The Goddess Is Fat
From Shadow On a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression (eds Schoenfelder, Weiser; Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1983), pp. 15-21
Fat Hatred...For a society that pretends to be so concerned about our health, we certainly take a lot of public and private abuse. Fat hatred is so strongly felt that when a study was done on two-year-old children, giving them a choice between a fat rag doll and a thin rag doll, most children preferred the thin doll. Another study was done on five-year-old children, and by then 83% of them had gotten the message that fat is bad, fat is ugly. And then by the time children are ten years old, 100% of them had gotten the message.
One of these studies was done in Manhattan. Eight groups of children were asked to rate seven photos of other children, as to who they would most want to be friends with, and who they would least want to be friends with. Seven of the eight groups put the fat child last. Unfortunately, the report I read on this study didn't describe all of the other photos. Only five of the seven photos were described: one child pictured was in a wheelchair, one was a child missing an arm, one was "normal," one had a facial disfigurement, and one was fat. The one group of children that did not rate the fat child last was a group of working-class Jewish children. They rated the fat child third. (This was analyzed by the people conducting the study, and they concluded that this happened because in the culture of these children, fat people, fat children, are loved and valued; yet exposure to the mainstream culture had caused them to rate the fat child third.)
These same photos were also shown to groups of adults who were employed in so-called "helping" professions, such as teaching, nursing, counseling. These doctors, nurses, therapists, and teachers all rated the fat child last.
In a similar study with teachers, it was found that teachers gave lower grades to identical papers if they were told that the student was fat. Teachers, along with most people in general, tend to see fat people as lazy and dumb. Fat students receive less after-school attention, and less physical affection than thin students. More understanding and patience is extended to so-called attractive students when they are having behavior problems.
A poll was conducted among students asking them to assign adjectives to a picture of a thin child and one of a fat child. Of the thin child, they wrote: "...trustworthy, would make a good friend, nice, fun, easy to get along with, smart, happy..." About the fat child, they said: "dirty, liar, mean, lazy, tends to get into fights, ugly, stupid..."
Now a lot of people do not dispute the fact that life is hell for fat people in this country. What they want to know from us is why we want to be fat. Why don't we just go on a diet and get thin, and then we can get treated just as nice as thin people are treated.
It is very complicated and difficult to explain the biology of fat. The weight that you are is determined internally, and is called your "set-point." This is how much your body says it's supposed to weigh. Your natural set-point is determined by heredity. So far they have only discovered two ways to change your natural set-point: Weight-loss "diets" push your set-point up; vigorous physical activity will lower it; but not by much, either way.
The set-point that you inherited is a result of natural selection. And how much it can be changed is also inherited. Some of us have the potential to weigh 400 pounds; some of us could not weight more than 100 pounds under any conditions.
Fat cells are places where energy is stored away for emergency situations, like starvation. If you came from a gene pool where starvation situations occurred, then you inherited this survival mechanism. How much of this survival mechanism you've got also depends on your gene pool. The more times a population experienced famine, the more the thin people kept dying out of that group. when the family was over, all the fat people looked thin for a while, but as they had access to food again, they gradually got fat again, and just to be on the safe side, the body pushed the set-point up a little, maybe ten or twenty pounds, to be ready for the next famine.
You get fatter after every diet. You get fatter because your body thinks that you have just been starved for a while. And your body is right. Mother nature did not anticipate self-inflicted starvation when she was finding better and better ways to survive. To your body, there is no difference between a diet and starvation, as far as the effects each has on your system. The World Health Council has set the definition of starvation at 900 calories or less per day for an adult. I am sure many women have been on "diets" of 900 calories or less. Now, people like doctors will say that this is different. That if someone is thin and eating less than 900 calories a day they are starving, that they have no extra fat to tap into, that they will start melting away--muscles, vital organs--and then they will die. But when you are fat and you start eating less than you need, your body will go right for those "awful fat cells" and melt them away instead of melting you. (As if your fat cells were some kind of invaders, and not a part of you like anything else.)
Well, these are lies.
