Reading while fat, part 3: why don’t progressives think critically about fat?

Right now, I’m reading Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which is a pretty awesome book. Leonard looks at the entire production chain of the stuff we buy, and the many ways that it harms both people and the environment. She ties together seemingly disparate economic and environmental issues, exposes the structuresbehind them, and highlights the work that people are doing around the world to move toward a more sustainable, just, and healthy way of living.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

In describing how things have gotten worse for USians despite continued economic growth, she lists a string of negative things from credit card debt to teen suicide rates. The very first thing she mentioned? Yup, you’ve guessed it. It’s the terrible existence of fat bodies.

“Almost every indicator we can find to measure our progress as a society shows that despite continued economic growth over the past several decades, things have gotten worse for us. In the United States, obesity is at record levels, with fully a third of adults over the age of twenty and nearly 20 percent of children between the ages of six and eleven considered obese.” (Leonard, 150).

It’s one brief mention in a good and important book, and it definitely wouldn’t stop me from recommending it. But I hate, hate, hate how Leonard, like so many other progressives, buys into the conventional wisdom on fatness.

Why do people who think critically about so many things and the connections between them–from climate change to income inequality to environmental racism–fail to think critically about the way society pathologizes fat bodies?

Why do people who question capitalism, consumerism, and the paradigm of endless economic growth fail to realize the connection between the “obesity epidemic” and the $60 billion weight-cycling industry?

On the personal level, it brings out my Rageasaurus (not to mention my giant squid of anger and my feminist Hulk) every time I read that my body is a symptom of everything that’s wrong with society–and it hurts a lot more coming from a fellow progressive than from a right-winger whom I could easily dismiss.

At the same time, it reminds me why fat activism is so important. It reminds me why even just posting pictures of myself online can be a radical act.

It reminds me why I keep doing all of this.

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8 thoughts on “Reading while fat, part 3: why don’t progressives think critically about fat?

  1. Agreeing with Runes — it’s a kneejerk. A completely shitty kneejerk, it goes right along with Kids These Days, and Google Makes Us Stupid, or any other variation of O Tempora, O Mores. That’s what all these things boil down to — but the fat-shaming is so particularly horrible. Fat people are a social ill akin to teen suicide? Fuck aaaaaaaall of that noise.

  2. Pingback: Random funny mental image of the day | Tutus And Tiny Hats

  3. Completely agree with your post. Why would they not think critically about how pop culture/fashion/advertising forces us to think of emaciated, light skinned teenagers as the standard of beauty? Fat shaming is so loaded, it’s unreal and it’s bizarre that those critical of received wisdom don’t think analyse it. I will check out the book though as it does sound interesting. Thank you!

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