Fat-shaming

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Chicken wings, French fries and Coke are irresistible for some individuals, who often display a certain aversion to physical activity. But if they are happy, why bother?

Nowadays, there seem to be two very wide spread opinions on fat people: one is to consider being fat detrimental of the physical and psychological health of a person, and the other supports overweight people in loving themselves against a society of fat-shamers.

At a first glance, I don’t see why the former view should be discriminatory, or the latter crazy, nor why they should be incompatible. Indeed, under the right description, being fat can be a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle, whereas the social stigma on fat people is pervasive in (at least) western societies.

The easy way of solving this apparent opposition would be to say that being fat is ok for you insofar as you have a healthy lifestyle. Fat-shaming, on the other hand, is never ok, period. But what does count as a healthy lifestyle?

The body-positivity movement has emphasized in recent years the importance of loving your body no matter what and the total opposition to “unrealistic beauty standards”. But what does “no matter what” mean? Does it perhaps mean “independently of an active lifestyle and a healthy nutrition”?

The risk of the ideology behind the body-positivity movement is not really that having an unhealthy lifestyle becomes ok, but rather that taking care of one’s body is somehow less important than taking care of one’s own feelings. The most valuable thing in “love your body” is love, not your body.

In a society with such a heavy stigma on overweight people, what is this ideology leading to if not delusion that one is valuable independently of one’s body? I can love myself, even if I am led to hate myself for being fat. That means that I don’t really love my body, I rather love my personality or my intelligence. But what are we if not body and our understanding of it?

To love oneself truly, and without delusion or repression, one must seriously take care of one’s “materiality”. We are flesh and bones, and there is beauty in the way we cultivate the matter we are made of.

I would thence underline the strong individuality of this process in the face of social stigma or “beauty standards”. This individuality doesn’t mean “everything goes”, but it is regulated by a coherent, unified and consistent personal system of values, which poses the body at one of its focal points.

Can you be content with your body, given the attention with which you treat it? If the answer is yes according to your system, then you truly have nothing to worry about.

Essential for a body-positivity movement is then the focus on self-appreciation through self-cultivation and not on unconditioned self-love. You always need criteria to assess your own beauty, your own worth and your own essence. Without any such criteria, your judgment will remain arbitrary and unreliable, and you will be left to laziness and excessive self-indulgence. How can you trust your self-love if it is always present under the same motto and doesn’t tell you what to do to actually feel better?

I still think that the greatest health issue overweight people face is the discrimination they encounter on a daily base. That is a public battle for recognition and positivity to be fought in the media industry and in ordinary life, by means of supportive actions. But for an individual to feel better about his body, reliable plans and objectives are fundamental.

Self-confidence depends on our world view inclusive of a robust comprehension of our own bodies. If you don’t mind about what you are made of, how can you mind anything at all?

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

 

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Correctness

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Potentially, every time we say something, there is a risk to hurt someone else’s feelings or to discriminate certain people. This is the trivial sense of “taking a risk to discriminate” and, of course, if we were to take it seriously, we couldn’t say a word anymore.

There is another sense, however, which is the one of consciously foreseeing the discriminatory effects of what we are saying and say it none the less. This is immoral. And immoral is also avoiding to excuse oneself, once one is shown the discriminatory effects of her utterances.

Political correctness has developed in western, modern, multicultural societies as a method of talking and thinking in such a way as to avoid, insofar as it is possible, immoral discrimination of disadvantaged members of a society. An excess of political correctness could mean being self-righteous and be unsustainable, because it might lead to improper censorship.

Since more than one person has accused me of unsustainable political correctness, I owe them an explanation. I need to address two related features of the problem: the first is political correctness taken as a form of “moral censorship” about certain everyday life, linguistic or artistic freedoms; the second is the risk of adopting the stance of a moral police officer.

Flat-out censorship is never the most efficacious method to contrast discriminatory ideologies. I do believe in the importance of dialogue about what is right and wrong, and in the possibility for fallible creatures like ourselves of making forgivable mistakes.

This said, my political correctness doesn’t yet allow me to appreciate a racist or a homophobic joke. Indeed, certain kinds of satire have an oppressive flavor: they attack the vulnerable and implicitly defend the powerful. And each time you laugh, you strengthen inequality and oppression.

We won’t stop laughing then, because something gets censored. We stop laughing when we start thinking, and our thoughts will help us next time to distinguish funny jokes from discriminatory ones, and to laugh accordingly. Moreover, in an evolving society, what was strange and “abnormal” in the past, can suddenly turn out to be common in the present, and related jokes will thus stop being funny “just for that”.

