed into obscurity.
I’ve been somewhat surprised though to see a feminist v. feminist mentality at work when it comes to women’s health. Much has been made about ideas like “fat acceptance” and self-acceptance, although they are not necessarily rooted in the same ideas.
Women ages 30-60 in 2008 weigh an average of twenty pounds more than they did in 1976. Obesity related diseases, like late-onset diabetes, are on the rise. Child obesity has become an epidemic. The diet industry is multi-billion dollar failure that giddily churns out one broken promise after another in order to keep itself rolling in astronomical profits.
Those are just a few facts of fat in our society, and they can’t all be blamed on glandular disorders, slow metabolisms, or genetics. It IS the food we are consuming. It IS the way the food is made and processed, it IS our sedentary lifestyles, and this IS being sold to us daily by some of the greediest and least ethical industries in the world and their political lobbyists.
The snowballing social effects of our newly fat and largely sedentary society collide head-on with feminist principles. Not only does a new social prejudice arise from the glut that is sure to effect more women than men – “fat prejudice” – but women are left exhausted, less active, physically and psychologically damaged, unhealthy, and more prone to disease. Somehow, I don’t think this is what the early and most active of feminists had in mind when they began laying the foundation for social and legal equality.
As women, we should love ourselves – because the food industry certainly won’t. The government won’t. The diet companies only love us for our money and perpetual want for miracles. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but look at that unholy triad. Unhealthy foods created by politically savvy manufacturers get a seal of approval from the government. As Americans get fatter and fatter, the diet industry explodes in wealth, allowing for more product development, and more pharmaceuticals. The (predominately male) profiteers get richer, and the consumers (predominately female) and their families get poorer health.
Enter the new school of “fat acceptance.” Fat is beautiful, according to the new feminist creed. Fat is not a problem, but womanly, healthy, and somehow an all-natural phenomena of XX-chromosomes and estrogen.
Structurally, genetically, women are different. We are pears, apples, straight lines. Some of us have generous curves, others have hardly any curve to them at all. At our optimum best, some of us will be size sixteen, and others will be size two. However, there is a substantial difference between accepting our naturally occurring genetic attributes, and accepting the creation and sustaining of avoidable obesity.
As someone who tips the scales at far more than she should – who grew up thin and has steadily ballooned into more than a Rubenesque figure – I understand that fat acceptance seeks to soothe the souls and psyches of women like me who have, often unwittingly, been the victims of a diseased food and lifestyle culture. I also understand the feelings of defeat and shoulder-shrugging apathy, because let’s face it – change isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not comfortable for most of us. I have, like most women, felt betrayed by a body that doesn’t respond quickly to healthy lifestyle changes. The question is, do I give up? Do I let the food factories and diet industries hold sway over my life? Do I invent a new mental schema that rewires my thoughts to accept – and even nurture – my obesity?
Does that make me less than a feminist? I don’t think so, and it’s sad to me that for some feminism has devolved into a practice of setting women against each other in the name of some perverse politic that demands women give up on their bodies, fall in love with their fat, and shut off their intuitive and learned knowledge in the name of “acceptance”. For whom are we really doing that? Certainly not for ourselves. We are not the ones benefiting from our lack of health and physical activity – we’re just the ones supplying the bodies and dollars for those who do benefit.
I may have once bought the “convenience” of processed, eviscerated, chemically-processed foods as sold by the food manufacturers, and then sought relief from the consequences of that “convenience” from the diet industry, but my ultimate reaction to the face and body staring back at me from the mirror is, No – this is not what I planned to look like at 46 years old, this is not how I wanted to feel, these are not diseases and problems I thought I’d have, and damnit, I’m going to heal.
I accept who I am and where I’m at, and I feel absolutely nothing akin to self-loathing. I don’t feel ashamed, or angry, or disgusted with myself. Instead, I feel protective of this body, admiring of its tolerance, and fully invested in getting it back to a state of health. “Nothing will work unless you do,” Maya Angelou once said. So I’ll work at it – like a fiend – and after a year I’ll either have a great testimonial to organic, whole foods and exercise. . .or not. I’ll either get down to a reasonable size or I won’t. I don’t expect miracles, but I do expect that I’ll sweat. A lot. If I’m still fat at the end of a year, at least my heart, my conscience, and my endurance will be better off.
In any case, I’ll still be a feminist. And I’ll still support other women who are brave enough to stand up and face adversity not only from the well-greased political machines, but from those whose misguided notions of feminism would ignore the health, well-being, and potential of women in favor of “fat advocacy.”
The anathema of feminism is not inherent in those who advocate for women’s health, but in those who would accept the crippling obesity of a populace, and then justify it with a program wherein the disease becomes a thing of beauty, and its symptoms become poetic symbols of self-love, womanhood, and solidarity.
There’s nothing beautiful or poetic about dying young when you’re the one dying.
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