Jane Devin

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Feminism, Fat, and Strange Politics

April 20th, 2008 · 18 Comments

“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 have come to expect uninspired stereotyping from my conservative peers (and haven’t yet been disappointed), but I was a little taken aback this week when I received two letters from feminist readers of this blog, one a professor of women’s studies, both railing against my article on Susan Powter.

“She is the anathema of feminism, and I cannot believe that you of all people would buy into her anti-female, exclusionary fat prejudice. . . . Is this part of your revolution, Jane? To turn back the hands of time?”

“Your recent posts encouraged women to be self-accepting and nurturing towards their bodies. Your words moved me, and I believed you to be genuine. Imagine my surprise then, not much later, to see you promoting a book written by a woman who thinks other women should all be thin in order to find happiness. Far from being empowering to women, Susan Powter is just repeating the same “you can never be thin enough” message we’ve heard for years. . .”.

I responded to these letters individually, and believe we “heard” each other’s views fairly, but now I feel compelled to share my thoughts here in case there are others who somehow felt betrayed by my support of Powter as a feminist, and and a women’s wellness expert.

Having read both editions of Powter’s book, “The Politics of Stupid”, I can assure readers that the only darts thrown are towards the corporate and political machines that have sold, sustained, misled, and roped Americans into becoming the fattest population on Earth. There simply is no “hatred” of fat women in Powter’s work, and no “exclusionary” dogma that could leave any thinking woman, of any size, feeling left out of the empowerment equation. To the contrary, Powter’s work embraces women as smart, responsible, and capable beings who, when armed with truthful information, will want to shut down the machines that have systematically sought to destroy their well-being and the well-being of their families.

That said, let’s talk about “fat acceptance” and self-acceptance, because 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?

Hell, no.

Does that make me less than a feminist? To want to work towards my own health, while promoting the works of vibrant, well-studied women, like Powter, who seek to inform and inspire others? 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, like Powter, 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.

*A Must Read*

More Pork Plant Workers Diagnosed with Neurological Disease

*Another Must Read* Added 4/24


Tags: Health and Wellness · Politics

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Donna L. Faber // Apr 20, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Hey Jane … I can relate to what you wrote and struggle daily with my weight. I’m working on committing to a better relationship with my body as a temple for the Goddess … in other words, working on that commitment to my health. And I agree it has nothing to do with my feminism or any of that good stuff. It made me sad to hear some of your readers have a problem with Susan Powter, too. I love her. I wish I could tell them, hey, she usta be fat herself! She got tired of it and did something about it! She hit the wall on that one, for sure, and now as a result looks awesome (and probably feels way better), but has “feminists” hating her for it. Ah well. Roseanne Barr has some choice words to say about women hating one another, and while I find some of her opinions extreme, this topic I have to agree on. I wish women would get it together in order to work together … I really believe that it is women who will save this world, motherhood, and having babies really doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s the nurturing and love that comes with motherhood that this planet needs.

    It was great to see you here. I hope all is well with you. Take care.


  • 2 LBJ // Apr 21, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Well you already know my weight loss story. I consider myself a feminist, and tend to agree with you that fat has become a political issue, especially in my gay community. It’s like we’ve been oppressed by so many things, and this is one more, but instead of tackling it we’re determined to make loveable.

    I feel so much better physically than when I was overweight, but I didn’t have as much to lose as some women. I can’t imagine being 100 pounds or more overweight, and I feel for those who are going through that. It can’t be easy, especially when there are physical problems that go along with it.

    I’m glad you said the size 16 to size 2 thing. Because you’re right, we’re all not cut from the same kind of cloth, and being stick thin isn’t even a possibility for some of us. I wear a 12, and look and feel great at that size!

  • 3 KateC // Apr 21, 2008 at 1:31 am

    I think that the fat acceptance movemt is not all correct but what a relief to be able to go somewhere and not be criticised. I seriously told a doctor once that I was gfoing to sue for terroristic threats if he and his staff didn’t stop terrorizing and shaming me because I was fat. I don’t want to be fat…but on the scale of things, all I can manage right now is small things….massive weight loss is not gonna happen at this time…but every day I try be it reaching for a water bottle rather than a sugar soda, picking a crunchy apple rather than a bag of chips…I do what I can and if there is one thing that I don’t need it is to be subjected to a barrage of hostile you are not okay messages. Fat people are the people it is fine still to make fun of…can’t discriminate against color, or gender or sexual preference but it is fine to make fun of the fat chick. When I was trying to explain being gay to people inthe 80’s I used to to say do you think if the magic wish fairy came down and said you can pick to be discriminated against thrown out of your homes, told you were a sin and an abomination, anyone would willingly pick it…now I say the same about being fat…I wouldn’t have willingly chosen it but it is where I am now…and hopefully someday, I won’t have to be that but for gods sake can’t more people just leave it alone. It is painful and hurtful and being mocked or publically critisized is certainly not gonna help me and those like me make the right choices…heck if we made the right choices we would be at least some skinnier LOL.
    Thanks for letting me rant and thanks for sharing your stuff.

