It may be because I am a writer, but the biggest hurdle I see, almost on a daily basis now that I have started this blog and started following other blogs or pages devoted to feminism and body positivity, is language.
The words and argumentative structures by which the “obesity epidemic” or “obesity problem” or even “overweight issue” (whatever you want to call it) are all defined by the current power structures and the agenda of that power structure.
If you don’t know what I mean, then I will use a particularly AMERICAN example, in the hopes that it will illustrate the issue. Those who learn about the founding of this country, in the US, learn about patriots and royalists or “red coats”, etc. In other words, there are those brave heroes who fought and/or died to fight for the freedom and sovereignty of American colonists against a monarchy bent on stripping them of their freedoms and rights as citizens.
To the English of that time and even today, American is the “colonies” and Americans are still, sort of, what they were at the time of the Revolutionary War: traitors.
We were a lawless bunch of upstarts who, instead of fulfilling our duties as subjects of the Crown, went to war against tea and taxes! We’re a backwards people, ill spoken in our English, and ill-mannered in our ways. And to some extent, this stereotype of the American still exists in English mentality, as you can see it being played out in British television.
After all, only in Doctor Whoverse will you ever find the Prime Minister of the UK as being the go-to spokesman for the world. Most everyone else recognizes that Americans are assholes and thus the President of the USA would wish to claim such a right to himself.
Sure, the rest of the world may not let him. And if aliens were to actually visit this planet, I certainly hope this to be true. But I think if you talked to a diverse population of non-UK citizens and non-US citizens and asked them which is more likely, that the president of the US be the spokesperson, or the prime minister of the UK, they will probably say the president whether they are happy about that outcome or not.
What is the difference, then, between a traitor and a patriot? Semantics. The language of the body of people in power, who have the right to define what is right and wrong, and thus WHO is right or wrong.
It is for this reason that even NPR, which as an extension of the sort of educated, scientifically minded and elitist public entertainment system that runs both NPR and PBS, and which is dedicated to providing the largest amount of truly educational and cultural entertainment in the country, ends up dissing the fat people in an article meant to discourage dissing fat people.
While the article itself is not so entrenched in the bias, it is still there, the subtext that fat people are still wrong, still messed up, still crazy, still worth disdain… but thin people shouldn’t show disdain to fat people because it will just keep them fat. So, best to just humor the fatties and they’ll lose weight on their own.
That’s what I see when I read this article. And I don’t think that’s just because I have some kind of personal stake in being offended. After all, I freely admit that in and of myself, I AM THAT FAT PERSON: the one that has compulsive eating problems, the one that has mental health problems. I am the stereotype of the woman who WANTS LOTS OF CHOCOLATE when others are making my life hard. I freely say to anyone who listens “I am this way because I have been forced to live with stress since childhood.” I have had a life that is entrenched in never-ending verbal abuse, ill-treatment, and judgement, which has left me in a state where I’m pretty sure my body doesn’t know any other mode than crisis mode.
It is really HARD for me to lose weight, and I have never, in my adult life, been anything but obese. I’ve never had a “normal” BMI, and I expect to never be what others consider “normal.”
What I have had is the opportunity to be treated as normal, spoken to as normal and live in a place where the anti-fat message *may* be present, but isn’t the all-encompassing trope of the nation as it is here.
If people like me can’t depend on NPR being aware of the standard rhetoric, and can’t depend on them subverting that rhetoric, and, by extension, changing the fat narrative as it exists and is maintained in this country, then there isn’t a lot of hope for the body positive movement.
We must learn how to discuss the issues of our society in a way that does not reinforce the problems. Discussion of feminism should not depend on the idea that feminism seeks to subjugate men. Discussion of race should not depend on the idea that there is more than one race of human. And discussion of the politics of fat should not depend on the idea that it is a changeable state, when the normal biological structure of humans is one which depends on retaining a certain percentage of fat as fuel. Some are better at this function than others. Women are naturally better at this function than men because of the conditions under which the human race evolved.
Until we hold this one truth to be self-evident, that all humans were created with and to be fat, even if it is to a greater or lesser extent, we will never be able to change.
So, once again, I am forced to say, thanks but no thanks, NPR. If your supposedly enlightened and enlightening article manages to make me feel worse about myself before I am able to even read through it, then how do you expect to change the minds and hearts of those who are too entrenched in the status quo of fat hatred to read it, or those who suffer too much from that status quo to be able to maintain emotional stability while reading it?
Once again, even though I don’t necessarily agree with the person I first heard this from, it remains true: If your concern for my health hurts me, then you are doing it wrong.