Sunday, February 18, 2007

What's wrong with hating fat people? They're fat!

Via the feministing.com Weekly Feminist Reader, I came across this defense of fat hatred, written (natch) by the author of a diet book, India Knight. It's written in the faux-gressive why-won't-you-liberals-tolerate-my-wish-to-stone-homosexuals-to-death style favored by bigots who simply can't grasp the meaning of the progressive language they're aping. Let's take a look at this excerpt for details:
It is clear that, by losing some of the weight, the women on our forum have regained some of their self-esteem and, by extension, regained their sense of self - which, like it or not, is for the majority of women tied to appearance as well as achievement. It's all very well bleating about how this is wrong, but actually I don't see that it's wrong at all. Why is it wrong to like what you see in the mirror, or to like your body? Why is it good to be pleased that you look like a pig? I believe unhappily fat women are doing themselves an injury - literally, in health terms, but also emotionally. And I don't think them wanting to stop injuring themselves is weird, or naff, or vain, or self-obsessed. I think it is triumphantly life-affirming. Heroic, too. I see the middle-aged woman on our forum, asking for tips about how to apply eyeliner because she's feeling better about herself, her trousers are looser, and she thought she might investigate the possibilities of make-up, and I cheer for her, just as I cheer for the woman whose husband puts her and her weight down every single day. One of these days, he's going to have to stop. One of these days, she and her new-found confidence aren't going to take it any more.
Emphasis mine. Knight just can't see why we should pretend that fat people aren't inherently disgusting. She's helping people find "confidence" with her diet plan, though coincidentally, the unconfident woman with the disparaging husband won't have to put up with his fat-hatred when she loses weight because at that point, she won't be fat. Somehow, we start out with the notion that a woman should feel comfortable in her own body and not stand for others' insults, but in the end, the only solution Knight can offer is to conform to the expectations of others. No one would tease the fat kid if kids weren't fat to begin with.

This kind of thinking pops out at me because it's the kind of intellectual and moral dishonesty that I engage in from time to time when excusing my own fat hatred - whether I apply it to myself or others. Sometimes, I imagine that if I would just stop obsessing about my weight and my calorie intake and my exercise habits, I'd be happy. And then, I'd be so comfortable with myself that I'd naturally, effortlessly lose weight and be that thin person who doesn't have occasion to worry about being fat anyway. It's a perversion of the self-confidence-building language that I've internalized, even when I'm using the same indefensible standards for judging myself all along.

Instead of showing any awareness of the hypocrisy in this kind of thinking, Knight goeas ahead and does the next best thing: tells her critics they're actually the ones hating on women, not her.
There exists a very bizarre, inverted kind of feminism (invoked by critics of dieting) that isn't about what you can achieve, but what you mustn't achieve. It's about not being things - not making any effort to improve yourself, not celebrating, or even noticing, what you look like and what your body can do. Its adherents write and speak as if being a woman consisted of being under constant siege from the male gaze (yeah, right - maybe one day, eh?), which rather misses the point that many of us dieters aren't particularly thinking about the male gaze. We are thinking about our own gaze, about what we want, and about what it does to our sense of ourselves to want things - weight loss, in this instance - and not to blame or punish ourselves for wanting them.
Get that? It's constructive criticism to compare your sisters to barnyard animals, but it's misogynistic to question narrow definitions of goodness and beauty if women are adhering to them.

The inter-feminist argument from which I believe Knight is drawing her inspiration is that flamewar favorite, the Fun Feminist. At first, I found myself thinking that the lesson Knight hasn't drawn from feminist-on-feminist fighting was that we're all vulnerable to the pressures of a patriarchal, sexist society, and that we all have to make our own compromises. But she's much further behind than that - she objects to questioning patriarchy and sexism in the first place.

Yeah, losing weight has the potential to make people happy, and it's nice to be happy even if you know it's for the wrong reasons. But I can say that dieting makes me an unhappy crazy person. It causes me physical and emotional pain, and if Knight had her way, my only other option would be to go through life being a "pig," "fraudulent," and "miserable." It's perfectly understandable that it's difficult to be happy and fat, but it's immoral to enforce the pressures that make being fat and happy such a challenge, even if doing so has the potential to make a woman happy.

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