Laila Pedro Gets Fat and Feminism All Wrong

facepalmIn this blog I often talk about the mistakes of people who confuse requests that they respect other people’s rights and choices with their being oppressed, confusing their values and choices for “the correct” values and choices, and believing that they should get to dictate what constitutes healthy choices for other people (though typically without any interest in being told by others what constitutes healthy choices for them.)

In a recent piece for The Feminist Wire [all the trigger warnings], Laila Pedro makes all of those mistakes on an epic scale, then laments about how horrible and dis-empowering to women it is that everyone won’t just do what she thinks is the right thing to do. Poor Laila.  Let’s break this down. (The indented text is the original text from Laila’s piece, it may very well be triggering, you can skip it and still understand the post if you choose.) I’ll tell you now that this is one of those really long blog posts, I tried to make it shorter but her piece is so completely ridiculous that I wanted to address all of it.

I have been at a weight I was uncomfortable with, and I worked hard — still do, every day — to  change it. I’ve been at the other end, too: at a weight that was unhealthy, unsustainable, draining, and exhausting. I frequently find myself in the position of defending universally reviled, supposed mean-girl types like Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Kang. And I find myself increasingly bewildered, and a bit depressed, at the responses of otherwise brilliant, driven, confident women to any suggestion that more exercise is good, that dieting becomes increasingly something to be considered as we get older, that, in short, perhaps the standard American body—overfed, under-stimulated, ready for heart failure at any moment — is not inevitable. That it is, in fact, anything but natural.

It sounds like Laila might want to do some research into Size Acceptance.  To be clear I have no problem with Laila’s choices as they pertain to her body (because, hey, underpants rule)  Let me try to un-bewilder her.  Nobody I know is saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to exercise or diet.  What we are saying is that exercise is an option, not an obligation, and different amounts are appropriate for different people for various reasons that are none of anyone else’s business.  As far as dieting, when one looks at the actual research,  there isn’t a single study that shows that more than a tiny fraction of people will succeed, and the research we have says that almost everyone regains the weight, and a majority gain back more than they lost.

Nobody is required to have evidence backing their choice to diet or not, but let’s be clear that what she is suggesting should “become increasingly something to consider as we age”  is not supported by the evidence, so the fact that some people choose to opt out really shouldn’t be that bewildering.  Also, trotting out the tired trope about the “American Body” is simply stereotyping stated as fact.

I don’t know about Laila’s thinking, but sometimes what people who make this argument are actually saying is  “I think that I should do whatever I think will give me a body that looks a certain way, and in order to feel okay about that I need everyone to agree and if they don’t I need their choice to be wrong. I’m completely bewildered that people don’t agree with me because of course I’m right about everything.”

Women of my age and education in America (Lisa Frank folders submitted in lieu of D.O.B.) grew up in a culture of self-help talk and D.A.R.E. programs, of dialogue and interaction cues metered by the Very Special Episode. The Gothic fetish-specter of eating disorders haunts our collective psyche. It is socially acceptable to mention, with beatific concern, the (statistically much lower) possibility that a friend is not eating enough, but beyond the pale to suggest that she is (as the vast majority of Americans are) eating too much.

Lisa Frank has been around for a while so maybe Laila and I are the same general age but I’m not sure. To reduce confusion, rather than use office supplies as reference, I’ll just say that I’m 37 and I would suggest that the comparison of a body size with eating disorders is a serious issue that we need to stop. Eating Disorders are a complex mix of mental and physical illness and symptoms.  Body size is just body size.  These are not comparable and saying “I”m concerned that you have the most deadly mental illness” is not, to me, the same thing as saying “I don’t think you should have another piece of pizza.”

It’s up to each of us to decide if and when we want to intervene in the health and choices of those in our lives, but it’s definitely not up to Laila to make that call. Again, where is she getting this “vast majority of Americans are eating too much”?  She has two “footnotes” to her piece but none of them address the sweeping generalizations that she seems so fond of making about Americans.  When people who, like Laila, are defending doctoral dissertations think it’s ok to throw phrases like this around, it makes me really concerned for our education system.

Let me be clear: I am not into fat shaming. I am not into disparaging people based on their bodies. I am not a fan of Hot-Or-Not, or Best-and-Worst Beach Bodies fashion magazine issues (unless I am on a transcontinental flight, in which case I will do what I want and all bets are off).  My reason for being opposed to these things, however, has nothing to do with fat acceptance. I don’t like fat shaming because I dislike shaming, not because I like fat.

And here we have the crux of the issue. First the idea that she’s not into disparaging people based on their bodies, except when she is, and of course that’s ok.  From my perspective you either think body shaming is ok, or you don’t.  I have been on the record since I started writing this blog that I am anti- body shaming including those with thin bodies.  I don’t think that the road to self-acceptance is paved with hypocrisy, and so I don’t do to others exactly what I don’t want done to me regardless of what privileges society might bestow upon them.  But the idea that it’s ok to be against fat shaming, even though she may be against fat bodies is deeply problematic, as exemplified in the difference between these two phrases:

Thin people have the right to exist in thin bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against thin people for the purpose of their eradication.

Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against fat people for the purpose of their eradication.

More simply, think of the difference between the phrases “I’m proud to be thin” and “I’m proud to be fat.”

Statements that suggest that, while people don’t support shaming fat people, they also don’t condone our existence, draw the need for a Fat Acceptance movement into sharp relief.

