Lee proposes visibility from synchronised swimming to ‘eating ice-creams in public’ as a way forward for fat people to counter prejudice. I have argued previously (‘Permanent Daylight’, Overland 200) that visibility is not a political solution, particularly for feminists. Women – fat and thin – live with a particular kind of watchfulness, a sense of always being on display: the word ‘surveillance’ hints at the feeling but is better applied elsewhere.
Perhaps we lack a word subtle enough for the condition that I described in that essay as ‘a deep and systemic psychic distress … of perpetual visibility’. If visibility is a condition of women’s oppression, then why should we keep demanding to be seen? If all the billboards across the world were replaced overnight, and fat women took the place of bone-thin models advertising underwear and perfume, would this constitute victory? I wouldn’t think so: I’m still being sold stuff, and someone else – another woman – is still being objectified for the purpose of selling it to me. To demand visibility is to submit to capitalism’s strictures: to accept that being an image is more important than being a subject; to accept representation in place of participation.
Moreover, the rhetoric of visibility can be, and is, used by rulers against the ruled: to be visible is, on some level, to accede to the anti-terrorist logic that one has ‘nothing to hide’. I am much more interested in how radicals across the world – whatever their bodies – can work together at escaping these intertwined visibilities: the image-logic of capitalism, the coercive gaze of the state.
Anwyn Crawford, “Fat, privilege and resistance: A response to Jennifer Lee”, in Overland.
I am the first to complain about the pressure on women to be thin, especially in countercultural spaces, but Anwyn Crawford is killing it in this response.