Fat Camp

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Courtesy irina slutsky

Over the years, we have seen obesity medicalized into an epidemic. Within our pop cultural world, obesity has been integrated into prime-time television with such programs as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, I Used to be Fat. Not to mention the fact that celebrities and their weight gains or losses infiltrate entertainment news on a daily basis. We follow various journeys of weight gain and weight loss with celebrities because they are constantly in the public sphere.

Jennifer Hudson, once the first plus-sized woman (and only the third black woman) to grace the cover of Vogue fashion magazine, now serves as the spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. On the Dr. Oz show, Hudson shared the secrets to her weight loss success noting exercise techniques, food choices and the over-all sense of happiness she feels now that she is thinner and “healthier”.

But not all celebrities endorse the “thinner” lifestyle as a “healthier” lifestyle. Recently, Lady Gaga responded to criticisms concerning her recent weight gain by launching Body Revolution, a site geared towards body acceptance and body tolerance.

What we see in this celebrity sphere, is the discourse of obesity practiced and enforced through tactics of biopower. If our society continues to enforce a “healthy” lifestyle as that of a “thin” lifestyle, then we are enforcing the notion that fatness equates to an unhealthy lifestyle. Thus fatness (or obesity) equates to some form of badness within our society.

Obesity is often linked to mental issues, especially in women. How many times have you heard women (or been a woman who says), “I’m totally eating my feelings right now”? Or after a long day, “I just want to just pig out and be lazy tonight”? Women are frequently judged by their bodies, are controlled by their bodies and thus women are taught to control their bodies. Be curvy, look like a woman with breasts and hips, but not too curvy. Be thin but not too thin, otherwise you’ll look like a boy.

If a person is fat, we use our knowledge of unhappiness passed down through biopower, to label a person as troubled, unhappy or depressed.

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Courtesy Tobyotter

Society has capitalized on this concept of the happy, thin person trapped inside the layer of fat with shows like The Biggest Loser and I Used to be Fat. But what if “fat” people are happy? Or “thin” people? And why can’t we just leave them alone?

“Unashamed” – A Proposed Feminist Health Clinic

No one really wants to talk about menstruation. “Bertha.” “The Curse.” “On the rag.” “Surfing the Crimson Wave.” A million other words and phrases have been employed when verbalizing experiences associated with a woman’s period.

Unfortunately, all of this side-stepping leads to negative social stigma and shame. Somehow the woman, and not the period, becomes a burden on society. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a fully functioning tampon/maxi-pad machine in a public restroom? Or even in a women’s restroom? How many times have you heard the ridiculous excuse for why we haven’t had a woman president be “once every month we would bomb a country”?

We wanted to work towards changing this negative association. We (“we” meaning myself and two of my Honors 201 Classmates – Catie Watson and Eduardo Galarza) devised a proposal for a feminist health clinic which focuses on the early stages of menstruation, concentrating on education, awareness, advocacy and outreach. Below is our proposal video for this clinic. Enjoy!

Responsibility, The Maternal-Fetal Conflict, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Pregnant by Frank de KleinePregnant, a photo by Frank de Kleine on Flickr.

Rhetoric concerning responsibility and the Maternal-Fetal Conflict can strongly be detected in the paranoia and precautions surrounding Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. But before diving into this conversation, I pose the bigger question surrounding responsibility of the body and policing that responsibility. Into Our Own Hands; The Women’s Health Movement in the United States, 1969-1990 by Sandra Morgen explores women taking agency over their bodies as a means to gain autonomy of their health. In her work, Morgen notes the Cooperative Jane Collective and how their knowledge led to form an autonomous health collective conducting procedures previously deemed suitable only to be performed by a medical professional. Authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English illuminate the displacement of midwives and the almost altogether removal of women from the medical discourse and the birthing place in their work For Her Own Good; Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women. The authors note how the medicalization of birth separated women not only from their midwives but from their bodies as well.

The common Janes and the everyday midwives these authors note, question what we deem “medical professional” within our society. In other words, who is harboring all this medical knowledge?

This brings me back to my original question and I bring into the discussion a personal example: While waiting tables in the East Village, I had a pregnant customer imbibing on a glass of white wine while her dinner date sipped a margarita. Both drinks were nearing empty. The responsibility fell on my shoulders whether or not it was “okay” to serve this woman another glass of white.

All too obnoxiously often we are reminded of the effects of fetal alcohol poisoning within our society – commercials, advertisements, news specials, backs of bottles, etc.

Do not drink if pregnant by whatleydude

Do not drink if pregnant, a photo by whatleydude on Flickr.

I was able to get out of the situation unscathed (and maintained my tip average), but was disturbed by new unwanted responsibility and the lack of knowledge I had on a commonly known topic. Why was I suddenly forced into a situation where I had to police another woman’s body based on information I didn’t really know or even know where it came from in the first place! How far was I removed from this fetus I somehow felt responsible for and, more importantly, how far away was I from the mother?

In all the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome visual warnings heaved onto our societal shoulders, rarely do we see the face of the mother and rarely do we discuss the Maternal-Fetal Conflict. Most images are shot from the neck down, with the mother’s face eliminated. So if she doesn’t have a face, she has no personhood.

NOW (National Organization of Women) continues to honor the personhood of the mother in the Maternal-Fetal Conflict and social stigmas surrounding responsibility in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and these help to strengthen women’s resistance, but where is the knowledge originating? To echo the authors above, autonomy needs to extend into the laboratory and the results need to fall on all ears.