Why are we so interested in the size of the Other? part 1 of 3

This post is part 1 of 3… each will build on the next…

The concept of the ‘Other’ is not new. Originating from continental theory (i.e. from European philosophers) it refers to an enigmatic thing that is most easily defined as “not moi”: That is – anything that is not me (or for you, you).

Jacques Lacan took the idea of the Other and pimped it, perhaps better said he radicalised it – it became radically Other, so Other that when we are confronted by it we must defend our own identities or face complete distruction (that means we go mad = psychosis). We can see this in practical terms with someone suffering anorexia. Calories are radically Other for the anorexic, so affliation with them is intolerable. Many sufferers will refuse to be in the same room with cooking food in case calories inflitrate through their senses, smell, touch etc… One treatment option is to force feed the anorexic, which is experienced as profound torture precisely because the sufferer is forced to internalise the feared Other – it becomes part of their self.

I argue that fatness, signified by the size of the Other (as in other people) occupies a similar position for many people. They dread becoming ‘fat’ or being seen as ‘fat’ and so work to keep the fat Other at arms length. Two short examples, first, the author of the hugely popular book The Secret makes the following statement:

If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it.

The second example is the insidious and commonplace use of the ‘headless fatty‘ – that is an image of  headless fat person to accompany any article on or broadly around the topic of obesity. In both of these examples the fat Other is spaced away from the thin person, so they are protected from this free-radical.

In the next installment I shall attempt to knit this with Julia Kristeva‘s understanding of the abject. Watch this space!


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5 responses to “Why are we so interested in the size of the Other? part 1 of 3

  1. I have noticed the headless fatty phenomenon, too, and wondered about it. Clearly, shame is an important factor. The message is, it is so shameful to be this size/shape that we avoid identifying the person to save them public humiliation (and aren’t we sensitive to do so!). It also ties in with the feminist critique of cutting bodies into parts.

    • Yes Bill… To further, we also expect the fatty to be ashamed. In fact we require the shame to demonstrate just how virtuous we are. There is a campaign to get the media to use real fat bodies, in fact there is even a picture library under construction.

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