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The feminist diet

  • 08 June 2012

There are certain places where beauty is extreme, and everyone seems to have it. One of those places is Tokyo, where I have been living. It is an affluent city, and as such, people-watching is like browsing a catalogue. The clothes are elegant and expensive, hair and makeup slick, footwear impossibly clean and for women, totally impractical. Last week I saw a woman on crutches on the train wearing heels. That's commitment.

The bodies underneath the carefully draped Italian linen are slender and lithe, observant of careful calorie control. Among these impeccably-dressed animatrons, I feel like a mass of pink flesh. Which, given my average size, is ridiculous. It would be ridiculous even if I were big. But having felt fat since before puberty, like most little girls exposed to the culture they're being trained to fit into, it's a feeling I'm used to, and one I prefer to ignore.

Sometimes it's impossible to ignore, though. Squeezing my own body fat in front of the mirror is a horrible, but familiar experience. Reflecting on the self-loathing involved makes me red with rage and embarrassment. I should be above that.

Today's women are united more by their collective disgust of their bodies than they are by any other factor. Many statistics consolidate this, a scary one being that 51 per cent of nine and ten-year-old middle-class girls in America feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.

Different strands of feminism, those which emphasise women's economic participation, peace activism, campaigns around sexual safety or sex work, or around women's health or parenting issues, consistently encounter women who can't identify with their subset of feminism. Perhaps they don't experience violence, or they have enough buying power to not feel economically isolated.

But all women know what it feels like to hate their bodies. To hate the only material thing they truly own, the vehicle with which they participate in life. It's truly absurd.

The preference for women's thinness is often thought of as a straight male preference. But given the variety and complexity of male sexualities, and the changing standards of beauty between generations and cultures, it is difficult to believe that there is one 'type' that straight men biologically prefer to look at.

The body-type plastered everywhere we care to look is long and bony, broad shouldered and with a hollowed-out chest. It is white. It might be truly attractive to some straight men, but if anyone's