Walking down the street today minding my own business, a middle-aged, White, estate car-driver reversed from the road onto his drive without looking, forcing me to dance out of his way to avoid being hit. When I quite reasonably pointed out to him that he had nearly run me over, he responded in the time-honoured way of all bullies and bigots that I was a “Fucking fat, blind, stupid, Jewish bitch”. I later mused via Twitter that he need only to have included something re: my sexual orientation and would have most of the major oppression bingo cards filled in one fell nasty swoop.
I’m not going to lie and say that his words didn’t hurt. They did hurt and I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears over the altercation. I may or may not have said that while I may be all of those things, laser eye surgery and a diet could sort out any of my issues, but he would always and forever be seen next Tuesday…
But now slightly calmer and more reflective, I’m pondering on what of his words hurt and, more crucially, why. Stupid? Well, I know that’s not true and intelligence is just one aspect of someone’s personality. Blind? Well, yes, I do wear glasses but he was the one who wasn’t looking where he was going. Jewish? Ok, so there are always anti-Semitic idiots around. Fat? Now, stop right there, there’s the sucker punch. The one that subsequently made me pull down my tunic top and clutch my coat around me all day, trying to hide my body away from view.
Fat. Such a loaded word and that – despite my avid reading of the late, lamented Shapely Prose blog – has the power to deeply wound. Regardless of my actual body size, this man deliberately chose to use words which were genderised and intersectional – women are supposed to conform to a narrowly impossible form of beauty – White, mostly blonde, hairless, thin (but not too thin anorexia girl!) with curves only in the prescribed places.
Any deviation from that “norm” – set by corporations whose very profitability rests on persuading women that we are to be “perfected” at all and every cost, and cemented by the MSM through airbrushing and erasure – leaves women open to easy attack.
Even the most Feminist of women, which I am striving to be, have to actively gird their loins against internalising the disdain espoused towards with women with the wrong type of hair or for just being a woman with a body in politics. And it is that mundane, everyday, profit-led sexism that builds up to the extent that when one sad man with some vicious words came up against me, my ferociousness fell entirely flat.
Susie Orbach is sadly more right than ever when she says that fat is not just a Feminist issue, but also feeds into other forms of class and race-based oppression. Corporations don’t care whether they make people feel insecure about their natural, beautiful bodies, corporations care about money and keeping us powerless for the empowered to exploit. I’m not sure what the answer is – it could be banning very underweight models and marking airbrushed images in magazines, it definitely is ignoring the Daily Fail’s website and is certainly about supporting projects helping young girls build their self-esteem away from notions of prettiness and thinness.
Until women can live their lives freely in bodies that are prized– first and foremost – for their utility and pleasure that they bring rather than as an adornment to be admired by other people – then we’re weakened. Today, that was brought home to me with a bang. Tomorrow, I’m going to a kick-boxing class.