Fat is a Feminist Issue
By Susie Orbach
Although I’ve never intentionally hurt or offended a person for being overweight, I have judged them. My knowledge of why people are overweight extended only to diet and activity level. Through this book, Orbach has told me that those two reasons are the tip of a very large iceberg. The third, much more significant reason for obesity is psychology – psychology influenced by the culture and society in which the victim has lived. Because women are in many ways handcuffed by culture and society, Orbach shows, their weight problems are a feminist issue.
After having read the book, that seems so much like common sense to me. Beforehand, I knew that our culture expected women to look and behave a certain way. And I probably would have concluded that this could lead to weight problems. But I figured that, ultimately, every person knows what constitutes a sensible, ordered diet and an appropriate level of physical activity – and that if they did not adhere to these principles then they were to blame if they found themselves overweight. How awful I now realise that position to be. It is not just judgmental; it is ignorant.
So thanks to Orbach for making in roads into my ignorance with this fine book. She manages to write both a feminist polemic and a self-help book on the same pages. When you think about how many authors struggle to do just one of those things effectively, you begin to realise the extent of her achievement. One strategy Orbach employs here is to bring in the experiences of members of the various groups she has run: she re-tells the stories of women with eating disorders, opening my eyes to the great spectrum of experiences of these victims, and provides her own psychological analysis at the same time. It’s a very competent way of revealing the problem while simultaneously ensuring that her reader understands it.
There are a few problems with Orbach’s grammar – she doesn’t seem to use enough commas – and some of the analysis is looking very dated (it was originally published in 1978). That said, we still clearly have a weight problem in the world. I believe Orbach’s book to be effective, because it has given me an insight into this problem. But what of all the victims still out there?