A mighty fine example of pushback at the intersections is currently unfolding in the comments sections on my fellow guest blogger Tasha’s posts. In ‘Size Matters,’ she’s exploring the depictions of fat women in pop culture. Like she said in her intro:
I hope we can have a big fat productive dialogue about big fat bodies and their representation in pop culture. On this particular topic, the personal will most definitely be political (but isn’t it always?), so let’s keep that in mind and not fat shame, body shame, or in any other way make fellow commenters (or me!) feel bad about what they’re working with—or how they deal with it.
I have to admit, I wriggled with excitement when I found out I would be guest blogging with Tasha and that she would be writing about body image. The depiction of fat people in general and fat women in particular in pop culture is one of my many myriad interests and it’s a definite feminist intersection. There’s a lot of gendering and racializing that happens with fat, and there are a lot of social attitudes about fat that manifest in pop culture and the way we interact with it, from how fat women are depicted on television to how viewers react when fat characters have sexual relationships.
Right in Tasha’s introductory post, all kinds of interesting stuff started happening in the comments. Commenters were engaging with the material and adding to the discussion, of course, but people also showed up to inform Tasha and everyone else that fat is unhealthy, that she was ‘glorifying’ fat. Concern trolling erupted. Kelsey stepped in. People provided links to fat acceptance resources for the concern trolls, since it was clear that people were entering the conversation from different perspectives and with different levels of familiarity with size acceptance.
It was clear that for some Bitch readers, size acceptance and its intersection with feminism were new and potentially scary topics, and the word ‘fat’ was a dirty word to be resisted as strongly as possible. Fat wasn’t an adjective, but an epithet, to these readers. Comments on ‘Small Screen, Big Women’ became equally explosive almost immediately, as commenters descended with body policing, attempts to define ‘fat enough,’ and a myriad of other fun topics like how dare Tasha call Sara Ramirez ‘fat’! She’s beautiful!
In Tasha’s followup to address the problems in comments, ‘But You Have Such A Pretty Face!,’ she discussed the fact that size acceptance seemed alien to some Bitch readers, and laid out some ground rules for comments on her posts. These were promptly disregarded as the ‘don’t you know fat is unhealthy’ debate cropped up yet again, people derailed with unrelated topics, and others insisted on being educated (apparently Google is just too hard to find), and then commenters cried foul when Tasha and moderators attempted to get the conversation back on track.
What the comments on Tasha’s posts illustrate is the feminism has a long way to go when it comes to accepting bodies and identities and talking about them honestly. Reclaiming ‘fat’ as the adjective that it is has been an uphill battle for us fatties, and in spaces one might think would be body positive, we’re still fighting that battle.
There’s a reason series like Tasha’s are badly needed: We are not talking enough about how fat is depicted in pop culture and how that plays into our social attitudes. Tasha’s feel-good post celebrating positive depictions of fat women in television was a pretty stellar example of how polarized fat has become in some circles, including feminism. Some feminist-identified women in comments wrote about vehemently resisting the label of ‘fat’ (which is their right, I don’t believe in labeling people against their will) but also, in the process, contributed to the stigmatisation of fat and the shaming of people who do identify with this word.
The fat acceptance movement has been active for a long time. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has been around since 1969, challenging social attitudes about fat and fighting for fat equality. There are clear intersections between fat acceptance and feminism, as writers like Kate Harding have amply demonstrated, and there is also an unbelievable level of pushback when it comes to talking about fat in some feminist spaces; fat is bad, fat is bad for you, fat people are bad people.
Fat women, fat bodies, women reveling in their fat bodies, are still very threatening to a lot of people. Works like Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project (warning, nudity) and Laurie Toby Edison’s Women en Large (warning, nudity), depicting fat women engaging in a variety of activities, alone and together, have attracted unbelievable amounts of bile and vitriol, including in feminist communities where the images were brought up for discussion and people said things like ‘they are just unpleasant to look at’ and speculated on the health of the participants.
The visceral fear and hatred of fat bodies is widespread in our society, and it has far wider implications than the simple lack of inclusion of happy fat women in pop culture. It results in stigma against fat patients in medical settings, for example. These things are feminist issues; when people that look like me aren’t included in pop culture, it hurts me. When people who look like me can’t access medical treatment, it hurts me. When people who look like me are policed in feminist spaces, it makes me feel unwelcome in those spaces.
When we talk about ‘intersectionality,’ this is what we mean; that people with different lived experiences and identities all belong in the feminist movement, if they want to be. That we need to foster a culture of inclusion, not exclusion, so that we can have complicated conversations, like conversations about fat, identity, depictions of fat, and how we interact, culturally and personally, with fat.
For every person insisting that Sara Ramirez isn’t fat because she’s beautiful, there’s a beautiful person with a body like Sara’s, being reminded that she isn’t beautiful because she’s fat.