A few months ago, the internet lost its collective rage-mind at a woman who posted what was clearly intended to be a provocative photo on her basically run-of-the-mill, midlevel life-and-fitness website. Responses to Maria Kang ranged from the class-based (“She MUST have nannies”) to the quasi-racist (“She’s shaped like that because she’s Asian”). I admit, while I (a veteran of gym culture and long runs and hot yoga and boot-camp style workouts who has benefited tremendously from this type of aggressive motivational language) found it inspiring, badass, hilarious, and delightfully third wave, it was also simplistic, tone deaf, and sure to attract ire.

I discussed the Maria Kang thing here. What I’ll say today is that to discuss the classism inherent in people suggesting that “she must have nannies” without discussing the classism inherent in suggesting that there is “no excuse” for not making the same choices Maria Kang has made (including, for example, working three jobs and taking care of your kids, a lack of access to safe movement options, etc.); and to discuss the racism inherent in assumptions about her as an Asian woman without discussing the racism inherent in holding Women of Color to beauty stereotypes often developed by and for white women is at best irresponsible and at worst a blatant attempt to distract us from the issues that exist with Maria Kang’s original picture and subsequent “defense” thereof.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is in a collision of equally valid but mutually incompatible discourses: the motivational, no-excuses, ONE MORE REP liturgy of traditional gym culture (now resurgent in CrossFit, Tough Mudder, and the like) and the self-accepting, non-judgemental, nominally supportive discourse of progressive, yoga-inflected feminist-ish female friendship. At their worst, the former sees the latter as hopelessly weak and indulgent, while the latter sees the former as sexist and borderline fascistic. So it’s not surprising that these two rhetorical camps, enriched by images of Kang’s six-pack or Gwyneth’s everything, explode in the semantic powder keg of the internet.

These discussions are only “equally valid but mutually exclusive” if we feel that there must be competition between the two, with one eventually “winning”.  If both dialogs exist and women are allowed to choose what works for them, then we have no problem.  Part of the problem, I suspect, is in people’s unwillingness to respect other people’s choices as they want their choices to be respected.

I think that this often comes from a deep lack of confidence which leads people to not feel good about their decisions unless others make the same decisions, ultimately ending up with a piece like Laila has written suggesting that her choices are in fact obviously superior and that she is literally “bewildered” and “befuddled” that anyone could make a different choice. The inability to understand that there are many options, and that it’s ok to choose what works for you regardless of what others choose – the need to be validated in our choices by insisting that everyone must make those choices and that we are somehow superior to those who make different (and therefore obviously incorrect) choices – as Laila perfectly illustrates in her piece – is one of the main things that fosters a culture of body shaming, where women are judged first and foremost based on how we look.

What is surprising, and, to me, disappointing, is the misappropriation of empowering critical inquiry to bully, demean, and hate other women. That, to me, is insidiously, and fatally, anti-feminist. Why then do demonstrably smart, feminist women who are supposedly all for sisterly solidarity so loathe one type of woman? A simple answer is that feminist discourse is a) not monolithic and b) not always as subtle and informative as we might like.  Enough has been written about how troubling much of Jezebel’s approach is that I don’t need to cover it here, but the comments on that site, and others, are hardly paragons of sisterly love. Kang and Gwyneth are seen as a kind of fifth column, as inside traitors in a culture war. This reading is superficially logical but, ultimately insufficient and disappointing. There is a specific dimension having to do with bodies, with our right to do with them what we want, and to participate in the cultural practices that we want to, without invoking feminine ire.

Maria and Gwyneth aren’t being criticized or loathed for their choices as they pertain to their own bodies.  They are being criticized for trying to suggest that everyone should make the choices that they have, and ignoring the fact that many people made the same choices that they did but got different results.  They are being criticized for responding with superiority, condescension and shame to anyone who makes different choices, or who isn’t able to attain what they think we should attain, including those for whom it is outside of their control. They are being criticized for calling themselves oppressed simply because they aren’t able to contribute to the oppression of others without being called out on it.

 Upon inspection, then, the  vitriolic rage seems to me to derive not simply from the fact of being on the “wrong side”, or as the cattier among us might say, simply being luckier, prettier, richer and thinner, but from something much more troubling: the intensely self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny I see in much of feminine American discourse today.

And that self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny is most successfully supported by the suggestion that all women should try to look the same way.  It is supported by the ridiculous insistence that we should use body size as a proxy for health and behaviors, and that instead of allowing women to make our own choices out of the options that exist and based on our understanding of the research, we instead need to insist that there is “no excuse” for not looking a certain way, and that not only is our body size completely within our control (and you have to ignore quite a bit of research to believe that) but the only acceptable choice is to seek out the current societal stereotype of beauty at any cost.

More and more, I am fascinated a major question facing women (really, everyone) in America today: Why do we hate those who we perceive to be healthier (and in many cases, more attractive) than we are? Why do we look for excuses and make ourselves complicit in our own physical dis-empowerment?Many of my peers seem much more ready to come up with a dismissal than they are to believe that they have the power to change their bodies and themselves.

I think that the key to the perception displayed in the initial questions can be found in the absolute bias shown throughout the rest of the paragraph.  Note that in her supposed feminism Laila does not ask the question “why aren’t the choice to try to make our bodies look a certain way and the choice not to change them equal options?”  No, she characterizes those who don’t make the same choices as she’s making as looking for “excuses”, “complicit in dis-empowerment” and “ready to come up with a dismissal.”

