Fabulously Fat Fridays: Fat & Feminism, or Why Intersectionality Matters

Right from the start, beginning with the title of this blog, I identify myself as a fat feminist.  Mostly, this blog is about fat, so some of you might be wondering: why is fat a feminist issue? I was going to tackle the issue of why fat fashion blogging is activism, but in honor of International Women’s Day, you get this instead! (Next week, though, we’ll talk about fatshion’s place in fat acceptance activism.)

One huge part of the answer lies in the theory of intersectionality, which, according to Wikipedia, is “the study of intersections between different groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination. […] Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and religion- or belief-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”

Now, I’m no expert, but to explain in simple terms what this means to me, nobody is just one thing. Feminists fight against oppression of women, but that can’t be all we’re fighting against. If we’re truly fighting against the oppression of all women (as we should be), we are also fighting against the oppression of all people. Why? Because many women aren’t white, so we have to fight against racism in order to fight for them. Because many women are disabled, so we have to fight against ableism in order to fight for them. Because many women are poor, queer, trans*, or fat, and in order to fight for them, we have to fight against all of their oppressions (and by extension, as said oppressions apply to everyone, including men and people outside the gender binary, of course). When people say they aren’t feminists because they believe in equality for everyone, I just figure they have a different definition of feminism than I do. By my definition, a real feminist has to fight for equality for everyone.

So guess what, fat-hating feminists? You suck. You are failing at being a feminist. If you aren’t helping me to fight against thin privilege and oppression of fat people, you aren’t fighting for me.

The other part of the answer, at least for me? That’s this idea that we, as women, have to look a certain way in order to be valuable. And fat discrimination is all about looks, if you’re going to play the health card now, go educate yourself and get back to me when you’ve been disabused of that seriously faulty notion. (Also, my health is none of your business, and go screw yourself for good measure.) So if we’re all on the same page now, women are discriminated against for being fat in many ways, but one of those ways is the same way that women are discriminated against for not meeting traditional beauty standards, be it in voluntary (not wearing makeup, not shaving body hair) or involuntary (simply not looking traditionally beautiful) ways, and that’s fucked up.  People (mostly women, in my opinion, though this does effect men to a lesser extent) who aren’t “pretty” are passed over for promotions or job offers. They are thought of as sloppy and lazy and bad people. How often is ugliness or fatness used as a shortcut for evil in fiction? Very often is the answer. Women are taught that we “owe” the world some kind of beauty, and we don’t. We don’t owe anyone anything. I want to look pretty, but I recognize that it’s a desire that is tied up in a lot of screwed-up patriarchal ideas, and I’m trying to reclaim it by looking “pretty” but in a traditionally un-pretty (fat) body. If you want to fight against traditional expectations for women to look pretty, you have to realize that fat bodies are a big (no pun intended) part of that fight. As a fat woman, I am supposed to try harder. What’s “low maintenance” on a thin, traditionally beautiful woman is seen as “sloppy” or “lazy” on a fat woman. That’s not okay, and it’s yet another way in which the ideals and expectations of the patriarchy leave women fighting and judging each other instead of the system that oppresses us all.

So, in conclusion: good feminists fight fat discrimination, too! (And ableism and racism and homophobia and all the other things I’m forgetting right now because there are too many to list.) We fight for people, for humanity, against oppressive systems that hurt us all. Even though there are a lot of people out there who call themselves feminists and don’t agree with this, I don’t identify myself with them. There are a lot of good feminists out there, though, and that’s who I’m aligning myself with.

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9 thoughts on “Fabulously Fat Fridays: Fat & Feminism, or Why Intersectionality Matters

  1. I think looking “pretty” is an interesting point of divergence for fat feminists and other feminists with bodies/faces that are not considered traditionally attractive. Some people are able to choose to look traditionally attractive, and others are not. Now, I happen to be fat, so there is no way I can choose to look pretty in a conventional sense. As a teenager and younger woman, I assumed this meant that I had very little worth as a woman and I might as well not try and look pretty. I find it empowering, therefore, to choose to wear dresses and sometimes makeup, because I am fighting against that voice in my head that says I might as well not try. This seems to be a little different from that feminist view that dressing a certain way, wearing a bra, shaving one’s legs, etc. are disempowering because they play into the patriarchial culture’s requirement of what a woman should look like. This is also valid, but it’s not my experience.

