The title question haunts me. I’m a feminist, a recovered anorexic and, yes, I’m on a diet.
Because of my experience with anorexia, I know how horrible things can get when one starts obsessing about “bad foods” and setting (and re-setting) weight-loss goals. My eating disorder made me miserable, and I have lasting health issues that could eventually shorten or lessen the quality of my life.
That said, recovering from anorexia made me a feminist. While battling for my sanity and health, I became increasingly pissed off at the THIN=BEAUTIFUL*GOOD environment we live in. Our culture’s valorization of thinness caused well-meaning friends to compliment me on my rapid weight-loss, literally up until the weeks that I entered treatment. Even after entering treatment, some people didn’t think I was skinny enough to be “really” anorexic. Worse, my awful then-boyfriend hinted that it would be great if I could recover without gaining any weight, “since you’re not, like, scary-thin.”
In the end, I got better, got angrier, and ultimately re-arranged my life so that I could stay healthy and continue fighting-the-good-fight as my career.
We feminists typically view dieting — and, particularly, the diet industry — as an expression of patriarchy that is bad for women. As a scholar who studies the harmful effects of our culture’s beauty standards, I agree with this. Diets (which FAIL 95% of the time) drain women’s energy, happiness, and wallets – often while risking our health. Hence, “RIOTS, NOT DIETS!” has become a well-known rallying cheer for many feminists.
Dieting can also be understood as a type of “patriarchal bargain” (an individual woman’s decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women-as-a-group, in exchange for whatever power she can wrest from the system). By strategically losing weight, we accept the THIN=BEAUTIFUL*GOOD equation (which implies FAT=UGLY*BAD), and propel ourselves into positions of greater social advantage. On an individual level, having “thin privilege” feels empowering. (Recall, Oprah Winfrey — arguably the MOST powerful woman in the world — has described “going to the gym when I really prefer wine and chips” as her greatest accomplishment!) Yet, these THIN powered feelings depend upon a system of inequality in which power/privilege/respect are denied to others on the basis of these standards.
Frustratingly, given the patriarchal bargain of weight-loss, being radically anti-diet as a political stance doesn’t always fit comfortably as a personal stance. Because we live in a society that punishes women for being “fat,” even the most dedicated feminists report struggles with body image. The threat of becoming a martyr for this cause (i.e., by voluntarily giving up ”thin-privilege,” if we’ve got it) can be terrifying. Add to this the personal fact that I’ve gained an (subjectively) uncomfortable amount of weight in the past year by neglecting to care for my body, and suddenly I’m facing a conundrum.
So what’s a good feminist to do? Here’s how I’ve proceeded.
Step 1: Shun Mirrors for 1 Year
I was saying mean things to my reflection in the mirror and wanted to lose weight, urgently. My body insecurities were reaching a dangerous peak, and it scared me. Was I on the verge of a relapse? 10 years ago, I’d probably have gone on an extreme diet, but this time something blissfully self-protective kicked in. I still did something extreme, but in a vastly more body-positive direction: I decided to shun mirrors for a year. Yep, you read that correctly. I’ve embarked on a quest to go without mirrors for 365 days.
Thus far it’s been enlightening (and challenging), but hasn’t completely resolved my body image issues.
Step 2: Revamp Eating and Exercise Habits to be Healthfully Moderate
So, in addition to shunning mirrors, I’ve decided to monitor my food and exercise until I’m back on track. As an advocate of the “Health at Every Size” movement (which stresses the importance of healthful behaviors but rejects the idea that there is a universal “healthy weight”), I’m going to try to judge my “success” based on my behaviors, instead of my weight. My goal is to consciously re-engage in healthful eating habits and joyful activity, and then accept my body size and shape wherever it settles. As much as I’m still tempted to “get skinny,” I know I can live with this, and (more importantly) I know my body can live through it.
But I still hope I lose some weight.
So, what do you think? If “fat is a feminist issue,” can a feminist diet?
Kjerstin Gruys is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Sociology Department at UCLA where she’s writing her dissertation on clothing size standards in the fashion industry. At her blog, A Year Without Mirrors, she’s chronicling her commitment to avoid her reflection for 365 days.
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Bel — July 14, 2011
I think we all struggle with this question a little bit. The most helpful and revelatory sentence I've ever read on the subject is "It's okay to be ugly." That was nearly mind-blowing.
On a person level, it helps to remember how little about your life and the people around you will actually change... And the fact that everyone else around you is too busy obsessing over their weight to worry about yours, most of the time.
hippo-krit. — July 14, 2011
I struggle with this every day. I want to say I take my own advice but I can't. It breaks my heart to see young girls diet and struggle with their weight. I want them to be happy and love themselves regardless. But at the same time, I feel ugly if I am overweight.
Ellen — July 14, 2011
Sure! I don't want to shame anyone for dieting on top of any shame they might be feeling due to their body.
That said, I think the way you're going about it is probably right -- aiming for behaviors and feelings of wellbeing rather than "skinny", and I'd push any friend I knew well enough to be nosy at to consider it.
ah — July 14, 2011
I really like the HAES approach, I think assessing things in terms of inputs (vegetables! whole grains! bits of gentle or moderate exercise!) rather than bogus quant outcomes is useful. I quite like the idea of being strong, and being robust. And those ideas intersect with the idea of being healthy, but not (in my head) with weight.
