Sunday, June 19, 2016

We Are Everything: Fat Feels and Progress in the Mainstream

I'm having lots of fat feels today. I mean, I'm a fat feminist, and I study fat stuff, so I usually have lots of fat feels, not to mention fat thoughts. But my feels are at about an 11 right now.

This morning I after I woke up, I saw the new JCPenny campaign video for #HereIAm, thanks to Fat Heffalump.

The video celebrates fat and very fat women (though no fat and disabled women). It says their lives can be great and give you examples of fat fabulous successful awesome women. It's fat positive, body positive, and a campaign for a mainstream corporation. It's not everything, but it is SO MUCH. In fact, in it, Ashley Nell Tipton says, "I am everything," which was my favorite line of all.

Now, I've seen a lot of fat positive or body positive or otherwise adjacent videos, both mainstream and not. Many of them completely leave out or tokenize women of color. Many of them only show small or medium fat folks. Others end up doing their own body shaming. Not this video.

For me, as a super fat woman (size 32 or 5X), seeing people who are as fat or almost as fat as I am doesn't happen as much as you'd expect even in fat positive or body positive places, and it certainly doesn't happen in campaigns for mainstream companies. As far as I know, a video like this for a company like this has never happened before. And it certainly wouldn't have happened 12 years ago when I first found fat acceptance or 20 years ago when I was 13. No, then, I had a complicated relationship with other fat women. But I can tell you that I cherished every example of strong, empowered, happy fat women I got. They were family members or friends of the family. They were unusual in my mind. You certainly didn't see many fat, happy, strong, empowered women in the media and absolutely not all in one space, and NEVER talking about fat and acceptance and fighting fat stigma.

Then, tonight, I listened to the new "Tell Me I'm Fat" episode of This American Life. I was familiar with Lindy West and Roxanne Gay (who were interviewed), but I still worried about what turns this episode would take. I steeled myself. Thin or average white progressive men still aren't typically friends of fat women (*cough* Dan Savage *cough*). I learned a long time ago when researching fat representations in media that pieces that addressed fat in any positive way almost always ended with apologia or some negative sentiment about fat, so that readers/listeners didn't dare go away with the idea that being fat might be least, not really.

I felt more at ease about the episode when I heard Ira Glass talk, and he said Lindy West's book "made [him] see this whole thing differently." That, I was not expecting. At all. Still, he said the episode would feature people who didn't see fat in the same way as Lindy, and it was hard to know what that meant.

I gotta say, though, that I'm really pleased with it. It did, in fact, feature varied perspectives, but it was nuanced and there was not that same counter-narratives that are designed to make you question any fat positive sentiment presented.

The pieces with Lindy outline her disagreements with Dan Savage's fat bigotry and how she personally came to accept her body. Elna Baker's piece is tragic and hard, but it reveals fat stigma and discrimination in a really important way. Roxanne Gay talks about being a fat African American woman and a superfat woman. Again, the superfats were represented, and I'm super pleased with that. Both Elna and Roxanne were more cynical about living as fat in our society, but none of it rested the blame on fat people. The 4th Act was the most divergent, not only because it featured thin men, but because it delved into a specific angle of weight stigma: the Christian weight loss movement (particularly focused on televangelist Oral Roberts). The episode ended back on a hopeful note, with an poignant excerpt from Lindy's book.

In sum, while you should be aware that the 2nd Act is particularly hard and potentially extra triggering for discussion of body image issues, disordered eating/eating disorders, cosmetic medical procedures, and stigma, I highly recommend you take a listen.

These two mainstream fat media pieces seem overwhelming for one day. In terms of happy fat feels, that is. Again, they are not everything--they don't address men's experiences or lots of other intersections--and I'm not sure they can be, but they are very significant.

I am overwhelmingly happy--and let me tell you, I have needed the hope lately--but I am not surprised. I know that people have been fighting like hell for these things. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance began in 1969, and there were certainly people who were fighting weight stigma before then. Fat feminist queers wrote and fought for Fat Liberation. NOLOSE: the National Organization for Lesbians of Size (a queer fat org) began in the late 90s. People have written books, countless articles, talked and talked and talked about fat, talked fat 101 with people over and over and over, dealt with backlash, fought city, state, and federal policy, demanded fat intersectionality over and over, supported each other, held events, blogged, researched, argued, cried, yoga'd, shared resources, laughed, challenged each other, protested, podcasted, and written written written tons of amazing fat positive and fat liberation pieces...and more.

And we'll continue. 

Thanks to all who have fought and continue to fight for our right to exist in this world. Your work matters. Your work is making a difference. Your work is creating change. 

P.S. -- My friend Carrie just linked me to this video from Top Knot/Buzzfeed that is also awesome, though more fashion oriented overall.