Recently I have read three separate articles about the similarities between the oppression of fat people and the oppression of queer people. The most articulate being ‘Fat liberation is totally queer’ from one of my favourite blogs Autostraddle. I think that these comparisons are interesting, but as far as I’m concerned, miss the point, well actually the three points.
The Point (Part 1).
As far as I’m concerned a big bit of this problem is that we all base a number of our day to day choices, actions and decisions on physical appearance. Marked against some kind of fantasy sexy-scale stored in each individual’s mind.
Number one of these decisions is our choice of partner. In fact we become so obsessed with our partner’s physical appearance, that the word ‘attractiveness’ are often used as synonymous with our judgements on the sexy-scale. As the author of this article points out that,
Yes, fat people can get married, but many thin people would not consider dating, let alone loving and marrying, someone who is fat.
Now this is ridiculous. Our appearance changes hugely over the span of our lives, your tiny, thin girlfriend may become your fat girlfriend, or vice versa. So we might as well go wild and pick someone you actually get on with. This is bad judgement, foolish maybe, but not really oppression.
The Point (Part 2).
What is oppression is the view the author discusses that women are, in their everyday lives, discriminated against. Forced to take verbal and physical abuse. Told they have less of a right to be happy than other women. Made to feel less worthwhile or valuable because of their body shape, size or appearance.
But let me tell you.
This is not just a fat issue, it’s a body issue.
Now for those of you reading this that know me, you will know that I am teeny. A size four (Miss. Selfridge sizes), 5″2 and weighing in at less than 8 stone. And this I will tell you is not as a result of extensive dieting or obsessive exercising, in fact I eat tons. I am made this way. I have always been small, and I probably always will be. And as a thin lesbian I face a pretty similar problem.
Going about my daily business I have frequently had people accuse me of having an eating disorder. Almost strangers (often friends of friends) quiz me on what I eat, how much, and how regularly. Frequently refusing to believe me when I tell the truth. People close to me blame my disastrous immune system on my weak physical frame. And one particularly delightful individual in a pub once grabbed my collar bone and exclaimed they could,
“snap me like a chicken!”
Me: “I’d rather you didn’t”
The problem is that as a society we place strange values on people’s physical appearances.
Other people: We treat people differently according to their appearance. No genuinely, I notice it. I can nearly never reach the top shelves in supermarkets. Now, if I’m in Tesco, hopping about trying to reach down my museli with my make-up on I can guarantee given about two hops and someone will step in and help out. But in a hoodie, hair up and no make up and I’d hop forever and go home museli-less (fortunately I have gotten good at shelf mountaineering, fear not, I have my breakfast)
Ourselves: I go to the gym three or four times a week (when I’m being good) and I will tell you some of the most destructive conversations I’ve ever over-heard have been in the changing room as women talk about themselves. About the parts of themselves they hate. The exercises they are going to do to change themselves. And the happiness they look forward when this change has been made.
The Point (Part 3)
We value physical appearance above health. Namely, I imagine, this is because judging people’s appearance is far easier than having a constructive conversation about health. But also because we’re all buying into the sexy scale to some extent or another. In fact, our judgements of ourselves against the sexy scale are often the only thing that will motivate us to do some exercise or reach for a salad. Not because we care about the state of our hearts. Because we want a smaller bum / legs / arms / tummy / whatever.
Being healthy (with our food, our exercises and our minds) is not a solo effort. And it’s not easy. I have to admit for most elements of health I haven’t a clue what to do to make myself healthier. I usually go with what makes me feel better and assume that’s right. Health is often about the food we can afford to eat, the exercise we can afford the time to devote to and the supportive (or not so supportive) communities that we live in. And it starts with education and a community responsibility to help one another to be healthy.
Fat liberation is not a queer issue, in as much as body image and health are people’s issues.
So let’s talk health.