In the whirlwind of the last couple of weeks there are a lot of posts that have remained unwritten (for example the government's review of our immigration laws - not my favourite thing) and blogs unread. I've only just started reading some of the Carnivals that came out recently, and tonight I want to respond to (well sort of meander away from) something from the latest big fat carnival.
PegE from On The Whole was writing about Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (the first two books in that trilogy are great by the way, the third isn't really worth it, and the movie was well worth watching, particularly Tibby & Carmen's stories, the other two actresses weren't really up to the roles, which was a shame). At the beginning of the book the girls find a pair of pants that fit them all, and make them all look fantastic, and they set about making rules about when you can wear your pants, and what you can do with them. One of the rules is "You can't call yourself fat in the pants". PegE objected
These smart, funny, talented, beautiful girls are co-creating a set of rules intended to empower them individually as well as their connections to each other. It's clear to me that in saying "you can't say you're fat in the pants" they are trying to encourage themselves to think positively about their bodies. But they (or the author of the book) screwed up. Because what that line really says is FAT IS BAD. FAT BODIES ARE BAD. LOVING YOUR BODY MEANS NOT THINKING (OR SAYING) IT'S FAT.I agree with her argument, but disagree that either the girls, or the author was wrong in what they're saying.
And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
What's wrong with saying you're fat? Why does saying you're fat have more emotional charge than, for instance, saying you have blue eyes or blonde hair
I think PegE's point is a really important one, the constant refrain of 'you're not fat' doesn't do one bit to make fat seem any less bad.
But I still think there's a lot to be said for stopping describing our bodies as fat.
It made me think of a clothes swap I accidentally found myself at recently. Someone was leaving town, and a few other people had bought some clothes along as well. What really got to me, is how many women made disparaging comments about their bodies without even saying anything. There's this gesture you can do where you slap both your hands on the back of your thighs, and it's really clear that what you're trying to communicate is 'aren't my thighs enormous', you don't even need to use the word 'fat'. It seemed to me that if people the clothes were too small then women would blame their bodies, only if the clothes were too big would they blame the clothes. Most of the women there would describe themselves as feminists, but the comments don't stop, the hundreds of subtle ways women can put down their body every day won't stop unless a woman makes a conscious effort to stop them, and even then they'll still go on in her head.
But I do believe that the first step would stobe to stop making any comments that are seen to be disparaging about our bodies. I think that every time we vocalised a fucked up thought pattern about our bodies to another woman we are normalising that fucked up thought process to her. I think we feed the culture that hates our bodies, and I think we do it every day. I think not saying that we look fat in the pants, or any pants is actually the first step to making the word fat back into a normal adjective.
I feel the same way about the way we talk about food, and maybe it'll be a little easier to explain what I mean there. I've written before about my belief that using moral terms to describe what we eat reinforces eating disordered attitudes and behaviour. Food is classified as 'good' (and what that means varies from social group to social group, but among people I know it usually means no fat, no dairy, no processed grains, notice that what qualifies a food as good isn't what it has nutritionally, but what it doesn't have) and 'bad'. I think this classification is the necessary first step towards eating disorder behaviour. Eating disorders are about control, and this sort of classification, which doesn't focus on nutrition, your diet as a whole, or what your body needs at any one time, is necessary for that control. Whether a particular woman tends towards keeping or losing control when it comes to food, both sets of behaviours require food to be classified as good and bad. The fact that women get constant reinforcement, from other women, about their classifications and the moral value of following these classifications upsets and depresses me (and sometimes makes me angry, but often I don't have the energy).
Most of the time when I have conversations about food with other women I find myself either biting my tongue, or arguing about everything they say, and often both. It's not that I don't have these thought patterns myself, I totally do. I've made a conscious choice not to reproduce them, not to give them weight by repeating them (I talk about these thought patters, sometimes, but that's completely different). I feel I should fight more, I should do less tongue biting and more arguing. But it's exhausting and I'm always scared that people will dismiss what I say because of how I look. I also think people would stop listening to me (because they pay me so much attention at the moment), I'd become the woman with a rant.
But I do think it would make a difference if more women made a conscious decision not to talk about food on moral terms and to start with that'd probably mean stopping talking about food at all, until you got used to it.
The same goes for our bodies the first step to creating a new way of talking about our bodies is stopping with the old way.