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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Gender and Weight
August 29, 2010 - 4:12pm

“Clarissa” commented on last week’s post,

This is an enormously helpful post. But, I'd point out how quick you are (very quick -- as if being fat were a form of leprosy) to say that your son is big (hence necessitating shopping online) but not FAT. If he were fat, he'd have an entirely different orientation to the world. My brother grew up as the fat kid and only recently (at 45) lost a lot of weight -- a friend's son has anorexia (since treated successfully, so far). It might be different for men, but not all that much. Perhaps men who live their entire lives within the norm of masculine shape, behavior, looks don't obsess about these things or about pleasing others, but men who are outside those norms do. Please don't leap to the conclusion that women are "perhaps uniquely" concerned about looks and pleasing others, because it's just not true.

This is an important point, and one that I don’t think I addressed sensitively enough, so thanks to Clarissa for pointing it out. As I read this comment, I remembered the “fat kids” at my elementary school, both boys and girls, and how mercilessly they were sometimes teased. Having been the victim of teasing and shunning for other reasons, I know how pervasive and tenacious the effects of these experiences can be, and I’m sorry if I seemed to slight this.

I think, though, that there is still a difference between the experiences of males and females around weight and body issues. I truly did not equate “fat” with “leprosy.” My father was obese, and my brother has struggled with weight issues for most of his adult life. Both managed to have successful careers and social lives. My brother is enjoying a spectacular marriage to a brilliant woman who is also a knockout.

My father’s weight contributed to a serious cardiac condition; my brother has Type 2 diabetes and some joint problems. Both would diet periodically to address their health issues—but neither, as far as I know, suffered from job discrimination, social isolation, or feelings of low self-esteem because of their size.

One difference between them and Clarissa’s brother is, I think, the age at onset of the problem. My father and brother were both athletes in their youth — my father was a track star and my brother was a football player. It was only after they settled down and became more sedentary that the weight started to creep on. So they didn’t have to suffer the stigma of being “different” as kids.

For women who were thin as children, though, and gained weight for whatever reason in adulthood (smoking cessation, stress, hormonal issues, pregnancies, or simply the natural accumulation of pounds that sometimes comes with aging and a slower metabolism) there is still tremendous pressure to look like a sixteen-year-old model.

Again, this is not to slight men’s experiences of being social outcasts for any reason. It’s no fun for anyone. But I think the problem is compounded for women because even now, we’re brought up to feel that a large part of our self-worth depends on pleasing others, no matter how smart and accomplished we may be in other areas of our lives. It’s okay for men to be computer geeks or mad scientists — they might also wish they were slender and handsome, but it’s not a requirement for “success.” It’s simply a different story for women.

 

 

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