On bodies and capitalism
A few weeks ago, Shelley at Read Red had an interesting post about Bodies by Susie Orbach. She has mixed feelings about the book, some of her criticisms having to do with the absence of class analysis by Orbach, or any attention to the role of agribusiness. Here is Shelley:
[Orbach] is not oblivious to the economic system and writes a good deal about how various corporations and industries are profiting from body-related commerce. But she fails to say anything explicit about what's really going on here--that it's the capitalist market, the global capitalist market, that gives rise to all these horrific, ever-increasing profit-taking assaults on bodies, women's especially. It's the elephant--and that's a damned big body!--in the room of Bodies. Everything she writes about is a creation of capitalism, yet she declines to name capitalism as the problem or any kind of mass struggle as the solution.In her defense of fat women against groups like Weight Watchers, for the false promises and for its reliance on the consistent weight fluctuation characteristic of long-term dieters, Orbach "cites some studies showing that you can be fit and 'overweight,'", which Shelley says is "a welcome corrective to the nasty, ignorant stereotypes of lazy fat people." Shelley shares a little about her own experience trying to lose weight, through Weight Watchers, while being conscious of some of the many contradictions involved. For her, she says, it's not so much about image as about how she feels inside her own body. The book, she says, has
many worthwhile points here, having to do with the commodification of bodies under late capitalism (my characterization, not hers), women's bodies especially but more and more men's as well; with the terrible destructive effects of the fashion, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries; with the alienation, the estrangement, from their bodies that is the experience of so many women as well as, again of late, men; and more. Orbach is in some ways quite astute about what's going on here. She incorporates recent findings in neuroscience, economic and social statistics, as well as psychoanalytic insights.I think that all of this is very important stuff. Shelley's post reminded me of this slideshow I saw a couple of months back at Shapely Prose ("home of the mordantly obese" is the site's tagline) which shows pretty well the ridiculousness of the Body Mass Index standards. From there, I spent some time reading through the blog's archives. I found it very instructive, but at times I admit I was puzzled. The site is one of many "fat acceptance" blogs (the fatosphere). My puzzlement was primarily at the far reaches of this acceptance. That is, I think there's a difference between body acceptance, which I believe is important, and simply accepting without question poor diets, poor food choices, and excessively sedentary lifestyles, all of which we do not have complete control over--which I imagine is part of the point of the acceptance movement; so often fat people, as well as poor people, are attacked as if they only needed to make better decisions and they wouldn't be in their current position, as if our lifestyle choices are not substantially conditioned by exposure to mass media, and more generally by the larger problem of living in an unhealthy capitalist society. I had some questions, but I'm generally reluctant to begin commenting at a blog that's new to me, particularly if I'm about to ask a common question--surely such points are already addressed somewhere on this very site, right? And I especially despise the stereotypical male commenter who swoops in to tell it like it is, as if the bloggers and regular readership have never heard of dominant arguments. Masculine argumentation I can do without. So, I don't want to be that guy. Happily, many feminist blogs, of necessity we can be sure, have commenting rules and guidelines, and even FAQ sections. The excellent well-known blog I Blame the Patriarchy, for example. Anyway, if you're curious about these matters, I recommend taking a look at the Shapely Prose blog, if you don't already. For starters, here is the link to their FAQ section, which provides many links to interesting topics, such as Health at Every Size and The Fantasy of Being Thin.