Memo to MeMe: This is why fat is a feminist issue

26th March 2008

Memo to MeMe: This is why fat is a feminist issue

During The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet in which Mo and I appeared alongside the one-woman-anti-obesity-organization-founder MeMe Roth, Roth didn’t quite seem to get the connections between feminism and fat rights or feminism and body size acceptance or feminism and eating disorders or feminism and well, anything else. Her exact words were, according to Paul’s analysis: “…somehow obesity and feminism are connected…”

This is, of course, amongst a great number of other things MeMe Roth doesn’t quite *get* that make perfect sense to logical and rational folk not blinded by zealous fanaticism.

I am a feminist. I am not ashamed to identify as a feminist, unlike many other women on my college campus. In fact, part of the reason this blog is named as it is, is because feminism has inextricably come to be known as the dreaded “F” word, as if the title of feminist itself is pejorative. It just happened to be oh-so convenient that fat and food also started with the letter F, making for a titillating blog title. Hence, the birth of The-F-Word.

For anyone who remains baffled by the inclusion of feminism in my platform, perhaps you should start with this New York Times article (h/t Sweetmachine).

A new study finds that women who describe themselves as feminists are more forgiving than other women when assessing the attractiveness of women who are either very underweight or very heavy.

Writing in the journal Body Image, researchers said the findings added evidence to the argument that women who considered themselves feminists might be less likely to be taken in by the notion that the most important thing for women is to be thin. That belief, especially in younger women, can lead the way to an eating disorder.

Next, you may also want to check out Susie Orbach’s seminal work, Fat is a Feminist Issue, or Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth or Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s The Body Project or any number of books that also address the issue.

There’s more to weight and feminism, too, that the study or the article doesn’t address. My graduate thesis focuses on the evolution of beauty and aesthetic standards for women as they evolve in tandem with the women’s rights movement. As I shared in a snippet of a recent paper, weight control and standards act as a form of social control, filling women’s time and attention, keeping them busy and hence distracted from activities that risk disrupting an established gender order. “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty,” writes Naomi Wolf. It is “an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

Eating disorders do not discriminate by gender, race or age, but of cases reported, about 90 percent of them are female. It is no irony and no coincidence that a sizable number of our nation’s best and brightest girls and women turn to food and weight and eating disorders to express themselves, self-destructing in the process. As Joan Jacobs Brumberg aptly notes, “Sadly, the cult of diet and exercise is the closest thing our secular society offers women in terms of a coherent philosophy of self.”

In short, society encourages women to change their bodies so they don’t have the time nor the effort to change the world. This is why I am a feminist. This is why my site and my eating disorders awareness, body size acceptance and fat rights platforms are feminist.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 26th, 2008 at 3:28 pm and is filed under Body Image, Eating Disorders, Feminist Topics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 14 responses to “Memo to MeMe: This is why fat is a feminist issue”

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  1. 1 On March 26th, 2008, Fat Girl said:

    It always surprises (and disturbs) me that so few people at my University understand that feminism isn’t some kind of declaration that women are BETTER, but rather, at its root, is an issue of human rights. It’s the same thing with fat, and I don’t get why so many people have a problem with this.

    I mean, to me (and maybe this is luck due to my upbringing), it’s so OBVIOUS. The message isn’t that we’re somehow BETTER, but rather that we are just as good and ought to be treated no differently. I should not be treated differently because I’m a feminist, or because I’m fat- and therefore I am a feminist and I support the rights of fat people.

    It’s not even that revolutionary. It’s Human Rights.

  2. 2 On March 26th, 2008, Tari said:

    YES! That is all.

  3. 3 On March 26th, 2008, Catherine said:

    I’ve only recently come across your work here but even in the short time that I have been reading it -a few weeks- it has really started to change my perspective about myself. I gained a lot of weight in university and somewhere along the line I stopped feeling like a person. I just stopped feeling. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of things like dignity and respect or happiness. I thought I deserved to be unhappy because I was over weight. Your essays have really helped me turn a mental corner. The most important realization that I’ve had while reading this site is that being fat and being happy are not opposites.

  4. 4 On March 26th, 2008, Nikki said:


    It’s astonishing to have to deal with people who just don’t get the connection.

  5. 5 On March 26th, 2008, Meowser said:

    Yes, great stuff.

    What I’m trying to figure out is the “elevator pitch” for the “well, a size 12 or maybe 14 is okay, but it’s just NOT HEALTHY to be OBESE and we shouldn’t encourage it” feminists. (Like we’re fat because someone encouraged us.)

  6. 6 On March 26th, 2008, Carrie said:

    My first thought was: I’ve been reading research journals for 10 years and I only know found one called “Body Image”?

    I still struggle with the issue of judging my body and other women’s bodies- the first moreso than the latter. I’ll be honest. I think some of it is that women are raised specifically to be critical of other women’s appearances, as if we are in some big “Red Rover” line to have our wombs miraculously filled. Except we don’t want to gain much weight when we’re pregnant.

    And “The Body Project” is one of my favorites.

  7. 7 On March 27th, 2008, Beulah said:

    Thank you for everything. Reading your blog really gives me hope. :)

  8. 8 On March 27th, 2008, hotsauce said:

    rachel, thanks for the book links. i have the beauty myth on my blog’s resource page — i read it several years ago and loved it for a multitude of reasons. there are few feelings greater than the feeling of having your eyes opened. i also have copies somewhere of both of those other books, but i haven’t read them yet. i bought them back when my brain was able to handle little more than diet articles, and then i forgot i had them. time to add two more titles to my reading list.

  9. 9 On March 27th, 2008, Rachael said:

    This is a great post :) I want to read all those books now!

  10. 10 On March 27th, 2008, twincats said:


    *throws bouquet of virtual roses*

  11. 11 On March 27th, 2008, janet said:

    I have wanted to read those books for some time now but haven’t got around to it yet.

    It’s a big “no duh” to me that feminism encompasses fat acceptance because feminists often have dialogues about body image, etc. And the right to be more than just our looks, or our size is a big thing in feminism. I also read Feministing and often find the same things written there and among the FA circle as well.

  12. 12 On March 31st, 2008, Besteger said:

    Please assuage my paranoia.

    Surely you do not infer that “the cult of diet and exercise” is some sort of plot. Would women not be bound in neurotic relationships with their bodies were it not for The Man?

    A simple comparison of the fantastic depictions of feminine beauty portrayed in fashion magazines and in gentleman’s magazines might be instructive. While neither portrays average women, the wan emaciated creature headlining Vogue ® would hardly be considered centerfold material in Playboy ®. Miss April is probably much closer to a healthy appearance, and if the “skin mag” doesn’t reflect reality, then it at can at least claim the refuge that it isn’t aiming at it.

    Obviously, women’s bodies are forced into unhealthy molds, and their psyches splinter when they don’t measure up. Suggesting that male hands are the ones doing the pushing seems implausible.

  13. 13 On April 1st, 2008, Rachel said:

    Besteger: Do I meant the “cult” is a conspiracy actively and purposefully plotted by men nationwide? No. But it does act as an informal social control that effectively works to influence women’s thoughts and behaviors.

  14. 14 On July 17th, 2008, Studio 360 « spacedcowgirl said:

    [...] helped at least a few listeners to understand that fat truly is a deeply feminist issue (MeMe Roth’s incredulity at this cra-hay-zee possibility notwithstanding), deeply woven into women’s identities, and [...]

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