Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fat Talk Week

I love the idea behind Fat Talk Free Week (and wrote more about it here). I love how it lays out specific actions for women to take, because so often the supposedly compassionate response to "I'm so fat" is "No you're not." But that response doesn't help, because it A) assumes the position that fat is awful, B) might not be true, and someone who is genuinely fat will only feel pandered to if you tell them that they're not, C) keeps the focus on what may or may not be "wrong" with the person, and D) doesn't make anybody feel any better anyway. (The response that the sponsors suggest is to form a pact with a friend and to call them out on the pact whenever they break it.)

But the thing is, I hardly ever engage in fat talk. Even before it was a conscious feminist effort, I just felt stupid doing it--saying "Oh, I look disgusting" is an invitation for reassurance, which never helps me feel better. (It can help with momentary anxiety over something fleeting--like, being assured that my zit does not overtake my entire aura--but that's not fat talk.) I hate forcing other people to compliment me as much as I hate being forced to compliment others. Nowadays when I hear fat talk from someone, I just say, "Oh, stop that." If I'm in a situation where it makes sense to have a real conversation about body image, I'll invite that--but the people with whom I have that rapport know better than to throw around "Oh, I'm fat" in my presence.

So fat talk isn't exactly the issue for me. My words reflect someone with an intact bodily self-esteem; my thoughts do not. I'd like to be able to just do this with myself, but that makes me feel like one of Eve's three faces. I'm almost wondering if I should start saying what I say to myself out loud, to other people. Not because I want to get into the oh-you-look-fine game, but because it might help me recognize how ridiculous what I am saying is.

The larger issue is one I've come up against repeatedly: how to reconcile my feminism with my body issues. One of the big reasons I'm so vocal about being feminist is because of the body issues I've had all my life; reading about the sociology surrounding body issues and eating disorders has informed me well, from recognizing the unrealistic standards I'm held to as a woman to getting more deeply into recognizing the link between the tightening of the Iron Maiden and the emancipation of women during the second wave. I'm no longer at the point where I feel like a Bad Feminist for having body and food issues, but the fact remains that what I say ideologically is miles away from where I am with my most private thoughts and actions. I've always known that the personal is political--now I want to invert it and make the political, personal.

But you know what? A lot of bloggers are playing along and saying what they like about their bodies on their blogs. So I will too:

I love my legs--I'm probably even vain about them. They're strong and curvy, hard in the places I want them to be, soft in the places I want them to be. They help me look good in a dress; they show the world that I'm active; they bring me pleasure to look down and see strong, long calves. Even the burn I got on my right calf this spring in Vietnam, I love: I got off on the wrong side of a motorbike on my second day there and got an enormous burn, a perfect circle the size of the bottom of a pint glass. Every time I see it, I am reminded of an extraordinary time in an extraordinary place. I laughed to myself that my father and grandfather both fought in Vietnam and I'm the one who came back wounded--a joke I'd never say out loud, because certainly they were wounded in a much different way, despite the lack of physical marks. But it ties me to one of my main reasons for going there, which was them and their times of service; it's almost like a little nod toward them, and how, a generation later, I needed to have my own marks of that long, skinny, hot little county on me.


  1. THIS IS EXACTLY HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MY BODY IMAGE AND MY FEMINISM. It's such a similar perspective that it's kind of ridiculous. And exciting ;)

  2. Yayyyy! I think that sometimes there's pressure on feminists to totally reject the idea that we're affected by this stuff, or present it as though we're over it. But I'm 34 and am not over it, and I remember being 15 and thinking how glad I was that I'd "dealt" with all this crap! It's a lifelong process--one that does get easier--but it's complex.