The Feministing Five: Lesley Kinzel

Lesley Kinzel is a writer and has been writing on the topic of body politics, fat acceptance and social justice for many years. Currently a senior editor at xoJane.com, Kinzel also spent a lot of time at Fatshionista both as an online community member and later coming on as moderator.

Even more exciting is the release of Kinzel’s first book next month, cleverly titled Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body, published by Feminist Press. The book is an amazing (and quick!) read, blending both touching memoir and practical how-to guidelines easily. The stories Kinzel provides about growing up fat are moving to say the very least. Her book challenges popular opinion around fatness and obesity, including critiques of The Biggest Loser and Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign. Without a doubt, Kinzel forces readers to unpack lifelong-held beliefs about self-identity, acceptance and, most importantly, the size of jeans you own or the number on the scale. This is an issue that plagues everyone universally– no matter where you lie on the size spectrum. Kinzel’s book is absolutely relatable to anyone that has ever felt insecure about their body or the way they look– so, pretty much everyone.

I hope you all pre-order your copies of Two Whole Cakes, not only to challenge your own notions of body size and acceptance, but also so we can begin to alter public discourse around the topic. Eventually, we can force a cultural shift, normalizing all different body types and move our focus from shaming to celebrating.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Lesley Kinzel.

Anna Sterling: What pushed you to write this book?

Lesley Kinzel: Mostly I still write for myself. I work stuff out by writing it down. I’m an extreme introvert. Writing is one of the ways I process. It’s almost therapeutic. I had a pretty successful blog for a while there and I’ve had so much great feedback from people. I’d get a lot of emails from people saying, “I’m not fat, but your blog means a lot to me.” Here I’ve been thinking the only people that would relate to this would be people with directly similar experiences to my own and yet, it has turned out, apparently, a lot of people relate to it who have had different experiences. That was a motivating factor to get this out to a larger audience because if people are connecting to it and it’s helping them then that makes me very happy.

AS: How would you respond to someone saying, “Well, I’m just concerned about your health!” in terms of fat acceptance?

LK: We call that concern trolling. It’s a fairly popular response. It’s imposing your opinions or judgment or shaming on someone under the guise of doing it for their own good. That kind of reaction actually hurts people more than it helps people. That’s usually what I tell people in that circumstance where you have someone who is saying, “But I just care about your health!” Generally speaking my response is, “Well, you need to listen to me when I tell you what makes me feel healthy and if I tell you that continuously dieting and being obsessed with weight loss is incredibly unhealthy for me, you need to take me at my word that that’s true and you don’t get to say, ‘Well, you’re wrong if you feel better when you’re not dieting.’” Other people don’t get to tell you how to conduct your body and that’s actually true in a lot of arenas.

AS: What advice do you have for our readers who may be struggling with fat acceptance and/or body acceptance?

LK: Get rid of your scale! It’s only gonna make you unhappy. There is basically nothing useful from knowing that number. If you’re interested and you really want to feel good and healthy and awesome about yourself, you don’t need a scale to do that. If you’re not entirely happy with yourself physically right now, you can change your diet or become a vegetarian or not if you don’t want to. You can do more exercise if you find exercise that you like. We all have to explore and figure out what makes us feel the best that we individually can feel without ranking it by saying, “Well, this only counts if I’ve lost 15 lbs. I need that number to validate all the activity that I’ve been doing.” If you’re doing a physical act that you like, that’s going to have health benefits regardless what the number is. Lets just trust in the fact that if we’re doing things that make us feel physically good, then those are things that are good for us.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

LK: I’m gonna say Ramona Quimby because she is completely unbound by social constraints. I admire that in a person. I like people who are true to themselves even when that makes them a pain in the ass to everyone else

Real life heroines? Pretty much everyone who blogs on fat acceptance including, but not limited to, Marianne Kirby, Kate Harding, and Hanne Blank. This underworld is creating this cultural change, even though it’s slow moving and it’s going to take a while to really take effect. By representing ourselves, we are putting out there the idea that fat people are not these horrible trolls who are miserable and don’t deserve to be seen. All of those people are my heroines.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and you get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

LK: Fresh raspberries because it’s basically my favorite thing in the world to eat. I’ll say coconut water even though they’ll probably have that on the island. For feminist, I’m trying to think of someone who would know something about survival. Hmmm. I’ll stick with Emma Goldman.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I guess I am just sort of confused, I really don’t want this to come across as accusatory or anything! I just have some questions, and I understand your message and think that it is great but I’m not sure I’m understanding the message correctly. I guess for me, it seems as dieting is a black or white issue in fat activism (all dieting is bad!) and I just know it is easy to eat consciously and healthfully without gaining weight. I know that if people would rather just eat and be overweight that is their decision, though I just don’t understand it? (and again I’m really just confused not trying to be antagonistic!)
    Is the message “dieting is evil” “fat is healthy” (I would take issue with that of course) or “live and let live”? Thank you!

