A recent US survey revealed that 1 in 6 women would rather be blind than fat. The more I think about this statistic, the more I wonder what it is actually saying.
At first I was outraged by the superficiality of these women: how dared they compare the massive hassle of blindness with the trivial issue of body shape? But of course it is much more complicated than that: obesity has health and well-being implications that blindness does not; but, on the other hand, obesity can often be treated where blindness usually can't. Because people think that obesity can be self-imposed, the obese are often labelled as greedy, compulsive, lacking in self-control, lazy. In contrast, because society sees blindness as a tragedy which happens to someone through no fault of her own, the blind are seen as victims and are pitied rather than criticised. None of these labels are accurate or helpful, but this is the way these conditions are usually seen.
As I thought more about this tricky statistic, I found myself agreeing with this blog which argues very convincingly that the assumption behind this response is that the women questioned see blindness as a condition which although tragic, would have a less negative impact on their body-image than obesity. Presumably these women are imagining themselves as one of those stunningly beautiful blind women you find in films. They probably don't know any actual blind people. If they did they would know that blindness doesn't necessarily lead to beauty: indeed being blind can cause feelings of self-hate very similar to those provoked by obesity. (Or maybe they were wrongly thinking that blind people doesn't care about their body-image because they can't see themselves, and are thus immune to low self-esteem issues...)
Of course there is a different way of reading these statistics. What if these women are right? What if being blind is preferable to being fat? Not because of something as superficial as appearance, but because blindness is an exciting and interesting way of being in the world. Without my blindness I would not have discovered erotic braille, experienced the kindness of strangers or embarked on my current research project. Sure, blindness has its inconveniences, but it is certainly not a tragedy.
After much thought (and discussion with my statistic-cynic husband) I have decided that the biggest problem with this survey is that it happened in the first place. The very fact of asking such idiotic questions posits both blindness and obesity as negatives. This survey perpetuates the assumption that a woman's value comes from the way she is seen, and consequently the way she sees herself. What about paying a little less attention to appearance and a lot more to what is going on in the inside?