Love Your Body poster contest winner 2011

There are lots of ways to be revolutionary. The current mood throughout the world seems to be heading towards a questioning of consumerist values. Wealth generation that supposedly was a "rising tide" meant to "float all boats" turned out to be a tsunami that has washed away resources of the poor, sending them to the shores of the wealthiest. A United Nations Report from 2006 showed that the top 1% of the world's wealthiest people owned 40% of the world's wealth. I suspect that proportion is even worse now.

In such heady days of large portions of people gathering in general assemblies on every continent, asking such large questions about power, wealth, distribution of resources and freedom, it may be hard to see why the message of Love Your Body Day merits acknowledgement.

In my opinion, it does. Here's why: Freedom means being free to be whomever you want to be.

Of course, there are limits. If you want to be a mass murderer, you probably shouldn't be free to do so. And, of course, the occupations are arguing that the freedom to steal from the many to the benefit of the few has some problems. But nitpicking over the exceptions to freedom is just a way to avoid the true revolution of being comfortable in your own skin.

I keep a quote from Albert Camus as my background screen on my laptop so that I can remember daily what it means to be free:

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.

Quote by Albert Camus calling for us to act as free persons

Albert Camus

It may come as a shock that a sociologist who cares about social systems and calls for an understanding of collectivity believes so strongly in honoring the freedom of individuals. But it is exactly because I am a sociologist who has learned a great deal about group dynamics that I know this freedom is absolutely important and may be the highest of values we should cherish. A sociological assessment of group dynamics reveals the dangers of groupthink and ways in which people succumb to organizations that become greater than the sum of their parts.

There is a concept in sociology called group stability. It is a misunderstood concept because the word "stability" has come to have a psychological meaning of sanity or rationality or, at the very least, functionality. None of these definitions apply to the sociological meaning.

Group stability in sociology means that a group identity is so strong that it will outlive the original members of the group or the decisions of members of the group. General Motors is the example I give in my classes. GM was formed in 1908. It is essentially the same organization with the same purpose today even through it has been reorganized several times. It outlived all the original formers of the group (a safe assumption that no one who held ownership or worked for the company in 1908 is alive today) and it has outlived a number of bad decisions, including the ones leading to a bankruptcy. So the identity "GM" has outlived both the members and their decisions.

Group stability is not always a good thing. In fact, I will go out a real limb here and assert that group stability usually is NOT a good thing. Organizations have a tendency to grow to the point where they have a life of their own and the survival of the organization becomes more important than the individuals within that organization or even the original purpose of the organization. This is the underlying reasoning for the "too big to fail" rhetoric that justified the bailout of banks all over the world. Survival of these large institutions became the priority. (It is interesting to note that since the bailout these banks have become larger, not smaller: Chase bought WAMU, Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, and so on.)

It is an easy metaphor to use fatness as a symbol of "too big to fail." But I would propose that such a metaphor does more harm than good.

Fat people are individual human beings with dignity. Using human caricatures as symbols of negative concepts in public discourse ALWAYS leads to the treatment of the group represented as less than human. This is the essence of stigmatization, xenophobia and ultimately justification for the atrocities that have littered our histories.

I propose instead that fat people, especially unapologetic fat people who have come to love their bodies just as they are, should symbolize that rebellious freedom that will NOT be led astray by marketing ploys that rely upon body dissatisfaction to sell everything from toothpaste to automobiles.

A fat person who loves the skin they are in is dangerous to a consumerist system.

Consumerism relies upon people to want to continue to consume. Value under this system is derived from something called marginal demand. Marketing is designed to elicit that desire. Thus, a satisfied person, a loving person, a comfortable person will not desire more. They will demand a higher level of satisfaction from their experiences than most consumer products can give.

Jennifer Jonassen swinging upside down in her ariel lesson

Free to do what you want!

That is why Love Your Body Day is important, even in the days of the Arab Spring and the Autumn Occupation. If we are to take back the resources that have been systematically drained from us, we must not fall for the manipulation of desire found in consumerism. Loving one's body is directly opposed to consumerism. If I love who I am, then I will not believe you when you tell me I must be new and improved, I must not age, I cannot be sexy, I cannot be disabled. Loving one's body means demanding joy instead of satiation, achievement instead of improvement, intimacy instead of thrills.

Loving one's body is a process, especially in the midst of a culture that tries so hard to convince us to hate ourselves. Actress, dancer and writer, Jennifer Jonassen produced a beautiful video that describes her process and I couldn't have said it better myself. So I leave you with: Love Your Body:

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival

About the Author

Pattie Thomas, Ph.D.
Pattie Thomas, Ph.D., is a medical sociologist and author of Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life, a sociological memoir.

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