Biopower and Disempowerment
Foucault's biopower is a brilliant dissection of the most insidious kind of power: the kind that we exercise over ourselves in the service of others. We give up control of the right to define or categorize our own bodies and even twist and contort and harm our bodies in order to match some of those one-size-fits-all categories or "normal" and "right."
I have always been fat. How do I know this? Doctors, for one, told me. According to their BMI charts, I am "morbidly obese." All my life, I've been told I am three steps away from a massive coronary, from hypertension, from being a diabetic. Eeeeeeek! OMG! How am I even still alive?!
And although tons of data exist to contradict the safety and long-term effectiveness of diets, doctors have put me on them since I was seven years old. By the time I gave dieting the middle finger at age 22, I had tried all of them. You know what the effects were? I felt weak. I over-exercised. I fantasized endlessly about diving into lakes of alfredo sauce. I took legally prescribed speed and shook for hours. My body hurt, felt weak. One of my organs started shutting down. All this was overseen by doctors, who approved. Good job, Elle!, they said. Congrats on the weight loss!
The one thing I did well? Submit myself to definitions and practices that I didn't like, that actually hurt, and that focused my entire attention on how I could better deprive myself. I had little energy left to be a good queer activist, a fiery feminist. I was socially and politically docile, hungry and weak, all because my physical and mental energies were focused on arbitrary numbers on a scale.
The doctors helped, but ultimately, I was the one policing my own body. I kept it tightly bound within social definitions of "beautiful" and "proper" and "feminine." I gave up control of defining and even living my body, so that it was a stranger to me, an unruly monster I fought with. Biopower, baby.
When I was 21, I started reading medical literature about dieting and realized I'd been duped. I stopped dieting. I recently wrote a journal article about how my current body size lies outside the realm of "normal" and "desirable," and that's a delicious freedom from social constraints. Now that I no longer submit (in this way, at least) to the medical definitions, I feel much more at home with me.
Note: In order to demonstrate the, you know, power of biopower, I penned the above for my Social Psychology class. Lucky you, I decided to share.