Updated: May 6, 2020
Part Two: Body Image, Fat Phobia, and Structures of Inequality
In the last post I wrote about the costs of approaching health and healing from the perspective of war and battle, winning and losing.
We also take a war-like approach to body size and weight. Fat* bodies become battlegrounds. With a few notable exceptions, it is culturally permissible to shame, oppress, deny care to, and discriminate against fat people. Despite decades of tireless advocacy, fat-acceptance remains culturally marginal. And fat stigma interacts with and compounds all of the other inequalities on which our culture is constructed (gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and health status). The consequences are deadly.
What's more, most of us have internalized the culture's fat phobia and so we police ourselves, shame ourselves, and silence ourselves. Regardless of size, most of us (especially, but not only, women) "struggle" with our bodies and food. These body battles steal our time, energy, resources, and power. They keep us small and quiet.
Body image is the term we use to describe internalized fat phobia. We are not born with a body image. We are born with a body. An image is "a physical likeness or representation of a person, animal, or thing, photographed, painted, sculptured, or otherwise made visible; a mental representation; idea; conception." An image is, by definition, a distortion of the thing it represents. Body image is something we learn, internalize, and then take on as our own. Learning body image is a process that starts at different ages for different people. But at some point in our development, we all make the transition from a person in a body to a person with a body image. We all get the message.