DISCLAIMER: I think I over-generalise in this post, but it's because I'm trying to explain something that I'm only just understanding. The more I talk to other women, the more universal my experience seems, so I have been universalising it. I know it's more complicated than that and I invite women with different experiences to talk about it in the comments
I'm going to use a post that Ampersand wrote and take it in a completely tangential direction, because it gives me an opportunity to try and articulate something that I've been grasping at since I was writing this post. Ampersand was comparing the experience of being fat with the experience of being transexual:
Traditionally, untreated transsexuality has been described as feeling as if your body is wrong; that your true self doesn't match your body. (I say "traditionally" because it's unclear how often that's been a genuine description of some transsexuals' experience, and how often that's been what doctors have pressured transsexuals to say). That's what being fat feels like, to me. I'm supposed to be thin, aren't I? Not thin-thin, you know, just - normal-thin. But I don't feel normal. I feel constantly abnormal.I know the feeling that your body is wrong, I've felt it, I hear it every day and I've tried to talk about in small, scary, steps. But I don't think it's a result of being fat, I think it's a result of being female.
I feel like someone who, somehow, wound up in the wrong body.
Ampersand's blog was the first political blog I read with any regularity. He has lots of great posts on fat-issues, and really helped me get to grips with the 'health' angle on obesity. He also has a great collection of links (you should go and check them out); I started reading bigfatblog occasionally, and got a view of some size acceptance groups.
But something felt wrong about their analysis. I'd keep reading it and thinking - 'yes, but...' and not being quite sure what the 'but' was supposed to be. It was Ampersand - whose analysis I agreed with more often - whose writing led me to understanding what the problem was.
I don't think the experience of being fat is worse for women; I think the experience of being fat is qualitatively different for women.
Maybe that's not even what I mean - maybe I mean: the experience of being fat is part of being a woman in the society I live in - whatever size you are.
I'm not dismissing the important work ending bigotry and discrimination. When I first tried to articulate this idea on Ampersand's blog he, rightly, pointed out a senator in Hawaii who is calling for all public school teachers to be weighed six monthly and for action to be taken against teachers who don't meet the standard (nope not a joke). But I find the analysis that accompanies this sort of action is often shallow. Yes it'd be great if we could end size-prejudice, but I don't think we'll be able to, and the reason I don't think we'll be able to because I think it plays a vital role in maintaining patriarchy (I don't like the word, but it'll have to do, because I don't have a better one). Now I have reasons and an explanation for this theory, but they'll have to wait for another post.
By and large fat activism puts a lot of energy into refuting the idea that there is much of a link between your size and food. I can see why, it's certainly annoying when Julia Roberts dons a fat suit and starts eating in every scene, but again I think this is a shallow analysis which is gender blind only because it ignores women's experiences. When my friends and I try and talk about our bodies we can't seperate this from talking about food. We grew up the daughters of women who were preparing our food (while hating their bodies), knowing that one day we should do the same for others. We tried to become women in our mother's footsteps; food is about being nutured and nuturing, and it's dangerous.
Of course fat is about more than that: it's about having your body change to a woman's body when you're a teenager, it's about accepting and rejecting society's standards for women, it's about your sexuality, it's about punishing and rewarding, it's about taking up space, it's about being invisible. But it is about being women.
I don't think there's that much connection, for me or the women I know, between our size and our experience of our bodies as 'fat'. I recently went to a wedding and complimented a woman I sort of knew on her dress, and she talked to me about how it was good for women (like us) who had something to hide, and pointed out its features to me. Now I'm no good at estimating this sort of thing, but she was considerably smaller than me, I'd only ever thought of her as tiny. I've just begun to try and talk about some of these issues with a small group of female friends (it's really hard), and they're all smaller than me, but I recognise everything they say.
Now I guess I'm more likely to suffer discrimination than these other women. I find it harder to shop for clothes, I'm more likely to have someone yell something idiotic out a car window, it probably affects my earning potential and my sexual attractiveness to most people. But I don't really care, I just want to stop hating my body.