Serena Freewomyn

Size Matters

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | January 09, 2008 11:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, The Movement
Tags: Beth Ditto, body image, eating disorders, Hairspray, Jennifer Hudson, Nikki Blonsky, The Gossip

2007 was the year of the big girl.

Jennifer Hudson received a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her portrayal of Effie in "Dream Girls." She was also on the March cover of Vogue. (I don't really think Jennifer counts as a big girl. She's only a size 10. But I've ranted about that before, so I'll just leave it be.)285.blonsky.hairspry.061907.jpg

Then there was the popularity of the re-make of Hairspray, starring Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad. With Queen Latifah singing the praises of being "Big, Blonde and Beautiful," who could disagree? And who can forget the hawt cover shoots that Beth Ditto of The Gossip did for British mag NME, as well as two covers for feminist mag Bust? Clearly, big is in.

BethDittoKiss_450x705.jpgAlong with these portrayals of big girls in the spotlight is a corresponding (and contrasting) message that body image and eating disorders are still a problem for women. Two books came out last year that discuss the topic.

The first book, Perfect Girls: Starving Daughters put forward a very controversial thesis. Feminist author Courtney Martin argues that feminism has had an unintended consequence of contributing to eating disorders in young women. While that argument may sound counterintuitive at first, Martin makes a persuasive case. By telling girls that they can be anything, feminists have unwittingly told girls that the have have to be everything. The wonder woman complex that tells women they can bring home the bacon and fry it in the pan has contributed to this idea that women have to be perfect. And this, in turn, contributes to concern over having a perfect body.

Another book, The Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Hesse-Biber, takes a look at self-esteem and body image and documents how thinness has become normalized in our society. Nothing new here. And, frankly, anyone who has read up on eating disorders will find this to be a bit of a dry read.

One of the most interesting articles that I read this year on the topic was in the Winter Issue of Bitch magazine. Author Lily-Rygh Glen argued that within the fat acceptance movement there is a strong stigma against those who diet for health reasons. For those within the movement, there is an assumption that anyone who diets has an eating disorder, even though there are many legitimate health reasons to diet. The author said that she was ostracized from several fat support groups when she started to change her disordered eating habits. Is this another unconscious effect of the women's movement? Has feminism unconsciously contributed to an environment where those who diet are viewed as self-hating sell outs?

Finally, a study released earlier this year announced that if you have fat friends, you're more likely to be fat yourself. The message here: if you're fat, you deserve to be alone so that you don't spread your obesity like a communicable disease. If you ask me, it's studies like this and media coverage of young starlets that contributes to fat phobia in our society, not the feminist movement.

So I say, if you're a big girl like me: holla! Let's celebrate the fact that our time has finally come and fellow big girls like Beth Ditto and Queen Latifah are making inroads for more of us to take our well overdue turn in the spotlight.

And I do want to add that I've very concerned about the state of body image in the gay male community. Too many gay men I know hate their bodies. And this obsession with thinnness is contributing to the meth epidemic that is killing our community. There hasn't been enough attention paid to this by the LGBTQ community or those within the field of treating eating disorders. So if you're a gay man who hates your body, may I suggestion the same thing I said to the ladies? In the words of Connie & Carla: "worship that body. It's the only one you've got!"

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chandler in lasvegas | January 9, 2008 12:55 PM

You have to realize that a modern Size 10 is the equivalent to a 1960's Size 14!

Reality check, manufacturers don't like to insult their female customers so there has been size creep for the last 50 years.

It's the same reason women are such loussey parallel parkers. (forgive the old joke.)

Great post, Serena!

I thought the same thing when I read about the "if you have fat friends, you're more likely to be fat yourself" study. I have a hard time understanding how this study could have boiled down all the factors in our society that contribute to weight issues to just "having a fat friend." Sounds like a loud of crap to me.

Chandler, I'm not sure I understand your joke. But then, that must be my small female brain. I'm actually kind of insulted that your reponse to a topic like eating disorders is to make a sexist joke. Thanks for proving the point that we live in a woman-hating culture.

I didn't get the joke either. What does parking have to do with waist size?

Can you let me know when it's the year of the fat transwoman?


that article in Bitch was AWESOME and it was especially interesting to me because I had just finished reading "Big Fat Manifesto" which just came out this month. It's a YA book about a fat girl in high school writing for her school paper about the experience of being extremely obese. it is angry, raw, and very gripping. as a character she is very much invested in her identity as "Fat," but her similarly "Fat" boyfriend decides to get his stomach stapled. It's really interesting how she deals with feeling like her boyfriend has rejected their shared identity, at the same time as chronicling every step of his (appalling) surgery in the school paper. i wasn't thrilled with the writing style but i think it could be a very important book, especially for YA readers & the fat acceptance movement generally.

also, wasn't the article in Bitch about the stigma against *eating disordered* people in the fat community? not those who diet for health reasons? that's WAY different. but i'm also reading "Fat is a Feminist Issue" right now so I might be conflating the two.

chandler in lasvegas | January 9, 2008 11:42 PM

I'm actually kind of insulted that your response to a topic like eating disorders is to make a sexist joke.
Dear Serena,
The joke I alluded to is this:

Q:Why are women lousy parallel parkers?

A: Because all their lives they are told that this (now raise your hand and make a two inch spread between your thumb and index finger) is 8 inches.
Gad, you are a silly woman.

Wait a minute here...

So she thinks you're making a sexist joke when you don't give the punchline and instead of just providing the rest of the joke and apologizing for an unclear meaning, you decide to go the truly sexist route and call her a "silly woman" and blame her for you not being clear?

Um, yeah. You're a keen one, aren't you? Geez.

I still don't get how that joke applies, or how calling Serena a "silly woman" responds to her calling it sexist.

Great post, Serena! I don't know if I'd agree that feminism actually makes women have more eating disorders. I think that our increasingly materialistic culture, a post-industrial demand that all things "owned" be perfect (in a culture that still sees women's bodies as potential male/communal property, I'm definitely not saying that's the way it should be), and an association of "fat" with everything bad as food has become so available that not eating is a bigger feat than eating.

I think feminism is part of the solution. Unless I'm completely wrong on all of the above!

Sarah, there is the assumption within the movement that ANYONE who diets has an eating disorder.

Chandler, get a clue.

chandler in lasvegas | January 10, 2008 2:56 PM

Because this is a discussion on somatic dysmorphia and and a feel good philosophy of self esteem, with the first written example being about the SIZE of someone, I interjected an old nostrum on SIZE PERCEPTION as it relates to women on a jocular level.

Not only are you silly, y'all are shallow.