Fat is a Feminist Issue

One of the first books to discuss the complexities of emotional, compulsive and binge eating in the context of female inequality, 'FIFI' also led with its central message: diets don’t work if we don’t first understand, and then deal with, the reasons for overeating. Because fat is never just about food.....


Fat is a Feminist Issue Author - Susie Orbach

A psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and social critic, Susie Orbach's books include Bodies and On Eating. A social activist, she campaigns against negative body image and founded the organisation Endangered Bodies to encourage body positivity on a global scale.


Review by Jeryl Scurr

I wish this 1978 classic was on the scrapheap of discarded and irrelevant issues. Sadly, this is not the case.

Originally marketed as a ‘self-help guide for compulsive eaters…offering them a way to lose weight permanently – without dieting’, FIFI ‘explains how women can liberate themselves from feelings of guilt and shame about food and fatness’.

Orbach assumes that one always feels shame over a larger body. Although this blanket assumption (as well as others) sits uneasily I wonder, how far have we really changed?

You decide.

However, in 1978 Fat is a Feminist Issue was regarded as the first ‘fat feminist’ book with its claim that gender inequality makes women fat:

‘Fat expresses a rebellion against the powerlessness of women’

Orbach asserts that one way women reject the societal norm of thin is by ‘gaining weight to de-sexualise themselves… subconsciously women fear being thin. ’

Using her psychoanalytic tools, Orbach describes ‘the anguish’ wrought on women by emotional and disordered eating. Fat can be ‘protective’, with many women have something ‘invested in getting or staying fat’. 

Although at times a confused mixture of self-help and diet book or anti-diet book (or perhaps I am confused here…) she looks at diet culture as she gives reasons why so many of us lose, and gain, lose and gain….over and over. She tries to tell us –

“Losing weight is just losing weight – it won’t ‘change your life’

Hmm. Tell that to the diet industry and the media.

What about the men? There is little mention of men, reflecting Orbach’s 1970’s view of size as a strictly feminist issue. Her later books, however, do cover this, and more.

And whilst more than a few statements are creaky her assumption – that thinness is what all women aspire to – is still relevant.

‘Fat’, wrote Orbach,’ is no longer an objective word meaning adipose tissue.’

Today, the messages Orbach pioneered are louder and even more pressing due to social media.

While we live in a world where – more than ever – your shape defines you, “Fat is a Feminist Issue” will continue in print.


“Bodies today have almost come to define the way our lives should be lived.”

“Eating has become a psychological, moral, medical, aesthetic and cultural statement. Eating certain foods has become equated with moral value.‘

‘Dieting, in the age of obesity, is offered as a righteous alternative.’

Why I chose Fat is a Feminist Issue

How could the Weight Debate’s library NOT include FIFI?

Read this book, critique it – but don’t ignore it.

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