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Dieting =/= eating healthily, is one thing that can be helpful to understand. The word “dieting” is associated in our culture with short-term crash diets that have the purpose of making you lose weight. A “healthy diet” in general is a different thing, it implies that your long-term eating habits are tweaked a bit to optimize your health- and “health” here is not defined solely by your weight. There is nothing wrong with the latter.

      It might also be helpful to realize that “fat” is a social category, while “obese” is a medical one. While there are problems with some of the current medical systems that determine obesity- like BMI- most fat activists generally agree that obesity (if correctly defined) is correlated with health problems (though there is some disagreement about whether this implies causation). Meanwhile, “fat” is a word that is levelled against people based solely on their appearance, without knowledge of their medical details. For instance, the singer Adele is seen as fat even though her BMI is in the “normal” range and she doesn’t display any health problems.

      In terms of fat (or even thin) people that do eat unhealthily (many do not), I would say that the attitude is “live and let live”. While there are definitely benefits to putting health first, it shouldn’t be seen as some sort of moral crime to not do that, if you are only feeding yourself. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that some people can’t eat a consistently healthy diet for various reasons (poverty, mental disorders*), or that they do but still become fat because they can’t exercise as easily (physically diabled). The overall message is that the current witch-hunt against people who are seen as fat is unfounded.

      *This doesn’t often get brought up as much as poverty but it can have effects. I ate essentially nothing when left to my own devices (depressed/OCD here), and I have seen it go to the other way, with emotional eating or even things like pica.

      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        This is an absolutely beautiful response. I wish the whole world could read it. You did an excellent job of explaining this!

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Hi Femiwhaat,

      I had the same initial reaction as you. I think Lesley is trying to break the assumption of fat = unhealthy. It is possible for someone overweight to be healthy (no high blood pressure, no diabetes, etc.). Just as it is possible for someone who is skinny to be unhealthy. Weight is not always the best indicator of health. I do agree however that in some cases it is an indicator of poor health. Perhaps our job as feminists is to allow these men and women to choose their lifestyle for themselves. It reminds me of the pro-choice slogan “trust women”. We need to trust them to make the best decisions for themselves, including their diet and their health. The line becomes blurry for me when people consciously make decisions they know will negatively impact their health (skinny and fat people alike), and this is beyond having a burger for lunch every once and while. And with children, we certainly don’t want them to develop bad eating habits that will develop into serious problems later on. For us to consciously make a decision about our health we need to know the risks and the benefits. It would appear that Lesley has done this, and we should respect that choice. But do enough people know about the risks and benefits? I would love for one of the Feministing editors to go more in detail about this, or maybe do another interview with Lesley.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      femiwhaat: There is no one message of “Health at Every Size.” There are several:

      1: You cannot tell what a person’s health status is simply by looking at her. You cannot tell that a fat person is lazy or that a thin person is active just by appearance alone. I’m a thin person, but I have a heart condition. My running partner is fat, but metabolically healthy. Health and weight are not synonyms, and “fat” is a size, not a medical diagnosis.
      2: No one can hate themselves into health. By shaming and belittling fat people, we are not helping them become healthy. Rather we are most likely setting them up for the dangers of yo-yo dieting, which are proven — rather than helping them to lose weight, which we know they only have about a 5% likelihood of maintaining. There is, in fact, not one single proven prescription for long-term weight loss — but there IS a proven prescription for health. Which brings us to…
      3: There is no moral obligation to be healthy or fit. This should go without saying, but it seems it’s still the most overlooked principle of HAES. Fat people are under absolutely no obligation to become thin, or even adopt healthy habits, if they do not want to. And if they do, their results should be based on their own standards, not anyone else’s. A fat, unfit person who decides to become fit and does not lose weight, is not morally “bad.” A fat, unfit person who decides to lose weight by adopting unhealthy habits is not “good.” Fatness, fitness, and health are not moral or social matters. They are personal matters.

