Politics and Ideology

This final category takes a broader sweep than the previous sections of the analysis; it refers to the value systems of the participants and to society as whole.

The first theme is essentialism versus androgyny. Participants were coded as speaking as essentialists when they equated feminine and masculine characteristics as synonymous with male and female usually in a stereotypical fashion. When speaking from the theme of androgyny, participants acknowledge overlap between male and female roles.

Participants tended to define themselves as feminine by negation or in other words what they were not. For example, “I am not a sissy little feminine, like I am not going to cry about everything….” “Um, to think of femininity you think of pettiness, giggling and low intelligence…” on the other hand, masculine traits were spoken of in a positive light. ”People think girls are masculine if they are really intelligent.” “ I have always said I was very masculine in the sense that I am ambitious…I like it when it is stimulating and competitive.”

The perspective of androgyny however drew on both female and male qualities and traits. (“I think I have a mixture of both.”) Participants assessed male and female roles as both biological and from a psycho-social perspective.

Some participants were asked what it meant to be a feminist. Their responses can be divided into two different camps which sometimes overlapped in one person. The first perspective is ideological feminism. Overall, ideological feminism was viewed negatively —“..those feminists, lesbian man-haters…” However, one participant viewed ideological feminism more positively, or at least with a sense of humour:

“A lot, like his aunty, she hates, she will not call the mailbox mail. It’s her femail. [The mailbox?] Yep. It’s a femail. Yeah, ’cause it’s called mail so it’s femail. [Oh] Her e-mail is female. She’s such a feminist. [Does she call herself feminist?] Oh yeah. ‘I’m going to check my femail? [laughs] I got to check my femail.’ [laughter] It’s really cute, I’m like, ‘check your what?’ She doesn’t want to call the mail male, so she calls it her femail. [laughter] It’s kind of cute actually. [And did you say she hates men?] Oh, she hates them.” (Anita)

Pragmatic feminism, however, was presented consistently as positive and acceptable. Pragmatic feminism referred to women’s rights, pay equity and other workplace concerns—“it just means to be equal.”

Participants were considered to speak from a political voice to the extent that they could locate their experiences in a context broader than the individual. For example, the following quotation suggests that the collective has responsibility to lift the pressure off women to meet the thin ideal:

“Um … Maybe if the media put out a more diverse or more of a variety of women. Shapes and sizes and all kinds of different women as opposed to just this one straight look. And … just make people aware. I know they’ve been doing that more so than they did when I was young and I think a lot more people that are 14,15,16 are more aware of what’s going on then when I was at that age. I think that’s really good. So I guess continue with that kind of stuff (Louise)”.

In sharp contrast, the following participant refuses the idea that she has experienced racism which is systemic. She is unable to see her life and how she is treated in political terms:

“Racism has never been a problem for me. There’s this one kid, he called me, um, a nigger. And he was riding on his bike and I took a stick and I put it through the (spokes and he went flying off his bike. [text removed] So that’s the only…I’ve ever had problems. It’s never really a problem for me, it was like, whatever. [Yeah. Why did he?] Some kids, they just … it’s because, because of maybe their background and how they’re raised. I mean if you’re hearing words when they were young, eventually they’re going to use that word they might say it was not swearing at you, they just say it because it’s what they’ve grown up with. [text removed] But … I think that’s another thing, how society can be like that. I mean … I’ve walked into a store and been watched. Just like, I walk into Holt’s and people just eye me to see if I’m going to pick up anything [text removed]…I just like wanted to go and buy a bra or something and this woman asks me, [makes funny voice] ‘Can I help you?’ [laughter] They’re so uptight about it. [Yeah. So you feel like some of that is…] Stereotypical …[Stereotyping, yeah.] But that’s the other thing, is that … that didn’t come out of nowhere, they didn’t say, because you’re young you’re going to steal something or because you’re black you’re going to rob someone, it’s because that … there’s a problem, like in Jamaica now there’s … all the people, if you go to jail, and you’re bad, wherever you came from you’re sent back. That’s why Jamaica’s having so many problems, because once you misbehave they take you out of jail and ship you back to Jamaica. That’s what’s happening. So that the crime is really bad there and my grandma lives there now, but she’s OK…” (Jasmine)

Participants described unspoken rules about food, weight and shape (FWS) issues as well as the ways they resist these rules in their lives. The unspoken or implicit rules are the dominant theme in this pair.

