@DaisyBelle: You know… there is an aspect to this that nobody has mentioned so far. Fat is a feminist issue because it is always women’s bodies which are the battleground… but it is also a socialist issue, because thin people tend to be rich and poor people tend to be fat.
Our body ideals have always been a way of displaying our wealth. I was discussing this with a friend a while back, and we were considering tanning. Before about 1940, women’s skin, ideally, was whiter than white… so much so that they would risk their health to whiten it. But by the 1950s then this started to change. Why?
My argument was that this had a lot to do with the advent of affordable, commercial air travel. For the first time, people could travel to hot countries, and a tan was a way of displaying the fact that you could afford to go on that sort of holiday. Before then, tans showed that you were a peasant who worked in the fields, and white skin was the mark of a wealthy lady. But as the signifier of wealth changed, the desirability of skin colour also changed.
So… why are poor people fat? Let’s start with the obvious. In my local Tesco, a 1kg bag of oven chips is £1, and an own brand curry with rice, coming in at almost 700 calories, is 67p. In contrast, a single portion of salad is £1.50, and 150g of raspberries is £2.50. Now, that difference may not sound like much, but let’s break it down.
I spent a period on minimum wage a few years back, and earned a whopping £5.80 an hour. When you’re on min wage, you work all the shifts you can just to survive. I would estimate that I worked a 60 hour week. 60 times 5.8 is £348 a week. I forget how much tax I paid on that, but I would estimate that it was around 10-15% at the time (the tax system has since changed). Let’s say 10%. That gives me a take home pay of £313.20. The average weekly rent in my area was £160 a week, leaving me with £153.20. Of that, I would have to pay council tax, water, electricity and gas, plus a service charge, if I lived in a flat. Let’s say that comes to £70 a week. I am therefore left with £83.20. Out of that, I have to pay for travel costs, food, clothes, and other expenses.
People live on that. They raise kids on that. But they can’t raise them on organic salad… they raise them on the cheap, stodgy, mass produced food that they can afford.
Now, let’s move onto exercise. Poor people obviously can’t afford a gym membership, but the argument is that you can exercise for free, right? What about exercise DVDs? Well, the problem with DVDs is that, in order to use them, you need:
– A television. I didn’t have one at all for most of my adult life… I couldn’t afford one.
– A television license
– A DVD player
– Space in your house to be able to physically exercise. Important, this one. I know that US houses tend to be larger, but since I left home at 18, I have only lived in one place where I could have actually physically had the space to exercise at home; even then, I had to move a dining table, six chairs, and a sofa out of the room every time I wanted to exercise, and move it all back when I had finished. Poor people have even smaller houses than my current one.
OK, so what about running? The problem is that running is:
– Dangerous, if you do it in the mornings and the evenings and you live anywhere near the poles, because you are running alone, in the dark.
– Cold and unpleasant, if you live near the poles.
– Very liable to cause you injuries, if it is not done right. I can attest to this. And, as a poor person, you can’t afford to go off sick, you can’t afford a sports physio, and you can’t afford decent trainers, which could help to prevent injury.
Also, when do you find the time to exercise? Minimum wagers work up to 10 hours a day just to get by. If they sleep for 8 hours a day, this leaves them 6 hours a day in which to get to and from work, shower, do the housework, cook food, deal with paperwork and bills… that 15 minutes isn’t looking so doable now, is it?
When people flaunt their toned bodies, they aren’t just saying “I have great self-control”, they’re also saying “I am wealthy and priviliged” in a way which is socially acceptable. They’re showing that they can afford gym memberships, ergonomic trainers, sports physios, childcare, and to be able to work a 40 hour week. And if they recognise that, that’s fantastic. But I hate the way that class privilige is forced down our throats, and people lie and call it self-control.