In light of a truly hilarious misreading of my recent post about weight loss, I thought I’d write a bit about what fat activism means to me. Because the truth is, what with the recent weight loss and everything, I’m not fat. Not really, not right now. For the last few years I’ve been more of what the fine folks at fatshionista call an “inbetweenie” — someone who is not thin but not fat, who sometimes shops at plus size stores and sometimes at straight size stores, who sometimes gets disparaged for her size but sometimes gets a free pass for it. I found fat activism through a few friends and through fatshionista, and I can truly say that it has changed my life for the better. Sometimes, though, the participation of those of us on the smaller end of the non-skinny spectrum is viewed with understandable suspicion by other people in the movement. So in case any of our lovely readers at Shapely Prose are curious about what someone like me is doing blogging with the inimitable Kate Harding, here are some of my reflections. (Fatshionista members, you might find some of this dimly familiar!)
My experience as an inbetweenie puts me in a complicated relationship to fatness. I usually wear a size 12 or 14, and an L or XL on that scale; I’m well-endowed (if you know what I mean and I think you do) and that often affects what size I wear. Sometimes I can shop in straight sized stores; sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I’m the smallest person in a room; sometimes, I’m the biggest. I’ve been thinner than I am now, and I’ve been fatter. The fatosphere has, for me, been a godsend, because it has finally convinced me, for real, that I do not have to try to get thinner. I seem to have settled into a size my body likes with exercise and good food (give or take those illness-related 20 pounds!), and at age 28, I’ve finally learned to love my body, whether or not I can fit my hips into pants at some store or not.
So what would someone on the low end of the inbetweenie scale get out of fat activism? Are people like me double agents from the thinner world, getting our jollies out of pretending to be fat?
I can’t answer that for other inbetweenies. But here are some ways that reading fatshionista, participating in the fatosphere, and changing my thinking about fat have improved my life:
There’s the fashion. I love seeing how women of many different sizes and shapes dress. The mass media rarely shows more than two kinds of women: skinny women with big racks and skinny women with small racks. There are so many different shapes and sizes of people in the world, and anyone that looks remotely like me is excluded from mainstream representation. (Remember, even ScarJo is “fat” now!) I’d rather have Crystal Renn or Kate Dillon as a fashion icon than Nicole Richie, because they’re more exciting to me.
There’s the politics. Fat activists are trying to create a world in which thinness is not assumed to be the default goal for every woman and man. That’s a world I want to live in. I believe size negativity hurts everyone, fat and thin, in the way that patriarchy hurts both women and men. Even people who benefit from privilege are forced to live in a system that demands that they justify their privilege by conforming to the oppressive system. Fighting the regulation and circumscription of women’s bodies is crucial to my identity as a feminist. That said, I am fully aware and guiltily thankful that I don’t experience some of the discrimination or the everyday logistical difficulties that many people bigger than me do (though as I said, I haven’t always been the size I am now).
And finally, there’s the everyday angle, the way fat acceptance intersects my life experiences. Even at the size I am, I’m not thin. I can’t shop at all “normal” stores. I can’t buy bras at anywhere but specialty stores. I searched high and low for a pair of knee-high boots that would zip up over my calves, and I never found any. My thighs would catch on fire from rubbing together if I didn’t take drastic chub-rub-prevention measures. Women normally only talk about these kinds of things in a disparaging light; in a fat acceptance community, these are normal experiences. (I’m willing to bet they’re normal experiences for lots of women smaller than I am, too — but I’ve never heard any of them talk about it.) I’ve been fatter than I am now, and my experiences at different weights/sizes forms a huge part of my understanding of feminism. Finally, I can talk about my body without trying to avoid the word “fat.”
In the end, I hope that one of the goals of fat acceptance is not only for fat people to gain respect, dignity, and self-esteem, but also to make people of all sizes feel good about fat — in whatever degrees it is present or absent. The more we all get to be visible without apologizing for our bodies, the more just our culture is.