Recently, my mother brought a new diet plan home. Lately, she’s been on a roll, meticulously researching ways that will cause effortless and immediate weightloss. This new one dictates eating 500 calories a day of fiber and pure protein and supplying the rest with the diatee’s own fat. The diet plan comes with daily injections of hCG, human chorionic hormone, a molecule that pregnant women produce in order to promote muscle retention - so when you’re surviving on 500 calories day, your fat is first to go instead of the usual muscle tissue.
The plan comes with an affordable $1,000 price tag; ceaselessly reminding me about the lengths women will go to do be thin.
My mother and I both grew up in Ukraine, were being fat was a moral prerogative. Most people in Ukraine were working class citizens, employed by various manual labor jobs. Being fat meant that you were lazy, or worse, you were rich.
As a child, I took my time with food. Annoyed with waiting on me, my grandmother would motivate me with stories about how the bosses in her youth hired people who ate the quickest. It meant that they were good workers and took short breaks. People who took their time were lazy and because they never got hired they were usually fat burdens to their families – something that I could become if I wasn’t careful.
At the time when there were no fast food restaurants, food was expensive and enjoying it was a luxury. Ukraine wasn’t big on Planned Parenthood back then and families tended to be large. You were in no place to take your time with food lest you didn’t care for it to be snatched away by a hungrier sibling.
Of course, older people tended to be rounder, but they were retired and way past marriage age. Women especially no longer needed to attract suitable bachelors with hourglass figures that said, “Yes! My hips are wide enough to birth a child and my bosom is big enough to feed it. But my stomach? My stomach is flat. I don’t require a lot of food, so you can always get the leftovers, Ivan.”
My arrival to America added several new layers to the complicated world of body politics. After questioning my mother’s barrage of diet routines, I discovered that she thought of fat women as “faux” women. In her view, women were supposed to care about how they looked and clearly fat women didn't care enough. After all, in the land of opportunity there were plenty of options to lose weight – being fat was therefore a choice and a wrong one at that.
The beauty standard was another reality my mother thought every young girl had to cater to. Yes, she said, Americans tend to like their women skinnier than Ukrainians, but if you want to have a family that’s just something you have to accept. Now, not only were fat women lazy and fake, they were also banned from reproduction and familial bliss. By ignoring the Beauty Standard™ and finishing that hot plate of donuts you are jeopardizing your most important role as a woman: the creator of progeny.
Growing up in a fat-hating household, and aided by popular culture, it was difficult for me not to join the chorus. By 12, I was heavily flirting with anorexia and entering a long-term relationship with bulimia. My most potent thought at the time was "How can women dare to be fat and happy while I'm thin, starving and miserable?" Still associating negative character traits with fatness, I simply thought happy fat women rude: if you chose to be fat the least you could do is be broken up about it.
It didn’t occur to me for a long time that hating fat women was misogynistic. After all, I developed a feminist consciousness long before I knew what feminism was. In Ukraine, where sexism is much more blatant than in America, I was the infamous child who inquired why only young women seemed to go missing, why husbands liked to dull their knuckles on their wives’ cheek bones, and why I was miraculously expected to dream about wedding bells and infants. My transgressions were so incredulous that my grandmother often wistfully stared into the distance wishing I had been born a boy. There was no way I was a misogynist – and yet.
For anyone who holds feminism at the heart of their identity, discovering internalized misogyny feels like a stab in the gut – suddenly you are the villain, you are part of the problem, you are what you’re fighting against. Curled up in my bed after another starvation bender, half delirious and half lucid, I wondered why I was doing this. It was certainly not for the lack of fat role models in my life. My maternal grandmother, for instance, is phenomenally obese. But every morning she French braided my hair and every afternoon she did my home economics assignments. I was quite fond of her.
Still, I couldn’t resolve the cognitive dissonance between thinking fat women morally corrupt and having many in my life that were anything but. To me, fat felt dirty. I fantasized about cutting it off with a pair of industrial scissors. Every day gone without food was an Olympic level achievement. If you don’t have any mythology built around the concept of eating, a meal is a meal is a meal. But for those of us less fortunate, a meal is a declaration of the will to live and I didn’t think I deserved to live if I dared risk getting fat. I mean just think about it: If I were fat everyone would think I’m lazy, no one would hire me, and I would demote in womanhood. More than anything I wanted to put a pause on hormones, a pause on puberty and a pause on the necessity of food.
Until I first started questioning my thinking behind deeming food optional, I didn’t consider fatness to be a feminist issue. I was used to obvious problems: physical and sexual assault, unequal pay and the number of female CEOs. Fatness was more nuanced, and in America it was also shrouded by euphemisms.
“It’s not that you’re fat, it’s that you’re unhealthy.”
“Working out would really bring out that gorgeous face structure of yours!”
“Are you single? I can hook you up with my friend; curvy girls are like his fetish!”
Fat shaming under the guise of health is a pathetically transparent ruse. If health were really the issue, bars would need to build moats to keep the temperance movement out and fast food restaurants would be as decorated with oppositional slogans as the fucking Berlin Wall.
Perhaps in a rural agrarian economy of 1920’s Ukraine, you could have extracted a modicum of truth about a person’s character from their weight, but not so much in post-industrial America. By refusing to conform, fat women threaten the paradigm of beauty simply by existing. Fat shaming, like all aspects of the Beauty Standard™, is built on a premise that women don’t own their bodies. This is why pu$$yslayer2002 feels the need to comment “u ugly cow. no1 wnts 2 fuk u stfu lol” on a youtube video of a fat woman explaining how nuclear fusion works and not at all why pu$$yslayer2002 should find her a desirable bedfellow.
It’s also why strangers feel entitled to give you advice on what you should wear, how you should smile, whom and how often you could fuck, where you should be at what hours of the night and how short you could cut your hair if you want to retain your status as an appropriate penis receptacle.
A successful and a happy fat woman signals other women that they don’t have to starve themselves or be perpetually unhappy with their bodies to achieve professional and personal fulfillment. That threatens diet regimens everywhere, the advertising industry itself and millions of erections. Confident women are patriarchy’s greatest enemies, but fat women already knew that.