fit at mid-life · fitness

40 years later, fat still is a feminist issue

40 years ago, way back in 1978, author and therapist Susie Orbach wrote the book “Fat is a Feminist Issue”. In it she derides a culture that promotes beauty as the primary contribution of women and imposes terrible burdens on them to achieve and maintain it. In a recent news essay about the book, Orbach says,

Fat Is A Feminist Issue talked about our lived experience: how preoccupied we could become with eating, not eating and avoiding fat. Emotionally schooled to see our value as both sexual beings for others and midwives to their desires, we found ourselves often depleted and empty, and caught up in a kind of compulsive giving. Eating became our source of soothing. We stopped our mouths with food, and I proposed we could learn to exchange food – when we weren’t hungry – for words.

Orbach doesn’t believe that the situation has gotten much better in 40 years. She cites the flourishing of cosmetic surgery, online pornography, and big pharma. All of them prey on children, young girls, post-partum women, and others, sending the message that their bodies need to conform to certain beauty standards, and that it is their job to do the beauty labor to achieve and maintain them.

This is all terrible and it’s not really news to our readers. But I think we have learned a thing or two in 40 years.

We’ve learned that eating is not always a woman’s response to inequality and oppression. It’s an activity that is nobody’s business but her own.

We’ve learned that weight stigmatization is a terrible effect of imposing beauty standards on women, and we can respond through acceptance– of our own bodies as they are, and of other people’s bodies.

In this blog, I’ve learned that women’s bodies are made to do just about anything. And that is worth celebrating and exploring.

Speaking of which, I thought I’d share pictures of some of us bloggers, then and now. I’ll go first.

And then there’s fieldpoppy/Cate, in 1978, and now.

And then there’s Christine. That’s her most recent TKD medal. Whoa.

Martha, in 1978 and now.

Natalie and her sister, in 1978 and now.

And then there’s Samantha. She’s with her best friend Leanne back in 1978, and now, in ceremonial work garb. Read more about Leanne and beauty pageants and photo shoots in Sam’s post here.

Here’s Susan from 1987 and now.

Hey readers, what have you learned about your bodies in 40 years (or 30, or 20, or 5?) We’d love to hear from you.

6 thoughts on “40 years later, fat still is a feminist issue

  1. I have found that though I treated my 20 year old body badly, it still gave me 4 perfect children and 4 childbirths that each taught me something new about that body. Over 40 years I have learned that, although I have not always treated my body well, it has stuck with me and now, through acceptance and proper care is willing to carry me into my 60ʻs with grace.

    1. HI Kathryn– yes, that’s a great gift, to have our bodies carry us into our 60s (and beyond) with grace. I sign on to that!

  2. Aww, some nostalgic twinges with those photos of feathered hair; I had the same 🙂
    Overall, I’m thankful to have spent adolescence long before Instagram and Snapchat. I was a muscular tomboy bullied for how athleticism shaped my body. I’m glad that younger women can now see athletes like Serena Williams and Simone Biles in counterbalance to the distortions of social media.
    But, gawd, can any of us find a state of self acceptance? I don’t think so, because there’s too much profit to be made from our disequilibrium.

  3. I didn’t have the feathered hair– I went the permed route, and whoa, it doesn’t age well… 🙂 I’m sorry you were bullied for being strong and athletic. I was also criticized for being strong– the words “bull” and “ox” were used, which are not what a teenage girl wants to hear about herself. I agree that the road to acceptance is heavily mined, but we have a bunch of ports in this storm. Call me a silly optimist, but I personally find a lot of calm and acceptance in my community these days, of which this blog plays a big part.

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