Marc — July 14, 2011
I've struggled with this as well. I am a (pro)feminist gay male and I've always been the fat kid. I'm an emotional eater and throughout most of my life I've hated my body and tried to change its appearance often. I've been on several fad diets and exercise routines, some successful, mostly not. I've gotten to a point where I am actually comfortable being a "bigger guy". I don't feel as though I need to change my body to be attractive to others BUT I'm only 27 years old and I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and I'm at risk for diabetes. That said my current weight is not just an issue of vanity, its an issue of health. Thus I'm working on it.
I think a feminist can and should diet for her/his health. No one should diet to look attractive to others, or to simply look like everyone else.
renee — July 14, 2011
I think it's a semantic problem. "Dieting," to most people, means controlling your food intake (so as to make eating less pleasurable) with the goal of losing weight. Ugh. On the other hand, "eating a healthy diet" (composed of a variety of delicious foods, eating the ones that are less good for you in moderation), with the goal of prolonging your life and improving your health--dandy. Add in some physical activity every day and you're all set. What's feminist or unfeminist is whether the goal is your own health and happiness or meeting societal preferences about your looks.
Anonymous — July 14, 2011
Greta Christina's a feminist and she diets. Something about the other choice being damaging her knees, and she likes her knees.
Ang — July 14, 2011
Love the use of patriarchal bargain here. I do think a feminist can diet. I think a feminist can even diet so that she looks more attractive to men. I don't mean to minimize the question - I struggle with it too. But I think that ultimately, feminism as a movement and an ideology would not deny the material benefits as well as upping the chance for social and economic survival that comes with making these patriarchal bargains. It would be a sad thing indeed if we pegged people as Not Real Feminists who were really just doing the best they can to make it through.
Anonymous — July 14, 2011
I'm on a diet! It's the "don't eat too much dairy or your guts will explode" diet!
A diet is what you eat. Some peoples' diets include no dairy, or no meat, or no gluten. Some peoples' diets are calorie restricted or very high in fat. There are a lot of different reasons to adjust one's diet. Some of those reasons are harmful (I haaaate my body, I don't look like a magazine ad!) and some aren't (I want to improve my health/stamina/flexibility/eat more veggies/lower my cholesterol).
So WHY are you on a diet? Are you on a diet for you, for yourself? Or are you on a diet to suit some mythical ideal that's almost impossible to achieve/maintain unless one's gotten a lot of help from "good" genes? That, I think, is the deciding factor.
bomboado — July 14, 2011
A feminist can do whatever zie pleases. An important thing is to understand why zie feels compelled to do it. Dieting, even for "health", serves the kyriarchy and consumer industry that helps keep kyriarchy unsmashed. To be truly revoluntionary, a person eats whatever feels good to hir body to eat (if zie can manage it after so many years of living in our food/body obsessed environment) and moves however much and in whatever way feels good to hir body. If that's salad and watching movies all day, great. If that's donuts and dancing at a club, great. If that's donuts with salad on the side and a long nap in the afternoon, great. Our food and exercise choices do not affect our value or morality as human beings, nor does our size or our medical conditions (though you wouldn't know it by everyday living).
It's worth noting that folks don't really know what makes fat people fat and thin people thin - moreover, they don't actually know that being one way is better (oh, excuse me, HEALTHIER - that's the word we like to use) than being the other way (though the diet industry, and therefore our doctors, sure give it a good go). All the reducing and exercising in the world doesn't change that. Kyriarchy benefits from and stays strong when people (try to) change their bodies to conform to its ridiculous standards that keep everyone under control and spending precious time, money and brain power. Does that mean a feminist can't diet? Hell, no. But zie should be aware that hir choices collude with kyriarchy. As many of our choices do. Which isn't a good/moral judgement either, it's just the way it is.
Eat what feels good. Move how and when it feels good. Don't judge yourself or others when you or they step over imaginary lines of good/moral behavior by "overeating", or being pre-diabetic, or not getting your moderate 30 minutes a day, or by "big" numbers on a scale. Everything else is speculation and power politics.
Cati Connell — July 14, 2011
Great post, Kjerstin! Can't wait to read your book someday soon. :) See you at ASA again this year, I hope!
Anonymous — July 14, 2011
I think choosing to eat healthier and exercise more is a fine choice. But I hate the word 'diet' because of its cultural connotations. I was anorexic for 5 years and have since recovered. Part of that recovery was learning how to eat and exercise more normally (I'd argue that normal eating is very difficult due to the influences of media and industry and that 'normal' is a construct anyway.)
I also think that wanting to be seen as attractive is not a bad thing, as long as that desire is balanced with other goals and dreams. I want to be attractive because I feel better about myself when I look better (which is a bit problematic, but fairly 'normal' in our culture). But I also want to be smart, have friends, have a good career and care for others. The problem comes in when the desire to look good overtakes the other goals. It sounds like you are very balanced in your goals.
Anyway, I've rambled enough. Thank you for this post! I think it illuminates the cultural tensions most feminists experience.
C. D. Leavitt — July 14, 2011
Everyone has a diet. "Dieting" simply refers to making a conscious choice about one's diet. Considering the unhealthy food choices that are likely to happen without making a conscious choice, I see nothing unfeminist about dieting. While it would be nice to think that we could have unlimited access to every sort of food we might want and yet never eat too much of it or eat an unbalanced mix, this isn't how it works. Without conscious thought going into it, we'll often end up eating too much of certain foods, because millions of years of evolution have primed us for trying to get as many calories as possible.
