Fat White Femininity and its Racist History

Updated on July 9, 2020
Lisa Hallam profile image

Lisa has a big passion for fighting against social inequity. She is currently completing her BA in Psychology and Gender & Women's Studies.

“Homogenized representations of “whitified” feminine beauty become normalized and function as models against which women continually measure, judge, discipline and correct themselves.” (Deliovsky, 57)

It has been known for quite some time that being associated with the terms “fat”, “obese”, “chubby”, or anything of the alike carries a heavily negative connotation. The importance placed upon a beautiful appearance is much higher than that placed upon the health of a human being. This spreads through multiple disciplines and industries around the world. White femininity has become the basis of ideal beauty and what women should strive to look like, especially with the beauty industry which publishes “ideal beauty” has been dominated by primarily white individuals for a long time. “In view of Western ideals, it is white women who are primarily represented as thin, blonde and beautiful in these images.” (Deliovsky, 55). Although it is possible for fat white women to accept their fat white femininity and their bodies as respectable, fat white women mislead the customs of whiteness as their bodies go against the scheme that is white supremacy. Fat white women’s “lack of attractiveness” due to lack of thinness lowers the striven perfection surrounding white supremacy as they are systematically deemed undesirable and offensive when they are expected to represent excellence, stemming from a deeply racist history.

A significant portion of what surrounds fat white femininity as a concept is fat women’s rejection from certain activities because they are deemed to be for thin people only. Participating in said activities as a fat white woman anyways is a type of rebellion that is important for fat white femininity as it directs a point across to those who believe that fatness is a legitimate reason to hide oneself away from certain experiences. As Lind states, “Fat people who’re angry about sizeism, both institutional and individual … when words fail, aim it at those who’re immune to logic, reject social justice, or care not about the bigotry of their words and actions.” (186). To participate in "wrong" activities acts as an exposure for fat white femininity, “opposing the social expectation to engage in self-hatred and social exclusion. Coming out as fat talks back to the silent assumptions that maintain fatphobia.” (Lind, 185). It is as if because fat women do not live up to their “moral role to lose weight” which acts as “a form of social regulation that through the contemporary regimes of beauty, diet and exercise train the female body into docility and obedience to cultural demands.” (Deliovsky, 51), she suddenly becomes less of a person. There is so much of a focus on a woman's body size because it is seemingly incorrect and supposedly needs to be shamed, silenced, and corrected in order for her to deserve a proper status as a white woman. “There is a constant self-surveillance and self-management in service of this beauty myth. When women do not give the appearance of self-care and weight management there can be self-condemnation and condemnation from family and society for having “let oneself go”.” (Deliovsky, 53). A woman's courageous actions which go against the movement of shame and silence normally placed onto fat women is helping to starve the bias and high regard placed upon thin white women and their supremacy in white femininity. “By staying fat, staying visible, white fat activists perform their whiteness poorly, and in doing so, render whiteness more recognizable therefore rejectable.” (Lind, 192). A woman will consistently feel the threat of the normalized view that is fatphobia if she puts herself into these spaces where fat girls supposedly not allowed. She will defy the normal behaviours of a fat girl, constantly challenging these societal expectations surrounding body image and fat white femininity. It is important that she continues to love herself regardless of the abrogating views and thoughts from others. Which of course is a valuable trait to have, it does not make her immune to the impacts of fatphobia which likely has a lot of relation to that “in contemporary Western culture the regime of feminine regulation centers on a universal, homogenized ideal of beauty that encapsulates the domination of a western beauty aesthetic represented by, for example, the Barbie doll, or the countless variations of idealized white feminine body.” (Deliovsky, 50).

Apropos fat white femininity specifically, there seems to be differences in fatphobia surrounding feminine people of colour, stemming back to colonialism. Lind states a brief explanation of how fatphobia is based upon racist reasonings: “Africa and Africans were associated with fatness in the European cultural imagination in the nineteenth century, which led directly to European women beginning to diet as a way of pursuing a beauty ideal that distinguished itself from colonial sensibilities.” (189). This of course was the beginning of the creation of the white feminine ideal of beauty and allure, that being thinness, fragility, and subtlety. A women’s voluptuousness is associated with the immoral exoticization of people of colour, meaning that a fat white women is essentially a disgrace to her race by allegedly “ruining her white supremacy” by not following the “correct guidelines” surrounding her beauty. Fatphobia sits on top of an eminently racist history, with thinness coming to be from European women wanting to distance themselves from African women. Considering the small number of women of colour that participate in the beauty industry (as they ostensibly do not portray ideal beauty as ideal beauty is so highly associated with fairness), they are now also expected to live up to these white feminine beauty ideals. “Whiteness makes a strong appeal. It flatters white people by associated them with (what they define as) the best in human beauty and virtue. The very idea of a best an of striving towards it accords with the aspirational structure of whiteness. Fat Studies scholars have begun to consider the aspirational drive for whiteness alongside the aspirational imperative to lose weight, drawing clear connections between systemic fatphobia and related projects of white supremacy and European imperialism.” (Lind, 189). The racist roots underneath diet culture and the toxic fight against obesity have caused fatness to be associated as a common aspect of African and African-American women, leading to a further segregation between whiteness and people of colour. Fat white femininity differs from fatness in feminine people of colour as fat white femininity is still stemming and benefiting from a power structure. Women of colour commonly must “respond to the terrorization of white beauty norms” (Deliovsky, 50) and internalize and adapt to the delicacy and lightness associated with the ill use of power surrounding whiteness in the beauty industry. People of colour tend to “situate their experiences of fatphobia within a broader discussion of racialization, while white people describe fatphobia in seemingly race-neutral terms. “(Lind, 183), accentuating the point that although fat white femininity holds a strong amount of fatphobia underneath the surface, fat white women do not have to experience the racism that so thickly underlies fatphobia. As Deliovsky calls this cultural dialogue “normative white femininity -- the white capitalist patriarchal compulsion to adopt styles and attitudes consistent with an imposed white feminine aesthetic.” (50).

Although it is possible for fat white women to accept their fat white femininity and their bodies as respectable, fat white women mislead the customs of whiteness as their bodies go against the scheme that is white supremacy. Fat white women’s “lack of attractiveness” due to lack of thinness lowers the striven perfection surrounding white supremacy as they are systematically deemed undesirable and offensive when they are expected to represent excellence, stemming from a deeply racist history. A part of being fat in a thin society is having to constantly explain one’s reasons for why their body is “wrong”. A woman's strength to reject the compulsory thinness associated with societal and familial expectations and overlooking the resentment from others helps to dispute the disseminated cycles of self-animosity that is so strongly provoked onto women.

Works Cited

Deliovsky, Kathy. “Normative White Femininity: Race, Gender and the Politics of Beauty.” Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice, vol. 33, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2008.

Lind, Emily. “Queering Fat Activism: A Study in Whiteness.” Thickening Fat, edited by May Friedman et al., Routledge, 16 Sept. 2019, pp. 183–194.

© 2020 Lisa Hallam

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