I’m not sure how this post will go down with anyone that bothers to read this blog. But then I figure this blog is for me so really my care factor about offending anyone (especially on the internet) is virtually zero. I think I need to make sure though that I clarify my heading carefully. I could easily make a post that says Body Image is a Feminist Issue. Body Image is different from fat.
In the current media climate I inhabit fat is getting the most focus simply due to the fact that we are killing ourselves through obesity. I find it fascinating how a disorder like anorexia nervosa is an acknowledged psychological condition however overeating is not even seen as a disorder in the first place (unless of course it is super extreme to the point where TV shows literally film you in the one room of your house that you cannot be moved from without the help of an emergency crew with cranes) let alone a psychological condition. There are people out there who look in mirrors and see fat (and so thus they starve themselves and suffer anorexia nervosa) but there are also people out there who look in mirrors and who think I could do with a few kilos less on me but mostly I’m just fine…no wait AVERAGE (because overweight is becoming the average in some places)…and so thus they carry on with their overeating and little exercise (and so thus they overeat and suffer from a plethora of medical conditions due to their weight). What makes the situation all very hazy though is that line – being a few kilos (less than 8 to 10 for example) overweight is never going to be seen as a problem and that’s fine, the same as being a few kilos underweight will never be perceived as problem. Most of the time it really isn’t a problem – unless that is a gateway change in you personally. Like marijuana sometimes being considered the gateway drug – being a few kilos over or under could easily be the gateway change in your behaviour leading to anorexia or obesity. When people become obese they tend to just avoid the things that show them their obesity. They avoid photos, mirrors, clothes shopping and doing any moderate to strenuous exercise that would quickly show their lack of fitness. We don’t walk around each day seeing what other people see. When we don’t focus on what we look like we become very good at denying there is anything wrong. Nothing brings this home to me like when I walk around a local shopping mall and see men and women wearing clothes that are several sizes too small for them. Short shorts are not for every body type, nor are singlet slim fit tank tops. I just wonder – do these people just not care that they have bulges sticking out all over, do they just ignore the discomfort of a waist too tightly cinched or of a crotch riding up? I see teenage girls doing this as well. These are not simply curvy, solid bodied girls – these are girls (and women and men) who would be classified into the unhealthy weight range of obese. Not acknowledging it, ignoring it, claiming it’s just late moving puppy fat is simply perpetuating the problem. These are not women or girls who are feeling the pressure placed on them by male driven societal values to live up to a particular body or beauty type.
Most of the feminists are arguing that we shouldn’t HAVE to focus on what we look like – that it is societal values and the male gaze that force us to focus on our looks and that is wrong. I’m not claiming I am immune to the media perpetuation of beauty – what I find attractive in males and females has undoubtedly, at some point, been shaped via the media, television, film and magazine industry. The industry I am surrounded by every day of my life in some form or other. These industries are never going away. But within that attraction is my own personality – I am a person who has always liked physical sports of some kind, I am also a person who has a moderate to strong competitive streak, I like to get better at the things I do. I admire people who have, with their physical bodies, managed to achieve amazing results in extreme physical situations. Whether that be a sport, a challenge like Everest, a particularly gruelling event, performing a job that requires high levels of fitness and strength. What has shaped this for me? Perhaps a father who has always been conscious of how he looks and feels fitness wise, the kind of father who has a physically taxing job that he does for 8 hours every day yet who still feels the need to do strengthening exercises of some sort on top of that job. So perhaps my image of attractiveness and beauty is fuelled not only my media interactions but also by my upbringing, my parents and my own personality. Is that not how we are all shaped?
I look in the mirror and I don’t like some of what I see. Does that have to be a product of the insidious and permeating male-heavy media industry or can that be my simple dissatisfaction with my look of unhealthiness? If I am 20 kilos overweight then I am irrefutably in an unhealthy weight range. I am putting my body under undue stresses and making it susceptible to all manner of medical problems – diabetes, back pain, heart conditions, joint pain, respiratory issues just to name a few. This is not a “I just don’t like the way I look” problem, it is a “this look is making my lifespan shorter and my body work harder than it should have to” problem. Like in many things, society to me, seems to be a wave of extremes. You either are extremely conscious and aware of looks and how healthy you feel and you take steps to maintain that healthy look (you eat and drink in moderation and exercise regularly) or you just plain ignore what you look like and feel like and carry on being obese with the same poor eating habits and lack of exercise broken intermittently with spurts of “I will change the way I look” behaviours (ie eating healthy, joining a gym, walking etc all of which last for varying periods ranging from one day to one month). It does seem like a lot of the Australian population feels this way so you certainly won’t be in the minority there and there sure is a lot of comfort in numbers.
When I said before that fat gets a lot of media focus because it is a problem that is killing people through obesity I think I may need to clarify that I am not at any point referring to tabloid magazines and papers when I refer to media. I am talking about media sources that have reputations for conducting quality reporting, that do their research thoroughly and that provide clear pictures on the state of things. It is impossible to find an unbiased news source for the most part but we can choose to get our news from more impartial and less agenda driven places. Tabloids will never be a part of that. It concerns me when people allow themselves to be consciously or even unconsciously influenced by what they see published in recognised tabloid media. This is when Body Image for Women has become a feminist issue – when headlines and articles focus on a celebrity weight gain or weight loss or on any other change in appearance and people read this shit and accept it as the norm. And even whilst I write that this is a feminist issue I wonder exactly how many of people involved in the tabloid industry, who support it’s perpetuation of the myth of perfection in beauty are women. Quite frankly I think our gender is indeed one of our own worst enemies in so many cases.
Fat kills to put it bluntly. Fat shorten lifespans, makes life harder, places undue burdens on our health departments and contributes to the incidence of depression. We should be working to to maintain a healthy weight range, if we are fat we should be doing something about that. Feminists say that it must be a feminist issue because why is there nowhere near as much focus on men who get fat as opposed to women. This is where I concede that in terms of male versus female perspectives fat can be deigned an equality issue not necessarily a feminist one. I will agree with the subject line Fat is an Equality Issue or a Discrimination Issue.
The media has a responsibility to report on that. It does not have a responsibility to make us feel worthless and ugly inside if we are overweight. These feelings will not help us overcome the problem, they may in fact sabotage our efforts. Perhaps some would argue that for some people that may motivate them. I would contend that those people would be in the very small minority. Feelings of worthlessness and ugliness seldom make people want to be proactive about solving the problem. And yet these feelings are always tied to our appearance. We need to separate healthy weight range from appearance entirely. As humans we are rarely always completely content with how we look. It’s a rare moment to come across someone who doesn’t have even one thing they wish they could change about themselves. I believe this applies equally to male and females – even if males are not quite as good at articulating it in general.
Fat is an everyone issue. Just like any addiction it doesn’t discriminate between who suffers from an excess of it. We are all as prone to it as anyone else is. It is tied to appearance but it is not our whole appearance. It is seemingly tied to levels of self esteem but it doesn’t have to be. The media should inform us about it but not elicit feelings of worthlessness or failure about it. A healthy body looks good no matter who you are or where you live or what your upbringing is. Our values are our own, borne of many factors (nature and nurture) and they may be influenced (but not formed) by any one media source or gender. That influence can either be destructive or productive – and that is our choice to make.