Words by Monika Radojevic and Bella Saltiel
Today marks an interesting day for women around the world: Women’s Healthy Weight Day. Originating from the United States, this apparently empowering day is supposed to discourage the self-loathing women – i.e. those who don’t have the slender, waif-like appearance of supermodels – from feeling bad and accepting their natural weight.
Problem solved! Never mind the fact that women’s bodies have always been policed, whether the topic-du-jour is reproductive rights, clothing or size. Never mind the fact that women have always been held to impossible standards for their appearance, and behaviour, which has ballooned alongside the explosion of technology and social media that allows a carefully cultivated appearance of perfection that is both artificial and alarmingly normalised. A few hours of women appreciating their ‘healthy body’ will fix the long-standing obsession societies all over the world have with the female form! Well, it’s just not that easy.
Furthermore, if there is going to be a ‘healthy weight day’ at all, the word ‘women’ shouldn’t be in front of it. Let it be noted that there is no Men’s Healthy Weight Day, as if men’s relationship with their bodies is uncomplicated and unaffected by beauty standards. Nor is there a Disabled Healthy Weight Day for those who have chronic illnesses or disabilities that render the word ‘healthy’ very different for them than it might for able-bodied people.
One website sites Women’s Healthy Weight day as:
“In short, it’s a day for the gals to get together and celebrate one another in any way they choose. Brunch, barbecue, cheese and wine? At the risk of stating the obvious, it might also be renamed International Diet Amnesty Day. Or for the gents, International Walking On Eggshells Day!”
This is a disturbingly patronising message. The limitations attached to labelling Healthy Weight Day a day for women (‘women,’ in this definition you’ll notice, are unequivocally heterosexual and cis-gender) immortalises the segregation of the sexes along hierarchised gender lines. Women who worry about their weight become the fragile image of femininity coddled into docility. Men, absent from the picture, are unconcerned by society’s expectations and limitations. LGBT, Non-binary and Genderqueer? Denied from existence. The reality is quite different. As we mentioned above, in our technologically advanced society our human bodies become fair-game: products to be marketed for the profits raised in gaining social collateral. On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, we build ourselves up into brands, bartered in exchange for likes that have the potential to lead to tangible labour opportunities. In a tense socio-economic moment, it is hard to imagine that cis-gender heterosexual women are the only ones suffering from the pressure to perform. In fact, in the midst of the intense isolation created by technologies and liberal market capitalism, we should be building networks of solidarity rather than cultivating further segregation.
So, we must ask: what does a ‘healthy weight’ look like? If the concept is being used to excuse or mask blatantly unhealthy weight loss or gain, as can often be the case, then we question the sense in promoting something that is meaningless at best, dangerous at worst.
Perhaps we’re being too cynical; the day is also about acknowledging unhealthy behaviours related to weight. Although it is unclear whether that means weight-loss, weight-gain, or both. The conversation surrounding eating disorders is an important and necessary one to have, however, it is a conversation that needs to be had without ‘weight’ tacked on to it, as it has been well-established that eating disorders are not really about weight, but have much deeper rooted and complex causes and effects. In short, dedicating a day to celebrating something so vague and empty seems a bit like a waste of everyone’s time.
What a patronising message dressed up in some cheap, emancipatory clothing.
- Monika Radojevic is reading for an MSc in Development Studies at SOAS University of London