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.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Drake's BBW line, as explained to a guy on OKCupid

So Drake dropped a line about BBWs, or Big Beautiful Women, in Nikki Minaj's "Only". His line is in the 2nd verse.

Yeah, that’s right, I like my girls BBW, yeah
Type to wanna suck you dry and then eat some lunch with you
Yeah, so thick that everybody else in the room is so uncomfortable
Ass on Houston Texas, but the face look just like Clair Huxtable

Here's my analysis as sent to a guy on OKCupid:

"Hot, radical, and also pretty problematic.

Problematic largely because of the use of the fat girls like to suck dick and eat stereotype, probably used more for laughs than expression of affection. And it wouldn't be so problematic if we didn't live in a society where fat girls are simultaneously sexually stigmatized (ex. Fat girls loooove to eat) and sexually exploited (ex. Fat girls love to suck dick because they are hungry and desperate) (see also: hogging).

At the same time it's pretty hot and affirming for a desirable male celebrity to express preference for  fatter girls and not just "thick" girls, which usually means tits n ass with a small waist.

It could be seen as offensive that he says fat girls make people uncomfortable. However, I see it as radical truth. My body *does* make people uncomfortable, so it is actually a radical validation of my own experience. He also revels in the other people's discomfort and is not apologetic about it. Like, you uncomfortable, but fuck ya."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All the Fat that's Fit to Talk*

There has been a lot of research on "fat talk" and increasing talk about it being harmful. "Fat talk" is shorthand for hating on your body. And usually fat is denigrated in the process. There is even a Fat Talk Free Week, which typically results in an awareness video every year.

But ever since the fight about fat talk rose to the surface, fat activists have been questioning it. The word fat isn't inherently bad. Fat activists use it all the time...proudly. Saying we need to stop 'fat talk' usually implies we need to stop saying the word fat.

In fact, Jennifer Lawrence recently said it should be illegal to call someone fat on TV.

And it's no coincidence that it's mainly women who are already thin are the ones who can speak out about fat talk. This is part of the huge problem with fighting beauty ideals. When someone like Jennifer Lawrence gets called fat, we are legitimate in empathizing with her...because we know she's not fat. It's therefore cruel and not true and undeserved. If I remember my Mimi Nichter correctly, she talks specifically about how fat girls cannot engage in fat talk. People cannot reassure us, and engaging in fat talk only draws attention to our fat bodies. Fat talk is a way of bonding with other girls/women, but fat girls can only do the reassuring, not the fat talking.

The fight against fat talk isn't even about fat people--and that's really frustrating, actually. No one is fighting against shaming our bodies. Society still thinks it's proper to shame us. As proof, please note that Michelle Obama just appeared on The Biggest Loser for the 2nd time. Not to mention that the U.S. Postal Service partnered with The Biggest Loser a few years back. Not to mention that the show The Biggest Loser EXISTS.

No, the fight against fat talk is an innocuous everybody-is-beautiful fight. Don't get me wrong, we should fight against people's uncritical and casual body hatred--even more importantly, we should fight against the culture of body hate and the societal structures that support it.

More evidence that the fight on fat talk is no friend to fat people is the latest Special K commercial:

According to the commercial, "93% of women fat talk. We believe it's a barrier to managing their weight."

Yes, that's correct. We need to end fat talk because it is a hindrance to weight loss.


When 'end fat talk' is co-opted by a corporation known for fat shaming and promoting the weight loss uses of their products, we KNOW ending fat talk is not about fat people.

If you look at the website they have created, you can see that they are using FAT SHAME to promote this campaign:
-Fat talk weighs down all women.
-Join us and tip the scales toward positivity.

While fat activists don't own all the fat puns (even though we would like to), talk of "weighing down" sure brings up images of fat shame. This is even more explicit given their focus on how fat talk hinders "weight management success."

They are making money off of anti-body shame WHILE FAT SHAMING.

They aren't the first company to co-opt feminism or fat activism. In fact, I guessed that the commercial was either for Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, both who have co-opted fat activist language.

This is why this 'feel good' activism is dangerous. It feels right to say how horrible it is for these women to fat talk and hate on their bodies. It feels like good is winning. It feels like someone gets it. It feels like someone cares.

Rest assured, Special K does not care about fat people. And the fight against fat talk will continue to seem like it's about fat people while continuing to maintain structures that oppress us.

*The title is a reference to Natalie Boero's article, "All the News that's Fat to Print."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What does the Ursula Doll mean to you, fatties?

Today the fabulous TheSugarMonster alerted me to the existence of an Ursula Doll made by Disney. And, as we used to say growing up, I about had a cow.

I tried to explain why this is such a big deal to me on Twitter, but I'm not sure I can fully express why my immediate response was I WANT ONE RIGHT NOW. I know there are problems with the Ursula character and trends among fat Disney characters, but Ursula is so magnificent. When I first saw fat girls creating Ursula costumes for Halloween, I was filled with indeterminate squee.