The following examples describe the rules theme: there are certain clothes that fat women should not wear (‘she’s too big to be wearing that’), fat people should be positive about exercise even if they do not participate in it, overweight people should experience some degree of appearance dissatisfaction, thin women cannot understand the experiences of plus size women unless they have been large themselves , fat women should not be too confident, it is important to conform to standards of normality and constantly be working on improving yourself, and, women have to wait to be chosen by men. In the following quotation this participant moves between both rules and resistance themes. She speaks from the rules theme as she concludes that despite her attempts to resist pressure to be thin, she is not willing to suffer the social consequences of being fat:

“Like I never really accomplished being like: yeah, I reject all society’s ideals. I’ve never been like yeah, da da da. I’ve been always like, yeah, I really try to not think about it but it never really works all that much….[text removed]… I know it’s wrong in my mind. I tell myself, yeah, you’re being stupid, you’re being weak, but at the same time I’m like, but what am I going to do? Get fat so people can criticize me?” (Madeline)

Overall, participants found it hard to imagine being totally satisfied with their appearance and even if they approached this possibility there would always be someone else judging them negatively. In terms of prevention, the following quotation suggests that hearing the stories of other women who have struggled with eating disorders was very effective:

“We were never taught how to do it, like how … to do it, but in grade 9

we had this whole thing on anorexia and we had people from Sheena’s Place

come in and like talk to us and everything … I think … because at my school they started it at grade 9, that we’ve all like … like we all remember, like … these people like that came from Sheena’s place they told us like the most horrific stories ever. [So they were actual survivors of eating disorders?] Yeah. And they told us like the most horrific stories ever, and I don’t think … I think a lot of the stories stick with a lot of people…[text removed]…having someone who actually like dealt with anorexia and that like was really powerful, hearing her story and listening to everything she said and everything that she lost, like she lost so much from it … like she lost a lot of friends and she lost her self-esteem and her life and everything, and just hearing that made me like … really like, I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to lose my friends my family, it’s not something that I want to do.” (Joyce)

Participants consistently acknowledged their use of the phrase “I feel fat’ —a feeling that was triggered by a variety of things including a new friend who is considered pretty:

“[…what causes you to think about your body weight or shape, either good or bad?] I’d say my friends a lot. I’d say 50 per cent of our conversations are about body weight. [Wow.]And how to lose body weight but …[How do you talk about it?] I’d just be like, oh, it will just come up somehow and naturally the conversation goes: ‘oh, I finally met so and so’. And I’m like, ‘yeah, I guess she’s pretty but’ — and I’m like, ‘oh, she makes me feel so fat or something’! And I’ll be like, ‘oh yeah, one of those girls’ or something, and then I’ll be like, ‘um, oh I wish I could just (da da da )’. And I’m like,‘me too’. [You wish you could just what?] Just, you know diet, I wish I could just stay on a diet. I tried like doing it last week and, and I told my friend, ‘like bulimia doesn’t make you lose weight because what happens is that you eat, your body hangs onto the nutrition and then you throw up the food. You should just stop’. And she’s like,‘yeah, I have to but I can’t!’ ” (Madeline)

The physical and psychological dimensions of ‘feeling fat’ are described in the following passage:

“You feel gross, you feel like you’re one of those people who can’t move properly because they’re so fat like. [It feels extreme.] It’s not just that, it’s like you feel lethargic, you feel like this big, like, whale, that can’t move, you’re not active or full of vitality, you’re just blah (makes disgusted sound). What I mean, I’m like, oh, I feel really fat today. Yeah, I don’t feel good about myself, I feel my legs look disgusting and I can’t move because I’m so gross.” (Madeline)

The second part of the pair ‘I feel fat” is the phrase “you are so thin.” In the following quotation this participant explains when this phrase can be acknowledged as a compliment and when it has to be denied:

“Well it depends. If it was somebody that was … overweight and they lost weight and somebody told them, ‘wow, you look thin’, then that person would be like, ‘oh, thanks!’ My sister’s been like, Oh my God, she’s been glowing for like 10 days straight because everybody’s been noticing. She’s getting all this attention now and she’s just like,’ wow, I look great. Thanks.’ You know? Like people are complimenting her, which is good, but if you’re thin already and somebody says, ‘oh, you look thin’ – then they would definitely negate it. Definitely. [So what’s the difference there?] They worked to get to where they were going whereas if you’re thin, you’re just naturally thin. It seems like you’re not putting any effort into being thin, you’re just thin! [Right. So if I’m naturally thin and you say I’m thin and I say, ‘thanks, yeah I am’ — then what does that say about me?] You’re cocky.” (Louise)