Book Review: Fat is a Feminist Issue

17_br_fatisafeministissueRead for: The F-word’s February non-fiction selection
Rating: 3/5 …?
I’m still undecided about how I felt after reading this book. It’s #39 on Ms. Magazine’s Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction Countdown, which is a fabulous list, but I think the reason I felt so Meh about it was that it was so dated. I also struggled with the fact that it is essentially a self-help guide for compulsive eaters from the 1970’s. Orbach presents compulsive eating/being fat as a feminist issue in that women unconsciously make themselves fat for a variety of reasons directly stemming from pressures placed on them by patriarchal society. Reasons including, but not limited to, desire to develop a buffer between themselves and the world at large, to protect themselves from sexuality (both their own and from sexual advances made by men), and to succeed in business as a non-threatening, non-sexual being who can avoid objectification. Orbach places the blame for this behaviour on our Mothers, implying, in the case of compulsive eaters, that they set us up for failure by training us to believe that we are second class citizens. In her brief section on anorexia, Orbach again blames Mother for the disorder by alleging anorexia is caused by Mother’s disappointment in bringing a female baby into the world, and wishing instead she had a son. The daughter then “refuses food in an attempt to wither away, to not exist, to please her mother by disappearing.” (pg 160) I don’t know about all that psychobabble. There were some sections that I felt made good, albeit obvious, points about the relationship between women and their bodies, but there were also some passages that surprised me, particularly the areas in Part 1 where Orbach writes about women in her compulsive eating groups fearing that becoming thin would also make them become “promiscuous”. The fact that becoming more sexual in their thinner bodies was presented as a negative consequence really set my head spinning. Has anyone else come away with the impression that Orbach was implying fat=electively non-sexual (“… For many the answer lies in the fact that weight has been experienced as a way to avoid sexuality.” pg 74) and thin=slut (“Jill and Margot … both feared their own ‘promiscuity’ if they were to lose weight.” pg 124) ??? Nuh-uh-uh!dennis-nedryI don’t agree with that at ALL. Another thing that irked me was that, though there was a lot of information on how to overcome compulsive eating and stop punishing your body to conform with society’s views on beauty, as well as a number of exercises designed to help women feel more comfortable in their bodies, the overall message in this book still seemed to be that you needed to lose weight and be thin! Huh?? One of the previous covers of FIFI even states: Fat is a Feminist Issue – The Anti-Diet Guide to Permanent Weight Loss. That sends a pretty mixed message to women. Overall, I can see how this book was considered revolutionary at the time of it’s release, but it has since fallen into the category of books that just don’t apply anymore. It’s no big secret that society puts unfair expectations on women to be thin, overtly sexual and constantly “presentable”. And maybe we have this book to thank for our ability to think more critically about these messages and be more vocal about how it makes us feel. Perhaps my experience of this book would be more positive if I could relate a bit better to what the women she quoted were feeling. With regards to her analysis of the causes of compulsive eating; if we consider the fact that this generation of women still struggles with their weight (more so than ever) but largely wasn’t raised by a generation of repressed 50’s-type housewives pokes a lot of holes in Orbach’s theory that raising daughters to feel hopeless about their gender causes them to put on weight. I’ll try to reflect on this one a bit more in a few days and see if I still feel the same.

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