May I suggest that perhaps what we loathe are not those who are benefiting from deeply flawed, often misogynistic,  views around weight, health, and beauty.  Rather, what we hate are the social constructs that support the notion that body size is the same as health, fitness, and attractiveness and that we have an obligation to be “healthy” and “beautiful” by someone else’s definitions, and that is why we take issue with women, like Laila, who try to perpetuate those constructs and call it feminism.  My question is, why are women perpetuating the oppressive idea that we should be judged based on how we look?

This power — the power to make your body and mind fitter, faster, stronger, to be in charge of yourself — is real power. It is serious power. It is probably scary power. I argue that obesity is more than a disease, that fat is more than a choice, and that we use weapons of misogynistic defensiveness (in the case of Kang) and class (Gwyneth Paltrow looks like that only because she is rich) to remain complacent in a society that is set up to make us weak, lethargic, complacent, and unhealthy.

First of all it shouldn’t even have to be said, but making our bodies and minds fitter, faster, and stronger, does not necessarily mean making them look a certain way.  The incessant  suggestion that it does that runs through Laila’s piece, as well as her need for the things that make her feel powerful (largely the ability to control how she looks) to somehow be the only “true power” are very deeply problematic.

Laila and I make very different choices, but the true difference between us is that I respect her right to make choices for her, and she does not respect mine.   As someone who doesn’t choose to  “work hard every day” to try to manipulate my body size, as someone who doesn’t substitute folder art for my actual age, as someone who feels powerful and complete with my goal of making choices for myself and engaging in activism that gives people information and options rather than suggesting that everyone needs to make the same choices that I do, I celebrate that Laila and I can make different choices and I submit that is where the real power lies.  I suggest that true power is not to be found in  complaining that those women who suggest that their choices are the only valid ones are criticized for doing so.

We turn what should be our most potent weapons — our intelligence and critical thinking skills, our ability to parse precisely the inflections of class, race, and physical power that conspire to occlude and diminish women — against  other women, and, consequently, inevitably, against ourselves.

Fit women are strong women; strong women make demands and change conditions and take on the world. Fit women, in other words, are terrifying.  By hating other women who talk about fitness in a serious way, who reject “fat acceptance” and choose to change, we are really internalizing a cultural, social, and capitalist construct set up to keep us docile, weak, and self-loathing.

Holy false dichotomies Batman!  Talking about fitness in a serious way and being fit is not the same thing as rejecting Fat Acceptance.  There are many, many fathletes who are fat acceptance activists who talk about fitness all the time.  There are Fat Acceptance activists who are also fit women.  There are fit women who don’t make demands and change conditions.

A big part of the issue here may be  Laila’s complete lack of understanding (I imagine perhaps due to a complete lack of research) about the Fat Acceptance movement.  Women like Laila, Maria Kang, and Gwyneth Paltrow are terrifying –  not because they perceive themselves as more fit and attractive, but because they insist that everyone else must perceive them that way, and judge ourselves and everyone else by their standards.  They are terrifying because they actually believe that there are only two choices – succeed at manipulating your body size, or be docile, weak and self-loathing. Meanwhile, those in the Size Acceptance movement make demands, change conditions, and take on the world for the right for people to exist in their bodies of all sizes without being treated the way that Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth would have fat people treated under the guise of feminism.  It seems to me that fat women who insist on our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on our own terms are the women who Laila represents as being actually terrifying.

We use stereotypically “feminine” weapons — gossip, side-eye, cliques — couched  as “concern” and “critique” to put down other women. Only by seeing each other as role models in a shared struggle do we begin to transcend these issues and empower ourselves. A healthy body, just like a body that is loved and accepted on its own terms, unconditionally, is not an unattainable privilege of the rich or genetically blessed. It is not a weapon to use in judging and diminishing other women. It is a source of empowerment. It is a philosophical statement. It is political. It is a choice. And sometimes, it is — quite literally — all you have.

The idea that the key to empowerment is that we all make the same choices as Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth – that we all buy in to an obligation to health and beauty and that we judge those things based on body size – would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.  The only perspective around bodies that is actually feminist is to respect bodies of all sizes, and to respect the choices of the women who own those bodies.  Health is not entirely within our control, body size is not entirely within our control, but even if they were, it is blatantly anti-feminist and patriarchal to suggest that a woman should conform to a specific idea of the “correct” body size, and that her body size should be seen as a philosophical and political statement.  This serves only to perpetuate the idea that women should be judged not by what we achieve or who we are, but by how we look, and I think that’s about as far from feminism or empowerment as we could possibly get.

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61 thoughts on “Laila Pedro Gets Fat and Feminism All Wrong

  1. Great blog, thanks. As an aside, I am increasingly of the opinion that bad food, not weight per se, are the reason for sky rocketting ‘diseases of obesity’ (so-called). Since I’ve been trying to pay attention to my food choices (I nearly said ‘diet’) I have been feeling a lot better in myself, even though I weigh exactly the same.

