Conflations of the physical kind

February 23, 2010

Why does the term “conflation” sound really sexual to me? Is it because we’re currently entrenched in a study of Freud for my psychoanalysis class? Maybe. Is it because I’m secretly 8-years-old and have trouble with mature humor? Probably.

So I’m really into acceptance movements and studying oppression and everything, and something that continuously bothers me is the conflations of two movements. There is the Body Acceptance movement and the Fat Acceptance movements. They are not the same thing. To be honest, I’m confused as to how people can justify using them interchangeable, because they deal with fundamentally different aspects of humanity. However, I will argue that they have huge impacts on each other, which is probably why people confuse the terms

Body Acceptance is a movement that has to do with learned to accept your physical self. This is a personal movement, and a process that people go through on a very individual level. Not so much that we’re getting all Kantian Unified Self (I tried to find a wiki or something to link, but everything’s way to complecated) up in here, but enough that it’s a personal choice to accept who you are as you are and not feel so dismal about your body. There are, of course, extreme social and political pressures for us (regardless of gender, but I’d argue more so for the feminine or women of the bunch) to change our physical selves. And if you change, I’m not going to tell you that you’re a horrible woman who is playing into her own oppression because, let’s face it, you can’t live outside the system and everything we do reinforces the system, so we’re always perpetuating our oppression. Sorry, I’ll admit that was a tangent (see? Words totally happen).

Anyway! Body Acceptance is about learning to be friends and make nice with this fleshy, physical vessel that we travel around in everyday. 5’4 and 110 pounds or 5’2 and 200 pounds, we need to stop looking at our bodies as the enemy. After all, we’re stuck with them. We can’t go out for a little while and get some space when they piss us off. There is a certain level of satisfaction that we must have with ourselves before we can really make and changes or deny the limitations that society puts on us because of our bodies. Once I accept myself as a fat girl, and accept that chunky does NOT equal worthless, stupid, unattractive, lazy, [inster other stereotype here] on a personal level. Everyone needs to go through this process, I think. We are all told that our physical selves are not good enough to some degree, and we internalize that into a self-hating that leaves us feeling quite trapped in out skin.

THIS GOES FOR THIN PEOPLE, TOO, which is another aspect of Body Acceptance that is frequently forgotten about. When we conflate Body and Fat Acceptance, it really just serves to neglect a whole huge section of the population that feels trapped or limited by their physical appearance. I work in a Forever 21 in a mall. I see the girls who are smaller than I’ve ever been poking and sneering that themselves in their soon-to-be-new clothes. They feel the pressure, too. they feel the self-hate, too. They are luck enough to be the culturally accepted, but that does not mean that they are personally accepted.

As a bit of a side note before I rant discuss what Fat Acceptance is, I want to talk about a big, gapping flaw I see in Body Acceptance. This movement does not to me seem to be concerned with the gendering of the body. It is about accepting our bodies in a physical, usually weight-related way, but not in terms of how our bodies force us into gender scripting in ways that we can find just as limiting (maybe more so) than size. This is something that I have watched others struggle through and something that I have (and continue) to battle with myself. I can’t speak for others who feel limited by their bodies in a very gendered way, but I know that I have been frequently frustrated with the fact that I have big boobs and big hips and the only real way I feel I can diminish their overt appearance is to wear ill-fitting men’s clothes, which make me feel fat in a negative way, which makes it impossible to rid myself of that physical self-hate anyway and accept my body in the first place. I have since embraced my femininity in terms of style, and wear fairly girly, femme clothing. I still struggle with the way my femme-appearance limits my character in social setting (not that my character is less, but that it is perceived as less), but have decided that, basically, in the war to accept my weight, I needed to focus on how I feel in my clothes in a very aesthetic way. I think I look better in femme clothes, and so when I wear dresses and such I feel better about the way my body looks, and feel better about myself as a physical being. I’m still not accepting the limiting of my femme self when I can work to avoid it, but I decided that I needed to be okay with my body as an object in the society before I could make other personal development.

Now Fat Acceptance, that’s a bit of a different issue. This, to me, is more about the public perceptions and discrimination against the overweight. The general views of society inform how we are or are not able to accept ourselves, but that does not mean that one term can be substituted for another. The Fat Acceptance movement deals with the issue of wide-spread (pun so intended) fat hate, which is obvious in places of employment, the health care industry, and, you know, the general dirty looks and insulting comments made by so many every day. The movement is not about accepting unhealthy lifestyles or about forcing everyone to find fat people attractive, which are two rather common misperceptions. It is about de-conflating (is that a word? I don’t know…I just like ‘conflate’) ’thin’ and ‘healthy’ and making the fat body something that is not associated with disgust, but with the same humanity as a non-fat body.

I think that the Fat Acceptance movement is fairly short-sighted in some ways. i think it focuses too much on the fat body of the middle class and not enough on the fat body of the lower class. Because class matters a lot in relation to weight and issues of obesity, as well as issues of humanity and disgust. There’s so many tie ins, I’m surprised i have yet to come across anything fully expounding upon them yet. When I’m in the process of becoming an embittered academic, I think I’ll write a big project (book? Paper? movie?) about this sort of thing.

Wow…BA has a lot more about it here than FA, and that’s my bad. I have a lot to say about them both, and it all can’t be covered here. Both movements are, I feel, much too short-sighted and have yet to come up with much to actually change the way that the older generations (my generation, too, but in particular the ones before me) look that their bodies and the bodies of those around them. A lot of damage has been done and is still being done to people in terms of instilling this self-hate for the body, and we’re no where near where we hope to be. But I guess the same thing can be said for feminism or queer studies. I hope BA and FA widen their scopes in the next few years and that people can really start believing the things both movements promote, instead of ‘beauty is on the inside’ and other such maxims that everyone can spout off. Sorry. I’ve been a wake for a long time, and now I’m just rambling.


Edit: Also, I have tumblr now, which will contain the same stuff as here plus a bunch of other stuff that I think it probably too little or silly or dumb or off topic to go here. Or, better explained, it has everything I feel like posting in a day, while only the stuff I think is most well-thoughtout or interesting will end up here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: