Is there room in feminism for weight loss?

I’m going to be honest with you. I have been trying really hard to lose weight. But in the current climate–what with the growing fat acceptance movement, Michelle Obama’s campaign against child obesity, eating disorders, Gabourey Sidibe, photoshop nightmares and Kevin Smith’s wild ride–it’s hard to know where weight loss fits into a feminist ideology.

While I wholeheartedly support efforts to prevent eating disorders and unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness, I also find the fat acceptance movement problematic. While I agree one can be beautiful at any weight, I am not sure I buy the argument that one can be healthy at any weight. To clarify, I do believe you can be healthy and overweight, but I am uncomfortable making that argument in the case of morbid obesity. I am also uncomfortable writing the words “morbid obesity” because I do not wish to judge anyone or make anyone feel bad. Ultimately, no matter what you believe about health, people of all sizes deserve respect and equal rights.

When I make the weight loss issue personal, things get even more muddled. When people (other feminists) ask why I am losing weight, I know that the acceptable answer is that I’m doing it for my health. But that would be a lie. I work out 3-6 times a week and am in excellent shape, despite my extra pudge around the middle. I could also answer that I want to lose weight so that clothes will fit better, but that isn’t really it either. The truth is, I want to lose weight because I want to look “hot.” Back-up-dancer-in-a-misogynist-music-video-hot. Should I turn in my feminist badge right here and now?

Digging even deeper, it’s both confusing and obvious why I want to look “hot.” It has something to do with fashion, aesthetics, power and sexuality. Looking and feeling hot makes me feel confident, in control, and powerful when it comes to sex and dating. But I cannot deny that it also has something to do with social pressure, insecurities, and the desire to please others.

Okay, so maybe the question isn’t why I want to look hot, but why I believe I must lose weight to achieve hotness. Is it all socialization? Have I completely bought into the pop culture maelstrom that has enveloped me since birth? (Yes, duh.) But are there other legitimate, dare I say feminist, reasons to desire thinness for the sake of hotness? If there are, I haven’t found them.

Maybe the closest thing to a feminist rationalization of weight loss is this: feminism is about personal autonomy and choice. I choose to lose weight, and despite some ideological guilt here and there, my choice has made me very happy. I’m curious to know how other folks reconcile weight loss with their feminist sensibilities. Do tell.


  1. Good post. I’ve had a version of this conversation with others, including on my blog and on friends’ blogs, and I’ve discovered that whenever this issue is personalized it gets very touchy. It’s very hard to comment on someone else’s weight/food/diet/workout habits. And it’s true, we all fall into notions, images and pressures from society at large. I feel the same way, in that looking good makes me feel “confident, in control, and powerful”, and I do want others (certain specific others) to find me attractive.

    When I was in high school, I didn’t subscribe to this theory, and felt very much the opposite–that wearing makeup and looking good was in opposition to being a good feminist, because it meant that I put how others saw me, my desireability, ahead of my own wants. I have a different view of this now, but I still try to resist outside pressure that I have to look a certain way (usually failing). Now I try to remember that feeling of feeling sexy and powerful, and that that is something I want, that I’m doing it for me.

    I find feminism more and more to be about personal choices, but also about justifying those choices, trying to figure out how to reconcile the two.


  2. Perhaps it’s because I’m not of your gender, but I don’t see what’s so hard to reconcile here. It’s perfectly acceptable to set and strive to reach a goal physique, as long as your pursuit of this goal is beneficial (or at least not detrimental) to your general health. When you start aggressively dieting to the point of malnutrition, or exercising to the point of causing permanent damage to your body, then you’re working against your goal of physical perfection and people can (and should, if they care about you) intervene.

    As with most things in life, the key is to keep control. Don’t let your desire to be your best take up so much of your life that you lose perspective. Know your body, know your limits, and firmly decide exactly how much of your life you want to devote to fulfilling this goal (balanced against your other life goals.)

    Essentially, what I’m saying is that nobody has the right to criticize you for your desire to be your physical best, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others. Your feminism would get a bit more difficult to defend, however, if you started using products like My Little Pink Button (or whatever it’s called) because you don’t believe that your natural skin tone is “hot.” Then you’re chemically altering your body (potentially putting it at risk) to match an arbitrary characteristic that society has told you is more desirable (unlike fit vs. fat, which has demonstrable benefits in any society.)


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