    I have recently been helping my daughter do a medical exclusion diet for her gut problems. As a result, I have to read the labels on *everything* and look up ‘invert sugar syrup’ and ‘modified starch’ and other weird and wonderful things that pop up in our food. She’s allowed sugar (sucrose) in small quantities, so I thought “How hard can it be?” Turns out, quite hard. Our food is just full of things you have to Google if you haven’t got a chemistry degree. Not that these things are in and of themselves dangerous (I assume not) but it shows our food is just so mucked about with. So, in solidarity with her, I’ve been eating the simple food she’s allowed and its been a bit of a revelation.

    1. And, of course, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway 🙂 ) that both fat and thin people eat those weird Frankenfoods, especially given the intense effort by food companies to market them and to deter access to the “simple” (less profitable) alternatives you mention. There is no way you can look at a person and determine, based on their body size, what they ate for lunch and how healthy it was.

    2. Your post illustrates something I have been thinking about all week. I just got a copy of Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon from the library and it very much supports the idea I have of myself as an eater: whole, fresh, healthy food whether I lose weight or not. But in reading this book (and sometimes getting frustrated at how close it mimics diet mentality without actually advocating dieting) I wonder about this idea… I might be fat, but I’m a good fatty. I am beyond reproach… look how well I eat and how much I exercise. I am taking good care of my health, thank you very much… now mind your own business and leave my fat ass alone….

      But what about the fat person who is making different choices? Who has uncontrolled diabetes and continues to eat cake for dinner because they want to? Or who eats fast food every meal? Or only soda and never water? What about the fat person who fulfills every fat stereotype of eating many, many calories from unhealthy sources, not moving their body, and not taking care of their health issues? Do they get to do that and have the same or full support of the fat acceptance community as the fatty who eats healthy, exercises and keeps up on their medical issues. It is very easy to say Yay girl, run another mile! but what about Yay girl, eat another big mac!

      I sometimes feel we have the same expectations of healthy as the anti-fat camp, while accepting you can be fat and healthy too. It is that next step… accepting all people no matter their size OR health status because people are not the sum of their health… they are their mind, their soul, their heart… so much more… sorry I feel like maybe I am rambling now, because I am not there yet but I would like to be.

      1. Exactly. Lots of people make different choices. For me, there is no “bad” food. In my world, food cannot be a moral choice because that leads me into disordered eating behaviors. It’s a major red flag.

        Ragen works not to have the good food/bad food dichotomy represented here, too, I know.

        1. Thanks, Helena. I hate it when people talk about good & bad foods. All foods have value & nutrients & are a legitimate choice for anyone to eat. Unless a food is contaminated, spoiled, deliberately poisoned, you are allergic to it, all food is good. People seem not to have noticed that human beings eat a wide range of foods in many different cultures & that exactly WHAT people eat seems to have little to do with the health problems they have or how long they live. I have known & been related to many people who have consumed what so many, including a lot of fat activists, condemn as ‘bad’ foods or “Frankenfoods”, who lived well into their 80’s or 90’s. When we visited my mother’s brother, we were usually given Spaghettios for dinner (I like Spaghettios, btw, &, if you read the label, you will find good amounts of protein, potassium, several vitamins & a decent amount of fiber, all for a dollar or less, which often comes in handy for those of us not blessed financially). This was the way his family ate most of the time, as his wife was a very indifferent cook. My uncle was 94 when he died. My mother-in-law hates to cook, is a terrible cook, & has spent all her life eating mostly those ‘terrible’ processed foods…frozen pot pies, tv dinners, frozen pizzas, canned soups & pastas,,,the same foods on which she raised my husband & his sister. She will be 92 next month & has remarkably few health issues for someone her age.

          People in my family have been fat for generations, since long before any of these ‘bad’ foods existed. And they have been no more or less fat & no more or less sick since processed foods were invented. My father was thin & he died at 63, because he lived largely on beer & cigarettes. It sure as hell wasn’t caused by the canned spaghetti we occasionally ate.

          We all deserve access to enough food to eat (I am a senior citizen now & the biggest problem in my age group is getting ENOUGH to eat regularly, not getting enough ‘healthy’ foods or losing fat), access to whatever we want to eat, respect, & the ability to exercise when & how we wish. We do not deserve any nannies telling us how to live or what to eat. And for the information of Ms. Pedro, those who do NOT gain some weight as they age are much more likely to get sick & die young.

          As for me, I will move how & as much as I am able for as long as I can & eat what I want for as long as I can & be happy to be able to buy groceries, & I will not badmouth or feel guilty about the foods which have kept me alive & remarkably healthy for all these years. Sometimes they will be some fresh meats & vegetables, whole grains, & plenty of dairy. Sometimes they will be Spaghettios or Buck Doubles.

          1. For certain people, some foods are unwise foods. For instance, if I were to eat a double serving of Sugar Bombs followed by a double caff ultra mocha with a half cup of sugar and sugared whipped cream, I’d have a problem, because I’m diabetic. However, this would not make me a bad human being were I to do it, even if it might be considered an unwise choice.
            In any case, it’s not for me to judge another person’s worth were they to eat what I have detailed above (which I believe is only served at Café Hyperbole), even if they are diabetic.

            1. Directions to Cafe Hyperbole, plz, I need quick energy! 😉

              Seriously, though… where my own blood boiled was at “Fit women are strong women; strong women make demands and change conditions and take on the world.” Also with the false conflations, Batman! Fat and/or sedentary people who have made demands and changed conditions and taken on the world? Hmm, lots and lots of historical examples, but coming up mostly dudes. I wonder what Winston Churchill’s abs looked like (no, I really don’t).

