New feature: Feminism and fat

// 31 January 2010

Susie Orbach’s classic Fat is a Feminist Issue became suddenly relevant to Helen Dring in the aftermath of a car accident which caused her to lose weight

riotsnotdiets.jpgWhen I first read Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue, I felt like I was missing something. In her book, first published in 1978, Orbach argued that fatness and compulsive eating, and conversely thinness and other eating disorders, are linked to the way in which women (and sometimes men) see themselves perceived by society. Fat women avoid the attention of thinner women, do not need to feel the same pressure to find a husband (since, obviously, the fat bird never scores) and can shed the norms that their mothers had to stick to during the 1950s and ’60s. Thin women, however, can fear becoming fat because they fear being a failure, or preserve their thinness because it makes them seem more masculine and under less pressure to become a traditional mother figure.

All of this escaped me at the time. As a lesbian, I did not feel like I was under any pressure to find a husband in the first place, nor did I particularly care that the majority of men did not find my size attractive, although, clearly, at some point I must have noticed that they didn’t. I was, proportionately, not large, a distinctly average size 14/16. I didn’t feel that my extra padding gave me any protection in relationships, or in social situations, nor did I feel like I was being politically rebellious through the act of taking up space. I will confess to feeling slight stabs of jealousy for my slimmer counterparts, but not to great psychological detriment.

Photo of graffiti reading “riots not diets” by Phoenix Dark-Knight, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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