I also find it incredibly disappointing that Broadway Ursula is not fat.

In our discussion on Facebook, TheSugarMonster said, "WE NEED THIS WITH EVERY FIBER OF OUR BEINGS." Yes, Ursula is that goddamn important. 

When I told her I wanted to write a piece asking folks to explain what an Ursula Doll means to them, she said: 

Ursula was a bad ass fat bitch who got she wanted and didn't apologize for her size OR her evil. Being that she was based on Divine...there's a reason they're two of my biggest inspirations.

Yes, Ursula was based on Divine, meaning that she came from fat unapologetic fabulousness.


So what does the existence of an Ursula Doll mean to you? Is it important? Why?

Also feel free to post your favorite Ursula gif. Here's mine:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fatness, Dissociation, & Dehumanization

This short film, FAT, begins by streaming voices repeating the word “fat” over shots of the subject, Margaret Donahoe’s, fat body, sometimes as she squeezes her fat together. After this, we finally see broken shots of her face, as she begins:

“My whole life growing up I had been taught to dislike my body, and specifically my fat/ I had been dissociating my from my body/ you really cement this separation between your self and your body.”

[Trigger warning for body issues & fat shaming.]

FAT from Margaret Donahoe on Vimeo.


After her short narrative, she begins to interview friends (individually), who are seemingly answering the question, “Do you think that I am fat?” For the most part, her friends show immediate discomfort.

After their initial answers, her friends’ narratives are cleverly laid over one another in a way that I feel captures the complexity and intensity of the issue.

What strikes me most is the theme, as Margaret notes, of dissociation--a stark emphasis on the separation between the mind and the body. Fat people, more often than you might think, are told by friends that they aren’t fat. And that’s not necessarily because they aren’t large folks, but often because their friends do not want to label them, as her friend says, with “the kinds of awful connotations that come with that word in the society that we live in.”

I’d like to highlight a couple of quotes from the friends, which I should note are obviously clipped or cut and pasted in particular ways by Donahoe and Good, who made the film together for a class at Queen’s University last year:

“If I hadn’t gotten to know you, I sometimes wonder, and this is gonna sound bad, but I sometimes wonder if, like, if I would have seen you as-...someone.”

“I think that when I call somebody fat and if I were to describe you as fat to somebody else, I would be also describing you as someone like, horrible and disgusting and, you know… and that’s really really fucked up.”

“Looking at a picture of you from before, it’s a completely different person.”

“I guess fat is lard. That you cook with.”

“Cut the gristle off the meat.”

The end of the first quote, though constructed by the filmmakers, is telling. "I sometimes wonder if, like, if I would have seen you as-...someone.” The third quote is apparently referring to a photo of Margaret before she had lost some weight. While subtle, the friend's use of "it" to refer to fatter Margaret reveals the impulse for dissociation...and indeed the tension experienced in this impulse when talking about someone she sees as a person at the same time as she refers to an image she feels discomfort associating with that person. It's evocative of the notion that people can "shed an entire person," which reinscribes the thin-person-inside imagery. The last two quotes get at our tendency to reduce fat to an inanimate object, separate from individuals, separate, indeed, from humanity.

This may seem like overanalysing to folks who haven't paid much attention to this stuff, but dissociation and dehumanization are every day experiences for fat people.

In Killing Us Softly 4, Jean Killborne states, “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.” And in our society, we are told and shown that fat is a thing. Fat bodies are just thin bodies with too much fat. Fat is extra. Fat people are told, “Underneath all that fat is a thin person waiting to get out,” and, “You have such a pretty face,” both phrases that encourage fat people to dissociate from their bodies. Since fat bodies are bad, the cultural logic is that we should focus on fat people's 'inner beauty,' sometimes coded as their inner thin person, i.e. 'once you lose weight, you're inner beauty will finally shine through.' (See Mendoza for more on thin person inside as representation of beauty and goodness). **

As you can see above, we do this in our visual culture as well. Charlotte Cooper famously coined the term “headless fatties” to refer to the perpetual phenomenon of media outlets showing fat people only from the neck down--faceless objects, abject parts. It is a different kind of objectification than most feminists rail against, though the result is still dehumanizing. Without faces, we do not connect with headless fatties, we do not see them as people. Headlessness encourages us to dis-identify with them, to see them as fat parts, cultural monsters intended to invoke horror and disgust.

The logic of fat suits similarly aids us in dissociating personhood from fatness. If we know an actor or actress is wearing a fat suit, it's easier for us to justify enjoyment in the stereotypical and harmful depictions of fat people which they are temporarily embodying. After all, they aren't fat people at all; rather, they embody our ideal fat person--one who does have a thin person inside, one who can strip off and discard their abject fat "layer." (See Mendoza, again.) One can look also to the plethora of fat suit Halloween costumes for a more commonplace dehumanizing of fat people.

