I’m a lot of things: I’m queer, white, upper middle class, an organizer, a nerd, a clothes horse…
I’m also fat.
That’s an easy thing for me to say, and it’s a hard thing for many people to hear. And it impacts me more immediately, frequently and overtly than a lot of my identities.
When I tell people I’m fat, the most common reaction is panic: they assume I’m calling myself ugly, and they feel pressured or compelled to disabuse me of that notion. But people clearly notice my size all the time. Servers at restaurants notice it when they seat me. People on the bus notice it when they decide when and whether to make an empty seat available for me. Nurses notice it when they tell me I’ll have to be weighed as part of my physical, and then wince. It’s the worst-kept secret around. So I just put it out there: I’m fat.
Telling people I’m fat makes them uncomfortable. But telling them I’m fat positive makes people upset. Some get angry (“you’re endangering your health, and if you’re talking about this, you’re endangering other people’s health, too”). Some get shaming (“oh, so that’s why you dress that way. I just figured you didn’t know they were called skinny jeans”). Some even start to mourn (“I’m just worried about what will happen to you if you don’t even try.”). Most are just perplexed and they shut down, wondering on a very basic level why I think fat is okay.
Remarkably, very few people ask. So I figured I’d just say it.
I’m fat positive because I’m a feminist, and I refuse to acknowledge in the magical thinking that if you’re small enough, quiet enough, compliant enough and saccharine enough, you will somehow be enough.
I’m fat positive because I can’t afford to pay for two airline tickets just because the airline industry has decided that my body is the problem—not their outdated seats that haven’t changed in decades.
I’m fat positive because I’ve been fat my whole life. No matter how much I work out or how little I eat, my clothing has never dropped below a size 20 (I know!). I could spend my life in a gym, chasing some mirage that my body will never be, or I could focus on eating and moving in a way that makes me healthy and happy. Or, even more radically, I could not think about dieting, and know that my health is my own damn business. Either way, on the weight continuum, I’ll be somewhere between “superfat” and “ginormous.”
I’m fat positive because every day, fat people give up on all kinds of priorities and dreams because they’re fat. Granted, that’s a piss-poor reason to give up, but you know what? Social messages reinforce that thinking every day. I can’t go to the gym: I’m fat & I’ll be humiliated. I can’t date anyone: who would want to date a fatty? I can’t wear that outfit: I’m fat. Hell, I gave up on acting in college because I didn’t think I stood a chance. I may not have been a great actor, but I don’t know because I knew that being fat was rarely a leg up in auditions.
I’m fat positive because of the pervasive myth that fat women must be lesbians—the underlying assumption being that queer women can “give up” on their bodies, because they don’t “need” to attract men. I’m fat positive because I’m queer, and that shit is homophobic AND sexist.
I’m fat positive because I identify as queer, a category designed to upset essentialist thinking about sexuality and gender. There are tidy lines of thought that prescribe that male = man = masculine = straight, and female = woman = feminine = straight. Fatphobia is one of many things that props all that up. By regulating what our bodies can and can’t look like (in a very gender-specific way), fatphobia perpetuates normative gender and sexuality in a way that keeps all of us trapped.
I’m fat positive because I work at being an anti-racist ally, and fatphobia reifies systems of power that erase the bodies of many people of color, and that stereotype, parody and ultimately nullify their experiences. For example, in order to function as an anti-welfare trope, the welfare queen must be a woman (in this case, a single woman), a single parent (careless and promiscuous), poor (irresponsible), fat (slovenly) and Black (the Other, for middle class white voters). The welfare queen stereotype relies on some level on the fatness of the subject in order to function. And, on top of that, it’s predicated on a fear of someone “taking too much,” crossing boundaries and claiming resources that aren’t hers to take, an almost predatory image of a fat woman of color. This theme of “taking what’s not yours” is repeated with communities of color when it comes to welfare, English-only ballot measures, immigrant rights, and more. And, of course, it plays a core role in fatphobia: fat people eat too much, take up too much space, and generally exist to consume.
I’m fat positive because your weight doesn’t have any necessary relationship to your health, your attractiveness, your worth, your agency, your passions or your personality. But it does have a deep relationship to how others treat you, how you’re allowed to identify, and what kind of ramifications you may face if you reach beyond those bounds.
I’m fat positive because I like to hike and swim and do yoga. But bizarrely, while there’s an overwhelming sense of hostility to just being a fat lady living my life, that hostility is heightened immensely when I’m seen working out. (You’d think they’d like to see me doing something that’s associated with weight loss, wouldn’t you?)
I’m fat positive because there’s a huge, awful machine called the diet industry. It demands that we get as skinny as possible, and then get skinnier. And it tells us that the only way to get skinny is by spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on gimmicks, pills and such. And know what that is? Classist.
I’m fat positive because, as Maria Bamford puts it, “L’Oreal: Because I’m worth it. And because holding myself to an impossibly high standard of beauty keeps me from starting a riot.” I’m fat positive because sometimes I think we ought to start a riot.
I’m fat positive because, despite my mother’s stellar politics and longstanding values, she couldn’t get past my being a fat kid. She’s a staunch feminist, and a wonderful and caring parent, but she still struggles with my fatness because of an ongoing and deeply destructive constellation of myths about what it means to be fat in the United States.
I’m fat positive because no matter what size you are, you shouldn’t be ashamed. You shouldn’t have to turn on the TV to see therapists making anorexic women cry, or see trainers shout at and shame fat people. I’m fat positive because I don’t think that anyone else should decide what’s okay for you to wear or eat or do or look like. I’m fat positive because even though no one should be subjected to that, millions of us are every day—and we’re shamed into silence and compliance.