              Women, you are more than your physiques, regardless of what they are. We need real strength and real change.

              (Now I have to go reheat my coffee and grab some quick carbs because I’m trying to write a book!)

      2. Janelle, just to complicate the issue even more — there are those of us are are eating “healthy”, exercising, doing everything we “should”, and yet still have all the health issues associated with “unhealthy” behaviors (I for instance cook almost all my own food from fresh whole ingredients but still have high glucose and extremely high cholesterol, among other things).

        i think this is what Ragen was pointing to in saying that the same choices do not always bring the same results. I’ve made choices that just about anyone would consider “healthy” (so much so that some people assume I must be lying about what I eat) — but I’m still unhealthy. For that and many other reasons I think YES, we must dismoor respect, acceptance, basic human rights (thank you Ragen) from either people’s health OR their choices. Some people eat crap food and are indestructibly healthy. We don’t shame them for their choices. Some people eat crap food and are unhealthy. We shouldn’t shame them for their choices either — especially since it is very far from clear that if they changed their choices they’d improve their health. They might well end up in my camp — eating “good” food but still unhealthy.

        Acceptance has to mean acceptance, and health status is WAY too complicated and multifaceted to assume that we can justifiaby refuse acceptance to anyone.

        1. Elizabeth, you are right… health status is way too complicated to create categories of good people and bad people based on it. And when it is put that way it seems so obvious. I think for me being healthy has been something I can point to in order to prove to everyone I am a responsible person taking care of my life even if you can’t see that from the outside because I am fat. But I am beginning to see that it isn’t my job to prove that to people. For me, as I have heard is true for many, the biggest pressure I get isn’t even from society… but from friends and family who mask their prejudice as loving concern. And I do believe they are concerned but there is a whole lot of prejudice in there also.

      3. Well I’m not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. I have a connective tissue disorder, fibromyalgia and an auto-immune disorder, chronic asthma and an anxiety disorder. I recently developed liver problems and an eye condition.

        I am trying to eat better because I think it might help me feel not quite so cr*p* all the time. None of which has anything to do with my weight. My health problems are the result of bad genes and the effects of medication. I was skinny for most of my life until more recently.

        If someone else chooses to do different, to eat badly, its their body and their choices. Eating healthy doesn’t guarantee good health, but eating badly will pretty much guarantee bad.

        Would I discriminate against such a person? No. But I’ve watched a person well nigh kill themselves with diabetes by not following the diet and it’s not good to watch. It could even be called selfish for the people that care about them, especially the kids. But its still their body and not my business. But more importantly, unless I’m their doctor I have absolutely no idea if they are actually being irresponsible with their diet or not. If they are being ‘careful’ or not. It is between themselves and their doctor and is none of my business.

        Sorry if this sound muddly. It’s been a long day.

        Nobody chooses to be unhealthy. I had a psychologist once who said “Nobody does anything without payback. When you see someone doing something you think is crazy, its because you can’t see the payback. But it’s there, all the same”.

        So my diabetic friend who lived on full-sugar cola until the Type I diabetes killed her in her 40s, found some payback in that behaviour. It might have looked crazy – suicidal to us – but that was because we didn’t see the payback. It was there, nevertheless. And it was her choice, which as hard as it is, we have to respect.

        Nobody chooses to be unhealthy, unless the price of being healthier is too much to bare.

        Everybody would choose to be healthy, if they could, but sometimes we don’t have the right genes, the right environment or the right emotional baggage to make it a realistic possibility. The problem with fattism, or any kind of health or appearance prejudice, is that it is judgmental and makes assumptions.

        1. Thank you all for your replies… I know health and eating can be extremely personal. I struggle with purism and black/white thinking so while I feel I can “tolerate” a wide range of behaviors, I’m actively working on “accepting” people, individuals who do not need to be tolerated, but embraced. I am grateful for a forum to think about these things outloud…. 🙂

        2. I think it is very important that the psychological factors that go into food choices be considered. On one hand it is nobody’s business why someone is eating the way they want to, on the other hand it is a good reminder to be compassionate and understanding about what that person may be going through on the inside that manifests itself in outside behavior that looks extreme to the rest of us.

        3. Eating healthy doesn’t guarantee good health, but eating badly will pretty much guarantee bad.

          Also, it can be damn well impossible to determine what is eating well or unwell for a given person. For example, I have an autoimmune issue… only, only my husband IRL knows what this might mean for my food consumption. To the outside world, it looks a lot like your so-called “eating badly,” but that is not an informed call for anyone else to make.

          1. Exactly. I grew up with a girl who belonged to a Native American cultural group that depends heavily on fish and seafood. Yay omega 3 fatty acids! Hooray, low fat! Blah blah buzzword blah! But they didn’t sit around talking to each other about their ancient dietary wisdom; they fished because it was cheaper than going to the store and the fish were right there anyway. All except my classmate, who ate baloney sandwiches and Spam because they were affordable and fish and seafood, all types, made her break out in hives. For her, that was the healthiest choice.

            1. Similar here, fruit makes me queasy, just about all veg gives me the runs, and pretty much anything with fibre makes me feel like I’m dying.

  2. Oh man, I almost blew a blood vessel just reading the excerpts from what she wrote. Note to self: next time, pay attention to the trigger warnings.

