This weekend’s Guardian colour supplement had this on its front cover “I’m a feminist. I count calories 24/7. Thinking about food takes up more energy than my career. Do I have an eating disorder?” by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.
This led me to think about Caren Garfen’s work, recently shown at the knitting and stitching show. Described rather dryly on their web site thus: ‘Creating pieces relating to women’s issues in the 21st Century, Caren uses hand stitching and silkscreen printing to convey messages on gender politics.’
As many parts of the world starve , we in the west are obsessed with food and at the same time many of us are getting fatter. There seems to be a weird dichotomy between watching cookery shows, such as Master Chef, and the Great British Bake off whilst at the same time having an obsession with dieting and calorie counting. Caren’s work sums it up visually.
As I finish this blog post, admiring the work of a thought provoking artist, it feels very sad that Susie Orbach wrote Fat is a Femanist issue in 1978, and we still don’t appear to have made any progress.
For those of you who don’t know Susie Orbach’s work there is a concise piece in the guardian written by Emily Wilson in 2005
Orbach throws out old-fashioned notions of fat being the price one must pay for a life of greed and sloth. She proposes a vastly more complex thesis: namely, that gender inequality makes women fat. “For many women, compulsive eating and being fat have become one way to avoid being marketed or seen as the ideal woman,” she writes. In other words, what your fat says about you, is: “Screw you!” “Fat expresses a rebellion against the powerlessness of the woman,” says Orbach.
She postulates that women get fat because it means they will be taken more “seriously in their working lives outside the home”. If they lose weight, they “find themselves being treated frivolously by their male colleagues”. Others do it to de-sexualise themselves; others to avoid competition with other women; others because of their mother’s own bonkers relationship with food.
Orbach argues that while fat women may think that they are desperate to lose weight, they subconsciously harbour the “desire to get fat”. Whether they know it or not, they enjoy the topsy-turvy advantages that their layers of fat offer them. But the price they pay is a high one. She gently un-picks the “very, very painful activity” that is compulsive eating. “Above all, the fat woman wants to hide,” she says. “Paradoxically, her lot in life is to be perpetually noticed.”