Fat as Rebellion: My Fat Says “Fuck You”

In her book Fat is a Feminist Issue Susie Orbach proposes that some women have a subconscious desire to get fat as a response to sexism, gender roles, and misogyny. One of the reasons for response, Orbach suggests, is that women do not feel able to express anger, and feel invalidated when they express anger:

Women are actively discouraged from expressing anger, rage, resentment, and hostility. We are raised to be demure and accept what we are given with no complaints. We all learn how little girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice. So we try hard not to show our anger or even feel it ourselves. When we rebel and show dissatisfaction we learn we are nasty and greedy. Whether we realize it or not we are being taught to accept silently a second-class citizenship. Secondary status is further compounded by having our anger denied us. Anger provides a way for people to challenge injustices at whatever level. […] Little girls are encouraged to cry if they do not get what they are wanting instead of angrily protesting. Anger, as a legitimate emotion for many women, has no cultural validation. (Orbach, 49)

If I think back to my childhood, I can remember numerous attempts at anger, to which my mother responded with scolding. I learned very early that a much better way to communicate my upsets without bring scolded—but rather being coddled—was crying. I still cry when I’m angry because I am trying to reroute that anger, or because I feel I am not allowed my anger, and so tears come instead. As I got older, and my anger compounded, I had to find other ways to reroute my anger since there was no validation for it. Eating became a way to stifle my anger, to occupy the mouth that wished to tell everyone to fuck off, instead of actually saying it and risk being scolded or ostracized. As Orbach states, the fat that came from angry eating has a symbolic meaning: fuck you.

Getting fat was a great way of saying ‘fuck you’ to everyone in the world: my mother and father, my brother, my teachers, the kids at school, the media, society, even my friends; most people wanted me to be thin. To me, being thin also meant being all the other things that girls are meant to be: quiet, nice, simple, sweet, agreeable, ignorant. (Orbach also discusses this later on in her book.) My fat became a physical manifestation of my desire to say ‘fuck you’ to sexism and misogyny, to second class citizenry, to rape culture, to heterosexism. Of course, as a teen, I had no idea. I just kept my anger in and punished myself for feeling so angry with food (denying or binging), cutting, seeking out bad relationships, and holding back from doing the things I really loved.

As an adult, I have been trying to reach into my childhood and dig out the pieces that make me a poorly functioning grown-up. This makes me beg the question: does my fat still serve its function? Part of me says yes, it does. It still is a protest against the diet and beauty industries that tell me I am not right if I’m not thin. When I go to the beach in my bikini, belly protruding, thighs full of cellulite, arms lined with stretch marks, it’s a proclamation: I will not hide. I will not cover up. I will live in my body, and fuck anyone who tells me I shouldn’t. I enjoy the looks on people’s faces when I wear a tight dress, or a bikini, or a crop top. I will admit that I am not always comfortable in tight or revealing clothes because sometimes the judgment is just too much. But on the days when I feel good in my skin and want to show it, my fat body is my rebellion against anyone who would tell me that I don’t deserve to feel sexy, confident, and proud.

Another part of me, though, says no. As Orbach puts it, I’ve given traits to my fat that I possess because I am too fearful to express them vocally. Does the fat itself satisfy the expression of my rebellion against body policing? Or is the real rebellion something that happens in my mind? Orbach suggests that once I understand that I became fat as a “response to mother, to society, to various situations,” I can remove the judgment that it is “good” or “bad,” and accept that it just is. This takes me back to my post about the compliment “you look so small:” these judgments of “good” or “bad” are tied why I view “small” as a compliment, and “big” as an insult. If I learn to see my fat as a response—instead of something that I am—I can change the way I respond to the situations that start me on a spiral of binging, depriving, exercising, dieting, and depression.

Even if I change my response to the situations that create a subconscious desire to be fat, I will never be the ideal. That I understand the ideal is just that and not something I should strive to be comes from reestablishing how I see my fat. My fat is not me. I am not my body. My body is a physical manifestation of myself. I know that regardless of my fat, I will always want to say ‘fuck you’ to the patriarchy and all its functions. I don’t know that I’ll be any more willing/able to vocalize my dissent if I change my perspective, but writing here and on has opened up new avenues of expression. I honestly think that my body will always be a ‘fuck you’ because I will always have so much ‘fuck you’ in me. It’s not something that’s dictated by my body, but rather myself. As long as I’m in it, my body is my rebellion.

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  • Gat Grad

    Nice post. I like Orbach’s book, but one of my biggest critiques of it is this part. I feel that it reinforces the idea of fat as always intentional and therefore controllable instead of simply accepting the idea that some bodies are fat and some bodies are thin, and that we should accept this as normal human variation. I think there is danger in this as it paints fat bodies as the result of behavior choices, and we know what has been done with this idea over the last few decades. I am not by any means arguing that no one intentionally fattens themselves, but I do think that this person is rare. Most people that I know have difficulty deliberately gaining OR losing weight, and I think this speaks to the biological component of our body weight. A quick glance at the literature also points out the fact that bodies are not infinitely malleable. I do believe that choosing to live in the body that you have can be interpreted as a great big “fuck you,” and that when we as fat activists go to the beach in swimwear instead of baggy shorts and a baggy top, or when we wear tank tops, or do whatever thing it is that we are NOT supposed to do that we are living in the bodies that we have, and that is a powerful statement. Cheers to you for pursuing embodiment!