If you're not yet convinced about the ways in which fatness (and, indeed, fat people) are seen as seen as separate from our notions of humanity and personhood, I offer you an increasingly popular meme:

Note that in most depictions, the fat man* is shorter, signifying de-evolution (despite the fact that we have only gotten taller as a species over time).

These depictions take one step further, predicting the de-evolution from fat man directly to animal--specifically the pig. Fat folks are rather accustomed to insults which depict them as animals (pig, hippo, whale, etc.) rather than human beings.

These images, we should note, are commonly used by folks talking about food, exercise and/or obesity. Imagine, if you will, being a fat person in the audience or in a college classroom when this sort of image is put on the screen.

In this Ted Talk by Dean Bornish, the audience laughs uproariously when he gets to this slide:

The meme is so popular, they even have t-shirts. For a change of pace, you can sprinkle in some extra sexism. The second t-shirt actually depicts a fat woman as being lower than primates in the evolutionary meme.

It's no wonder Margaret's friends had such a hard time calling her fat.


*Note the androcentrism inherent in most representations of evolution, where 'man' stands in for 'human' evolution AND the whiteness of the images, which should not be not lost on anyone with any semblance of (Western) racial consciousness.

**Erin Remick (fat famously) mocks the "thin person inside" in her video Fat Dinosity.

Related Reading
Cooper, Charlotte. "Headless Fatties."
Mendoza, Katharina R. 2011. "Seeing Through the Layers: Fat Suits and Thin Bodies in The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal." The Fat Studies Reader. NY: NYU Press.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fat off the Top--Linksisode

I know it may seem like a blogging cop-out, but I'm a fan of links. In fact, I often call myself an obsessive disseminator of information. If someone paid me to offer up great links, I would be living quite comfortably.

I love giving people new information...especially on stuff I love, so here goes...fat awesomeness, off the top of my head:

First, my friend NotBlueAtAll has been working hard on organizing A Fatty Affair, a fantastic (and free!) fat and body positive event in the Bay Area, which will be setting it off later this month with a clothing swap and special guests Marilyn Wann, Phat Fly Girls, Raks Africa Dance Troupe, and Virgie Tovar.

Second, the fab Golda Poretsky is taking reservations for the 2nd Annual Body Love Revolutionaries Telesummit. Last year's telesummit was excellent and this year's is even more action-packed with EIGHT difference conference calls on various fat topics. Golda even records the calls and posts them for 24 hours, so you can listen if the time is not good for you. Check it out!

Since it's January and that means enactment of the annual "resolutions" rituals...many of which tend to be weight loss resolutions, Pattie Thomas is encouraging folks to participate in the (also 2nd Annual) New Year's ReVolutions Project, which encourages people to forgo weight loss resolutions and dieting in favor of a focus on revolutionizing your relationship with your body. They list several 'action items' as ways you can participate.*

Tonight, Charlotte Cooper posted a film she made called Lovely and Slim, which made me squeal! Lovely and Slim is "based on a song that came about when [she] really tried hard to think of the benefits of being thin..." Lyrics included. Charlotte's activism is always so fun. I aspire! (can't link to the video for some reason, so click the link!)

Finally, Bobbi (what a fantastic name!) and Austin have started a new webcast about non-normative bodies called Trans*Fat Chat. I am impatiently waiting for more episodes!

If you have any great links, disseminate in the comments!

*I'm quite happy to say that one of the suggested icons is my very own! I made the Revolt image a few years ago and loved it, but it languished on my Facebook page until last year. It features my lovely square teeth and rosy cheeks. You're welcome.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cross-Post: Finessing the Holidays

Cross-posted from my other blog. I think this is relevant for lots of folks.

My heart goes out to folks who find this time of year difficult, daunting, draining, and somewhat or completely debilitating.

I have not quite found a way to finesse the holidays, but I am sure working on it.

Sassafras Lowery does finesse the holidays and has a great post, "Queerly Reclaiming the Holidays," which I first read last year...and which I think is pretty broadly useful.

I've worked on #2 and #3 this year, and at times it has helped me feel better and also bond with my partner and friends. But at the same time, if the holidays already feel like a lot of work for you, you might end up even more drained.

My advice is do what you can when you can to the extent that it makes you feel good OR to the extent that it helps you work through the bullshit and baggage that might emerge or present that you can, potentially, feel good. For example, there is so much pressure to be and feel happy this season that my impulse to repress feelings of depression, grief, guilt, etc. is strengthened. But rather than ignoring it, I am trying to face it, express it. I have also tried harder to keep my emotional lines of communication open because my instinct is to cut those channels off in an effort to be happy (for others). I have been finding myself on my steadier ground by working on this. Importantly, I find myself more able to access joy authentically.

Especially at this time of year, take care of you. *BIG HUGS*