the fatness

There was a piece up over at the Stranger on February 11 by Lindy West, called “Hello, I am Fat.” It’s bold, unflinching, and very necessary, and I meant to write a post about it a while ago, but then I got trapped in the cycle of my own self loathing.

JL and I consistently have excellent discussions about weight, body, fatness, and feminism, to which she always brings her smart and challenges me to bring mine. Here’s some of our (edited) latest.

9.59 pm, Saturday, April 9, 2011: Email from JL entitled “Topics You Should Write A Dissertation On.”

JL: Fat and Judaism. Finished Fat History.  Fascinating, and a lot of emphasis on “Christian morality.” So I ask: How do the Jews deal with fat shaming?  How does this work with previous issues in food and purity– eg kashrut?  Does this reflect an overall move for integration / homogeneity of Jewish cultures / communities to a more Christian world?

Me: Fat and Judaism, or Internalized Anti-Semitism* Is Real.  I LOVE TALKING ABOUT JEWS AND FAT.I’ve been thinking about things like shame and fat a lot lately-namely, on the days I think i look fine, maybe even good, I wonder if people look at me and just see a fat girl. I like your brain.

JL: Interesting thought about looking “fine, maybe even good.”  I think I take a lot of things for granted.  I get compliments on my clothes all the time.  It’s weird– and I take note– if I don’t hear from a stranger or a friend that I look good at least once a week.  I know I put a lot of effort into my appearance (mostly, I really like clothes), but I still have a lot of “beauty power” when I can expect skinny people to compliment me.  This is likely due to: white privileged, many traditional Western beauty traits (I pride myself on my eyebrows– mostly that I haven’t made them disappear purposely on accident), and that people see me as educated / driven / can’t easily slap the “lazy” motif on me when I am well educated and clearly put some time into my appearance.

Other thoughts: definition of “Healthy.”  In and out of the context of fat.  Scientists do a lot of things that draw lines to normalize.  The creation of diseases that aren’t clearly diseases is fascinating.  See: obese athletes, Orgasm Inc., and  Lynn Payer and others.

Note: I wrote this while eating a cookie.  It was yummy.

Me: The healthy eating stuff bothers me because I feel like most of the time when women discuss it, it’s never actually about healthy eating, it’s about being thin. It’s like if you talk about healthy eating, or how much you work out, no one can accuse you of not trying hard enough. People always tell me I’m wrong on this, but I’m right. 

JL: When most women start talking about food, I want to punch a baby.  Also interesting: embracing the similarities between fat and disability-

Me: That article is pretty genius. Sometimes I have the “at least I’m not as fat as her” problem. Bad,obviously, but probably important to name.

*I am not exaggerating when I say that I could talk about internalized anti-Semitism all day, and one of these days, I will. The way Jewish culture has rejected some Jewish women’s bodies is a great example of the way American Jews in particular have absorbed and assimilated mainstream Christian ideals. The Jewish past (and arguably, present) of existing in survival mode has impacted the way our bodies have evolved and been conceived of by the world around us. In our desperation to become part of the society we live in, we’ve internalized the messages and beliefs about what bodies should be.

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2 thoughts on “the fatness

  1. M Dubz says:

    Oh my goodness. I would totally like to third the “Jewish fatness/internalized anti-Semitism” piece of the conversation. There is definitely a correlation between features typed as stereotypically “Jewish features” and features that are found most undesirable for men and women both (Jewish men are short, Jewish women are fat, etc.) Bearing in mind that, of course, Jews look a million different ways and “looking Jewish” is a myth, there’s still great cultural weight attached to being able to look like the greater American stereotype of beauty as a Jew (see the Stuff Jewish People Like entry on Dating Non-Stereotypical Jews).

    That being said, there is a piece of “looking Jewish” that is tremendously tied up with ethnic pride. While it might be a point of pride for a Jewish person with a big nose to get a nose job, or to have a small nose in the first place, much of that may come from having the security of having an unquestionably Jewish identity. My own relationship with “Jewish features” is tremendously complicated, since I look like my non-Jewish mother in the face and my Jewish father in terms of body type. While for many Jews, not looking “Jewish” can be seen as a blessing, for others of us it is a liability because our otherness is constantly marked.

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