New Year – new diet advice. The magazines are full of pictures of tiny women, ‘weight-loss wonder’ diets and ‘super foods’. It is our national obsession with weight – you can’t escape it wherever you go. Now even the political sphere is entering the conversation, as Jo Swinson, Minister for Equality, criticises ‘fad diets and fitness myths’, even as a group of doctors call for a ‘Minister for Fatness’ and a think tank proposes that overweight benefits claimants should have their benefits cut unless they start exercising.
Everyone has an opinion on my body, what I do with it, and what I put into it. Mostly I should eat less, and especially less cream and cheese (Grazia would have a fit…)
Feminism is full of a backlash against this, preaching an incredibly positive message of loving your body and eating what you want, highlighting the ridiculousness of adverts that suggest we feel guilty for eating a yoghurt. On the other hand, there is the vitally important post by Squeamish Bikini (www.squeamishbikini.com - Weighting for Change), expressing her worries that this message too can be triggering for sufferers of eating disorders. Differing messages of weight, diet, and exercise bombard us everywhere we look.
This blog is not so much an impassioned piece of political commentary as a confused stream of personal thinking – I really don’t know how to feel about weight and exercise. And it isn’t just my confusion. A series of tweets by the lovely @popbadger appeared on my news feed yesterday and really resonated with me: ‘Weird being back at the gym (in the changing room anyway). I was so nervous to come back that I sat in my car outside for 15 minutes.” She went on to question her motives for using the gym: “I think that I feel I’m letting down the feminist cause by wanting to change my body.”
I share this fear. I worry about tweeting about exercise and diets – I worry that I may inadvertently be triggering sufferers of eating disorders, I worry that people will read these tweets and look down on me for not being a “proper feminist”. I want to justify myself constantly with the fact that it is for health or sport reasons. “It’s not about being thinner!” I want to cry. But, in the interests of honesty, I must quietly whisper “but it is maybe a little bit about being thinner.” I am ashamed to admit that I like being slim (and I much prefer that word to ‘thin’) – and that I would like to remain so whilst eating all the cheese, roast potatoes, and creamy food my taste buds can take.
We live in a patriarchal society where we are constantly bombarded with images of women with unattainable bodies – whether unattainable through Photoshop or through the sheer amount of training that our wonderful Olympic athletes do. We also live in a patriarchal society where women are constantly being told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, what time we should be safely at home by (before dark, unless accompanied by a big, strong man).
I really want my feminism not to be any part of this. I want everyone to get their hands off my flab and STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!! (This blog post excepted, of course….!) I don’t want anyone to feel that they have to lose weight, or that they are not beautiful unless they are a size 8 with abs like Jessica Ennis. If you want to eat a three-course meal followed by cheese and finish off a bottle of wine on the sofa, I want to say, “Enjoy! Can I join you?” Equally, if you want to lose weight, then I would like to say “Good luck! Have fun! Running in the rain is horrible!”
You can still be a feminist. You can hate beauty magazines and the government telling you what size to be and what to eat – you can make those choices yourself, to exercise or not to exercise, to diet or not to diet. No matter what choice you make, in my opinion, you are no more or less a feminist.
And now I’m going for a run. J