    • Very true. And I would argue that we shouldn’t be shaming any of these choices, either (bras, shaving, etc.), by any woman; rather, we should be examining their roots in the patriarchy, but still empowering women to make any choice they feel is right for them concerning their bodies (or anything else).

  2. personally, I also enjoy looking “pretty”, but in a “femme” way and not a necessarily “feminine” one. it’s important for me to know and feel the distinction, which I would describe as “femme” is a queered-feminine form of aesthetic expression that is *not* specifically geared towards pleasing the male gaze, allowing room for more radical body/gender/aesthetic presentations … whereas “feminine” may or may not be more radical, may or may not be for men.

    to be completely clear, there’s nothing wrong with being feminine at all, or conforming to traditional beauty standards, or dressing for men. I don’t think they’re always tied up into a patriarchal desire–you can enjoy and celebrate an aesthetic while fighting the oppression that says “only this very narrow defined aesthetic/body/presentation is acceptable.” as informed choices, they are all equally valid and I think they can also fit perfectly well into feminism

    but for me personally it’s easier to make a mental distinction because I am (a) queer (though for full disclosure: in a hetero relationship with a queer guy) (b) into a more radical presentation (shaved head, but hairy in other places, body modifications, etc) and (c) though I a strive for more very feminine pinup-inspired-librarian-goth, I *do not* dress up to be appreciated by men…partly because I get a *lot* of street harassment from guys and do.not.want attention from them.

    I dress the way I want to for all the reasons you listed above, and for the personal-political act of being able to express a lot of beliefs about myself and my identity through my fashion choices while also, yes, being fat, but I think our fashion choices as fat women also allow us to broadcast that “this is *my* body and I dress how I want for *my* own reasons and *not* to please you or fit into the ideals that you think I should”. I think that’s very important to keep in mind.

    • Thank you for this comment– all very true and important things to keep in mind! This is an important discussion, and it’s also important for us to remember that feminism is (or should be) about empowering women to make the choices that are right for them, even if those choices fall in line with traditional patriarchal society’s expectations (though of course we should be talking about and critically examining these choices & expectations), not simply imposing a new set of “feminist” standards.

  3. “If we’re truly fighting against the oppression of all women (as we should be), we are also fighting against the oppression of all people. Why? Because many women aren’t white, so we have to fight against racism in order to fight for them. Because many women are disabled, so we have to fight against ableism in order to fight for them. Because many women are poor, queer, trans*, or fat, and in order to fight for them, we have to fight against all of their oppressions (and by extension, as said oppressions apply to everyone, including men and people outside the gender binary, of course).”
    Very well put!

  4. Hi,
    As a feminist, who’s dipping her toe in the world of fashion blogging, I found your article very interesting. I completely agree with the thought that feminism is about fighting for equality. Period. Equality of gender, race, religion, age and whatever else.

    I have a few doubts about what you wrote, however.

    For one, do you actually know (or know of) any fat-hating feminists? I live in India (and here it’s only the young people who want to be skinny). So I’m a little confused. I don’t actually know any fat-hating person. I know a lot of people who want to be thin, or who’re afraid of becoming fat, but I don’t think people actually hate random strangers just because they are fat. When I was growing up, the prettiest (and most popular) girl in school was fairly chubby. I was her wallflower best friend (and I was a super skinny, anti-social geek).

    Another thing- I totally despise people who advocate weight loss because “it’s better for your health”. I would prefer if they were honest and said that they advocate weight loss because they think it looks better.

    Also, about the desire to look pretty- don’t you think guys want to look handsome/ well-built as much as women want to look pretty/ thin? Ok, not as much- guys probably want to rich more than they want to be handsome, since society tells them that women tend to go for the richer men. At the end of the day, media advertises a particular kind of man or woman as attractive or desirable. When we read Pride and Prejudice in school, all the girls had a crush on Mr. Darcy. That had as more to do with the fact that he was tall, handsome, moody and rich than anything else. If you see the list of all time favourite romantic characters, I’d bet Mr. Darcy still tops the list.

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