The year was 1968. The watershed event: a protest march at the Miss America beauty contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey, launches feminism as a national movement. Inspired by the civil rights movement in the American South, American women had begun to question the limiting roles assigned to them as “the second (and unequal) sex.” Women in the crowd were invited to dump their bras, hair rollers and pots and pans into a “freedom trash can.” Some women burned their bras.
In this environment, it was probably inevitable that women would turn their attention to the oppressive fear of fat and preoccupation with body size that permeated most women’s lives.
In New York City, a young woman named Carol Munter used her awakening feminist consciousness to adopt a new approach to a problem that had plagued her for most of her life—compulsive eating. She threw out her diet books and her scale, and decided to eat whatever she truly wanted. More than 50 pounds over her ideal weight, she made a choice to accept her body as it was, even examining it closely in a full-length mirror in the nude.
She stopped postponing getting beautiful clothes for some future time when she had lost weight. She stopped postponing looking for love, for a new job—whatever she had felt she didn’t deserve or could never have until she achieved her ideal weight. She stopped punishing herself for having an appetite and allowed herself to enjoy eating delicious food.
As she adopted this liberating and self-loving stance, she found her attitude towards food began to change. It pleased her to stop eating when she was full. Although she allowed herself whatever food she wanted, she found herself wanting vegetables and other healthy foods. She began to notice that while some foods had a seductive quality, others felt friendlier—they “hummed” to her. One day she was amused to find herself in the grocery store wishing that she wanted to eat Twinkies, one of her old binge foods, but knowing that she no longer wanted them.
As Carol’s extra weight began to melt away, she found to her surprise that this created not the delight she anticipated, but anxiety! Her fat had been a form of protection in various ways, and part of her was reluctant to release it. Through closing her eyes and visualizing herself becoming considerably thinner, then noticing whatever fears arose, she was able to address the fears with both compassion and her rational mind. This allowed her to move through the anxiety and lose additional weight. Eventually she arrived at a much smaller body size, which she maintained effortlessly.
Carol went on to teach many women her methods for reclaiming their bodies, their appetites, their choices and their lives. Her friend and colleague, Susie Orbach, published a book that would become a classic in 1978 called Fat is a Feminist Issue that described the feminist approach to dealing with compulsive eating developed by Carol and others. This book continues to have profound relevance and has been reprinted many times, most recently in 2016. Ms. Orbach was called in by Princess Dianna to help her overcome her bulimia.
Carol and her colleague Jane R. Hirschmann later co-wrote When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies and Overcoming Overeating and are currently the co-directors of the National Center for Overcoming Overeating.
- Recollections from participating in an eating group led by Carol H. Munter in the early 1970s.