Is Dieting Anti-Feminist?

I grew up without a scale in the house. My mother threw it away when I was 8 years old because she didn’t want me to become a slave to it like she had as a teen. I also didn’t have any Barbies growing up because my mom didn’t want me to have a distorted body image. Hey, makes sense to me: I got My Little Ponies instead … they have stumpy legs and plump bubble butts and are probably a much better body model for little girls. As a result, I grew up with a solid, healthy body image and a body to match: I’m totally average—thick, but not fat; strong, not skinny.

However, six-plus years of working as a writer/sedentary lump accelerated my metabolism’s natural decline. Despite a daily yoga practice, I’ve never been an especially active person and having a sit-in-a-chair career is without a doubt my biggest health liability.
I eat healthy foods. My diet is mostly vegetarian (I eat fish a few times a week), and I eat a lot of vegan food (thanks to a strict-vegan husband). I rarely touch fast food, rarely drink alcohol/soda/Starbucks, and my main vices have been sweets, nuts, and oily ethnic foods like Thai and Indian. My diet is infinitely healthier than the Standard American Diet of deep fried everything with a bucket-sized side of carbonated sugar.
Despite all that, though, I’d steadily gained weight for the last five years … three or four pounds a year. I wasn’t terribly overweight, but I could already see how my lifestyle and eating habits had become the most unhealthy part of my life. And, well, my chin was starting to disappear into my neck.
I started wrestling with myself: I felt unhealthy — and then felt guilty for feeling that way. Was I a victim of the patriarchal societal pressures my mother tried so hard to shield me from? Then again, does fighting the patriarchy mean stuffing myself? Was I buying into some clucky NOT ME style national weight obsession by feeling like I wasn’t eating right? Then again, since when is eating healthier a national obsession? Americans eat terribly!
I knew that I was eating more food than I needed to, but the mere idea of portion control brought up an enormous set of issues for me. As the feminist daughter of a feminist mother, I’ve always felt like it was my duty not to think about food. Not only a duty — it was something I owed to my best friend who’d suffered through anorexia and bulimia in high school, complete with a month of hospitalization. It was my job to be the one who held down the fort of healthy eating, setting a good example for women who were crushed under the thumb of eating disorders and weight issues.

Dating Down

Remember when choosing a mate was easy? You and I weren’t alive then, of course, but back in the day – way back – when humans were just starting out, our needs were simple. All a man needed was a fertile female; all a woman needed was a genetically fit male who could provide her with resources while she carried out the metabolically expensive task of carrying, birthing, and raising offspring (we’ve always been the more complicated gender). His politics, his taste in music, his values – none of those things mattered; everything was streamlined. I’ll make babies, you keep me alive. Done deal.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, a lot has changed in the last 10,000 years. You know, we talk now; we’ve industrialized; we use birth control. Human life is a whole new ballgame these days. One clear sign of this change may be the fact that there are more and more couples out there who seem to reverse this deeply ingrained relationship pattern. Think Britney and Kevin, or Ashley Judd and her NASCAR racing hubby Dario Franchitti (for real – note that this headline actually says, “Ashley Judd’s Husband wins blah blah blah…” – not his own name!). Or, if you like your relationships fictional, Miranda Hobbes and Steve Brady on “Sex and the City,” Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court in “Say Anything,” Will Hunting in his janitor phase and that Skylar chick played by Minnie Driver in “Good Will Hunting.”

It makes sense, of course, that relationships like these are cropping up more and more these days. Women are kicking some serious ass when it comes to education and accomplishment. Women are, for example, outnumbering men on more and more college campuses, and in many schools they outperform men.  In time, this pattern may tip scales in the working world and beyond, but even now, we’ve got the cultural upper hand.

Despite all this great progress, though, old habits die-hard – our gender’s preference for hooked-up men seems to linger: one American study found that women still pay more attention to ambition, education, and earning capacity in a mate than men do (appropriately, men still care primarily about physical signs of fecundity).

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