Your fat cells are emergency survival resources. You do not tap into them one day just because you eat a little less than you need. Not having enough food is a major crisis, and the body reacts only slowly to this crisis. It takes anywhere from four to six weeks, sometimes eight weeks, into a "diet" before your system has converted itself over to digesting fat. Before this happens, your body has to find a way to make up the difference. If it didn't, and you were only taking in 1000 calories, you would fall over dead when you needed just one more calorie to pump your heart. Just like the engine of a car: when the gas is gone, the engine stops. So, what happens? You can't tap into your fat reserves yet, remember, and obviously you didn't die all those days when you hardly ate anything. So where did the necessary energy come from? Your body went after the readily available energy--your heart, the muscles in your arms and legs, your brain cells. You began to digest yourself, your whole self, except for your fat. So there's no difference in the first four to eight weeks of a diet between you and a thin woman. Both of you starve.
After the first phase, when the body begins to adjust, it does two things. It begins to tap into the energy reserves held in your fat cells, and it also makes an energy conservation move--it slows down your system as much as possible. It is trying to avoid dipping into the reserves, since it doesn't know how long this famine is going to last. For a lot of women, this is the famous "plateau" we hit four to eight weeks into the "diet." What the body wants to do ideally is to slow down as much as possible, and tap into the reserves as little as possible; and suddenly, you stop losing weight for a while, unless you are not eating at all. For example, if you cut back your energy intake by 500 calories, for the first four to eigh weeks you will lose weight--from your muscles, your heart, your brain, etc. Then when your emergency systems kick in, your body will try very hard to slow down by 500 calories if it can. and then it will turn to the fat cells if it has to. It will seem like you have stopped losing weight. But because of the energy slowdown, you will feel exhausted, irritable, and kind of apathetic.
I can still hear a lot of women who are so tired of the abuse, so tired of not feeling loved and accepted, who would like to starve half to death anyhow. "Any price is worth being able to be treated like a human being." And if it takes putting our bodies through a near-death experience, what the hell. Well, I'm sorry to shatter your dream, but it is impossible, biologically, to stay on a weight-loss diet. Unless you go totally crazy like the women with anorexia nervosa who very nearly do die because they get so cut off from their bodily sensations that they do not eat at all, or eat very little--just barely enough to lie flat on a bed and breathe. (The body has slowed down to the bare minimum.) But if you manage to stay sane at all, you will feel the furious messages from your body to please nourish it. It will pull out all the tricks it can to get you to take in some energy. It will make you think of nothing but food. (Hence, our "strange" preoccupation with food--most starving people think of little else.) It will churn your stomach. You will give in to it, you must. Not eating is like not breathing. You will die. Cutting back on your food intake by 25% is like cutting back on your breathing. It is not a matter of "just a little will power"; it has nothing to do with will power. Will power is something we use to do healthy things like quit smoking cigarettes, and many many people succeed all the time. But using "will power" to inflict harm upon yourself will, hopefully, fail.
Dieting is starvation, it is self-abuse, it is self-hate.
If you use the standards on the insurance charts as a reference for the definition of "thin," you will find that:
91% of all lower-class women are fat.
81% of all middle-class women are fat.
63% of all upper-class women are fat.
One of the factors that goes into the idea about what body size is proper for a woman comes from white European history. People ein many places in Europe experienced starvation conditions over the centuries. The people in these cultures who could afford to feed themselves, even during famines, were the rich people. Among the poor classes, even those who would have been naturally fat had been starved, so that they were thin. It became a status symbol to be fat; it flaunted one's wealth. The phrase "fat cat" comes from this past.
Poor people began to value being fat; it meant survival. They soon learned that fat children were healthy children. Remnants of these values are seen in the stereotype of the ethnic grandmother scolding a girl child to eat, eat, eat, even though the girl child herself may already be getting messages from the new American culture that she is "too fat." Grandmother is depicted as a foolish old woman who somehow is crazy and quaint in her insistence that her already "chubby" granddaughter is "too skinny and should eat more." The survival values the grandmother has learned are pushed aside and treated as a joke, as a kind of folk-ignorance.
The "new and better" American values are based on the myth of the classless society. It became unfashionable to flaunt one's wealth; and instead, efforts are made to appear underfed. The higher up in the class system you go, the more pressure there is to be thin. Rich men choose thin women -- thin, young, and able-bodied, if they can manage it.
A fat woman is more likely to drop a class or two than a thin woman. A fat woman has little chance of pulling herself up into a higher class. We share this enforced downward mobility with other physically different women. Rich men will not "settle for less" when it comes to women; and fat women, women in wheelchairs, deaf women, blind women, old women are all women "less than" young white thin physically able women. We know what they mean when they say "attractive" -- it's not us.
