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Riots, Not Diets!

February 9, 2009

Written by Emily Frances and originally published in Fight Boredom #3, we only thought it apt that we re-publish it here, especially since we have, in the previous post, touched on beauty standards and the scrutiny of female celebrities in pop culture. Is punk culture a separate entity from the dominant culture? We’d like to think so, but the reality is that the former is ensconced in the latter, and if we want to change the world, we must first look within.

The below article opines on an issue which is oft-unrecognized and possibly taboo in the punk/radical/anarchist community, albeit from a Western perspective, but is still extremely pertinent and needs to be addressed.

What do you picture when you think of the ideal radical?

I’ll tell you what we come up with in my community. Skinny, white, pretty, young. Messy hair, tight clothes covered in patches. Unshaven. Piercings and tattoos. This is the unspoken “beauty” standard in radical communities.

In Raleigh, the wingnuts mental health collective, along with the Cooch Care women’s health collective, organized an event called “Riots Not Diets: A Day of Radical Body Acceptance”. That is the first thing we talked about. What are the standards of appearance in the radical community? What happens if you don’t fit the mold? And what kind of pressure does it put on people who don’t fit those standards?

In mainstream culture, it’s acceptable — and actually expected — to hate the way you look, especially if you’re a woman. If you eat more than a salad, you’re supposed to grasp at your stomach and exclaim, “oh, I shouldn’t have eaten so much!” You’re supposed to talk about how little you’re going to eat the next day, and how much you’re going to exercise. These things are normal. But in the radical community, we’re supposed to be “above” these things. We know all the right answers, we know all about oppression. We, as feminists, know that the diet industry — and all of advertising, really — is patriarchal, capitalist bullshit. We know these things.

But the fact is that, even in our communities, there is still a hierarchy based on appearance. So not only is there pressure to look a certain way, but there’s pressure to act like we don’t care about beauty standards.

So we know these things, they make sense on paper, or in our conversations around the dinner table. But when I go to conferences, people avoid me because I’m fat and kind of dress like a hippie. And suddenly, I feel like shit. Because these activists, these supposedly enlightened people, assume something about me that they don’t like. Maybe they think that I’m lazy and greedy. I couldn’t possibly bike or be vegan. Obviously. Because I’m fat. What the fuck, y’all?

It all started when I read this article online about eating disorders in radical communities. I found it about a week ago after a close friend (and housemate in our activist collective) went into an eating disorders treatment facility, and it hit so close to home that I read it five times in one day. I brought it to the mental health collective and shared it with them. It sparked a big conversation, which turned into planning the event.

So after talking about the beauty standards, we talked about eating disorders in the radical community. I know five people, off the top of my head, who are dealing with an eating disorder of some kind. They’re all anarchists who should, supposedly, be above that. Right? Obviously not. Because none of us were raised in complete isolation from society, we got all the brainwashing that everyone else did. We still have voids that we fill with food. Even more so, being hyperaware of the evils of the world, we still feel like we need to be in control of something, and for some people, that something becomes food.

The question that came up in the workshop was, what can we do? What needs to be done? Can we fight someting like this, when it’s still such a taboo topic? Two different women said, “This. Discussions, events like this. We need to get rid of the shame around all of this. We need to talk. This event is exactly what we need right now.” And my eyes teared up, because, shit, we did something right.

So that’s what you can do. Talk about it, don’t assume that your friends are “too smart” to fall into these traps, or that they know too much about the patriarchal bullshit media to succumb to those pressures. If there’s open dialogue, then people will be more aware, and more importantly, they’ll know that it’s not taboo. So when they start to feel weird about their bodies, or get weird food habits, they’ll know who they can go to and say, “hey, can you check it on me?” They’ll know that they’re not the only ones dealing with it. If we get these topics out in the open [without judgement], they won’t feel so ashamed, and people won’t be so afraid to ask for the help they need.

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