  • Angela

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I sort of bounce back and forth between agreeing with her main thesis, which is partially what I wrote this piece about, and disagreeing with it. I think that what you said holds a lot of truth: that this sort of mind set makes fatness the result of behavior choices. I think there are parts, though, where she makes it clear that not all women are effected in the same way. I have been taking my time with this book, as it gives me much to think about when it comes to my own habits, behaviors, and mind sets. And after I started reading it, I did identify myself as a compulsive eater. Her descriptions of a cycle of starvation, binging, and dieting were very real for me. I think identifying this in myself is helping me reframe my relationship with food. And because it’s helped me so much already, I will admit that I am open to her positions and opinions.

    I also want to reframe my relationship with fat because I still struggle a lot with body acceptance, as I think most of us do. I do like the idea that my body is my symbol of rebellion, but I also think it’s problematic, as I say in the post. I think, though, that Orbach is not asking anyone to lose weight. Never does she say in the book that her intention is to help you lose weight or become thin. She is asking readers to investigate their relationships with food and fat and try to examine the roles they play in our lives. Her hope, I think, is that readers will benefit from some of the introspection–whether they find they agree with her or not. I’ve yet to read the whole thing, so I could be wrong. But so far I really enjoy how she is asking me to engage with her ideas.

  • Cypherlock

    Overeating and being lazy now equals your own personal rebellion? Such bullshit. Not that it matters, because you and all the rest of the purposefully obese will self-select out of the population due to *markedly* increased rates of disease, inflammation, and diabetes. Fact.

  • Fat Grad

    I would be interested to hear what you think of her work after you finish the entire book. As I recall, she does in the end advocate some sort of weight loss. I think that maybe one’s feminist beliefs are supposed to give you the power to control your e.d. which naturally leads to slimming, or something like that. It was a bit of a letdown. I think this is linked to the fact that she never identified as fat and viewed as the outcome of pathological behaviors and mental health issues. However, I do recognize the book as being an important first challenge to the cult of thinness. I do think that it’s important as well to recognize the various forms in which eating disorders can manifest themselves, and I am glad that Orbach has set you on the path to figuring out yours and gaining control of it. Good luck on your journey!

  • Angela

    I will be sure to keep posting about any thoughts I have on her book here, so be sure to check back because I am sure that you will see the outcome. I’m glad we’ve had this exchange because it will allow me to be more skeptical and analyze her ideas more critically. Thanks again for reading and sharing!

  • mkhajdin

    This post is great. One thing that really, really bothers me though is when armpit psychology is used on fat people. As if fat people wouldn’t be fat unless they were DEEPLY DISTURBED inside. This helps to erase the anti-fat bigotry that’s the actual cause of a lot of the emotional damage that fat people have to deal with. If fatties are naturally crazy, their tormentors never get blamed for, you know, tormenting people.
    Another trope I cannot stand is when the amateur psychologists (and even ones with degrees) insist that fat people get fat on purpose so they can be invisible and because they’re afraid of relationships. This is the ultiimate in victim blaming. Society bullies or ignores fat people, and refuses to believe fat people are sexual beings (unless they’re the butt of some joke) – and then blames the fat person as if all this marginalization were secretly what the fat person wanted all along. When you think about it, it is exactly the same argument rapists use about their victims. And it’s creepy as all hell.

  • Angela

    Regardless of a person’s reasons for being fat, that never justifies abuse. Nothing justifies abuse. Anyone using that argument is a hateful bigot.

    I do see your point, of course. I don’t think that Orbach supposes “fatties are naturally crazy;” I think she supposes that there are emotional and mental triggers to eating. I would agree with that, and it’s not only fat people who experience those triggers. People of all body sizes struggle with emotionally and mentally triggered eating (or not eating). I completely agree that “society bullies or ignores fat people, and refuses to believe that fat people are sexual.” This is also something Orbach discusses. I cannot go into detail with it here because, to be honest, I feel that her expertise and research in the field trumps any explanation I might be able to offer.

    Victims also are often convinced through mental and physical abuse that they deserve any abuse they are getting. I think this is what society tries to do to fat people: you made yourself fat, fat is bad, you are bad, you deserve abuse. (It seems we are in agreement here, yes?) We start to believe this awful bullshit the more shame is pushed down our throats. Orbach also discusses trying to reframe fatness in the context of just being; fat is not bad or good–it just is. Reframing how we see ourselves as fat people will help to purge any internalized hate that has made us hate our bodies and ourselves.

    For me, a lot of what Orbach says about compulsive eating rings true. Not all fat people fall into this framework, of course, and by no means am I saying that they do. I am just trying to document my experiences with my fat, and the struggles I face with food. I have also been in a back and forth between binging and denying (dieting, starving) which has cause me a lot of damage. My journey through Orbach’s book is helping me understand not only what caused my compulsive eating, but also what triggers it now, and how I can look to my body for signals instead of consulting some outside source about what I should/shouldn’t/can/can’t eat.

    Anyway, I hope that was sort of on topic. Thanks for your comment!

  • mkhajdin

    Hi, Angela.
    I get what you’re saying. It just chaps my hide when people assume that all fat people are overeaters. Really, any assumption that anybody makes about fat people ticks me off. They never assume anything GOOD.

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