At the intersection of gender and class oppression is a plague we rarely consider, distractingly ravaging our community’s greatest potential agitators and dissidents. 10% of Americans suffer from disordered eating at some point in their lives, with rates highest among women, sexual minorities, and transgender individuals. This epidemic of the deadliest mental illnesses clearly stems at a cultural level from capitalism.
The logic behind disordered eating is flawed but simple. Happiness comes from social acceptance and outward appearance is a barrier to that acceptance (therein that happiness). Thus, the afflicted individual takes to disordered eating behaviors in the hopes that happiness will be achieved. The want for happiness is innately human; capitalism cannot be blamed for it. Likewise, the want for social acceptance is a key part of the human condition. The role capitalism plays in this thinking is the perception and reality of outward appearance as a barrier to social acceptance. The barrier is constructed by the bourgeoisie and can only be dismantled through radical self-love.
Beauty standards are set by individuals in power and are intrinsically linked to class. For example, eurocentrism in conceptualizations of beauty only makes sense when the wealthy are predominantly Anglo-Saxon. We see this shift over time regarding weight as obesity changes association. It was once a characteristic of wealth; today, it is linked with poverty. Not only is extraneous fat seen as an indication of lower socioeconomic status but also as a moral failure. Foods, even in our most benign discussion of them, are labeled “good” and “bad” and capitalist branding of said foods reinforces this misconception. One cannot go into a grocery store without seeing certain “virtuous” foods being advertised as such, in some cases even baring halos. Thus, the message is clear that one’s eating habits are most linked not with hunger or cravings but with morality. To be fat is the inability to practice self-denial.
Worse yet, consider the capitalist faced with systemic inequality. She is asked why some succeed and others do not and she replies that those who succeeded worked hard, while those who did not succeed must have been lazy. This logical fallacy allows her to ignore the oppressions created and reinforced by her precious economic system as she dodges the question. The flaw is never the system but the work ethic of the individual. And fatness is, in her mind, intrinsically linked to laziness. This singular moral flaw is, in the capitalist narrative, the only barrier to success and, thusly, the most egregious flaw a person can have. It is no wonder that capitalists detest excess fat to the extent that they waste millions each year on surgeries, diets, and personal trainers.
And so we see that the eating disorder is a logical conclusion of capitalist rhetoric regarding weight and morality. It stems from a fear of being perceived as proletarian, immoral, and lazy, as the capitalist narrative demands those perceptions. Without them, the entire industry of weight-loss would crumble and, even worse, their feeling of superiority over the obese would not be justified. Meanwhile, without the weight-based feelings of insecurity or obsession over weight to distract the largely-proletarian fat people of America, we might rise up and topple the system altogether.
I propose that fatness is not a moral flaw but an act of revolution. To exist daily in a body which is inherently anticapitalist, which inverts the flawed narrative of class, laziness, beauty, and virtue, is bravery. Eating disorders cannot be ended in society until their premise, that becoming fat is a moral flaw which will cost one social acceptance and happiness, is publicly dismantled. We must show potential victims of this disease of capitalism, before it afflicts them, that fatness will not cost them their happiness, that fat people are as capable as anyone else, and that beauty is socially constructed by those in power. We must practice radical self-love not just for ourselves but for every young onlooker and for the destruction of the premises upon which the capitalist narrative is built.