Category Archives: Size Acceptance

Body Oppression Teach-In/Santa Rosa, California

Debbie says

On Monday, November 16, at 7:00 p.m., Laurie and I will be the featured speakers at a body oppression teach-in sponsored by Occupy Sonoma County. If you are anywhere near Santa Rosa, California, please join us at the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County,  467 Sebastopol Avenue. (Donation requested.)

Here’s an (unpublished) article I wrote to offer some context for the teach-in:

nude from Women En Large

Perhaps the only thing that all human beings have in common is that each and every one of us lives in a body. Until the bioengineers figure out a way to upload our brains into the cloud, that’s going to stay true.

So what is “body oppression”?

If you are treated less well than other people because of something about your body, that’s body oppression. If a store detective follows you around because your skin is darker, and/or you are younger, that’s body oppression. If you can’t get into a building because your wheelchair doesn’t climb stairs, that’s body oppression. If your doctor makes assumptions about your health based on your size, that’s body oppression. And if you learn to shame yourself because of the body you live in, that’s internalized body oppression.

In other words, body oppression is everywhere. Almost all of us know what it feels like to be oppressed because of our bodies, and most of us know what it feels like to internalize that oppression and blame ourselves.

Resistance to body oppression is both individual and collective, both private and organized; however it forms, it always relies on each of us learning to accept our own bodies, live in our own skin. The cosmetics manufacturers and the beauty corporations have co-opted this message into “Love Your Body,” but Laurie and I are working towards something much richer, more complex, and more powerful than a smooth skin campaign.

nude from Familiar Men

Working with Laurie’s stunning black-and-white photographic images of bodies – fat female bodies, male bodies, bodies of women who live in Japan – and with accompanying text which encourages the viewer not to trivialize those images. We don’t want the portraits of fat women to be simplified to “yes, those bodies were beautiful in another time,” so we provide text that demonstrates her as powerful in the tradition of fat liberation.

Resisting body oppression as an individual isn’t (necessarily) about loving your body; that’s great if it happens. It’s about the right to look in the mirror and see what you see, not what the world tells you to see. It’s about making the invisible visible.

Michelle, who blogs as The Fat Nutritionist, said it perfectly:

We need to be allowed to see ourselves as human, at any size, and to see ourselves represented alongside other humans. We need to be able to share our images in public, if we want, and push the recognition of our humanity. Mostly, we need to be allowed to have images of ourselves imbedded in our brains, alongside everyone else. When we see nothing but images of people who don’t look like us celebrated and represented by our own culture, little by little, it degrades our sense of being human. It is a form of systemic emotional abuse.

 Resisting body oppression collectively is about working together, about learning to notice who is being oppressed and who is oppressing, about fighting back, about demanding that every single one of us is treated respectfully and fairly. Over the last few decades, body image activists working together have changed the kinds of clothes that are available, the quality of medical information, the laws about seat belt extenders on airplanes, and much more. There’s so much more to change that sometimes we forget how far we’ve come.

Building collective resistance can only be done by adding more and more individuals to the group. The one thing that makes the invisible visible better than a photograph is a living, breathing person. Each victim of body oppression (fat, dark-skinned, disabled, or any or all of the above) who asserts their right to live fully is a harbinger of the world we all want to live in. Each ally who supports us is a bulwark of the effort.

Come talk with us at the teach-in. Uploading into the cloud isn’t happening any time soon; as long as we all have bodies, let’s learn to live in them well and to fight for what we deserve.



Debbie says:

Holley Mangold during the snatch in the 2012 Olympic Trials for Women's Weightlifting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, March 4, 2012. (Dispatch photo by Kyle Robertson)

Over the past few years, I’ve seen several good essays on the simplistic concept of “strong women,” “strong women characters,” “kick-ass heroines,” and so forth. But I haven’t been watching the growth of the #strongisthenewskinny tag, which has 573,000 likes on Facebook and 22,000 tweets. Fortunately, Anne Thériault at The Daily Dot has been paying attention.

Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan recently spoke out about the double-edged sword of “strong” women. In an interview with Elle UK about her role in the upcoming movie Suffragette, Mulligan said: “The idea that women are inherently weak—and we’ve identified the few strong ones to tell stories about—is mad.” And she’s right—the idea that strength is a trait men have by default and something women can only sometimes aspire to is both pervasive and damaging. But the issue with the way “strong” is applied to women also goes much deeper than that. …

In a Google search of most popular photos associated with the [#strongisthenewskinny] meme, nearly every single woman is skinny, white, blonde, and beautiful. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being skinny or beautiful, but it seems ridiculous to posit that strong is the new skinny when strong actually seems to be the same old skinny after all. Is there really such a vast difference between telling women to aspire to one idealized body type and telling them to aspire to a slightly different one?

I opened this post with a photo of Holley Mangold, who was on the U.S. women’s weightlifting team in the 2012 Olympics. Somehow, although she’s one of the physically strongest women in the world, she’s not a #strongisthenewskinny icon. Neither is Alicia Garza, strong enough to be a co-founder of #blacklivesmatter.  Neither is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize fighting for democracy in Burma, and has been strong enough to survive nearly 15 years of house arrest from 1995 to 2010.  Neither is Anita Sarkeesian, who survived being a prime target of Gamergate. I couldn’t tell you how much Garza, Suu Kyi, and Sarkeesian can bench press, but I can tell you how much I’d want any or all of them in my corner if I was in trouble.

Thériault goes on from talking about the limitations of “strong” as a body image trope to discuss the question of “strong female characters” and she pulls from a number of excellent sources. Don’t just read her essay, click the links.

In the end, however, she and I agree that — even if “strong” is interpreted broadly and not viewed as worthy of note when applied to women — it’s insufficient.

we don’t need updated standards for how women look or act—we need to scrap those standards altogether. We need characters and memes that reflect the diversity of women’s lives. There is nothing wrong with being strong—…strength is an admirable character trait—but we deserve images, characters, and ideals that are deeper than just one version of what “strong” is. We deserve women that seem real.

For me, that would be women who are strong in some ways and not so strong in others, who partake of all kinds of human qualities: some stereotyped, some surprising. Come to think of it, that’s what I want in depictions of men, also, though the preconceived notions are different. And while I’m asking, I want thousands more examples of characters outside the gender binary.

Maybe the tag we need is #realisthenewgoal .