    I think it’s sad in this day and age that we as women are constantly drawn in to this us vs them dichotomy. Fat women vs thin, stay-at-home moms vs working moms, mothers vs childless. Here’s an idea, let’s pay attention to our own lives and let other women make the choices that work for them. Period. End of discussion.

    A lot of what she wrote reminds me of the kind of crap I keep getting in my graduate level developmental psych class. The author of the text and the instructor keep harping on obesity in a hands wringing “OMG WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DOOOOOOO” kind of way and it’s wearing very, very thin (no pun intended, lol) on me. For one assignment, my instructor actually classed obesity along with child abuse and elder abuse as a problem facing society. I’ve tried to find little ways to subvert that kind of thinking, but mostly I just skip over those sections of the book and try to hold on to my own sanity.

    Thanks, Ragen, for wading into the bullshit so the rest of us don’t have to.

    1. It’s a balancing act, so far as looking at the individual’s life/choices compared to those of the woman next to her. Without analysis and discussion, there can’t be positive change. But there should be a way for us to have these discussions without badgering one another or pretending that there’s ever going to be a single perfect way to live that everyone can/should do.

      For example, I got married. I’m a feminist. In some ways marriage has helped me and in other ways it’s been a hindrance. But marriage isn’t a feminist thing to do just because I chose to do it. I had my reasons. I made the best-informed choice I could at the time, and now I’m living with both the good and ill consequences. Most choices, big AND small, are like that. Just one woman’s opinion.

    2. Yeah…reading that started to give me a headache. I also thank you, Ragen, for addressing this woman’s delusional idiocy.

  3. THANK YOU for taking this apart. (For those who haven’t seen, I wrote about it here on my blog and then posted in Rolls Not Trolls, because this kind of bullshit needed good responses.)

    Also, just wanted to let you know, your link to Laila’s piece is broken!

  4. “They are being criticized for trying to suggest that everyone should make the choices that they have, and ignoring the fact that many people made the same choices that they did but got different results. ”


    One of the biggest problems I see in pieces like this or in Kang’s is the belief that the state/size of the outer body is a direct reflection of the amount of “work” put into it. Since these people have the body type that responds well to the intervention they think everyone’s body will respond thusly if only they “did the right thing” and did as they do. They refuse to believe this is not true.

    Two people can do exactly the same exercises and eat exactly the same food, start at the same weight, and have vastly different end results.

    Because they respond to the intervention to their visual satisfaction, they truly believe that people who haven’t responded are “eating too much” and moving too little. They wonder why we just don’t do what they do.

    People have done what they do and have not had those results. Full stop. Until they acknowledge that people are different, that bodies are different, this endless roundabout will continue.

    I want them to stop thinking they know the nutritional choices and physical activity a person makes based solely on someone’s pants size.

    In other areas, we readily accept body differences. For example, some people respond well to small amounts of a given medication, while others who are exactly the same size need higher doses and some don’t respond to the medication at all. No one is expected to feel shame when they require a higher dosage of an NSAID or a different drug altogether.

  5. This is the stuff trigger warnings were made for. I nearly lost it at “ready for heart failure at any moment” — I think the fact I didn’t have a stroke getting angry at that statement in and of itself disproves the statement. Well, that and the fact that a trained cardiologist has tested my heart and found it perfectly healthy in spite of my OMGDEATHFATZ.

    I simply cannot grasp the lack of internal consistency of a person who claims to be against shaming and then uses sarcastic quotation marks around the words fat acceptance. Or one who accuses people of being complicit in their own “weakness” because they don’t like other people telling them how to live — an independent attitude which, in the ultimate irony, sounds pretty damn strong to me.

    At first my mind went to comparisons to, say, the Nazis, who also thought the whole world should live by their values because those values were so very, very right in their own heads. But then I realized this woman is not that sinister. She’s just that sad, insecure girl who needs people to like her and look up to her so much that she can’t comprehend the idea that there are people who don’t see her as a role model. I knew a lot of them in high school; I guess high school really does never end for some folk.

    1. I normally hate seeing the term Nazi thrown around all over the place, but… Yeah. The constant disdain evinced by some for any moment of physical weakness or imperfection… the idea that there couldn’t ever be any legitimate reason for not prizing fitness and a narrow spectrum of beauty over all other things. All that does have disturbing echoes of some supposedly discredited socio-political philosophies. My own usual term for this destructive and hateful mindset is “body fascism.”

      1. Yeah, I hesitated. But I think there’s a comparison to be made there. An urge to disappear a large group of people because they’re “less”. Or “weak”. And no room to argue with the philosophy because, if you do, you’re just angry because you’re not “better”, like them.

        In way, though, this woman is worse to me, because she’s couching her disdain for me and my choices under the pretense of being anti-bullying and for the right to do what we want with our bodies. It’s not so much a holy war for her as it is a despicable need to silence others because her ideas aren’t taking hold in the world the way she’d like them to.

        1. I know. The blinders on her are flat out scary to me.

          I make my choices. Those choices work out to greater and lesser degrees for me and I’m happy to share my experiences with others to help them work out the choices that might be best for them.

          But I have never assumed that my choices are the correct ones for everyone to follow, whether they will or no.

          Choices are choices because we get to make them for ourselves. Once they are made for us, they cease to be choices.

          This woman wants to make our ‘choice’ for us and still call it a choice.