      Regan at Dances With Fat has a ton of great information on her blog on fatness and fitness and HAES. It’s not that fat is healthy — that would imply that a naturally thin person is better off being fat, which isn’t the point at all. The point is that a fat person is a fat person and that her health is not a measure of her waistband, but the factors actually within her control.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      femiwhaat,
      I encourage you to re-read the piece, especially the section on concern trolling and Anna’s exhortation to us to “challenge your own notions of body size and acceptance… so we can begin to alter public discourse around the topic. Eventually, we can force a cultural shift, normalizing all different body types and move our focus from shaming to celebrating.” Your first paragraph contained unfounded assumptions and shaming.
      Regarding your question at the end (“Is the message “dieting is evil” “fat is healthy” … or “live and let live”?”), the answer is … none of these. Not only are these NOT the only possible ways to interpret the article, they’re not even accurate ways to do so.
      Ms. Kinzel is advocating a Health at Every Size approach which encourages pursuit of ways of eating and moving which can help us all feel good, healthy and strong in our bodies. She, like many other fat activists, recognizes a need to separate pursuit of healtlh in this way from pursuit of a particular weight or body size because for many people the two goals are incompatible. A dieting or weight-focused approach is based in the idea that unless you are already thin there is something wrong with your body and that you need to ‘fix’ it by ‘controlling’ it. Not surprisingly, this sets people up to view their own bodies as the enemy – something to be fought and conquered. Because diets don’t work very long for most people – and in fact over time seem to cause people to GAIN weight – the stage is set for increasingly desperate dieters to pursue more and more drastic weight loss methods in attempting to conquer their ‘bad’ bodies once and for all. NOT a healthy situation.
      HAES, on the other hand, is about valuing your body – whatever its size or shape – from the get-go and seeing it as something to care for rather than to fight. HAES encourages us to pay attention to what we eat and how it makes us feel, and to choose the foods and amounts that help us feel best. It encourages us to find fun and sustainable ways to move our bodies. In every case the goal is not to change, force or control our bodies but to value and care for them – a difficult but necessary task in a world which makes assumptions that all fat people have bad bodies and bad behaviors and just need to control both more.
      You write, “I just know it is easy to eat consciously and healthfully without gaining weight. I know that if people would rather just eat and be overweight that is their decision, though I just don’t understand it?” With the first part of that, are you saying here that you are listening to your body when you eat? If so, good for you. That’s right along with what an HAES approach to eating would suggest. No need to attach it to weight, though; lots of people eat in this way and are not slim, because that’s not the way their bodies are wired. Your statement reflects a lot of thin privilege. Your willingness to assume that those who are not slim are doing something wrong would seem to contradict your implied ‘live and let live’ principles.

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Fat Acceptance has a lot of dimensions. Here are just some:

      1. Weight does not equal health. There are many healthy fat people and many not healthy thin people. You can tell zero about a persons health by looking at them. Fat is a body type like tall or short. So it is not to say “fat is healthy” or “thin is healthy” but that “fat is not necessarily unhealthy”. Many fat healthy people become unhealthly by conflating health and fat and taking drastic unhealthy actions like stomach amputation and diet pills.

      2. Most importantly, someone’s health and weight are not for public concern. Health is multi-dimensional and a persons health is between her and her doctor not up for public consideration. Some people think the most healthy thing to do is to be vegan. Some people (like me) think the most healthy thing you can do is never get behind the wheel of a car. A lot of people would have issue with me spouting my frustration with having to pay for the health care of all of those drivers who have increased their mortality substantially.

      3. All people deserve dignity whether or not they are healthy. People with cancer are not healthy, they are sick. But that does not mean that they are inferior or deserving of scorn. Some fat people are not healthy and some thin people are not healthy. That does not mean that we should judge them.

      4. Trying to get thin has not proven to work. A writer friend of mine made a good call by saying that if we found that people would be more healthy if they could fly would we get angry at all the people who could not fly? No diet has been found to be effective in the long term. Many many diets are unhealthy and 95% of people who try diets to loose weight fail. Many also adopt disordered eating and body dysmorphia along the way.

      5. Loving and accepting yourself as you are now (fat, thin, short, tall) is good for you. Self love is important and makes it more likely you will do things that are good for your body like getting outdoors, playing games, having fun, being active.

      Does that help?

  2. Posted March 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the replies everyone! I understand a lot better now, thank you. I really was looking to ask in a way that wasn’t cruel and I am very sorry if that did not get across. Comment sections are fabulous sometimes and can help us to learn and grow thank you!

    • Posted March 26, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      femiwhaat – I don’t think anyone thought you meant to be cruel. I certainly didn’t take offense, and it doesn’t appear anyone else did, either. I LOVE that you (a) felt safe enough here to ask honest questions and (b) are willing to ask questions when you don’t understand. Would that more folks were like you. :)

  3. Posted March 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to read Leslie’s book!

  4. Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I really must thank you all for leaving comments. I was also scratching my head at this article but thanks to your great responses I was able to deconstruct the article.

    Thanks!!

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