It's unfortunate that being aware of what we eat and trying to make healthy choices is lumped in with reducing calories simply for the sake of appearance. Being aware of our diets is not a bad thing, though it can certainly be difficult to balance when dealing with people who have suffered from eating disorders.
Kate — July 14, 2011
Everyone has a diet, but not everyone is ON a diet. Disconnecting body image from health is important. Your diet should be about health not weight.
The big problem come in when people try to "eat more healthful" by eating low fat, high grain diets. Please people, grain isn't good for you and neither is vegetable oil. The world of nutrition is going through a radical shift based on science. Saturated fat doesn't cause heart disease. Sugar (and grain heavy diets) do. Fat doesn't make you fat. Sugar does.
So, what is a feminist to do? Educate herself and eat to be healthy rather than thin. And for a lot of woman, that means losing body fat. Not because THIN= BEAUTIFUL*GOOD, but because excess body fat=unhealthy.
Guest123 — July 14, 2011
This is really inspiring!
kutsuwamushi — July 14, 2011
Even if we can agree on what "feminist behavior" is, no one is obligated to act "feminist" all the time. We are not martyrs for the cause.
I make a little patriarchal bargain every morning when I put on a bra--I'm not big enough to need one to be comfortable, but I think I look nicer. Can I still be a feminist? I think so. Can I still be a feminist if I shave my legs and wear make-up? I think so. I think I'm pretty damn feminist, actually.
I'm really wary of the idea that anything a woman does is feminist, because I think that's a vapid philosophy; some choices are neutral, and some choices are anti-feminist. I do think that expecting women to behave in a feminist manner all of the time is oppressive, however. It's also just unrealistic.
This is not even touching the issue that "choosing to eat healthy and get a healthy amount of exercise" is not a set of behaviors that most of us would consider "dieting."
shelly gallender — July 14, 2011
Yes. Absolutely. I'm a feminist, I suffered from Anorexia in the past, I generally maintain a healthy lifstyle in terms of fitness and nutrition because it makes me feel good, and when/if my pants start getting tight, I cut out some calories until they fit again.
Of course, there is nuance to everything and if I were dieting to fit someone else's ideals of beauty or taking it to extremes then I'd be betraying a lot of my personal ideals- and not just my feminist ones.
But I'm happy with myself right now- with my muscle tone, my endurance, my flexibility, and with the way my body looks in clothes so I don't see anything wrong with working to maintain myself right now when I start changing in a way that I find displeasing.
And dieting rather than buying new clothes helps me follow another particular goal- I'm trying not to consume as many goods as I have in the past.
Msdollman — July 14, 2011
Taking care of your body is being a feminist. Weight/food/exercise as a topic of conversation more than once in awhile...makes me really uncomfortable. Until we, as a society, do not equate fat with ugly/lazy/stupid, etc., good luck being yourself at any size.
Elly Rox — July 14, 2011
Do you know what I feel the most riot grrl, feminist mindset is? It's freely thinking and feeling what you think and feel, and not being worried about weather it makes you a "bad feminist". I hate the idea that part of the premise here is "Can you be a feminist and go on a diet." I know there's a "riot not diet" mentality prevalent in feminist culture, but I feel like that's more about letting outside influences tell you what you should be or how you should look. Wanting to do something to keep yourself, or get yourself to a place where you are healthy shouldn't be discouraged by anyone.
Anonymous — July 14, 2011
Being a feminist isn't absolute and static. It is a process. One that is different for everyone. And we definitely don't all agree on everything. I consider myself a fat positive radical feminist and of course I still have body image issues. I think what you are doing is beautiful and amazing!
What We Missed — July 14, 2011
[...] Can a feminist go on a diet? [...]
Max Kingsbury — July 14, 2011
Everyone has a diet. The things that you eat are your diet. If you make an effort to eat certain things, then you could say you are "on a diet". Most people interpret this to mean "eating certain things to lose weight or keep it off", but I think allowing the term to mean only this is no good.
That said, I think feminists can diet to lose or gain weight. There are many reasons to want to change your body type beyond "fitting in." For example: athletic performance, health, cost savings. I'd say feminists probably shouldn't crash diet, but nobody should do that.
Can a Feminist Diet? » Sociological Images « hahayourefunny — July 14, 2011
[...] Can a Feminist Diet? » Sociological Images. Dieting can also be understood as a type of “patriarchal bargain” (an individual woman’s decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women-as-a-group, in exchange for whatever power she can wrest from the system). By strategically losing weight, we accept the THIN=BEAUTIFUL*GOOD equation (which implies FAT=UGLY*BAD), and propel ourselves into positions of greater social advantage. On an individual level, having “thin privilege” feels empowering. (Recall, Oprah Winfrey — arguably the MOST powerful woman in the world — has described “going to the gym when I really prefer wine and chips” as her greatest accomplishment!) Yet, these THIN powered feelings depend upon a system of inequality in which power/privilege/respect are denied to others on the basis of these standards. [...]
littlediara — July 14, 2011
As a feminist, fatty, and part of the Fat Acceptance movement, I've had a lot of struggle with this issue. I've gone back and forth on dieting, not dieting, and even getting very close to having weight loss surgery.
