Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dieting while Feminist

First, Can a Feminist Diet? via Sociological Images.

This is a fairly recent post that has brought up some questions that I've been wrestling with all summer.

I am a feminist and I am on a diet.

Not a diet like, an actual diet-diet. But, I have made dietary changes this summer. After seeing Forks Over Knives, I made the choice to go vegetarian again (I took a year-long hiatus) and start limiting animal products a little bit (last weekend I split a large stuffed crust pizza with my friend... I am no vegan) for health.

Usually when I hear anyone start talking about eating restrictions in the frame of health I hear "eating disorder." This is obviously an overreaction. Some people actually do care about their health. Nearly everyone in my family has some sort of annoyingly-serious health problem, whether they are fat or skinny, so it appears that I have actually won the gene pool lottery of worst possible health outcomes.

At the same time, I've actually started exercising with some regularity. Anyone who knows me can attest to the farce that is my resolve to exercise... My first two years at college I lived a block from the gym and did not go very often, my sophomore year only 3 times in one semester. Anyway, Groupon, tricky imps they are, had a coupon for 3 months of a gym membership, and since I'm not doing all that much this summer anyway, I bought it, and I am trying to get my $30 worth. And I actually like exercising, sort of, minus having to shower more often, ugh, what a pain in the butt. In any case, what I'm focusing on is stamina and endurance. I'm generally okay with my body and I've never been overweight, but like most people wouldn't mind losing weight. We'll see what regular exercise does to the condition of my butt. I've got a donk, it's like a mini-Kardashian. I suspect it's not going anywhere. I'm taking a 2-credit Personal Defense for Women class in the fall so I am looking forward to learning how to do some badass stuff, and I'd like to be stronger to make all that easier. Xena: Warrior ME, here I come!

But here's where the feminist ambivalence comes in. Bitch had a couple really good post series called Sex and the Fat Girl and Size Matters about fat activism and acceptance. There is massive discrimination against fat people in the US, and it's really not okay to make character assessments based on someone's size. Conversely, there are lots of assumptions, both positive and negative, made about skinny people. And health issues are not necessarily a result of being overweight; there are lots of healthy fat people, and there are lots of unhealthy skinny people. Sociological Images has a great recent guest post on the Fit Fat Fight if you want to read more about that. I usually find celebrity converts to veganism who also magically lose tons of weight suspect (Lea Michele). What's their actual motivation for a lifestyle change? Is it actually for the tenants of veganism or for the weight loss?

And so I have to refocus this kind of skepticism on myself. Why is it that I'm suddenly caring about my health? Perhaps my family history? Perhaps my disinterest in meat? Perhaps a realization of my own mortality? Perhaps a desire to be sUpEr SeXXxY?

I think the depressing realization that I've come to is that I can't actually separate my desire to live longer, be healthier, get stronger, run longer, and eat healthier from my desire to look "better." Despite my feminist tendencies and awareness of the media's lockdown on oppressive beauty standards, I'm still drawn to them and want to fit into them. What I'm trying to do to make my health kick more feminist is to not focus on numbers. Other than the numbers of what I can do. Like how long I can run. I'm not weighing myself obsessively, and that's really only something I do a couple times a year. Getting healthy for me probably has less to do with losing weight than it does being in better shape and having better stamina. I know my diet and lifestyle changes have ulterior, not-so-feminist motives along with the healthy, good motives, and I guess I'm okay with that. I'm a feminist and I'm on a diet.

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