This week, a 59-year-old white man tweeted a photo of a 25-year-old Asian woman, calling her “not pretty.”
That woman is American-Japanese singer-songwriter Yumi Nu.The photo in question is of Nu, in her ‘Bigger Body’, wearing a black swimsuit on the cover Sports Illustrated Magazine.
The man who made the public service announcement was Jordan Peterson, a controversial psychologist with millions of followers on social media.
He has also been described as “currently the most influential public intellectual in the Western world”, a “dangerous man” and a “culture warrior”.
So this week, another culture war ensues.
While Peterson and his followers are making urgent contributions to the fundamental debate about women’s beauty standards, most women are simply adding familiar rhetoric to the established alarm center in their brains, the siren: “Don’t get fat. , don’t get fat.”
Others listened with their positive eating disorders. In the United States, 10,200 people die each year from eating disorders, and about 26 percent of those with eating disorders attempt suicide.
But yes, let’s discuss women’s bodies as if they were objectively common property. Let’s debate aloud what they should look like to us, deaf to the consequences of our conversations. If anyone has a personal problem with our ideological bickering, let’s switch roles and play the victim.
While some are skeptical of the ideology of beauty, many others actually split in two in their pursuit of beauty.
It’s this question that led Sabrina Strings, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, to discover that it’s actually racism that underpins centuries of obesity-phobia in our society.
A small online culture war in 2022 unraveled to the irrelevance it deserved when you realized the racist roots that we don’t want to get fat.
Strings’ grandmother, who grew up in segregation in the Jim Crow South, remembers saying, “These white women are killing themselves to be thin. Why are they doing it?”
Her grandmother’s observations stayed with her. But for Strings, it wasn’t just the phenomenon of white women that she encountered.
About 20 years ago, Strings worked at an HIV clinic where she met women who sacrificed their health to lose weight.
“I’ve spoken to several HIV-positive women who refuse to take HIV medication for fear of gaining weight,” Strings said. “It took me by surprise. It immediately brought me back to my conversation with my grandmother.
“Like, oh my gosh, she’s doing something so important. You know, when she talks about it, she thinks it’s largely a white phenomenon. But I interviewed that day of women are women of color.”
Scholars will go on to study the topic and write a groundbreaking and award-winning book on it Fear of the Black Body: The Ethnic Origins of Fatphobiapublished in 2019.
What did she find?
And of course the big magazines of the 1800s, such as Bazaarwarning upper-class white women to be careful about what they eat.
“They’re unapologetically saying it’s a form for Anglo-Saxon Protestant women,” Strings said. “So, in order to demonstrate their Christian nature and racial superiority, it’s important that women eat as little as possible.”
It’s all well and good for white women to trace the origins of food culture for them, but what drove this medium 200 years ago?
It’s about blacks and whites, and what characteristics define each and thus separate them.
“The colonists believed that blacks were inherently more sensual, that people liked sex, that they liked food, so their thinking was that blacks had more STDs, that blacks were born obese because they lacked self-control,” the string wrote.
“Certainly, after the Enlightenment, self-control and rationality were seen as indispensable characteristics of white people.”
Thus, body size becomes a characteristic used to indicate who should be free and who should not, Strings argues.
The Irish body features heavily in Strings’ book. The thinkers, orators, and public intellectuals of the 1800s did not like our bodies, our restraint, or the apparent lack of it.
The Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle believed that the Irish preference for overeating was constitutional, and his writings existed around the time of the Great Famine.
“It’s a flaw, a testament to their inherent, stubborn racial inferiority complex,” Strings writes in her book. She explains how the Irish were seen as inferior European races by the authors of the new race theory in the 1800s.
Anglo-Saxons were a “pure” white race, while other Europeans, mainly Celtic Irish, were considered inferior or mixed Europeans.
British physician and ethnologist James Cowles Pritchard, who died in 1848, regarded the Irish as “part African” and “part Asian.”
Now, hundreds of years later, the racist origins of food culture are somewhat disguised, and we have culture warriors naively debating the concept of beauty.
Unless you’re someone like Strings, or Da’Shaun L Harrison, author of Belly of the Beast: Anti-Fat Politics as Anti-Black, or Marquisele Mercedes, @fatmarquisele or Lindley Ashline, @bodyliberationwithlindley.
But there will always be some puzzling issues, people now think that the desire to stay slim at all costs has less to do with racism and more about health.
A study of 11,000 people may refute the “slim equals health” claim.
In the US study, “Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals,” researchers wanted to understand the impact of health-promoting behaviors on disease risk.
They measured the weight of 11,000 people along with four other behaviors: eating five or more fruits and vegetables a day, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking.
What did they find? a lot of.
Engaging in only one of the four behaviors cut the risk of disease in half. Participating in all four behaviors meant that the risk of disease was about the same, regardless of weight.
This isn’t the only study — far from it — proving that you can exist in a larger body and stay healthy at the same time.
Fat tissue is not the problem, oppression, racism and misogyny are the problem. What exactly is food culture and its proponents achieving? Personal notoriety and pounds in your pocket.
Imagine all the things you could spend your precious energy doing if you stopped keeping such a vigilant check on your body.