For me, when I decided that thin = beautiful is a load of stupid, I was very empowered. After that I worked on believing that everyone is beautiful. I did exactly the opposite and started seeking mirrors out. I practised being vain because I was always hating on myself. I started with things that society thought were "good" in me like my kindness and my smarts and went on to eyes, lips, smile, hair, and finally tummy, thighs, butt, et cetera.
Unfortunately, I think that, no matter what, it's always going to be a struggle against the indoctrination human's have faced when it comes to beauty versus ugly. Every now and then, we're going to take a step back. What we HAVE to do is remember to take two steps forward after that.
Elizabeth Michelle Jarvis — July 14, 2011
If someone is dieting or taking extreme measures to make themselves thin because of society or media driven standards of beauty, then obviously there is a conflict of interest. But, a woman taking her health into her own hands and losing weight for the right reasons (to lower blood pressure, perform better athletically, etc) Don't you think that is perfectly in line with a woman taking charge of her body and mind in a positive direction?
poet — July 14, 2011
I would claim that if dieting is about doing something healthy, something that is primarily good for yourself, about feeling happy and capable in your body, and if it's accompanied by other lifestyle decisions towards these goals (such as more sports, not eating less but eating different things, stopping body-bashing self-talk etc), instead of being about looking skinny so that others will find you attractive or envy you, then yes, it doesn't conflict with feminism at all. However, motivations are complicated and partly subconscious, so it's really hard to tell! Thanks for your thoughtful and personal post about this complex topic!
amyc — July 14, 2011
Thank you! I found this a thoughtful, candid piece on our culture and its whacked-out obsessions with women's size and shape. I have wrestled for years with my "ideal" weight, and even at my healthiest weight, I wasn't anywhere near where the BMI says I am supposed to be.
As a healthcare provider who sees the dire and sad consequences of ALL the damaging things we do to our bodies (morbid, inactive, unhealthy obesity--as opposed to what we see here--is just one), I have often thought that obese patients have an added level of shame applied. Everyone "knows" being fat (as defined by an arbitrary number, one way or another) is bad for you, and you should just NOT be fat. But if it were that simple, then it would be that simple. I'm thrilled when I find a patient who takes an interest in their own health status, whatever it is, and is active and educated about what they can do as individuals to help themselves. Part of the consequence of the one-way-is-the-right-way approach to body types is that a significant number of people who can't, for genetic reasons, get to the underfed (for them) ideal just give up, and take on a self-punishing approach that hurts them in the long run. Healthy bodies are all beautiful gifts, no matter what size or shape.
The horrible comments the author was subjected to are an indication of just how entitled members of our culture feel to make snide comments about women's bodies. It's depressing. But it's also a good reminder of what I learned in my college sociology class: reality is socially created. Challenging the status quo takes courage, and I think you have done it well. I wish you luck on your quest for self-acceptance. If you find it, pass it on.
Catsnstuff — July 14, 2011
An interesting post (and really nicely timed after the "health at any size" post recently).
Myself, I watch what I eat to a degree (made easier because my judgements of foods seem to affect my experience of them - if I eat burgers too many times a week I feel unpleasant), and am taking Zumba classes twice a week and trying to do little bits of exercise in between as well. I enjoy my Zumba because feel like I'm learning to dance more effectively and freely, and I like that it does seem to be increasing my fitness level and stamina.
BUT, my primary motive is that I hope I lose a little weight.
And it feels uncomfortable saying that, because it seems so common to hear "I'm doing these things because I want to be HEALTHY. These are the "right" reasons." At the moment, 10 of the 29 comments on this blog are saying some variant of "it's OK to diet if it's for health and not to do with attractiveness". This makes me uncomfortable.
The truth is, I enjoy it when I'm more slim. I enjoy it when my skin feels more firm, when I can run my hands down my sides without bits of fat trying to entangle themselves in my fingers. I enjoy looking down and feeling that what is there is more reflective of what I want, and not what I've accumulated over the years. I enjoy seeing my muscles, not just knowing that they are there because of what I can move with them.
And I KNOW this isn't just about what I somehow naturally, essentially want. I'm sure that if society valued being more fat, I'd be very likely to enjoy different things about my body. But, this is who I AM at the moment. It feels fake, a real effort, to say "I enjoy my tummy and the way it wobbles sometimes", or "I enjoy the rolls that appear when I bend in certain ways". I don't.
Is this a "patriarchal bargain"? Is it somehow unethical to try and work towards what one enjoys, because in promoting these values it is actually damaging to other women? Should one just say "oh, I'm always going to be an imperfect feminist" and leave it at that?
It also seems like a lot of other women (including the OP) also find it a little difficult to say "this is totally and only about being healthy".
extraradoliveoil — July 14, 2011
My jaw dropped when I read this. I, too, went through the anorexic-feminist transition and feared I might relapse when I fell on some hard times recently. It's a hard question to answer. Ironic, even: the self-discipline necessary to keep yourself healthy without relapsing could easily conjure up some former habits of extreme self-discipline. I'd say, just do your best. Take a deep breath.
Nicole Dunham — July 14, 2011
Amen to that! Being a feminist doesn't mean that one has to stop taking care of one's own body--quite the contrary. We just need to make sure that our motivations and goals are in the right place. I do like the idea of "Health at Every Size"--thanks for the link!