  • 4 RebeccaF // Apr 21, 2008 at 4:43 am

    I’m in the same zone, Kate. Alcoholics have “sick and tired of being tired”, and i’m sick and tired of being fat and getting the short end of every stick.

    I think, Jane, the way you make it sound anyway, is that Susan P’s book isn’t one of those hostile messages to the fat women. I’m glad to hear that because I wasn’t sure what to make of the title. And I’ve never been sure what to make of Susan P., because she expresses herself so differently at times.

    I don’t think it’s anti feminist to want health or to fight for it, and I agree with what you said about a difference between fat and personal acceptence. It’s not good to try to make fat the new vogue thing. Like Kate said, it’s painful. No one should want it. On the other side, personal acceptance means we love ourselves regardless of where we’re at size-wise, and don’t try to sugarcoat the truth.

    I hear you and thank you for making me think!

  • 5 Kennedy // Apr 21, 2008 at 10:47 am

    I would like to say that I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Susan Powter personally and no matter what you think of her I can assure you that the last thing she is is anti-female or fat discriminatory. She does not judge overweight women, she gives them the truth and the tools to get healthy and well. After meeting her personally I understand why open-minded women find her so inspiring, its because she’s telling the truth. When I remarked on this she told me that she truly believes that anyone can be anything they want to be. I find it fascinating that a professor of women’s studies would so misread, mishear and misunderstand a woman who is not afraid to take on the “refined white men in the refined white house” and who encourages women to get healthy and take back their lives. Not to get skinny to look good. Listen to what she says professor–just because you’re usually in front of the class doesn’t mean you can’t learn too.

  • 6 Colette // Apr 21, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Fat-acceptance? Why not just call it “bad health acceptance”. Because, like it or not, too much fat affects one’s health negatively, makes all your organs work more than they should, squeezes your heart, clogs your arteries.

    I am a feminist in the real sense — equality for women — and what I understand from Powter is that she’s talking about optimum health. Nothing else.

  • 7 VIVIAN // Apr 21, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE, i believe is the message. Kevin Trudeau was the first I person, I had heard about the food industry. he is a real advocate of natural cures. Also he has been talking about the weight, WE all put on with the NEW FOODS, that are made put out there with all the additives, that not only make us slaves to eating, but the diseases the additives cause in many. People call him a nutcase, but what he says makes so much sense, as does Susan’s. AND HES A MAN”"

  • 8 Alison // Apr 21, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    You are so correct in all the points you made. Good health is good health, period. When your weight threatens your health it transcends all gender issues. Even when you’re overweight only to the point it affects your social life or self-image, that shallow form of discrimination applies to both males and females. Both sexes are subject to being disparaged and looked down upon, maybe not by Powter, but certainly by our cultural standard of what’s attractive.

  • 9 allison // Apr 21, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I totally get Susan Powter, and I know already that you are completely right on!

    I have been feeding myself and my family, whole & organic foods for two years now.
    What caused the change?
    Well, I went through full menopause at 45, I was overweight, and starting to feel my age. I had a bad knee that was really starting to cause problems, and I was eating what I now refer to as crap.
    Education started the change. I started reading about how they really produce our food here in the good old USA.
    I began reading labels and finding out what all those ingredients in everything were, and what they did to the human body.
    After realizing that we have been fed a steady diet of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, corn syrup (and every other way they fill us with corn), as well as all the sodium, and chemicals, and lets not forget silica(that stuff in the little stay fresh packs)and wood pulp, I wanted to stop eating crap. I wanted my daughters to have a chance of a healthy life.
    I began to do pilates, and dance, small weight lifting, and even taebo. It only cost a yoga mat, and a few dvds to accomplish this. I went from a size 22 to a 14 in about a year and a half.
    I feel great, I eat fresh organic fruit and vegetables every day, also organic meat. I never drink high fructose
    anything, and I gave up soda.
    Bad knee gone. I saved myself from diabetes, I have more energy at 49, than I did at 29.
    Everyone says they can’t afford it.
    I can’t either. But if you eat fresh veggies, whole grain rice, and fresh organic fruits, you don’t need large amounts of meat. We manage just fine on our meager budget. It is a process. You learn the facts, and then you are standing at the meat case saying, okay, these gigantic chicken pieces are only 5.00, but they are poison(and I mean literally). This smaller organic chicken is between 7 and 9 dollars, but it simply chicken.
    it becomes more and more easy to choose the organic, I can’t afford to gamble with my families health and perhaps a chance to be disease or chronic illness free.
    We are being manipulated, and lied to about everything. We need to wise up, it’s the only thing that will save us.

  • 10 Jane Devin // Apr 21, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Hi Allison,

    We are being manipulated! The collusion between government and big business is disgusting. What really blows me away though is the lack of anger expressed, even by those who are fully aware. For those that aren’t, the information is out there, in so many forms.

