Home' LOTL : November 2004 Contents ISSUES21
Medical Fact #2: Obesity increases the risk of a number of health
problems including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure,
arthritis, gall stones and some cancers such as bowel cancer.
Research Fact #1: There is no Australian research on obesity rates
among lesbians but US studies suggest that lesbians have higher
rates of obesity and more lesbians are over weight compared to
Research Fact #2: Lesbians are more physically active than
Research Fact #3: Lesbians have a more positive body image than
Research Fact #4: Lesbians are less likely to access health care
ser vices than heterosexual women probably due to fear of
discrimination, homophobia and per vasive myths about certain
health issues not being relevant to lesbians e.g. pap smears.
Now I am a little better informed, I'm pleased that lesbians
seem to enjoy exercise and like their bodies, but I ask myself: is
it a problem that over weight lesbians may be less worried about
their body image and less likely to access health care?
According to Dr McNair, "The risks are no different for
lesbians (compared to heterosexual women) ... however, risks
increase for lesbians who do not seek health care and physical
Teresa Clonan, Lesbian Health Project Officer for ACON
Western Sydney, sees lesbians of all body types every day.
"I see a lot of women who are significantly over weight. I think
there is a real silence about weight issues and related health issues
in the lesbian community and I wonder why. What impact does
this have on women struggling with body image or weight related
Does Clonan think lesbians experience body size and body
image issues differently to heterosexual women?
"It is much more acceptable in parts of the lesbian
'community' to be a larger woman ... so ultimately lesbians are
getting some real mixed messages about body image, weight and
size from the lesbian community and from the rest of the world!
It can be a difficult task to 'marry' those two influences to find a
Clonan faces a dilemma in her work, juggling theory, politics
and science to provide the best possible lesbian health ser vice she
can. She is just as concerned about mental health and emotional
well being as she is with physical health.
No doubt some lesbians experience problems because of their
weight. And there are big dykes out there who are healthy and
content with their body image. The challenge is to get lesbians to
talk about their bodies -- to doctors, women's health workers,
counsellors, and to each other. It may be that in our striving to be
politically correct good feminists, fully accepting of diverse body
types and fighting against fat oppression, we may have overlooked
the need to have an intelligent and informed dialogue about it.
One woman who ain't shy of talking about her size is self
confessed 'cur vy' girl, Hellfire Club dominatrix Jackie McMillan.
"I'm lucky to work in the one arena (fetishism) where cur ves are
privileged ... I mean what purpose is there for a corset on a slender
girl where it doesn't modify her already slender waist? Corsetry is
about cups overflowing with soft flesh, and the contrast between
a big, round bottom and a tiny waist. I also love the way that tight
stocking tops cut into fleshy thighs."
Although Jackie has never been uncomfortable with her
body, as a teenager and coming out as a dyke, she admits that
it wasn't easy. "It took a particularly courageous dyke to flirt
with me in a bar [because] lots of dykes drew comfort from
being with other women who looked like them".
It's true that lesbian fashion and culture in 2004 is a far cry
from the 80s feminist lesbian sloppy flannelette shirt, no bra,
jeans and sneakers. There are lots of images to copy and create,
and we now use a variety of appearance norms to identify each
other and to provide a group identity. And it's true that despite
the variety of images and identities now, being big is not really
considered a desirable look for many of us.
Paradoxically, the experience of coming out as a lesbian is
supposed to free us from being judged by our appearance. That's
what dykes thought during the 80s anyway. Today we seem just
as constrained as our heterosexual sisters to look chic and thin. Or
at least chic and muscle toned.
Dr McNair suggests that "younger lesbians are more body
image conscious and have bought into mainstream ideals a lot
more." Lesbians may be more accepting of diverse body types
than heterosexuals but fat phobia persists.
Early next year the results of an Australian longitudinal
women's health study will shed some light on lesbians, body
image and weight. Organisations such as ALMA will continue to
apply pressure on health practitioners to develop 'cultural
competence' in lesbian issues so they understand why lesbians
might be reluctant to access health ser vices. They also need to
understand the impact of homophobia on health and the specific
health risks for lesbians.
Teresa Clonan from ACON's Lesbian Health Project is keen to hear
from lesbians about these issues. Contact her on (02) 9204 2405
or email email@example.com
JACKIE MCMILLAN. PHOTO EMMY VAN EWYK
PARADOXICALLY, THE EXPERIENCE OF COMING OUT AS
A LESBIAN IS SUPPOSED TO FREE US FROM BEING
JUDGED BY OUR APPEARANCE. THAT'S WHAT DYKES
THOUGHT DURING THE 80S ANYWAY.
Links Archive October 2004 December 2004 Navigation Previous Page Next Page