Kariq — July 14, 2011
I've lost nearly 50 pounds over the last year, purely for health and well-being reasons. I thought I was beautiful before I lost weight. I think I'm beautiful now. My weight loss was not motivated by "patriarchal bargain" and certainly not by a desire to achieve a more "acceptable" body condition or shape. Oh, and I've always been a feminist. So I'd say yes, a feminist can diet, as long as she's doing it for herself and not for someone else.
I've seen loved ones struggle with their weight, feel worthless because they couldn't lose or couldn't keep the weight off, and I get angry about it. How dare anyone think that my beautiful, wonderful, intelligent sister can be defined by her weight or dress size? How dare anyone sneer at my mother because she's heavy? And, on some level, I feel almost guilty about the weight I've lost. As if losing it is a betrayal of them, and makes me a hypocrite for saying they are beautiful and wonderful and intelligent and perfect just the way they are. If all that's true, why did I lose weight?
Jean — July 14, 2011
I would say that dieting, as a concept, is sort of afeminist - that is, neither feminist or unfeminist. There are plenty of just-fine reasons and healthy ways to diet, as well as plenty of bad reasons and unhealthy ways to diet. But, categorically, I'd certainly say that yes, a feminist can diet.
I think the more feminist issue would be *compulsory* dieting. I define compulsory dieting as the idea that all women should be on diets all the time. The idea that - no matter how thin and physically active they are - women must always eat different food from men; that women must always eat salad for lunch and never eat more than two bites of cake; etc. I know plenty of women like that. Remember that interview with Julianne Moore, where she very bluntly said that actresses are hungry all the time, and she basically only eats yogurt and granola bars? That's what I call "compulsory dieting." Or, perhaps, "dieting as a lifestyle."
Now, I have talked with some people who were obese, lost huge amounts of weight, and found that they really did have to adopt "dieting as a lifestyle" in order to simply not be obese, which was their choice. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about living a life such that a "normal" diet would keep you at a healthy weight, and yet living a constantly-dieting lifestyle, where there is "woman food" that is separate from and does not include "man food."
Kathleen — July 14, 2011
As a fellow recovered anoretic, I'm extremely impressed at your plan, and I wish you well. I've so far tried to avoid even thinking about dieting and/or what foods contain for fear of triggering myself.
Arakiba — July 14, 2011
Eating healthy food is much more satisfying than restricting the amount of food that you eat.
Layla — July 14, 2011
Yes - I'm a feminist, and while I'm not officially sure what "diet" means, I am trying to lose weight. Basically I gained a lot of weight very suddenly for reasons I'm not quite sure about, and I would like to be able to comfortably wear my clothes again. I still feel attractive, and if I'm never able to lose the weight it won't be any great tragedy. But I like the way I used to look a little bit more.
I disagree with the idea that thin=attractive, fat=unattractive. Our society absolutely has an unhealthy, unrealistic view of what people should look like. But is it wrong to try to lose weight if one feels more attractive that way? No, not as long as it's done healthily.
Grace — July 15, 2011
I completely agree it's about how you frame it. The standard american diet can lead to a number of problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, ... the list goes on. (I think it's worth mentioning here that obesity is essentially a fat metabolism problem caused by diet composition and not a failure to eat moderately.)
I have changed the way I eat to avoid the health risks that come with that diet and, as it happens, my weight has come down too. This is a permanent change - it's not a stop gap to get to some number on the scales (an exercise in futility as the reversion to old eating habits also comes with a reversion of all temporary health benefits).
Fat or thin, I'm no beauty queen and that's OK. And accepting that I don't meet the beauty ideal seems easier when I have a sense of well being from good health.
Haeccity — July 15, 2011
As a side note, I would like to share this link about why "Health At Every Size" is inherently ableist: http://roygeebitch.blogspot.com/2011/07/fighting-sizism-fighting-ableism.html - it is written in the context of an anarchist perspective. While I am not, personally, an anarchist, there are many great points raised by the author, that you don't need to have a specific political affiliation to appreciate.
"A lot of fatties, myself included, are guilty of throwing people
with disabilities, fat or otherwise, under the bus while they’re
defending themselves against fat hate. It’s not an uncommon thing to
hear someone say something fatphobic, either online or in real life, and
for ten fatties to immediately respond with something akin to, “I am
plenty healthy! I’m a vegetarian and I walk 10 miles a day! I can climb 6
flights of stairs and I ride my bike everywhere! Just because I’m fat
doesn’t mean I can’t do things!” I know this response by heart, because,
in the past, it’s one I’ve used.
Obviously, this is fucked up
and steeped in ableism... Fat folks and
people with disabilities are seen as lazy and worthless in a capitalist
society. They aren’t able to produce capital, so they are valued less
than people who can."
Una — July 15, 2011
I applaud the author for admitting her ambivalence towards dieting (or is it perhaps towards feminism?). However, (especially after seeing her blog) I am afraid that she may be missing the point. Not only does she still "hope that [she] will lose some weight" but she is also completing the The Knot's "Bridal Beauty: Countdown to Gorgeous" list (without a mirror of course!). Somehow I feel that doing this list without a mirror (or for that matter dieting while only *hoping* to lose weight) doesn't make it any less of a patriarchal bargain. After all The Knot suggests a six month (!?) intensive pre-wedding beauty regiment (everything from weight loss to eyebrow plucking) for the bride, reinforcing not only oppressive beauty standards but also the idea that brides must look gorgeous (even if it does mean sacrificing a lot of time, money and effort). Somehow I doubt there is a similar list for grooms (so much for gender equality). In any case, I would suggest that the author take a good hard look in the mirror (!) and accept herself the way she is. (Oh and yes, you can diet, pluck your eyebrows and moisturize and still be a feminist. You just shouldn't do all this because The Knot told you to!)
