- By Tess Amorangi Parker
Key word: Fat, exercise, empowerment, health.
Body Positivity is a new buzz word, and one that has a very gendered tint. It’s an important new concept that is being thrown around in the mass media, mixing into the statements that we’re already being told - your body matters to society. Fat is a complex idea for women to deal with, bombarded with contradicting statements from the media coming at all sides. Plus size models, fat-loss television shows, and the persistence of Lena Durham to get her belly out on 'Girls' are giving us truly mixed messages. What are we supposed to be celebrating? Thinness, thickness, curves or muscles? I don’t even know anymore!
Within TV and film, fat actors are often just the ‘funny’ characters, with their size making them seemingly unacceptable for being sexy, serious or bright. Megan Trainor last year sang ‘it’s pretty clear I ain't no size 2, but I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do’. In this sentence she makes two key social statements - a), being over size 2 is something people think is unacceptable, and b) it’s okay that she’s over size 2, because she’s still sexually appealing to other people. Sexuality seems to be the focus when overcoming the stigma that surrounds ‘bigger’ women. The emergency of ‘fatertainment’ has encouraged our judgement on overweight people, and does nothing to deal with the core problems. Our body weight comes down to social, cultural, and economic factors that consumer industries are doing nothing to actually fix.
The media is calling fat an epidemic, and supports the assumptions that obesity is a medical, social and, financial burden, with global consequences that can be treated and expelled. This oversimplifies weight gain, and does not address possible social, economic or historical factors which have lead to obese bodies being shunned and stigmatized. Some studies indicated that obesity comes from a hereditary gene mutation that causes people not react to fullness or to metabolise calories in a ‘normal’ way. Other research has stated it is because of overeating and lack of physical activity in a society which values inexpensive, instantly satisfying consumerism.
Studies indicate a lower quality of life for obese people. They suffer from higher risk of strokes, sleep apnea and breathing problems, high blood pressure, and many other ailments. They also are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Obesity is not something people choose, and it’s as much a reflection on our society as it is on individuals. It is becoming a political focus, needing to begin tackling with smarter social policy, realistic advertising campaigns, and support. With a wider acceptance of different body types, better education on healthy calories, and access to active hobbies; we can reach a point where healthy living is not just a consumer fad, but a normal lifestyle. But we’re not going to get there with shaming and criticizing people who don’t fit the body ideal.
Lupton made the social commentary that fat “speaks of gluttony, lack of self-discipline, hedonism, self-indulgence, while a slim body signifies a high level of control, an ability to transcend the desires of the flesh”. However, this is completely untrue. We all know people who are thin, never exercise and sit for hours in-front of Netflix, or others who run 3 times a week, eat salad and yet are still not the thin ideal. In the UK the average dress size is a size 16, but women are being represented in the media by women size 6-10.
Our social symptom of this unrealistic and overwhelming body ideal comes in the form of obesity and anorexia. Anorexia is an incredibly gendered symptom of capitalist cultures influence on the way young women should maintain and control their bodies. Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and overeating, are bodily acts that exist as a way to overcome or distract from life stresses or anxieties. Such disorders tend to be because the individual is trying to distance them self from or ignore their body's feelings or experiences and avoid their reality.
Even plus size modeling is a false representation of real women. The model industry catergorized anyone over US size 8 to be plus size, and these women experience the same air brushing, make-up, and emotional labour as smaller-size models. We are watching the media milking a ‘body positive’ agenda that is still telling women that their bodies are lacking. It is a myth that the story being sold to us is changing to encourage self esteem and liberation from an unrealistic ideal. It continues to tell women that we must buy products to make ourselves more confident, sexy, beautiful, or successful.
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act” –Anonymous
The 'This Girl Can' movement is one of the most empowering campaigns that came out of 2015. Taglines are used like “please jiggle generously”, or this quote “The more you do, the more you enjoy how bad you look, because you know you’ve worked really hard to look that bad”. The message is clear - exercise for fun, for social time, for challenges, for empowerment. The women report exercise allowed them to play with their kids, feel more confident, have more focused or overcome a social expectation. Instead of categories like ‘weight loss’ and ‘health & sex’, like your typical online women's fitness sites, they use ‘inspiration’, ‘activities’, and ‘your stories’. An online community is being created where you can be part of something healthy, social and motivating that tells us something real- exercise is good for your well-being, and not simply an overpowering social expectation.
When we priorise thin, tight little bodies we do nothing to help women, and discourage healthy lifestyles. Just because Beyonce exists, and she’s a fox, doesn’t mean that we need to achieve her body and level of femininity to be valued. Fat does not make you a failure, and neither does leanness make you a success. However, being comfortable in your own skin, healthy and able to reach your potential? That will make you happy. Active adults are more likely to live longer, sleep better, and have higher self esteem.
Now, to bring it all home, how does this relate to Mustard Fitness? When I got my first fitness program it said ‘your only competition is yourself’, and I have taken it to heart. When working out, it’s essential you do it for whatever reasons are important to you, and keep going back to them. For me, those are a) to feel stronger, b) to feel more capable, and c) to be challenged. Weight loss is not part of those goals, but just a part of what happens as you get fitter, a natural process. The faster I can run, the more weight I can lift, or that sweaty feeling of working hard - that’s gives me the euphoric enjoyment of reaching new goals. That is more inspiring, more ‘spicy’, and tastes better on in a sandwich than any diet pill will ever make me feel.
- Tess Amorangi Parker
Follow Tess' progress here on Tumblr!
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