10 November 2010

Representing fat and class

Just a quick note about representations of fat and class.

I saw this image today, I don't know who it's by, so can't credit it. It's an updated version of a much older Pyramid of Capitalist System illustration produced in 1911 in the Industrial Workers of the World's newspaper.

I was intrigued to see that the bourgeoisie is represented as entirely fat in the modern version, but not so much in the older illustration. There's a slightly portly stuffed shirt, but the rest of the older gang are normatively-sized.

Why do you think this is?

My suspicion is that fat stereotypes of laziness, greed, and corruption have more currency today than they did in the past. My friend Bird la Bird commented that if the more recent image was a truer depiction of class embodiment then it would be the proles who are fat rather than the middle class.

I'm annoyed by this image, to me it represents the failure of many people in the radical left to question pernicious stereotypes. By representing fat in this way they also fail to consider the ways that class (and other attributes) intersects with different kinds of struggle. I kind of feel that it's a self-hating image too, what is so wrong with depicting heroic class warriors as fat? They've tried to show women. Alas, analyses of race or disability or sexuality, to name but a few things, are also missing from this image, as though they never have anything to do with class. It's really limited.

There's another similar illustration worth remarking upon too. It's busier and more complex, but sure enough, one of the capitalists at the top is kind of chunky, the fattest person in the image. It's hard to see the detail clearly in this link but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of diversity represented. I love prole.info but you'd think they could represent some working class disabled people, for example. No fat people in their working class! Maybe they're just dependent on the available clipart and its limitations to make this image. Still, it sucks.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's a representation of a more modern understanding of Marxism that encompasses the entire world and it is depicting Americans and other first world countries as fat.

Charlotte Cooper said...

It could be. I still think this is an unhelpful stereotype of fatness.

Charlotte Cooper said...

I've thought about this comment again, six months later! I want to add that this 'global view' is also wrong because there are plenty of people in countries oppressed by the West who are fat, and there are parts of questionably racist fat activist discourse that also depict this Other as fat. I'm sick of the fat american stereotype - what about Hollywood? It's really not enough to present these stereotypes as truth.

Anonymous said...

Don't mind me commenting on an old post, but I spent a few years in the Philippines, and fat poor people, especially fat poor women, are not uncommon. It's actually a well-documented public health issue where women in families with food security problems feed their husbands and children what they can obtain in the way of meat, fish, and vegetables, and for themselves, they fill up on cheap white rice splashed with a trace of soy sauce or other flavoring to create the illusion of a meal. They tend to put on weight, but suffer malnutrition because they're not getting enough of most kinds of food. You also get extremely thin poor people, but it's not rare to get undernourished food-insecure fat people.

So yeah, poverty and fatness have a complicated relationship all over the world, not just in first world countries.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks for your comment.

I think it's true that there is a class politics of food, but the model of food justice that you are proposing carries class-based fatphobia within it by reducing the complexity and variety of fat embodiment to an idea that 'they don't eat right'. Whilst there are statistical correlations between fat and low socioeconomic staus, the use of a much-contested energy balance model (calories in + activity = body size) to explain this is not enough.

I would suggest moving away from an argument that problematises fatness, people come in all sizes, fat does not need eradicating. What is required is a form of social justice which recognises the humanity of everyone, regardless of body size, and seeks to understand the complexity of hatred, stigma, discrimination and resistance.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed that in the third image you linked to, the busy one, the fattest person in the image seems to be a man 5 people in from the bottom right.