          1. Yes! And it surprises me how some of the most liberal “open-minded” people can be the most intolerant when other people’s choice run counter to theirs.

  6. I have so many questions? How can that many layers of doubletalk exist piled so high in one piddly column? Shouldn’t Laila be winning gold medals in Jenga competitions, or at least announcing her candidacy for high office?

    Why is anyone still rallying around that pious dipshit Kang? Aren’t her fifteen minutes up yet?

    I’m relieved to not be the trigger-prone type of reader. Mostly all I could hear in my head as Laila just went on and on and on was, “I’m a feminist so anything I choose to do is feminist and you’re all being mean to me so BAWWWWWWWWWW!!” The kind of thing I’ve read countless times before, regarding the choice to pursue mainstream society’s proper ideas of what constitutes Real Womanhood. Maybe that’s the most important question: Does this long-winded hack really think she’s telling fat feminists anything we haven’t already heard a thousand times before? Merde. [rolleyes]

  7. Reading every line critically, with thinking cap and all, I couldn’t help but notice that occasionally there was a line that Laila wrote that sounded downright inspired – if that line was applied to a wholly different topic. We do treat each other with righteous indignation, and we do exclude rather than include – those would be great posts to develop having nothing to do with bodies. Too bad she conflated them.

    The fact that she had some good points that made zero sense in the context of her overall thesis, and that by the end it was like reading a manic rant of flourish and shaky grammar, tells me she sat down to prove a point rather than write a solid article.

    Well done parsing the nonsense. Your blow by blow made hers a tolerable read – and on it’s own, your post was really good reading!

  8. “A healthy body, just like a body that is loved and accepted on its own terms, unconditionally, is not an unattainable privilege of the rich or genetically blessed. It is not a weapon to use in judging and diminishing other women. It is a source of empowerment. It is a philosophical statement. It is political. It is a choice. And sometimes, it is — quite literally — all you have.”

    If you remove the word “healthy” from this paragraph, the truth of the statement remains the same.

    I hate that people–educated people–walk around thinking that if you’re fat you must not be confident, healthy, or empowered. It’s ironic. Some of the most empowered women I can think of are fat.

    I wish Laila could see what I see, because what I see is strength, not weakness, and a society that’s afraid of it.

    Though I respect Laila’s decision to spend her time making her body thin, I also wonder what Laila could achieve if she spent that time doing other things, such as researching.

    1. As someone suffering from chronic illness, I can’t find words to express how offensive I find Laila’s claim that a healthy body is “a choice”. As Adele said before — for some people, whose bodies respond to these interventions, that may be true. For many of us, it is not. The health of my body is not under my control; if, as my cardiologist suspects, my congestive heart failure traces to a genetic defect, then the health of my body was to a large extent determined in the moment of my conception.

      It is unspeakably insensitive, smug, offensive, and enraging for Laila and her ilk to assume, by looking at me, that I have “chosen” to be unhealthy. I wish I could invite them to try living my life for the last several years since all my health issues manifested. Try the pain, the weakness, the fatigue, the fluid retention, the vertigo, the mulitple heart surgeries etc., etc., and keep working full-time and walking daily through it all. And then, you smug twits, talk to me about how I’ve “chosen” not to have a healthy body.

      Okay, rant over.

      1. Yeah, there is a whole group of exercises that I cannot do and never will be able to do because I developed Osgood-Schlatter disease that was dismissed as “growing pains” and I was told to be a “good girl” and “stay active” and everything would be okay. Gosh, apparently that is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. Guess I “chose” to be in pain every damn day of my life since then. Oh, and the soft-tissue injury to my ankle that was caused by my walking unevenly due to one hip being out of whack during pregnancy? Totally my choice, man. If I really wanted to be healthy, I would’ve chosen the crystal-ball-in-the-brain option before I was born (you know, that time when smart people pick rich parents and the best school districts for pre-K) and I would’ve seen those problems coming and been able to prevent them with Will Powah.

      2. Agreed. I did not ask for a crap endocrine system. I didn’t ask for fibromyalgia. I didn’t ask for mental illness. There isn’t a damn thing I could have done to “choose” not to have these things. I wish I could have smug asshats like Laila try my problems on for size for a month.

      3. Out of all the offense things the woman said, I think the “health is a choice” may have been the most offensive. Did anyone read the story this week about NCAA basketball player Adriean Payne and his adorable little fan, Lacey Holsworth? Lacey died this week at age 8 from neuroblastoma. So don’t tell me “health is a choice”. No one chooses anything as heartbreaking and painful as that.

        1. Of course, the corollary to that is ” . . . but not you, sweetie. All those other unhealthy people are bad, but you’re good. I know this because I know who’s bad and who’s good just by looking at them.” Which, no.

      4. This got me too… how we are allowing ourselves to be weak and disempowered by not becoming physically strong and healthy in the way she recognizes… I don’t think so….

  9. I decided not to read her drivel, but this comment by you caught my eye as I was scrolling down: “More simply, think of the difference between the phrases ‘I’m proud to be thin’ and ‘I’m proud to be fat.’ ”

    I thought of Huey Lewis: “It’s hip to be square”. 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    “I don’t like fat shaming because I dislike shaming, not because I like fat.”
    Let me be clear.
    I don’t give a fart in a category five hurricane whether Laila likes fat or not. Boo freaking hoo–she might have to see a fat body while doing everything she can not to have one. My heart bleeds piss for her.