In a previous letter, I have already addressed the topic of misconduct of artists. In this case, all I shall underline is that nothing in the production of art provides artists with any “moral pass”. Art can’t be judged in moral terms, just as moral subjects can’t be judged in artistic terms. Art is judged with artistic criteria, whereas an artist’s moral conduct with moral criteria. In the case of discriminatory lyrics, for instance, we might adopt artistic criteria but, among them, we shall also consider the originality of the message and its meaning. Given my recent definition of art, we might even question whether those lyrics can’t be better defined as a discriminatory regurgitation, rather than art.

Now I skip to the second accusation, that of endorsing some sort of Orwellian moral police, if not being myself a moral police officer. Here I must distance myself from a common phenomenon of political correctness. What I really don’t like about this phenomenon is its Manicheism, its seeing everything as either black or white, its dividing the world in bad guys and good guys, in police officers and criminals.

We can’t a priori rule out the possibility of victims to be themselves oppressors and we can’t deem oppressors as monsters. That would be too easy: monsters don’t have the chance to be otherwise. Human beings are much more complicated creatures. They often act upon certain motives and they have reasons for acting. They have a history and they are culturally shaped. They deserve blame sometimes. Sometimes they perpetrate unforgivable evils. But always as human beings, never as monsters.

This means that we can never judge an individual life as if we could see through every relevant decision leading to an evil action. All we can do is just to try to analyze the action itself, its motivational background and attempt to construct a model for making the action morally intelligible. I really can’t see how this approach might count as “moral police”.

Talking about monsters in a politically correct fashion is a terrible mistake: we risk to ascribe very human vices to non-human entities. De-humanizing vices leads to extreme dangers: we tend to be too indulgent with ourselves and too fatalist with monsters. We tend to forget the evil in ourselves, because “at least we are not monsters”.

No one is. Not even the filthiest genocidal criminal. We all are fallible human beings, and we fail whenever we are given the chance to reconsider our conduct, and we laugh or appeal to specious artistic license or else instead of thinking.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Gender

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Dualistic gender is a big issue. It poses constraints on our behaviour and on our everyday life, but mostly on the way we think. Dualistic gender means that if you are a man you have to act in the way appropriate to man, and if you are a woman you have to act accordingly to being a woman. This rigidity of roles is both internal, shaping our mental states, and external, determining obligations and permissions as well as prohibitions.

An article appeared last month on Time dealt with the process of redefinition of gender going on among young people in recent years. The “no-gender generation” tries to get rid of the dualism of gender by spreading a countless amount of new labels for those finding “man” and “woman” too tight fitting, if not completely inappropriate. From pansexual to polyamorous, from non-binary to gender-fluid, there seems to be a label for any identification.

What kind of social significance does this identification present? The answer can be tracked in the following distinction I make: there is a personal and intimate dimension of gender and a public and political dimension.

When you call yourself “gender-fluid” in the sense that you don’t recognize your behaviour as conforming to the dualistic labels, and you feel like swinging between various patterns of behaviour, you are trying to give a name to what you feel on the inside. And this attempt of defining yourself will always be an approximation, since the way we experience gender is particularly complicated and resist precise definitions and labels.

However, when you scream to the world that you exist and you deserve the same recognition as a member of society  the way all other members are recognised, then “gender fluid”, “lesbian”, “gay”, “transsexual”,… assume a completely new meaning. This new meaning is a political one, rather than a personal one. It is also very precise, insofar as it categorises you as “politically different”.

When you have suffered homophobia or transphobia or similar forms of discrimination, you are not “just like the others”. Of course, we are all the same on the inside, for there is almost a gender identity for each human being. But on the outside that changes. It changes as soon as you get confronted with the dualism of gender, which structures society.

If you can’t identify as a man or a woman, you are left alone, as a strange beast unable to cope with its “natural” habitat. And when you grow up and come to know that your identity needn’t conform to the dualism, you also need society to know. The habitat must structurally change to welcome you as an authentic member of society.

Bisexuals exist and asexuals exist too. And they are, along with all the other identities, political realities. The intimate dimension of gender remains so far a mystery,  and self-identification can help get through the trouble of alienation. But the category under which a person suffers the pain of systematic discrimination has no ambiguity.

A gender-revolution must be aware of the two battlefronts. One is intimate and based on empathy, compassion and altruism. The over is a categorical vindication of existence and equality.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha