Fat Is a Feminist Issue

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In case you didn’t catch author and therapist Susie Orbach — the official international spokeswoman for body acceptance — lecturing at Sheppard Pratt this weekend, we cribbed several empowering aphorisms and alarming factoids from the thoughtful Brit’s Power Point presentation, “Navigating Our Culture’s Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence.” Not to mention the amusing audience participant who deftly challenged one piece of Orbach’s more avant-garde food-think advice.

Orbach, 65, a trim woman who wears a uniform of black pencil skirts and bright shoes, peppered her lecture with fairly shocking statements designed to keep us listening, eyebrows raised.

“There are now high heels for babies, did you know this?” she asked early on, bemoaning the trend toward dressing little girls like grown women.

Her predominately female audience rapt, Orbach then identified the five massive industries that program our brains and keep us hating our non-airbrushed selves and making self-destructive decisions — like heels for babies and too-tall heels for busy ladies — which are (drum roll) the glamour, food, diet, beauty and pharmaceutical sectors.

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Get this sad stat: “Ninety percent of all women [in this country] want to change an aspect of their physical appearance.”

Shockingly, on average women in the U.S. also devote focused thinking to body image every 15 minutes — a couple of decades ago, Orbach added, it was a movie star’s job to be beautiful, and “now it seems to be all of our jobs.”

Helpful takeaway? It’s easier to complete a grad degree in philosophy when you’re not fixated on how you look in jeans. Orbach ought to know — her own over-achieving daughter, while working on her PhD, confessed that her thoughts turned to body and weight every five minutes. What to do? Psycho-analysis can help. So can outrage. And talking openly with friends. “Use your mouth.”

The Diet Industry Doesn’t Want You to Learn to Eat Right

In 2006, the U.S. spent $100 billion on diet products compared to $56 billion on education. Diet pills are an enormous money-making monster.

“Dieting is a profitable industry because it has a 97 percent recidivism rate,” Orbach nearly shouted.

So, if you diet, you’ll likely gain back the weight you lose. And meanwhile, the food industry “creates as many ways to sell, from the organic to the completely appalling.” To keep you guessing, spending, and messing up.

Best takeaway teachings related to eating? 

“Eat when you are hungry. Hunger signals are akin to the biological prompt of needing to pee.”

“Eat the foods your body is hungry for.”

“Taste every mouthful.”

“Stop eating when you’re full. Little kids [without issues] just spit the food out when they get full.”

“Find out why you eat when you are not hungry. Eating only solves hunger. There are no feelings in the fridge, it’s too cold in there.”

I appreciated the passionate way Orbach described life without food rules, how women and men who learn to eat based purely on hunger often make more time to read and pursue big dreams and idiosyncratic pathways. Their bodies morph into their ideal, as-nature-intended ones — often smaller bods. But I did wish she’d had more than an hour to pontificate, because certain blanket statements, like, “Get to know your appetite; remove the [food] restrictions; self-acceptance is the key; maybe you really do want a slice of cheesecake for lunch instead of a lot of other food and then the cheesecake,” left me applauding her revolutionary intentions but wondering if her catchphrases considered nutrition carefully enough. Could they really help a person who’s by nature crazy for carbs, for whom one bite of cake creates a very real craving for many more? Behavior which causes blood sugar to spike and sink and perpetuate the cycle.

At the end of the talk, when the attractive heavyset woman at the end of my row raised her hand, I felt like she’d read my mind.

“If I let myself eat cake for breakfast, you know what would happen to me?” she asked Orbach, into the microphone.

“Well, you must eat it only when you’re hungry,” Orbach said, her alert face tightening.

“But you’re telling me I can eat cake every day? I’m telling you that I love cake, and I’d eat a lot of cake.”

“You’d get tired of it,” Orbach said. “I promise you.”

“Try me.”

The audience laughed heartily. Orbach scurried off to sign books. And I left thinking that I admire her life’s work, that I agree we have many brain-washing industries to fight, but that I won’t be nibbling a single hot Krispy Kreme on a lunch break, and tagging that a radical act, or thinking of the greasy indulgence as a liberating gesture toward feeding my slimmest, least-neurotic self, not any time soon…yummy as the idea sounds. I know the real me would want to eat two.
Orbach is the author of Bodies, On Eating: Change Your Eating, Change Your Life, and Fat is a Feminist Issue. Go here for more information on eating disorders.

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