Dima Atanasova — July 15, 2011
I feel like Renee and what a few other people said, that 'What's feminist or unfeminist is whether the goal is your own health and
happiness or meeting societal preferences.' It's a great way to express the idea.
The question that you asked also reminds me of how I felt after seeing a movie, the title of which I cannot remember, but it is about a pregnant homeless young woman, who becomes involved in the pro-life/pro-choice debate ... as people from a pro-choice group help her a lot by providing support and at one point she talks about how this makes her feel confused about what she should do - keep her baby or not ... she says she wants to keep her baby, but since she received so much help from the pro-choice group, she felt like she would be betraying them if she didn't abort, and felt compelled to stand as an example of what they stand for ...
Andie — July 15, 2011
I'm a feminist who has been fat most of my adult life. I've lost 60+ pounds several times but gained it back; I just started one more attempt to lose 80 & change how I eat & exercise to keep it off. I feel sometimes like I'm betraying my fat self, the self that found career and life success "despite" being overweight. It was helpful to read this post, and most of the comments, too. I've never been in the vanguard of fat acceptance, but I have certainly drawn power from the movement. I think, in many ways, living with the incredible cognitive dissonance feminism opens your mind to is part of what has caused me to gain weight - I hope I can manage to inhabit the same space when I lose weight.
edemby — July 15, 2011
Of course you can diet and still be a feminist. Dieting to lose weight to look good for others is bad. Dieting to be healthy and feel good about one's self is good.
Being fat is about more than just not being attractive to others. Eating the wrong foods and not moving and exercising enough can lead to serious health problems. It's no different then smoking.
So, being a feminist and dieting are not incompatible if your goal in dieting is to be healthy. BTW, I also believe that short term dieting is always the road to failure. You have to make life-long changes to your diet and exercise habits to lose weight and take it off. I blog about this all the time on my blog which you can read here: http://losingweightafter45isabitch.blogspot.com/
Heather — July 15, 2011
Is dieting, like tattooing, piercing and plastic surgery a type of body modification that could be embraced because it's a form of self expression? What about those of us who don't take dieting and working out to extremes? Are we not also feminists because we achieve, maintain or work towards a body we want as an individual, not the body that vogue or top shop thinks we should have? The same way someone might tattoo their entire arm or back or pierce their face?
I'm on a vegan diet, I also consider myself a feminist. Fat isn't a feminist issue, it's a health issue.
SB — July 15, 2011
I'm in almost the exact situation as you - recovering anorexic, currently on a diet. I had a conversation with a feminist friend asking "Do you think it's wrong for me to want to lose 10 pounds?" and she reassured me by telling me that so long as I was doing it to be healthy and regain the lost comfort I felt at my normal weight, it was OK. Whether my goal of "losing 10 pounds" versus "eating more healthfully and exercising often" is right and a feminist one remains to be seen. It's a difficult personal trade-off, and a big reason why I rarely, if ever, talk about "being on a diet" or trying to lose weight at all - my feminist friends will look at me askance, while my non-feminist ones usually say things like, "You don't need to lose weight! Here, eat this fried chicken! And then this cookie!"
Grace_abele — July 15, 2011
I'm a pretty hard core feminist, and I get mad whenever the media shows pictures of celebrities who have either gained "too much" weight or, on the other end of the spectrum, the celebrities who had "shed the baby weight in record time" bullshit. But even though I think this fascination with being skinny has gotten out of control, we can't deny that there is a real weight problem in this country. Obesity isn't a problem because it's not "attractive" (even though obese women can be attractice, no matter what their size,) obesity is a problem because it comes with serious health risks. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be fit and healthy, yet sometimes I feel like the feminist community demonizes ANYTHING having to do with weight loss. If I see a friend who's been losing weight through exercise and healthy eating, I can't help but applaud them. It shows great determination and will power, and it means that that person is physically fit and can enjoy a more active lifestyle. I feel like some obese people STAY obese because they don't want to "conform" to the type of beauty the media presents to us, when in reality they're just hurting themselves. There's nothing wrong with losing weight in order to be more healthy. The problems occur when people go overboard and harm their body in order to lose weight. It's all about moderation, and I feel like the feminist community and the media should meet at some middle ground, promoting healthy living while embracing a broader range of what's viewed as attractive.
Tans — July 15, 2011
I don't think that every woman who changes her diet to get healthy or lose weight is doing so in order to adhere to some patriarchal paradigm. While this article raises some good points, like what exactly is "fat", it also reinforces the idea (which is, in my opinion very patriarchal) that there is one kind of feminist. That if you do this, that or the other, you're not a feminist. Well i couldn't disagree more. I'm a feminist. I'm on a diet. I'm 5'7" and a size 14-16. I don't want to be this weight, not because of what society says but because it stops me from living the life i want to. i want to be fit, i want to be, yes, thinner. It's not black and white. Like pretty much everything, do what makes you HAPPY, what makes you HEALTHY and what harms no one. Feminism, in my opinion, is women living the life they were born to live, fully, without anyone, male or female, judging them for it.
