Body Police: Fatness and Food

The term fat-shaming refers to the criticism of fat bodies simply for being fat. The issue some people have with fatness is more than just deviating from what is considered the norm. Being fat is associated with poor health and poor eating habits and therefore those with larger bodies are targeted because being overweight is considered actively unhealthy and therefore irresponsible. The rhetoric is that fat people aren’t taking care of themselves, fat parents are setting a poor example for their children and fat activists are advocating poor lifestyle choices, and the list goes on.

Television shows like “My 600 lb Life” (on TLC) showcase and sensationalize fatness like it’s a circus sideshow and fat suits are used in comedy as caricatures of real people. These pop culture examples illustrate the way fatness is made to appear abnormal, extreme and very unnatural.

The politics of food are intrinsically linked to body politics, in that the eating habits of fat folks get put under scrutiny by friends, family and the general public. There are countless examples of fat people being shamed by people they know or total strangers for eating what is considered “unhealthy” food.

Simultaneously there exists a trend to #EatClean (sometimes combined with #TrainDirty) focusing on the consumption of raw, vegan and organic foods as part of a healthy diet (especially when coupled with regular exercise). While there is nothing wrong with exploring culinary alternatives and healthy food choices, not everyone has the time or money to prepare a spinach, kale and chia seed salad or whip up a green smoothie before starting their day.

In addition to organic produce and raw food ingredients being expensive, the movement to “eat clean” comes with a kind of judgement that other food choices are poor choices. While fast food chicken nuggets probably are breaded paste, it is still anyone’s right to eat them if they want. When we decide what “good” and “healthy” food options are, we are automatically defining what “bad” and “unhealthy” is and while I won’t disagree that fast food is basically void of any nutritional value, this trend leads to folks with heavier bodies being shamed for their choice to enjoy a slice of pizza because they can’t afford to eat “bad food” when they already have a “bad body”. The simultaneous connection made between “skinny” and “healthy” and “organic” and “healthy,” means that heavier folks are shamed for eating so-called “bad food” and made to feel bad about their eating choices. Additionally, parents from low-income backgrounds are shamed for not teaching their children about healthy eating when the case may be that all they can afford (in time and expense) is a meal from McDonalds.

Another interesting point to consider is the role cultural appropriation plays in the movement towards organic produce, organic products and raw food. Like with trends to embrace natural medicines or organic cosmetics or even non-Western exercise methods (I’m looking at you, yoga), what often happens is that cultural elements from non-Western societies are appropriated and sold back to Western communities, including Black/Indigenous, working class and people of colour in a very inaccessible way. Consider the irony of a “fat” South Asian woman being told by her skinny white friend to take up yoga in order to lose weight. This is a common scenario and an example of the complicated feedback loop created by our capitalist, neo-colonial society.

While dismantling the free-market, capitalist system that governs the accessibility of certain on-trend items might take more than this piece of writing, there is an easy three step process to simplifying the complex relationship between body politics and food politics. 1) Allow people to eat whatever they want. 2) Accept that fat bodies are good bodies and call people out on their fat-shaming. 3) Raise future generations to place self-worth on more than physical appearance and accept a diversity of body types as good and beautiful.

Alright, perhaps the last bit will take some time. But it is simple and it is possible.

as published in Issue 28 of Shameless Magazine.

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