In many male-oriented societies, the men eat their fill first, while the women serve them; and then what's left is for the women. The "sin" of gluttony is really reserved for those that a culture doesn't want to feed. even fat men in this culture are seen as "gourmets" by the media; and if they are not seen as well-dressed gourmets, they are still one of the boys, basically okay and acceptable as a friend and husband. Jackie Gleason, Sebastian Cabot, Orson Welles, Nero Wolfe, Rodney Dangerfield, and Santa Claus. All lovable, likable characters. The few fat women who have been accepted as they are are either lower-class or black or both, and their images are not fully positive. Kate Smith is as often joked about as she is loved. The few fat black women on television are in situation comedies. We laugh at fat women, especially lower class and/or black fat women.
"Scientists" have long since been aware of the fact that there are more fat people in the lower classes. They are always doing studies to figure out how it is that those of us who have less money to buy food are getting fat anyhow. They assumption, again, being that fat people eat more than thin people. They measure and photograph and chart us to find out how we manage this impossibility. They look at our carbohydrate intake, our mealtimes, our energy levels...and completely ignore the fact that if you are ugly they aren't going to make you president of the bank. We're more common among the poor because we're oppressed and kept there. In a society that sees its women as a commodity, we fat women aren't "selling well."
In a woman-oriented society, God was a woman, and that woman was usually fat.
Male archeologists are constantly digging up these round little figures of women, all over the world. They choose to call her a "fertility goddess" and dismiss her as insignificant. But those figurines represent the Goddess herself. In woman-oriented societies, fertility was not a fetish; it was the focus of these life-affirming cultures. Giving life was the supreme act of power, the ultimate symbol of a woman's ability to create life.
Round is female. Round females are the visual symbols of strength, of love, of life-giving. When you start getting in touch with the fact that being round and being big is very female, then you begin to understand why the men have asked us to go away. They want us to be little, smaller than they are. We have tremendous sexual energy, we have sensuous soft round soft bodies that just have to be touched. Fat women typically become involved with thin people. This is because we have learned to hate other fat people. But what is it that draws these thin people to our beds? It is that they know what we are beginning to find out: there's nothing quite like making love to a warm round body. Somewhere in the mind of the human race is the memory of who we are and what we represent. The cultures that produced thousands of images of fat women knew this about us, that we represent the ultimate female, full, round, big, strong, soft, warm woman. The moon is round, the earth is round, cycles are round, and so are we.
The woman-oriented cultures naturally assumed that the supreme being was female. When trying to figure out how life came about on the planet, they looked around and couldn't help but notice that all babies came from very round women. It was a natural extension to believe that all life came from a round woman in the sky.
It was an astounding act of cultural distortion when men began to get people to believe that men give birth, that a man in the sky created life--a flat man, at that.
And so, in this culture which has bought this biologically impossible lie, fat women are constant primal reminders that god is female. We look pregnant all the time; round and female as we are, we are visual reminders that their male god is a lie. We are physically intimidating to men who want to feel as though women are frail beings who must either be protected from other men or beaten. The "hen-pecked" husband in classic jokes is always married to a big woman with a rolling pin in her hand. The "joke" is on him, really, because he has failed to tame this woman, and she is bigger than he is, which shows his lack of intelligence for not marrying a woman he can physically intimidate.
This older fat woman with her weapon ready at the doorway is the Goddess herself. We're rated last in the patriarchy because we were first in the matriarchy. To keep fat women down is to keep all women down. A total acceptance of an older fat woman by this culture would mean that many of the fundamental tenets of patriarchy had fallen. We are women "out of control" and we are threats.
Choose to be a threat whenever possible.
The vast majority of the specifics noted in this article were researched, reviewed, and interpreted by the following women of the Feminist Fat Liberation movement:
Susan C. Wooley, "Obesity and women, Part I, A closer look at the facts" and "Part II, a neglected feminist topic." Published in Women's Studies International Quarterly (1978, 1979) by Pergamon Press, Ltd. Printed in Great Britain.
Vivian Mayer, "Why liberated eating?", "The fat illusion", "Fat liberation--A luxury?", "The calorie controversy--who's cheating?", and other articles published by Fat Liberator Publications