Waterll Allice — July 15, 2011
The history of feminist cunts: http://goo.gl/f4pXo
Kim — July 15, 2011
I'm a loud feminist and yet my biggest struggle (no pun intended) is my weight. I have had body image issues for as long as I can remember, but this past year it has begun to take control of a lot of my life. I wake up everyday thinking about it, I worry about food all day and share an office with a size 00 undiagnosed anorexic woman who constantly talks about food, working out, etc.
I feel like a hypocrite for caring so much, but at the same time, we have to understand that regardless if we see the wrongs in the patriarchal structure of our current society, it's still what shapes a lot of us and influences us. I think this is one of the hardest hurdles I've yet to cross in my feminism. Reading this finally let's me know that I'm not the only one.
holizz — July 15, 2011
Are you serious? You would argue somebody with a TV show (until recently) is more powerful than the Secretary of State of the US (arguably the MOST powerful country in the world)? Than the Queen of the UK (and several other countries)? Than the elected representatives of several other nations including Germany and Australia?
Lindsay Beyerstein — July 15, 2011
A feminist can make thoughtful rules for what she eats with an eye to losing weight. The kind of "diets" that you read about in magazines are ineffective and unhealthy. Nobody should use them.
However, I don't think there's anything unfeminist about saying, "For the next 6 weeks, I'm making a point of cutting back on certain foods or eating habits (second helpings, midnight snacks, alcohol, deep fried foods, or whatever) and being more active. Obviously, the goal is to change your habits so that the healthy patterns last way longer than the 6 weeks you worked on establishing them.
Threefourdumb — July 15, 2011
Having had my knee surgically rebuilt, I am occasionally thankful that my weight issues come down to how much weight my body can support without being in terrible knee pain.
TheBumbler — July 15, 2011
This might help... Even instead of focusing on your behaviours (because those can still be seen as "good" or "bad"), try focusing on what your body can DO instead. That was the huge shift for me and it was liberating, to say the least. The day you get your first pull up or manage to squat or deadlift more weight than you ever have before is so exciting. It's an opportunity to celebrate the awesomeness that is your body and an acknowledgment of the hard work it took to get there.
Diana Milanovic — July 15, 2011
We can never separate ourselves from the culture and society we study. Your experiences of "dieting" and history of ED are a part of your research, whether you explicitly discuss it or not!
I love hearing the personal reflections of academics and the dilemmas faced when trying to resist the very social processes we criticize. I think it's important we don't pretend to be objective on-lookers and deal with our place in the social landscape.Sharing this with others allows for an open and honest discussion and ultimately, better research (I think). That being said, of course harmful dieting practices reproduce messages that you are trying to change. We all want to practice what we preach, right?I'd say your strategy is okay.Why?- because it sounds both practical and honest. You are aware of what you are doing, and you are attempting to reshape how you go about your daily life for a positive end (personal well being and health). -Sharing your experience of healthy living minus the weight loss would be one way to prove the representations of health wrong. However, if you lose weight, you cannot and should not feel guilty for the outcome. Only you REALLY know the reasons for your lifestyle changes- so, if your message is healthy living but you are really dieting to lose weight (dig deep down), then authenticity might be lost in your discussions with others on this topic. or maybe it wont.take away message: -we are also social researchers but we are also cultural beings who struggle! -Sharing these struggles can make honest accounts and maybe even reveal new strategies for change. (i.e. could esteem-boosting activities for obese children actually result in long term weight loss more so than a diet/exercise program ?! I'd bet money on it.)
Anonymous — July 16, 2011
I think feminists can absolutely diet, just as they can wear make up and do other things that are stereotypically feminine.
However, as a feminist I try not to complain about my weight or make a big deal out of dieting, as I think that helps perpetuate the atmosphere of women being obsessed with their weight and feeling like they should always be on a diet.
Welcome to Monday ~ 18 July 2011 | — July 17, 2011
[...] Can a feminist diet? [...]
» Is dieting anti-feminist? » The Curvy Nerd — July 18, 2011
[...] Jezebel regarding whether it is anti-feminist to diet. This stems from a post by a woman conducting a social experiment, not to look in the mirror for a year. She’s a recovering anorexic who says that recovering made her a feminist… and now [...]
just sayin... — July 18, 2011
Why do some feminists hate science? I ask, because they often don't seem to believe in evolution. It is perfectly natural for both genders to want to appear attractive to potential mates. Eating disorders, whether compulsively over or under eating, are closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder. It's a serious mental disorder, and should be treated as such. As a naturally thin woman, I resent being lumped into a group that is used as a scapegoat for other people's mental disorders. A boy once said I had chicken legs, but I didn't gorge myself to gain weight because I do not suffer from this mental disorder. Wanting to look the best that you can while being healthy is not an anti-feminist ideal. Caring about how you look is not anti-feminist - men care how they look too, btw, and can even suffer from anorexia. The extreme and compulsive behavior of avoiding mirrors for a year reeks of self-loathing, and is not so far off from your previous compulsive anorexia. I would say that you should just love yourself! But I guess it's much easier said than done.
Alice Bolen — July 22, 2011
I have also struggled with an eating disorder.
While I think it's important for moderation, I think it's a question of what moderation is. If you look at the "Portion Distortion" quiz available online, it's easy to see how drastically our eating habits have changed over only a few decades. Worrying about our weight was never as much of an issue as it is now.
