Through Women’s studies classes and popular Feminist blogs such as Jezebel, I have begun to grasp the extent to which women are defined by their bodies, for which they might be at various times either prized, marginalized or judged. I have also learned that critiques of the female body are not static but can vary based on many factors including a women’s race, economic or social status. And have come to recognize that women are still not given full “ownership” rights to their bodies. While women should rally together to contest any devaluation of their bodies, it is important to remember that different identities create different reactions. Ultimately, the goal for feminists should be to gain respect for women’s bodies, regardless of how the perception of their body has evolved. In this post, I will examine two articles from the latest edition of Scholar & Feminist Online that discuss the perceptions and treatment of the female body.
(See also these articles/stories: “Baby stays with mother for now in custody fight with Olympic skier” (Reuters); “Young Masai Activist Challenges Circumcision Tradition“(NPR))
In her article “Fat Bodies/ Thin Critique: Animating and Absorbing Fat Embodiments,” Anna E. Ward examines how a women’s weight can determine how she is treated and factors that affect the perception of so-called “fat” women. Ward describes how some researchers believe that obesity is due to “obesogenic” factors, dispelling the common belief that people become obese because they lack self-control. Proponents of the obesogenic viewpoint believe that the characteristics of one’s environment- access to grocery stores, parks and recreational facilities, etc.- influence the likelihood of obesity. Thus a perception has emerged that people in low-income neighborhoods, who are less likely to have access to, for example, healthier food options, are more prone to obesity. But Ward disagrees with this idea saying that, particularly with regard to food consumption, eating habits are too similar among the poor, middle class and wealthy populations to conclude that poverty is a marker for obesity: “there is just too much we do not know about why some folks are fat and some folks are not, particularly when we sometimes find identical patterns of behavior across these two groups.” This leads to the suggestion that the bias against overweight people in low income communities is in fact not solely a bias against their weight but a veiled criticism of their race or socioeconomic status.