What is it that stops our society from embracing difference? I can’t just believe that everyone everywhere is petty and small minded, and likes to dabble in other people’s self esteem and destroy other people’s happiness. Being a sociologist, I’m more inclined to believe that this small minded pettiness comes from the mixture of a media saturated and over-governed society. We live in a world of such contrasts – rich and poor, stable and war-torn, liberal and conservative, open and closed. There are countries that are still being run by a military or dictatorial regime, countries that don’t know the meaning of freedom. Yet I know the price of freedom seems to be surveillance – we have to give up certain freedoms in order to be ‘free’. The problem with this surveillance is that it plants ideas in our heads and makes us believe that they are facts, rather than letting us make our own minds up.
Case in point – the media and government work in collusion with each other to portray fat people as ugly, lazy, stupid, that we stuff our faces day in and day out with junk food and don’t do any exercise. The media likes to saturate our screens with ‘headless fatties’. Society sees fat as a big negative. We are force fed the idea that fatness is unattractive, that if we are fat, we must be disappointed with ourselves or that we must be on a diet. Believe me, I used to be one of those people. What changed my mind completely was studying Women’s Studies, learning about Fat Studies, Size Acceptance, HAES (Health at Every Size) and Fat Acceptance, and, in short, making my own mind up.
What the government doesn’t tell us is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. A thin person who eats junk food and doesn’t exercise is just as dubiously unhealthy as a fat person who eats junk food and doesn’t exercise. Fat is just fat – it isn’t a death sentence. You can’t tell anything about someone’s health by looking at them, however much the media and government want us to believe that. You are more healthy if you exercise and eat well and are fat, than if you are thin, eat badly and don’t exercise. Again, I will say that really, what business is it of ours what lifestyle anyone else has? It’s their body, their health and their choice. There is no right and wrong way – because if we pass moral judgement on someone because of their health, it is a lot like passing judgement on someone because they are deaf, or blind or have asthma. Moral judgement, when it comes to health, is a risky area to go near, and it doesn’t bode well for a government or society to be a nanny state.
For women, particularly, their bodies are a battleground – we have magazines, a celebrity culture, cosmetic companies, fashion and socialization throwing mixed and arbitrary messages at us. On one hand, we are told that we should love our bodies, that we come in all different shapes and sizes. Then on the other hand we are inundated with diet ads, cosmetic ads, heroin chic, cosmetic surgery, reductions, enlargements, seasonal styles that recycle every three years (if that). There is some imaginary ‘ideal’ floating out there somewhere that sits between size 8 and 12, when we are told that the UK average is a 14-16. The word ‘average’ itself is telling.
I have always been a big girl. I ran around a lot when I was younger – I love swimming, cycling, going for walks in the wood. Yes, I don’t do this often enough now, but I was still big when I was exercising regularly. My parents fed me a healthy diet – for the most part now, I eat well with plenty of fruit and vegetables. There are lots of reasons why fat is on our bodies but we are under no obligation to explain ourselves to people. Fat is a feminist issue – it is a human issue. Our bodies are our own, and life is far too short to spend it judging other people and freaking out about gaining or losing weight, purely because we’re worried about the way we look or the way other people see us. What is more important is feeling happy. I’m strong enough to deal with people being assholes, but I know that many people aren’t. This is why I write about these things – to give support and hope to other people.
Image – Pink Nana by Niki De Saint Phalle