Thursday, April 7, 2011

Big Girls: The Intersection of Fat and Gender

I'll say before I dive into this that if you want more information of what I'm going to ramble on about, I suggest you Google "healthy at every size." There are many others out there talking about this much more clearly and for a lot longer than I. Having said that, I want to take a second to talk about my take on weight and gender in this world.

Earlier today, someone on my Twitter linked a fascinating blog by a local HAES blogger and dancer, Ragen Chastain. I've heard of Ragen through my work here in Austin before, so I was delighted to read something of hers. Anyway, the subject was Kirstie Alley's recent "fall" on Dancing with the Stars, that I was only aware of because of Conan's persistent mockery of Alley's size. (I like Conan, I do, but if I could get him to stop ONE thing, it would be this.)

I highly, highly suggest you read Ragen's blog about it, especially if you watch Dancing with the Stars (I don't) and want a dancer's perspective on the whole thing.

This incident with Alley has inspired a blog which I have been mentally composing for a while now. To start, let's try a little exercise.

First, I want you to think about the phrase "He's a big guy." What does this mean in our society? Imagine someone who fits that description. He's probably very tall, strong, powerful, and may have some weight on him. Kind of like your stereotypical linebacker physique.

Now, think about the phrase, "She's a big girl." What comes to mind now? Usually the people I hear saying this phrase are intending to invoke images of fatness, sloven, laziness, someone "unattractive," etc.

You see, our concept of fatness is not equally applied all people. There is a clear intersection with body size and gender. Women who are larger than what has been deemed socially acceptable are the objects of much more ridicule and scorn than men who are overweight. Need more proof? I will rely on the old standby. How many TV shows can you think of where the main male character is a "big guy" but he is married to a woman who fits the narrow definition of beauty?

King of Queens, Still Standing, According to Jim, and even Family Guy all come to mind, just off the top of my head.

Ok, many shows can you name with an overweight wife and a stereotypically attractive man? Honestly, I got nothing. In fact, most people would find this idea absurd. The concept of a "hot" guy with a fat chick is laughable and would only be really seen as a passing joke. This pairing would never be the way that a family is structured, as in all those shows listed above. Time after time, the idea is that women have one major responsibility: to be small and to be hot.

And hot is small.

And small is hot.

Now, I do not intend to suggest that men do not face pressure to look a certain way. They do. I just feel this pressure is much stronger, more widespread, and more entrenched in our society on women. In fact, I feel that the pressure on men to be trim* is more of a recent trend. Fact of the matter is that we shouldn't be making things "equal" by making our boys feel worse about their bodies.

We should be making things better by ensuring that everyone's size and shape is equally respected.

Lastly, what has happened to the word fat? Why is "FAT" now the biggest insult and the worst thing you could call a woman? Fat or big, in their actual meanings, are descriptors. They are not absolutes, and they are highly subjective descriptors, but they are descriptors, nevertheless. In theory, fat and big should be words that has the same emotional charge as thin, small, average, tall, short, red, brown, smooth, shiny, etc.

However, over time we have laced the term "fat" with other meanings--laziness, disgust, undesirability--all aimed at disparaging the people we deem fat. I guess what I'm getting at is that the real issue isn't BEING fat, it is the meaning we have ascribed to being fat. If fatness was just seen as a normal variation on body size and shape, we wouldn't really have these problems, would we?

We've got to get the stereotypes about fat people out of our heads. And we must break the self-loathing we hold inside about our own shapes and sizes.

*I say "trim" for the male ideal and not thin or small, because these things are equated with femininity, and therefore gayness and *God forbid* that man be feminine or gay.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion.

TL;DR Troll comments are never published, so don't waste your time.