Fat is a feminist issue.
If you don’t understand that, you can’t call yourself a feminist. Because I say so. Yes, I do so, too, have that power.
I love it that People Magazine included Gabourey Sidibe in its list of the “100 Most Beautiful People of 2010.” I don’t believe they are holding her up as an ideal in the sense that they are telling slim women they should look more like Gabourey. I don’t believe they are sending the message to Gabourey, or other obese women, that there are no health risks associated with obesity.
But I do believe that People Magazine is sending the message that Gabourey’s heart and soul are very much a part of her beauty AND that she is doing the most in her current situation to be beautiful — and lovable — just the way she is. That kind of love and acceptance empowers people — in their own way, on their own schedule — to improve their health and appearance.
Criticism and shame have the opposite effect of love and acceptance in helping people transform themselves for the better. For one thing, when you love and accept other people just the way they are, it means you have healthy boundaries (that means you aren’t constantly judging and interfering with and bossing other people instead of minding your own business and letting them mind theirs the way THEY see fit). For another, someone who is being attacked with criticism and abused by shaming now has two more problems to solve than if they were just left alone to wrestle with their original problem. That is, now, in addition to being overweight, or whatever, they have to set a boundary and push their attacker out of their psychic space AND heal from the wounds the attacker inflicted. Having to worry about future attacks doesn’t help, either.
Women are so bullied and controlled by people who have some kind of power over them — the ability to bestow or withhold love, marriage, approval, career advancement — based on their appearance that that is why fat is a feminist issue.
I understand very well that some people try to make their hatred of fat people respectable by claiming to be criticizing and shaming us for our own good — that we are in danger from obesity and would be healthier if we were slimmer. Gee — why didn’t WE think of that?
The short version of how I got to obesity is that I have obstructive sleep apnea. Oh — and I’m 56. I was taking off the weight pretty well until I had to drop out of Body Pump class last year because when I bend over I feel like I have a hot golf ball where my right ovary should be. (No, I don’t have health insurance or the money for healthcare — why do you ask?)
But I’m very lucky. I had 20 years basking in the loving gaze of my late life partner and she was the most beautiful woman in the world to me and I was the most beautiful woman in the world to her. No matter what aspect of my body and appearance I am working to improve, I guarantee you that I will never settle for anything less from my future spouse than that — and it is certainly what I will give to her.
In college I had a lover who was anorexic. She was very emotionally abusive and since my own mother was emotionally abusive I didn’t know to dump her. She was a gymnast in her teens — when we met I was 21 and she was 23 — and when she wore a leotard and walked through the gym where the University of Michigan women’s gymnastics team was working out, every single one of those young women stopped what she was doing and stared in awe. Well, also, our sex life was so incendiary that to this very day I feel superior to ordinary mortals who know not what I know. Really, at the time I thought we owed it to the world to tour and give classes and demonstrations.
Where was I? Oh, yes — she was emotionally abusive. It took me several years to recover from the abuse and what really helped me turn the corner was the fact that books about anorexia began to be published in the late 1970’s. My opinion now, especially after watching two of my friends make one of their daughters anorexic, is that anorexia is caused by parents who usurp a child’s own choices and impose their own will on the child so that the child’s self never gets a chance to figure things out on its own and develop and grow. Then, when the parent lets go around 13 or 14 — still expecting the child to make only the choices the parent approves of — anorexia, which is about control, tends to manifest, especially if the child has a talent involving performing in sports, music or the stage.
By the way, one of the reasons that anorexia is very difficult to treat is that if the therapist tells the parents of an anorexic teen the truth — which is that their domination of their child and enmeshed family dynamic is what is making their child so sick — to defend their own narcissism they will fire the therapist.
To illustrate my point that eating, obesity and being loved for what you are by people who have healthy boundaries and let you figure out on your own how and when to improve yourself, I want to share six videos — four of Margaret Cho and two of Karen Carpenter. The first is Margaret Cho, from her show, “I’m the One that I Want,” talking about how the producers of her sitcom, “All-American Girl,” nearly killed her by putting her on a diet and exercise regimen in which she lost 30 pounds in two weeks. That sounds great until you figure in the peeing blood and kidney failure (and probable permanent kidney damage and loss of bone density). Do the math on this: to lose a pound of fat you have to burn 3500 calories. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds. Probably one-third of Cho’s weight loss was water — thus the kidney failure. She had to burn something like 49,000 calories in 14 days in addition to the 2,000 calories her base metabolism would burn.
In the first clip, Cho tells the story of how she was bullied into the nearly-fatal weight loss regime:
In the next two clips, Cho talks about how she felt accepted for the first time in her life when she found out her show was going to series and what it was like to give her mother this news on Mother’s Day (the good part is about seven minutes into the first clip):
Margaret continues by telling how the tabloids and celebrity magazines bullied her about her weight — and her boyfriend at the time, Quentin Tarantino, correctly told her that her show’s producers were stealing her voice:
Now, moving on, to Karen Carpenter, who rose to fame as a popular singer when I was in high school. Karen Carpenter died in 1983 at the age of 32 of heart failure due to taking ipecac to induce vomiting — the vomiting caused an electrolyte imbalance that made her heart beat so abnormally that she died. Carpenter was both a singer AND a highly regarded drummer. I’m including a video of her singing my favorite Carpenters song, “Top of the World,” and a video of her playing the drums — both to show how talented she was, and how emaciated:
I think the bass drummer in the following clip is John Denver — Karen Carpenter was an amazing drummer:
Now let my friend, Jennifer Lawson, The Bloggess, bring this all home and show you why “Everyone is beautiful.”