The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity is a difficult read. It doesn't have the light flair of Fat!So? or the humour of The Fat Girl's Guide to Life. It isn't full of funny cartoons are interesting sidebars. It is a serious look into the history and politics surrounding fat and the people attached to it. Through a series of chapters which read like short essays, Kathleen LeBesco delves into the world of fat from a different perspective.
In the intro LeBesco states being fat goes beyond the physical and medical state and looks at it as a "political situation". Her "primary purpose" is "to alter the discourse of fat identity within a research context by moving inquiries about fat from medical and scientistic [sic] discourses to social and cultural ones, and to replace self-help literature with a different way of looking at, and living in, fat bodies". She goes on to say she wants to examine the "range of terms" that fat people use and the development of the "fat identity". She quickly lost me with her comparison of gender identity with fat identity.
Organization and Embodiment: Politicizing and Historicizing Fatness, discusses the portrayal of plush women in Hellenistic and Greek art as it strived to depict the normal as the ideal and beautiful. It goes on to discuss past cultures and the influence of food to maintain body stature and appearance. I always wondered how being fat became the "dirty" word. It was very interesting to see how the scale could have easily been tipped the other way and thin could have been ruled as "dirty" and unfavourable were it not for the political and religious directioning.
Queer research/activism plays a great role in her discussion on fat identity. I couldn't see the correlation. Black suppression was also brought up. An important point would definitely be how fat people are pigeon holed into a few mind sets leaving many left out because they don't fall into the predefined categories. Why do we have to be categorized anyway?
Antidotes to Medical Discourse about Fatness was a better chapter for me. I was able to get into the writer's vocabulary and not feel left out in the cold by her dialogue. In this chapter she discusses measures like health threats, food labelling and drug treatments being used by the government and the individual to curb obesity. She goes on to mention, briefly, the language of fat. And most important NAAFA (The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) and its influence on the community, specifically its counter claim to C. Everett Koop's "Shape Up America." Well worth reading. She is definitely pro-NAAfA for all it does and represents for the improvement of an accepting society with no hidden agenda or backing.
Sexy/Beautiful/Fat looks at how sexuality is virtually non-existent in the medical community. There is a specific image generated when the term "fat woman" is presented. LeBesco also differentiates between "fat assimilationist" and "fat liberationist" (both terms I have never heard before); the level of respect and disrespect that have become tolerable in our society; more on NAAFA; how the goals of many people is to change fat people's perception of themselves and not that of society; the contradiction of descriptions from varying avenues and the differing opinions on beauty.
Citizen Profane: Consumerism, Class, Race, and Body asks what does beauty mean to the general population and where does the fat individual fit in? A very interesting tidbit from this chapter was the link between "fat oppression and capitalist culture" and the unlikelihood of it going away. "Anti-fat bias is more pronounced in individualistic cultures that emphasize personal freedom and autonomous goal achievement (US, Australia, Poland) than in collectivist ones (Mex, Turkey, Venequela)" Fat people don't conform to the ideal culture which promotes diets and fitness products so we're punished for going against the ideal. She touches on the confusion between obesity, poverty, socializing with other minority groups and ignorance.
Remaining chapters are:
*Revolution on a Rack: Fatness, Fashion, and Commodification
*Framing Fatness: Popular Representation of Obesity as Disability
*The Queerness of Fat
*The Resignification of Fat in Cyberspace
*Fat Politics and the Will to Innocence
Overall, Revolting Bodies text is dry and hard to get through. And I went through many passages without having a clue what I was reading about before I hit a nugget that hit home for me. This book isn't for the faintly educated but if you want to move beyond the usual cutesy books normally thrown at us I recommend this one. You will definitely learn something new about our society and culture and the ins and outs of the "fat identity".
University of Massachusetts Press, 2004
Revolting Bodies is available from Amazon.com.
Revolting Bodies is available from Amazon.ca.