Guest Post · Sat with Nat · weight loss

Self-identifying as a “bad feminist”


I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “bad feminist” after I wondered if I was, indeed, being a bad feminist by talking about my ongoing weight loss when I wrote 40 years & 40 pounds . This is a blog about fitness and a feminist perspective and I felt more than a twinge of self-censoring. I certainly got riled up at the thought that people were thinking discussion about my weight loss made this a “bad feminist” blog. So much so Tracy thought we should do a series of posts about that term being bandied about. She did some great ground clearing in Does Feeling Good about Weight Loss Make Me a “Bad Feminist?”

I’m not an academic. I came to feminism in my late twenties as the realization dawned on me that the world was, in fact, highly sexist. I started to see how this gender game  had negatively impacted me. I took courses in women’s studies and try to apply what I’ve learned in my personal life and in my public life to end the oppression of women.

I think healthy debate is phenomenal, I love learning new things. The most surprising things in my life have come from changing my mind on something when I get new evidence. I remember the first time I watched Taylor Mali’s spoken word “Like Lilly Like Wilson” and thought, wow, I was, like, totally, like Lilly Like Wilson and it drove my feminist high school biology teacher around the bend.

She would try to get my friends and I to understand that in 1990 wearing dog collars as fashion statements was degrading, that we should go to Take Back the Night. We’d have none of it. I’ve changed my mind about dog collars and Take Back the Night so please hear what I am about to say.

No one gets to call me a “bad feminist” but myself and let me explain why. I think that term is slung around when we mean other things like sloppy thinking or forgetting privilege or perpetuating harmful and hurtful ideas about body image and weight. I don’t think it’s intended to shame or silence but that is the impact. How dare I write about losing weight when there are so many bad arguments about weight loss! Bad Feminist! Uh, no thank you. I do self identify as a “bad feminist” when:

-I try to make my experiences universal, I can only speak for myself

-I forget my middle class, cysgender, able, white privilege

-I forget the gift of a non-violet partner who is a feminist

-I self-censor for fear of reprisal from other feminists

-I tell another woman what to do instead of supporting her choices

-I tear people down instead of building them up

So, yes, when I catch myself doing these things I self-identify as a “bad feminist”. Honestly sharing my experiences to provide more stories about fitness and health instead of feeding women lies that there’s something wrong with us is something I’m actually quite proud of, so I don’t feel like a “bad feminist” at all.

Let’s all write great stories, about our health and wellness, our bodies, that celebrate our achievements measured by things we find meaningful for ourselves. My idea of health and fitness is largely keeping up with my family, eating great food and sharing  many laughs with my friends. What’s yours?

I also appreciate that many schools of thought teach us to critique and point out the problems in arguments, to debate the points, question assumptions. These are great things and I learn from feedback and questions. I have changed my mind about so many big things but I find I can’t be open to change if I’m feeling on the defensive from being called a “bad feminist” from other people. Although, I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

picture of a poster that reads "I'd rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all"
picture of a poster that reads “I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all”

6 thoughts on “Self-identifying as a “bad feminist”

  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation, and for the first official “Sat with Nat” post. I love the artwork at the end. What a great poster. My favourite part (it’s such a great post, this was a challenge) is where you say that you’re the only one that gets to call yourself a bad feminist. And then when you list the things that you call yourself out on, it’s a sensible list that sets up good feminist ideals for yourself. I would only add that we also need to be self-forgiving. If I’m going to tear anyone down these days, there’s a high probability that I’m targeting myself more than others.

  2. During the last few wks., on this intermittent dialogue on weight loss, feminism, improving health long-term, I’ve done some self-censorship:

    …because, during the last 3 months, I haven’t cycled, nor engaged in any vigorous exercise at all. I’ve been sleeping, resting a great deal to heal my brain from a head injury. I mean in bed for many hrs. each day. I’ve dutifully done very simple recommended exercises from physiotherapist, to regain my balance, relax-stretch damaged neck and side abdominal muscles from falling off bike after another cyclist crashed into me. I eat regular meals ..and even eat a muffin, dessert several times a wk. That’s all for last 3 months.

    And I haven’t gained much weight. Maybe 2-3 lbs. It’s bewildering but I can only surmise my body was in shock for a few wks. post-fall and also I’ve lost some muscle tone. It’s been a longish recovery and not entirely over.

    It also feels my brain requires effort to remap, rebalance of which this must take good nutrients and calories from healthy food.

    I only go for a daily 30-min. walks round trip between home and café,

    So while everyone is talking about weight loss, I can’t even understand what is happening to me right now. But I dared not to mention this phenomena on this blog — until now. Any thoughts on metabolism after a traumatic injury?

    Any woman or man who strives to eat healthy long term and incorporates daily exercise for body and brain, is not a bad feminist. It’s improving quality of life….and reducing your own physical suffering by reducing probability of multiple chronic diseases near the end of life. We have to start now to make it easier on ourselves….not make health improvements when we’re 75 yrs. We may have less resources to do it then.

    I think there is a way of talking about dietary changes, fun things we’ve done for exercise without sounding boastful or hurtful. Maybe the trick is not to overtalk about it with face-to-face acquaintances who are struggling with their efforts and don’t seem to want to listen/participate.

  3. I think I have been too busy tying to make a living, raising my family, paying a mortgage, and training for my 123rd triathlon to worry much about feminism as I have never experienced it first hand. Maybe once in 1971 when my friends and I started a track/cross country team for women at my high school before Title IX- but the staff complied after a week or so and we actually went to a few meets in the spring 44 years ago. Ran my old “teenage” route today….it was wonderful!

  4. How about a simple definition of feminism? I propose that a feminist is one who believes in and advocates for a society in which a person’s choices are not defined, either legally or culturally, by the person’s gender.

    I think it needs such a simplification because I get sort of tired about being told what I must think about everything if I want to be a feminist. To me, the point of feminism is to increase choices, not to decrease them. So, just a couple of examples that I believe illustrate my point and relate to weight loss and why talking about weight loss as a positive thing is not somehow “bad feminist” behavior: 1) has anyone else ever read Chris Carmichael’s posts (he’s a well known bicycle coach, one of the first Americans ever to ride Tour de France? ‘Cause he is forever preaching weight loss, and most of his audience is male; 2) Is the American heart Association sexist for telling us lower weight is healthier?

    In other words, weight loss in and of itself is not all about female body image problems. So if you’re talking about body image, self image stuff, yes, that could be worrisome. But if you’re talking about feeling fitter and liking it because you’ve been one of the lucky ones who can shed weight, I say, go for it!

Comments are closed.