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Unformatted text preview: QUEST, 1991, 43, 135-147 One Size Does Not Fit All, Or How I Learned to Stop Dieting and Love the Body Elizabeth Arveda Kissling The oppressiveness of current ideals concerning female body size and shape in Euro-American culture has been well documented. Prevalent ideals of thin- ness are physiologically difficult for many women to achieve, and available techniques for reducing are greater health risks than fatness. Yet the number of women who attempt to reduce their bodies continues to increase. This es- say analyzes America's obsession with thinness and its meanings for women's bodies and body identity. A summary of research challenging conventional beliefs about fetness is presented, followed by an exploration of the special meanings of fatness and slendemess for women in a culture that evaluates women on the basis of their appearance. The mind-body dualism experienced by women, especially fat women, in this environment is then discussed. An argument is made for rejecting the popular but unachievable and arbitrary standards of thinness and for abandoning the separation of mind and body inherent in the obsession with weight loss. / know no woman—virgin, mother, lesbian, married, celibate—whether she earns her keep as a housewife, a cocktail waitress, or a scanner of brain waves—for whom her body is not a fundamental problem: its clouded mean- ings, its fertility, its desire, its so-called frigidity, its bloody speech, its si- . lences, its changes and mutilations, its rapes and ripenings. There is for the first time today a possibility of converting our physicality into both knowl- edge and power. (Rich, 1976, p. 284) Whether or not I permitted myself to think of my self as a body at some earli- er time, I cannot deny that identity today. That identity offers my only means of entering and literally making sense of my past. (Mairs, 1989, pp. 8-9) Like most American women of my generation, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my body and trying to make it smaller at various times in my life. Like many American women, I developed this concern at an early age. I learned to weigh myself, to count calories, to feel guilty when I ate "bad" About the Author: Elizabeth Arveda Kissling is a doctoral candidate in the Depart- ment of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois, 244 Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright Street, Urbana, IL 61801. 135 136 KISSLING foods, and to compare my body to other bodies, both those around me and those in the mass media. I considered myself to be fat regardless of my weight and believed that my body was something I had to get control over. This control usually took the form of food restrictions and diets. I no longer remember the age at which I went on my first diet; it was before my first menstrual period....
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