Obesity: Health or Feminist Issue?

Obesity is one of the urgent problems of the modern society. These days, this problem bothers minds of almost all women around the world. There are many issues related to the problem of overweight, the discussions are spreading far behind the health problems related to obesity, they reach cultural, social and psychological dimensions. When it comes to obesity issue, most of us will readily agree that it is rather a female problem than a male one.

In the light of pursuit of modern women to correspond to contemporary ideals of beauty and, at the same time to be independent of the social standards, obesity becomes a feminist issue, as it is widely considered to be a “rebellion against the powerlessness of the woman, against the pressure to look and act in a certain way and against being evaluated on her ability to create an image of herself” (Orbach 204).

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There this agreement usually ends, however, on the question of woman’s independence and her health, the issue of obesity provides a topic for further discussions.

Whereas some are convinced that obesity is a rebellion against social standards, others maintain that obesity is entirely a health and psychological problem that cannot be associated with feminism and should be discussed only as a medical issue. I’m of two minds about the issue of obesity. On the one hand, I agree that women should fight with standards of beauty that are laid upon them by means of media and ideal appearance of top models that look at ordinary women from glance magazines and ads.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if overweight can be a good means to fight against sex inequality and means to proclaim woman’s independence. Thus, I argue that obesity is a big problem, but one should not run to extremes and take obesity only as “a response to the inequality of the sexes” (Orbach 204), but it should regard it as a health problem as well.

Indeed, it goes without saying that even in a modern society woman cannot be completely equal to man. This inequality goes much further than social right and other political or social issues. The problem lies much deeper and it deal with stereotypes and psychology of both sexes. Modern media provides two images of a woman, thus dictating priorities for her and dividing her life in two major periods.

The first period is when she is not married and should find a man to create a future family: during this period she should be pretty and sexy. The second period is her family life when she should support her husband and children and be a perfect “mistress”. This woman’s “functions” are not emphasized, but widely provided and create stereotypes. In addition, the relationships between man and women are identified as “man looks at women.

Woman watches themselves being looked at” (Orbach 202). Consequently, this makes a woman to be responsible for her “good look” and emphasizes “presentation as the central aspect of a woman’s existence and makes her extremely self-conscious” (Orbach 202). Such situation can be commented with words by Susie Orbach that “the woman’s body is not her own (203). In their fight against these stereotypes, feminists claim that:

“Being fat represents an attempt to break free of society’s sex stereotype. Getting fat can thus be understood as a definite and purposeful act; it is a direct, conscious or unconscious, challenge to sex-role stereotyping and culturally defined experience of womanhood” (Orbach 201).

In this light, being fat can be considered as an attempt to show one’s individuality and independence. However, is this the only reason why women put weight? Yves Engler claims that “advertising fatty foods and putting delicious looking pictures for all to see is the cause of our fat” (120). Indeed, in some extend we are forced to be dependent on fatty food and fast food which is around us. It can even become a psychological addiction.

Hardly a woman who eats a hamburger is too concerned about her independency and individuality. Randy Balko writes that “the main cause of obesity lies within a person’s own responsibility” (343). Thus, if you are fat, it is all your responsibility. Orbach partially supports these opinions, but she still emphasizes that women eat fat food not because they do not have a willpower, but rather because they want to ruin the social norms and ideals provided by the media industry.

It is obvious that having a perfect body is a mania, rather than a desire to be healthy:

“In the United States, a woman with a lean, strong, and well-sculpted body is the ideal. Many who do not fit the ideal struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. The percentage of women with body image disturbance is alarming and those with overweight and obesity struggle to meet the ideal” (Buxton 285)

In this light, women should deal with pressure to confront to the perfect stereotype from the glance magazine, but as it has already been mentioned, she should not run to extremes. I argue that obesity is an extreme, as it is also associated with health problems.

The health problems related to obesity include “coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)” (“Overweight and Obesity” n. p.). Thus, one question arises: “Is it worth being fat, but independent if it impacts your heal so much?”

I support the idea, that obesity is a problem and feminists should not proclaim it as a form of rebellion against social standards. Moreover, “As one talks about the body, in addition to the physical dimensions, one must also consider cultural, political, and symbolic construct. Each of these four dimensions impact the psychological dimension of the body or body image” (Buxton 285). People are different and their bodies are also very different.

Consequently, all people have different attitudes to the way a woman should look like. In fact, tastes differ and it does not mean that all men like only slim women and all girls should be thin or fat to show their individuality. Fat is not good for one’s health. Thus, if feminists use obesity as a form of rebel, it can be said that they use health problem as a form of rebel as well.

Thus, obesity is the issue that should not be taken lightly. It cannot be used for ideological or personal purposes. Whereas obesity breaks social standards, it impacts greatly one’s health. In this light, I strongly support the idea that one should keep within limits and develop wise attitudes towards his/her health, as well as appearance.

Works Cited

Barbara K. Buxton. “Body Image and Women: How Does Obesity Fit into the Picture”Bariatric Nursing and Surgical Patient Care, 3(4): 285-290. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.

Balko, Radley. “What You Eat Is Your Business”. In They Say I Say. The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (With Readings). Ed. Gerald Graff, Cathy Berkenstein, and Russel Durst. New York: Norton, 2009.

Engler, Yves. “Obesity: Much of the Responsibility Lies with Corporations.” In They Say I Say. The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (With Readings). Ed. Gerald Graff, Cathy Berkenstein, and Russel Durst. New York: Norton, 2009.

Orbach, Susie. “Fat as a Feminist Issue.” In They Say I Say. The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (With Readings). Ed. Gerald Graff, Cathy Berkenstein, and Russel Durst. New York: Norton, 2009.

“Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.


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