“Doesn’t that kind of defeat the point?”
This question, delivered by one of my coworkers today completely floored me. As someone who always has a quick quip ready, I was speechless. I’d just had a sandwich at my desk for lunch so I’d gone to the vending machine to snag a Coke Zero and a pack of M&M’s. I had the soda in my hands and had just vended the M&M’s (one of the only pieces of delicious junk food available– it was sandwiched between a granola bar and some sort of veggie chips) when I heard this comment from behind me. I turned around, probably looking as befuddled as I felt.
“The M&M’s,” She pointed towards the yellow bag of deliciousness in my hand. “I mean, you got a diet soda. Doesn’t that defeat the point?”
Now I know what I should’ve said. “Defeat the point of them.. both tasting good?” I have a thousand good replies in my head now, but at the time all I could do was stare at her blankly and walk off. I couldn’t even begin to process the full depth and meaning of that small slice of food policing until I’d sat down and worked it through.
For a very long time, I was afraid to eat in front of anyone. I knew that I had to be held accountable for every morsel I put into my mouth. That as a fat person, everyone was counting the fat content and calories of everything I ate. If no one could see me eat, I wouldn’t have to explain to them all that it’s alright if I ate this because I’d just gone biking. I don’t have to justify why I just put mashed potatoes on my plate instead of the green beans. Had I gotten the above comment during this time frame it probably would’ve destroyed me. I would have either thrown the items away or eaten myself into a coma, wallowed in pity and sank into depression for awhile at the steady realization that I would never be okay. I would never look the way I was supposed to, people would constantly judge me, and I honestly shouldn’t force people to see me in public.
Food policing is viral and even more destructive than the obesity it claims to target. And it’s largely aimed at women. We’re told how we should be eating, when we should be eating, and most importantly that we should find subsistence for things with flavor and substance like, oh, say, yogurt. Wouldn’t want to ruin our girlish figures, now. Because the point of eating things if you’re a woman isn’t taste, flavor or actual nutrition. It’s about being thin. (And what’s up with all the yogurt ads horning in on the market?)
That’s really what food policing is when you get down to it. Women have become some of the strongest enforcers of these sorts of behaviors, which actually makes me really sad. Men, after all, are allowed to be fat (Strangely they didn’t have an equivalent female list). They’re jolly, funny. Adorable. Cuddly. Women, though, we’re ugly. The covers of our health magazines don’t tell us how to be healthy, they teach us that we need to be thin, pretty, and above all dish out some great sex for our menfolk. Because that’s what women’s health is all about– men. And we as women have decided to take it upon ourselves to make sure that if we can’t enjoy that slice of cake, by god that fat ass in front of us can’t either. It’s our job to make sure they stay thin with tight asses and flat tummies and firm thighs. How you get there doesn’t actually matter, so long as you realize that you’re supposed to look like Taylor Swift.
And honestly, truly, if as women we really policed ourselves from a place of caring, from a place of wanting to empower each other with the feeling that yes, they can look absolutely fantastic and be healthy– misguided as this methodology would be, I’d be willing to give an ounce of leeway. But that has nothing to do with it. If we were really concerned about health we wouldn’t be focusing on sizes and inches. We’d have abolished the BMI system – which was never meant to measure fat in the first place – for a system that relied on actual measurements and tests. Not a streamlined system that ensured all doctors had to do was take two measurements to determine whether or not you qualified for specific surgeries.
Even largely lauded programs like Weight Watchers are guilty of taking advantage of the low self esteem women have by pushing gratuitous bullshit propaganda on us. The proof is in the low-fat sugar free pudding– when you see those happy women smiling and holding up their old pair of pants, they’re talking about the wrong numbers. How many pants sizes they dropped, inches around their waist, pounds. You don’t hear them talk about how their blood sugar and cholesterol were really pretty much okay before they went in, but hey, they were lardasses so they had to get some pants sizes down ASAP.
Cultish diets that require you to rely on points and scales and by the way, make sure to buy their products, don’t work. They aren’t really teaching you how to eat any differently, they’re just teaching you to be dependent on their program and products. It’s like abstinence; it works until it doesn’t, and then you’re the bad guy for failing the program. The weight loss industry profits insanely off of food policing. You’re a bad person for eating the wrong stuff, so here, eat ours! Of course you’ll be dependent on it forever, but hey, you’ll be thin and happy!
Even other feminist sources take pot shots at this, and it’s something that’s pretty highly debated. Like this article right here, which I was completely on board with until this bit right here:
There are many feminists who embrace their body fat, and I applaud them for it. I think women are fabulous at any size. But I also think that we should support people when they choose to make healthier eating decisions in order to improve their overall well-being.
The underlying implication being, of course, that those of us who are fat are fat because we’re just not making the right choices. We’re just choosing to be unhealthy– which is fine! But just so you know we’re making better choices than you. No shaming or policing going on here at all. Nope.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a stand– body policing in any form is anti-feminist. You cannot be a feminist and simultaneously tell a woman what she should or should not do with her body. It goes against the core of every tenant of feminism I’ve ever read. And yes, by telling a woman that she is fat, unhealthy, and making poor choices for herself is telling her what she should and shouldn’t do wither her own body. And I haven’t even touched on the psychological damage, long lasting psychological damage, this hits women with. But hey, mental health isn’t real health because it doesn’t make you muffin top, amirite?
So cut it out already, ladies. I know, I know, it’s super engrained in our very psyche. Every television show we watch, every ad that tells us we’re one phone call away from becoming ripped in four weeks, every music star that tells us that they, with their measly millions and paid contract with Weight Watcher, managed to do it and so can you!– every relative that’s told us that we just have such a pretty face, every well-meaning friend that takes us aside to politely warn us that we’ve gotten a little pooch over the winter break– it’s all around us. It’s everywhere, and sometimes it seems absolutely unstoppable.
Stop it. Think. Act. Break the cycle.