Amp’s amazing comic about the ambivalence and difficulty of trying to keep your head above the flood of fatphobia got me thinking about the experience of fat men. I’ve been wanting to write about fat men for a while, not only because I married one (the best one) recently, but because men have an experience of fatness that is simultaneously distinct from and, in many ways, entirely intertwined with women’s experience. The feminist tenor of this blog might at first blush feel alienating for some men, and I think it would be a real pity if men clicked on by because they didn’t feel spoken to. I’d argue that fat men actually need feminism just as much as fat women.
Amp’s comic starts to get at why. Feminism doesn’t allow you to avoid brain colonization (and god, is that a PERFECT way of putting it or what?), but it allows you to be aware of it — an important first step — and it gives you some tools for coping. One effect of intersectionality, when it works, is that the language and concepts of one social justice movement can be enlightening and liberating even for those who are facing a different challenge. A fat man encountering feminist ideas for the first time will be privy to a new rhetoric of body autonomy and rejection of beauty ideals. Yeah, it’s a rhetoric that was developed for and about women, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the ladder he needs to start climbing out of the depths Amp’s comic describes.
But why feminism particularly, and not another social justice movement? Feminists are hardly the only ones resisting the thin white able-bodied ideal and the othering of bodies that don’t fit. But fatphobia directed towards men is heavily steeped in misogyny. Because female fatness is considered to be such an affront, fat men are feminized, or at least unmanned, before being attacked or dismissed. Think about the insults you see directed at fat men: they have breasts, they are soft, they can’t see their penises or their penises are small, they can’t fight (except by sitting on someone), women won’t have sex with them. These aren’t the only ways that fat guys are picked on — I asked my husband what insults he thought were directed at fat men in particular, and the first thing he said was “you smell bad even if you don’t.” Then of course there are the stereotypes about being lazy and eating everything that we all know so well; fat dudes get that too. And fat men as portrayed in the media can sometimes be exaggerated examples of masculinity (also as portrayed in the media) — meat-eating, sports-watching farting machines. But if somebody wants to be truly nasty or threatening to a fat man, they tend to start by equating them with women.
Women and fat men have a commonality of experience, and it’s not the need for chest support. It’s the psychological, and sometimes physical, violence directed against them simply for being perceived as exiles from the dominant masculine culture. This is true of gay men too, of course, and I imagine lots of other groups would say “hey, that’s me too” — I’m certainly not saying here that fat men can benefit from feminism to the exclusion of other movements! (After all, I’m the one who thinks fatphobia primarily exists as a sort of hideous progeny of misogyny, classism, racism, homophobia, and ablism — to really understand fatphobic attitudes, you have to venture into every one of those morasses.) But I do think that feminism has something to say to fat men in particular. They get insulted by being compared to women, and we espouse the still-radical idea that being feminine (or being called feminine) isn’t inherently insulting.
So… where’s the men at? I know there are a few of you. Does this idea resonate? (If not, set me straight.) Have you found feminism to be personally useful in combating your own internalized fat hatred? And, because I know there are only a few of you: how can we get the word out to other fat men?