What is oppression? Self-monitoring based on oppressive standards

Women feel enormous pressure to be thin due to media messages that feature impossibly slender and toned bodies as the beauty ideal. Our society has come to believe that “thin is inherently beautiful and fat is inherently ugly” (Wann ix), causing women to fixate on achieving a slender body with firm bodily margins. Women devote an enormous amount of time, energy, and attention in the pursuit of the ideal.

The food, diet, and exercise industries profit enormously from women’s body dissatisfaction, as “women are told that they can have the right body only if they consume more products” (Hesse-Biber 75). By normalizing thinness and stigmatizing fatness, the media has created a “fat-hating culture” in which everyone “inevitably absorbs anti-fat beliefs, assumptions, and stereotypes” (Wann xi). Therefore, our culture oppresses those people whose bodies do not fit into the slender body ideal.

This does not include only “overweight” and “obese” people, but also the huge proportion of women who are at a healthy weight but still perceive themselves as too fat. Weight oppression affects people of all sizes, since “in a fat-hating society everyone is fat” (Wann xv). Women have internalized the media messages and societal expectations. Society has trained women to oppress themselves through self-policing, demonstrated by women’s obsession with achieving thinness.

The oppressive capitalistic system oppresses women by setting up a “battle…with the self” (Bordo 198) for every woman. As a result, women are distracted from the systematic sexism in society and do little to challenge the status quo. Is there a way for women to break free from capitalism’s patriarchal oppression?


Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight. Berkeley: University of CA Press, 1993.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. The Cult of Thinness. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Wann, Marilyn. Foreword. The Fat Studies Reader. By Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. New York: New York UP, 2009. Ix-Xxii. Print.


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