    I can’t imagine knowing this and still choosing the quick (poisoned) lunch or the midday (chemical) snack.

    Congratulations on your healthy lifestyle! I totally agree with you about the cost and benefits.

    For others who are interested —

    Here’s a great video called How to Get Fat Without Even Trying:


    Here’s one called “Meet Your Meat.”


    This is factory style farming, and it’s where the supermarket meat comes from.

    I will probably not become vegetarian any time soon, but having seen these videos, I won’t buy any meat products from the factory producers.

    Here’s another video about engineered, modified foods and what the five major food corporations are doing to make money at the expense of consumers:


    There are several books that have been written, including Susan Powter’s, which are really shocking. I wish more people would read them.


    And beware of the supplements you’re taking, especially fish oils:


  • 11 Barbara // Apr 22, 2008 at 12:09 am

    You are beautiful as you are, Jane, but I look forward to your transformation because you do!

  • 12 Donna Faber // Apr 22, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I can’t view any videos from work, so I’ll look at them when I get home. For me, the commitment to better health and treating my body as a worthy temple for the goddess, is directly related to how far I “let the cat out of the bag”. I have truly indulged myself, and so now am dealing with a body that has its own desires. For me, it’ll be about controlling my wants mentally. Mind over matter, I guess. I’ve also noticed that so much of how I treat myself has to do with my stress, too.

    It’s so nice having a place to discuss this stuff, Jane. Thank you so very much.


  • 13 KateM // Apr 22, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Wow Jane!
    You and I are on the same path.
    The yoga practice I’ve enjoyed for the last couple of years enabled me to look at my body in completely different ways.
    Then last December, I suddenly had no desire to eat meat…just didn’t have a taste for it and haven’t eaten it since.
    Without trying I’ve lost a pound every week to 10 days, but more importantly I feel so good in my own skin and my body is functioning better than ever.
    My new mantra…intentionally lean, strong, and balanced.
    Loving this life!

  • 14 freida // Apr 24, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Dear Jane,
    You once did an article about ‘Individual’ or ‘Personal Responsibility,’ and isn’t that what it all boils down to?

    Maybe you could leave a comment, with that ‘link,’ so I could read it again.

    No matter how hard I worked out, I could never look like Susan Powter….I’m sooooooo jealous, LOL.

    How tall is she?

  • 15 Jules // Apr 25, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Those links are a wow moment! Why isn’t news like that on the evening news and the headlines of the papers?

    On Yahoo News, I read a story yesterday about how American corps. are creating “hybrid” rice for paddies from Java to China. It’s super high-yield, but it only grows for one year, unlike conventional rice. So the rice farmers make more, but have to buy the seeds every year.

    I see how that works. The corps. sell more to the poor farmers. The farmers make about $600 more per year. And when the corps. have them hooked on that, they’ll raise the seed prices. The farmers won’t have a choice, because they’ll no longer have the old rice crops to grow.

    A new strain of rice appears on our tables that is genetically altered, and god knows what the nutritional benefit will be.

    I am so disgusted with all of this, and wonder if there really is or will be any safe natural food left in the world.

  • 16 Harpsta // Apr 26, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Right On, Sista!!
    People are beng sold this swindling peice of self-abusive over-indulgence that is literally killing us, as welas degrading our cognitive as wellas physical lives. The degradation of our cognitive faculties is the more insidious, since that is the basis of our discerning the abuse being done to ourselves.

    When we begin to accept looking, unncessarily, like the livestock that are fattened for the kill as some privilege of self-love, then we are living ina delusional denial of our own indolence.

    We should be our body’s champions rather thanits executioners. Aesthetically we should be the protagonists for the life that challenges us to push the bounds of excelence than wallowing in the indolence of debilitating narcissm.

  • 17 Jan.M.M. // May 2, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    I hate it when the ‘fat’ issue is focused on- because too many women become competitive about how hard they work their way to health &/or beauty.
    What about those of us who are disabled- how do we ’sweat’ our fat away? Fat is a complicated condition that no one to date has made an insightful or helpful way to rid ourselves of it. As if any fat person could love or accept their fat- think about that.
    I am a fat feminist- have been eating organic for 25 yrs. Of course, the market exploits. What bothers me more is that women reject each other if they believe that fat people do not try hard enough to be ‘not fat’. It is the personal that hurts us more than the societal ignorance. Comments about weight should be carefully thought out- fat is what we ‘are’- not just what we do.

  • 18 Trula // Jun 2, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Yay! This post made me want to stand up and cheer. I am so sick and tired of being told by ‘feminists’ that I am somehow brainwashed by the patriarchy for wanting to be healthy. I have personally witnessed family members and friends return to health after losing large amounts of excess fat, but none of that seems to matter to women who want you to stay overweight. None of them are going to be there when excess fat triggers the diabetes that is prevalent in my family, or buy medicine for me when it triggers hypertension or worse. And none of them were there when I was so fat it hurt my knees and in other ways affected the quality of my life. So they can kindly shut up and let me attain physical fitness in peace.

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