    1. Yeah, seriously. “I’m against fat-shaming and also don’t believe it’s real, which is why I just spewed like 10,000 words of it.”

      Lemme see if I can help. I’ll try to be less ragey.

      If you further the misinformed stereotype that someone who is fat MUST ALWAYS (or the euphamistic cousin of “must always” who comes out to play when you tell the fat-hater the list of side effects on a bottle of Latuda disproves their hardline position, MUST USUALLY) be “overfed and inactive,” you are fat-shaming.

      If you believe you “deserve” your privilege by taking a fifteen minute walk a day and eating green beans for dinner, but a fat vegan marathon runner doesn’t because “they must be doing something wrong if they’re fat,” you are fat-shaming.

      If you believe a fat person HAS to be a vegan marathon runner or otherwise hold a fat person up to some kind of standard you feel they must meet before you consider them human and worthy of basic human rights, you are fat-shaming AND healthist.

      If you further the kind of discrimination that finds fat employees and students scrutinized, monitored, and forced to “prove” their “healthy habits” while thin people are allowed to have personal autonomy and privacy, you are fat-shaming.

      If you believe it is okay society deliberately makes seats, clothing, and medical equipment too small for fat people out of some magical-thinking belief that won’t deny them these things but instead somehow make them shrink to fit them, you are fat-shaming.

      And if you think my meekly bowing to your judgments about me without holding them up to any kind of scrutiny or asking you to back them up with quantifiable evidence (that I know you don’t have) is in any way “empowering,” you are… really needing to look up the word “empowering.”

      So the majority of Laila’s post? Was fat-shaming. And not empowering.

      1. This is so good. I’m just going to refer people to this comment in the future when I engage in the stupid strawman “here’s a fake thing that FA is and I really hate that thing!” argument 12 times a week. Or I could just stop engaging in that argument, but unfortunately that probably won’t happen. :/

  11. Makes me want to bombard her with nude photos of my fat, disabled body, but I respect myself too much to do that. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be blamed for her heart attack.

  12. From the point of view of a doctoral student in the humanities, I find Laila’s writing to be convoluted. (I have not read her original post, but I did read the many excerpts you included here.) It is tough to understand what she’s saying. Many of her word choices seem designed to make her sound smart rather than to describe what she is saying more clearly. The poor writing doesn’t help her case…

    I agree with what you’ve written and especially appreciate your point at the end that we have limited control. My fiancé just had his third surgery in the last few months. He is finally doing better but it’s been rough. He certainly didn’t control that or control the complications that came about after the first procedure. Part of really being kind to our bodies is accepting and appreciating the limits of our control. This doesn’t mean we can’t work out if we want to, but I think Laila over-emphasizes power and control.

    It is also short-sighted of her to assume that we have power over our bodies by working out, to assume that a “fit” woman and a (mentally? emotionally? spiritually?) “strong” woman are the same. Doesn’t it play into the capitalist system to constantly monitor our bodies by taking them to gyms, paying the membership fees, and buying into the lifestyle branding that convinces us erroneously to equate physical fitness with some other kind of strength? Well, of course.

  13. this passes for “feminist” writing now?

    to a true feminist a woman’s body is her own, JUST AS IT IS. it doesn’t belong to the male gaze, it doesn’t belong to other women to downgrade it in comparison with their own, it doesn’t belong to society to mold it into the fashion of the day.

    health is alas not as much of a choice as we might wish for, and all the ableist denial about how “fitness and strength empower” won’t magically change that.

    while we’re wishing for magic, i’d like people to work on their compassion and respect for others instead of on “fixing” everyone in their own image. oh, and the proverbial pony. which better be shitting rainbow sparkles.

  14. It is socially acceptable to mention, with beatific concern, the (statistically much lower) possibility that a friend is not eating enough, but beyond the pale to suggest that she is (as the vast majority of Americans are) eating too much.

    At first I wondered what circles she moves in where people call each other out for food policing, because I’d like to move there please, when I realized what happened was this: one time, she totally not fat-shamed a friend by asking “do you really need to eat that?” and her friend replied, “mind your own business.”

    1. I agree. She must live in lalalalala-land. Most ppl I know are policing, “do you really need that”, and bragging about how “good” they are and how they don’t eat “junk food”.

      1. Yes, I regularly meet that sort of person in my local coffee shop. Which must be why they always sell out of the lemon and poppyseed muffins. Sometimes you could laugh at the lies people tell themselves.

        On UK TV we have this absolutely horrendous TV show I can’t stop watching (mostly to snipe at it) called ‘Secret Eaters’ in which people who are mystified about why they aren’t losing weight are put under surveillance. We then get to mock as they stuff kebabs and pizzas and bars of chocolate and forget all about it later, claiming they live on fruit and salad.

        Actually, I feel like I’ve just confessed to watching porn! Which I suppose in a way, this is. But it is interesting because research has shown heavier people tend to forget a lot of the food they eat, and skinny people tend to over-estimate how much they’ve eaten. That’s all the justification I can give for watching this tosh. That and educating my teenagers about the warped way diet and health is presented in the media.

        The other good thing about the show is that nobody loses much weight and no one is trying to kill themselves with over exercise and the fat people are always fat at the end, only feel better about their diets. The most common problem is actually over-drinking, not over-eating – boozing is the real epidemic in Britain.

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