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Damned If We Do, Damned If We Don’t: Gender & the Cost of Obesity

Posted Sep 25 2010 6:14am

I’ve said it before:  women are in a Catch-22 when it comes to fitness.  We’re either deemed “anorexic” and “crazy” if we train harder than average, or we’re overweight, obese, etc. if we don’t.  Of course I firmly believe that people — both men and women — who are genuinely overweight and/or obese need to and most certainly can improve their health & medical conditions through both nutrition and physical activity, but recent news about the cost of obesity has once again shown that, for women, systematic discrimination based on our bodies still exists at both economic and social levels.

Turns out, despite almost equal medical costs related to being either overweight or obese, these conditions ultimately “cost” more for women than they do for men.

So just like women who are “in shape,” overweight and obese women face more discrimination than their equally overweight and obese male counterparts.  That’s not to say that overweight and obese men don’t face social discrimination — they certainly do.  But as women, we’re damned on multiple levels — being too fit and athletic is unacceptable unless we’re “athletes,” but if we’re not thin enough, we face higher social and economic costs than men.

This is why it bothers me to hear women, especially my female students, say that we no longer need feminism as a social movement in this country.  Clearly we still allow institutional sexism to shape our views of women’s bodies, and until that changes, we need to continue to point out and deconstruct the implicit and explicit inequities in our social, political and economic systems.

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