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March 30, 2006



[i"few if any young women mention concerns about weight or appearance in their diaries (she used hundreds of diaries written over a century and a half) before the 1920s."

She must have stopped a smidge early because the Victorians were obsessed with the body, particularly as girls had a 4 year window between "coming out" and getting married before they pretty much had to accept "old maid" status and let the next sister have a go. I think it is no accident that anorexia was first recorded during this period and became so well known as to show up in a Wilkie Collins' novel.

Personally, it is impossible, in a society obsessed with wieght loss, to dump responsibility of accepting body image on feminists. For the seven years in the UK I never heard anyone talk about Calories, or "good fat" and "bad fat", women were generally a little more rounded and the super thin west coast woman looked strange and unhealthy. Now I am back here where my partner has to turn off the radio during breakfast because there are at least three ads about weight loss, where there is an entire section of bookstores dedicated to this or that diet and where lunchtime conversation revolves around debating the Southcoast Diet versus the Fruit & Fibre diet.

I am not judged by my mother (actually not true, she stopped speakinng to me for a week when I blogged about having a pot), but by dozens if not hundreds of people every day. A british survey of Hiring Personel found that 90% of them wouldn't hire someone who was visably overwieght and had the same qualification as the other applicants. Guys doing construction will yell out what they think of my wieght, groups of 14 year olds will tell me what they think of my wieght. My reliatives and friends when I see them again will tell me about my wieght loss or gain.

I agree that being able to openly share one's body anxieties in a support network would be valuable, but I think it would have to be a fairly strong and comprehensive network to overcome the value judgement that much of North America and particularly the West Coast has become obsessed with.


Oh, the Victorians were obsessed with anorexia -- but NOT because of body image. The obsession was with the notion of creating a feminine ideal of "radical desirelessness." Brumberg wrote the history of anorexia in her magisterial "fasting girls."

And trust me, it ain't just the west coast, Elizabeth. Spend some time with my friends at the University of Virginia... yikes.

Col Steve

I think one must be careful in generalizing the motivations behind "judgments" on body image.

A british survey of Hiring Personel found that 90% of them wouldn't hire someone who was visably overwieght and had the same qualification as the other applicants. That statement is not surprising given the commonly held notion of a link between overweight and obesity and health issues - According to UCLA Center for health policy research - "Overweight and obesity currently adds approximately $7.7 billion to medical care costs in California each year."

All other things equal as the survey seems to indicate, then on average, an overweight person is more costly labor to a firm - especially if the law forbids asking about non specified job-related physical data before hiring.

Do I care if my wife has gained 25 pounds since we've been married? Nope. Do I care if that weight gain increases her risk for Diabetes, heart attack, or other health issues? You bet.

Many people try to change their body for reasons like self esteem or happiness, rather than just getting on with life. On the other hand we need to be realistic and sensible about whether we have a health issue related to being over (or under)weight so that advocating someone to make changes will lead to being healthier. Arguably the point of this thread is on factors influencing the former, but some "judgments" can come from a place of concern - even if they have some self-interest behind them (I want her to live longer!)


Fair enough, Col Steve. The trick is couching our concern in sensitive language that will be heard as love...


Except in certain very specific cases, the health benefits of being thin have been vastly exaggerated. On average, folks who are slightly "overweight" - for instance, folks 25 pounds or so "overweight" - live slightly longer than their "normal" and their thin-weight counterparts. Yet somehow, no one tells thin or "normal" weight people that they must become slightly overweight for the good of their health. Why do you suppose that is, if all this talk about weight is being driven by concern for health?

It's not about health. It's about aesthetics.

Regarding the $7.7 billion, that figure is about 5.5% of total medical spending in California - and it includes expenses that are for the most part caused by anti-fat bigotry, such as the cost of weight loss surgery. Nor does the study that figure comes from (Finklestein et al, "State-level estimates of annual medical expenditures related to obesity," Obesity Research (2004) v12 p18-24) make any distinction between health problems caused by fat and health problems caused by weight-loss drugs, fad diets, etc..


Amp, that's fair. It's probably dangerous to talk about one person's specific weight gain. Obviously, at some point there is a connection between weight and adult-onset diabetes. That's medically undeniable -- but whether that is at 25 pounds or another weight depends on the individual.

It's possible to fight against the tyranny of slimness without insisting that there are no medical repercussions whatsoever to obesity; I recognize how difficult it is to strike a balance.


It's ludicrous to keep cloaking this in the guise of 'health'. Employers who are concerned about health costs should be asking employees about diet and exercise. As Amp has pointed out at length on his own blog, being slightly overweight is perfectly healthy, and a sedentary, junk-food-eating skinny person is far less healthy than a vegetable-eating, exercising fat one.

Hugo, we're not talking about morbid obesity here, but perfectly normal weight levels. Your students do not hate themselves because they are afraid they will get diabetes, or because they are too fat to get out of a chair. They hate their bodies because they see their normal-sized bodies as 'fat'.

The mainstream American ideal is of a woman who is abnormally underweight and has breast implants.

Hissy Cat

The assertion that hiring discrimination against fat people has a rational economic basis is about as believable that the jack-offs who graffiti'd "obesesity causes diabetes" on the Dove Real Beauty posters were motivated by genuine concern for the models' health.


Brumbergs sample--"she used hundreds of diaries written over a century and a half"-- is mighty small to make a sweeping cross-cultural atemporal assertion. I'm not disagreeing at all with her thesis that that this specific set of pressures is contingent on specific historical develeopments and cultural and economic developments. But I think your summarization is misleading, as though pre-1920 women were free of strife about their bodies, which is patently ridiculous. As per the meaning of Victorian anorexia, I don't think that's a closed case, and there are other angles of entry -- there's a girl I know writing her dissertation on body image in Victorian novels.

Also-- if you're going to preach self-acceptance-- I'd strongly suggest NOT preaching to people. Telling people to 'accept themselves' dumps a huge burden on them, adding even more guilt for feeling bad about feeling bad. It's also enormously condescending. I'm just trying to imagine how I would feel if I was sitting in class and my male teacher told me I needed to accept my self or love my body more or some crap like that. I'd have a hard time not just walking out on the spot.

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