The big issues

Self portrait

Moving to Indonesia has been a time for self-reflection... blog style.

My arse has always been sizable, and I have always had a beer belly, even before the first pint of amber ever passed through my lips. In other words, I’m a fat chick (or “curvy” “larger” “plus size” or whatever other euphemism you want to use to describe being a person who needs to buy those knickers that Bridget Jones was embarrassed about wearing).

It’s taken a while for me to feel relatively comfortable with this, and I’m probably still somewhat in denial. And yes, I try and be healthy, but frankly team sports don’t rate highly on my personal priority list and I really like food. So judge away if you want… head over to the Daily Telegraph to join the chorus of people throwing around lines like “lazy burdens on the taxpayer” and “strain on the health system”. Have fun.

This blog rant isn’t about that.

It’s about how the environment around you, whether it’s political or cultural, can really mess with your body image and feelings of self worth.

In Australia, when the mainstream media decided the “obesity epidemic” was the topic de jour (along with climate change and Britney Spears’ mental health), I felt indignation that the government was politicizing womens’ bodies for political gain. While I appreciated the public health message, I felt that a lot of the coverage was instead focused on how larger people had somehow failed to meet some sort of silent criteria of what an acceptable body was, rather than trying to formulate policy that increased enthusiasm for healthy lifestyle choices and had an emphasis on boosting self esteem.

While my gung-ho femmo exterior was indignant, internally the continual coverage made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It was that kind of nagging self-doubt that you hope you grow out of when you stop reading teen mags, but unfortunately, it tends to follow you for life and pop out whenever provoked by external forces.

My worst nightmare became seeing my stomach appear on one of those montages of fat people trundling around the CBD used to provide filler vision for TV news reports.

But when the agenda changed, I forgot to completely hate on my body every time I looked in the mirror… for a while. Until I moved to Indonesia a month ago, where I stuck out like a sore thumb. Cue massive self doubt once again.

The majority of women here are naturally petite and naturally drop dead gorgeous. And a lot of men here really enjoy staring at white women in a way that makes you wonder if you accidentally dressed as a porn star when you went to buy bottled water from the shop.

This is also a country that is considering laws that could deem swimsuits and traditional dance to be illegal.

The pressure to dress modestly to be culturally sensitive stimulates an unspoken shame about exposing the body and starts to make you preoccupied with hiding all your flaws to try in the hope of attracting less scary stares.

After a few weeks, I have started to get ambivalent about being gawked at, and my neuroses are once again subsiding, but it made me think about how much of a role the social and political agenda around you can have on your body image and feelings of self worth.

Has anywhere in the world really made any progression in reducing the objectification of women’s bodies?

And now that I am feeling more relaxed in Indonesia, have I just gotten used to a new culture of objectification?


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2 Responses to “The big issues”

  1. Mr. Scotch Says:

    It’s not what you see, it’s what you get 🙂

  2. sansicarus Says:

    You’d probably need to go somewhere like North Korea, which has virtually no advertising (posters and banners of the glorious leader are an exception there). And do we need to make a distinction between sexual objectification and being self-conscious about weight here? They’re two very different things.

    Sexual objectification is talking about regarding someone, be it man or woman, as a sexual object, divorced from their individuality or humanity. (“Objectification”, on it’s own, is something else entirely, and arguably one of the cornerstones of existence).

    The discrimination against or targetting of overweight people which is becoming increasingly vogue is more of a judgement. In one sense it’s similar to the campaigns against smokers – for some people being overweight is both a serious health issue and a choice. But on the other hand, there are also genetic factors at play which make it difficult for some people to maintain their weight at healthy levels. This isn’t a choice, and so discrimination here is akin to racial discrimination.

    I wonder if part of it comes down to whether or not we’ll comfortable in our own skins? Advertising and the media are here to stay. They’re always going to challenge the way we look at ourselves, and anyone with a healthy sense of self who still feels uncomfortable should possibly take a look at why that may be.

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