If you grew up in the age of movies like The Devil Wears Prada (2006), (a time when having a “fat ass” was an insult and not a compliment) you might have disordered eating. Many people practice eating disorder behaviors and don’t acknowledge it because it is normalized, diet culture has existed for decades and permeates everything. This particular movie repeatedly humiliates the main character for wearing size 6 jeans. While I sat in front of the TV screen being fat-shamed by classic 2000’s movies, my mom consumed every magazine off the rack about perfect housekeeping, the perfect bikini body, and watching shows like What Not to Wear which emphasized not “dressing frumpy” (a media buzzword used for fat people). She was trying to get back to her model body from her 20’s, something that wasn’t sustainable for her, even then. It was always: just lose 10 more pounds, then you can go to Paris!
Today, thanks to the body positivity movement, you can be up to a size 16 in jeans before people start raising their eyebrows. The mainstream body positivity movement has expanded the category of being a “normal” weight. You are no longer fat as a size 6, and there are a lot more body norms that we are starting to reject. Standards based on whiteness, thinness, perfectly groomed hair, and not looking “homeless,” are all just ways we establish hierarchy and harm people who do not fit or can not fit manufactured ideals of attractiveness and grooming. For women, these beauty standards are a function of misogyny to keep you small, docile, and wrapped up in others’ expectations of who you should be. For POC, it’s a function of racism that wastes your time trying to conform to an unattainable white standard. The same is true for transphobia and other forms of oppression, which build on one another. As a generation we rightfully recognize that it’s fucked to define your self worth by a beauty standard.
But we haven’t gone far enough. Part of how we console our insecure peers is by saying things like: “you’re not fat! You’re hot” or “you’re not fat, you’re normal.” Both of these statements set fatness up as opposites to being hot or normal. Currently, we make very little effort to separate fatness from other metrics like attractiveness, ability, health, and morality. Thinness is not next to godliness. Health is not a moral imperative. It’s convenient that when discussions about BMI come up, people forget that the BMI scale was designed by a eugenicist and white supremacist (further reading: “The Bizarre and Racist History of the BMI”- by Medium). For those of us who are POC, trans, have estrogen-dominant bodies, recovering from an eating disorder, food insecure, or fat, having your doctor evaluate and share your BMI is hurting you. Because of institutionalized fatphobia, many doctors will ignore your health issues and deny you care because they think you need to lose weight first, even if weight is not related to the health issue at all. For someone in recovery from orthorexia or other eating disorders, hearing that you are in the overweight or obese category can be massively triggering. Feeling pressure to lose weight, or attempt to, is a form of social control similar to the restrictions on reproductive rights. It’s an infringement of your bodily autonomy. It’s a waste of your energy. It tells you that what other people desire and expect is more important than your peace.
For many low-income children, this food-related oppression starts in grade school. I had to serve other children lunch first before I was allowed to eat my free lunch. That creates a visual distinction between the normal child and the one wearing the hair net. What does this teach children about their worthiness to eat, that they must endure potential humiliation to do it? Skipping meals makes you more likely to be fat later on in life (OSU.edu – In study, skipping meals is linked to abdominal weight gain) and face further oppression. If you’re poor, skipping that meal may be necessary and is rewarded in early childhood because you are saving money for the family. It is also rewarded by more positive remarks on your body. We are setting low-income children up for eating disorders, to start practicing disordered behaviors now and have them worsen and develop as they age.
Rather than trying to lose weight and do the “morally right” thing, question who benefits from your insecurity. If fatphobic people really gave a fuck about your health, the narrative would not be to lose weight, but to rest, eat nutritious foods without restraint, have low stress, and engage in joyful movement. So what does body revolution look like? It looks like eating enough and often. It looks like feeding the people in your community without comments on the amount or their worthiness, and no barriers to food and clothes. It looks like reframing your life around the belief that we are all deserving of basic rights and dignities: the right to nutritious food, clothes that fit, respect for our appearance, bodily autonomy, to educated and accessible healthcare, and the freedom to take up space. How can we focus on reading Marxist theory if we’re hungry?