“The long-term ineffectiveness of diets, particularly among those experiencing significant levels of obesity, is widely recognized, and many have argued that unsuccessful and repeated dieting is a source of psychological and physical harm.” (Throsby, see below for link).
Yet Americans, especially women, are spending $30 billion annually on weight loss, and usually, the “morally privlidged” strategies of diet and exercise alone. Why?
Karen Throsby, in her article “Happy Re-birthday: Weight Loss Surgery and the ‘New Me’,” has identified an important construction that women who go through Weight Loss Surgery (WLS) use to describe their post-surgery body: the “new me.” They describe the date of their surgery as their “re-birthday.” This construction associates the “new me” with the “real me” and creates an important implication for their fat body- it ISN’T real. I think this is something that holds true for all fat women – their body is somehow not their TRUE self.
This disciplining of the body happens at both the societal level and the individual level. The association of negative traits such as laziness and poor self-control with women who are fat is common, and there have been efforts in recent years to introduce legal protection for those who are discriminated against due to their weight. (For more on the legal position of fat Americans, see “The Right to be Fat“). But the disciplining is perpetuated by individual fat women themselves, who contribute to that $30 billion sum – which is not to say that they are at fault or morally cupable, be remind us that biopower is internalized in the individual.
The real problem with all of this for women’s bodies is that our personhood gets lost as we try to quantify our health through measures like BMI and terms like “overweight” “obese” and “morbidly obese.” In the same way women’s bodies are sexualized and objectified, fat women’s bodies are medicalized and objectified. Society looks at fat women and doesn’t see a person but a monster, the embodiment of sloth and gluttony.
Why do women participate in this discourse? Part of the problem is the myths around weight loss – namely, the quote that I began my post with – women believe that drastic weight loss is realistically achievable through dieting and exercising. And perhaps part of it is certain people’s desire to maintain their privileged status – because women with “fit” or “thin” bodies are privileged in our society. And why? Not for any reason based in good medical science.
Check out this flikr set of photos - “Illustrated BMI Categories“ to understand the problems with BMI.
Because “fit” “thin” women are “healthier”? Not necessarily. In fact, there’s even something called the obesity paradox: “overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments.”
It’s time to stop calling fat bodies “bad” “diseased” and “monstrous.”