In order for something like this to become less of a problem I think we need to consider culturally how we all eat, what we think healthy is, and how we can change that for the better. What the vast majority of us do now is somewhat insane.
Quick Hit: Can a Feminist Diet? | Small Strokes — July 23, 2011
[...] Not Other People’s Money –It’s Yours »Quick Hit:Can a Feminist Diet?Terrible title,great article.Frustratingly,given the patriarchal bargain of weight-loss, being radically anti-diet as [...]
Lisa — July 29, 2011
I find for me the whole diet / size / feminist issues are so inexonerably intertwined that I view any inclination to modify my eating and exercise habits with suspicion. I'm coming to terms with my size and shape now and I believe the best way forward for me is acceptance. But so hard to shrug off a lifetime's imperative to be thin. Even knowing the desire to be thin is programmed in me and resenting that mightily, I so want to be thin. Which I guess just really means I so want to fit in.
I just can't do the diet thing though; I worry to much about the consequences of that. I'm one that fits squarely in the 95% fail and it makes me fatter.
Thanks for sharing and good luck with the project. I hope it brings you what you hope for.
Korean Gender Reader « The Grand Narrative — August 4, 2011
[...] 3) Can a Feminist diet? [...]
Idle Ethnographer — August 26, 2011
Apologies if someone has already brought this up - so many comments that I can't read through all. Is the term "diet" really so inextricably tied with weight and being female? To me, a diet is a regime of eating, and it really only sometimes has to do with what shape your body will be as a result of it. Babies and children have special diets, suitable for small humans of a certain age, diabetics don't eat sugar, IBS sufferers, alergic people, etc. avoid eating whatever sets off their problem; vegetarians don't eat dead beings for all sorts of reasons; when you have a cold you drink warm liquids, people who have no teeth or who have had a gastrointenstinal operation eat only soft or liquid food, people who don't like the smell of fish don't usually include it in their diet... the diet during WWII in the UK was nutritious but not very diverse... the list of (admittedly very overgeneralised) examples can go on. I may be a language purist here, but just thought it is necessary to acknowledge that "diet" means a far more generic thing which is eating correctly and purposefully. Now there can be lots of different purposes.
OK, perhaps my language purism is explained by the fact that I genuinely find it surprising that anything beyond physical and mental wellbeing, as well as physical impulses such as enjoyment from food, can ever be the ultimate motivation for eating (as in, that motivation which surpasses all other motivations, such as looking good). I'm a bad ethnographer for being surprised by that, I know :-) OK, perhaps people only realise that food can kill them if they are in a situation in which their body starts misbehaving in the long term, as in anorexia which you describe or in very severe IBS (which I experienced and am getting over through, again, a purposeful diet, unfortunately with some long term health consequences for which it might be a bit too late, or perhaps those will take a decade to heal).One interesting thing a friend (who does a phd in nutrition) said recently is about this movement for intuitive eating. I haven't looked into it yet but sounds like someone finally is onto something sensible!
Aside from that - awesome article!
Lose Weight, Stop Dieting | BroadBlogs — January 4, 2012
[...] “Can a feminist diet?” wondered Kjerstin Gruys, a UCLA sociology grad student. “The question haunts me. I’m a feminist, a recovered anorexic and, yes, I’m on a diet.” [...]
Wabble — January 18, 2012
While there's definitely more pressure on women to lose weight and to fit an image, there's just as much discrimination towards fat men as there is towards fat women.
There's nothing wrong with dieting, if you mean "eating a healthy diet". You could be naturally thin on diet of hamburgers and I'd still say you should go on a diet. Dieting should make you healthier and healthier should also be synonymous with feeling good; full of energy and happiness. Losing weight should really only happen if you're at an unhealthy weight. But that's just my philosophy on it.
Kate — July 31, 2013
I think choosing to eat well and take care of your health through moving your body is an incredibly empowering thing. But losing weight is a different thing entirely. WHY do you want to lose weight? Is your weight impeding your life? Then losing weight would probably be empowering.
Is it just because you prefer to look smaller? Then to me, that would be the opposite of feminism, because it means buying into the idea that women should strive to be the smallest we can be.
The link between weight and health is tenuous. Several studies have come out pointing to the lowest mortality rate in those considered to be "overweight" by the medical community.
I say, live your life the way you want to live it. Focus on your health if that's important to you. And let your size be what it naturally falls to. Barring any medical condition, I believe this is the healthiest (both mentally and physically) approach.
Neurotic Knight — July 31, 2013
Health and beauty are not the value of a person but a characteristic. Example would Tsarnev , he is hot, but no one in their right mind would consider him valuable. Some people are beautiful, some are not, that is quite established. Beauty is in eye of the beholder, if you find everyone beautiful good for you, but a persons sense of beauty is quite biological as well as psychological, studies have shown that humans consider symmetric faces beautiful, so we are all born with some bias and then we are all taught some bias too. Having said that it is okay to be not beautiful,and it is okay for a person to be fat too. If i am hiring for my foot ball team, i would expect that person to be strong and fit and agile, however if i am an IT Manager, then i should appoint based on skills of that person, If i am a gymnast coach id pick a thinner woman. However if i am looking for a friend none of that would matter.
Lose Weight, Stop Dieting | BroadBlogs — December 26, 2014
[…] Can a feminist diet? […]