Push(back) at the Intersections: Fat. So?

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.

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by s.e. smith
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s.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California.

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21 Comments Have Been Posted

Excellent post

I love this:

<em>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. </em>

So elegant & true. This post is on point.

Excellent post

I concur that this is indeed a fantastic post. Hmm are you familiar with the singer Beth Ditto? Might want to read up about her as I believe she would have a lot to contribute on this topic

Concern troll reminder...

Just a reminder that, like the threads on Tasha's posts, this is not a space for concern trolling or a discussion about health as it relates to weight. This is a feminist pop culture blog, and we are not here to speculate as to what a person's vital stats may be based on her size (fat or thin or short or tall or whatever).


Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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Loving this!

I am loving this series! No, correction: I am unbelievably uncomfortable with this series. But, as someone who has always been identified by others as fat and am only to the point where I can own the label when viewing myself through the lens of what I assume is others' perception of my body, I <i>need</I> this series. I have already learned how far I have to go in understanding fat acceptance - of myself and of others - including those whom I previously wouldn't have considered "fat enough to be fat". Thanks for the education and the healing, and the images of some gorgeous women to help remind me that I'm pretty now, not after I lose those ____ lbs.

"What the comments on

"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"

Well, Bitch readers have struggled with a number of issues, including but not limited to transphobia and ableism; fat stuff i didn't imagine would be much if any different. i really hope that folks can get on track with this though, because there's so much work to do, folks don't need to be wasting time concern trolling stuff they could easily google the shit out of. And honestly, some of us fatties don't actually want to find yet another vat of failsauce when all we wanted was to nom on some rad commentary.

I agree

This is a great comment.

Also, lol at "failsauce." :-)

Oh, Annaham, you have GOT to

Oh, Annaham, you have GOT to try doughnuts with failsauce. They are just the best.


this is an exciting topic - i would absolutely love to see this discussion move forward.

I really like what Naomi Wolfe said it in the Beauty Myth: "a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience."

For the record, I was the

For the record, I was the one who caused most of the health debate derailing in the introductory post. However on reading all of the articles so far in the series on fat-shaming, stereotyping and negative associations - the comments have shown just how untouched and important with these issues are to put an end to without needing to address health. Also, I was commenting what I really thought, not "concern trolling". I enjoyed this article and will continue to keep up with future Size Matters blogs.

Actually, lecturing people

Actually, lecturing people in a space where you have been specifically told not to, both in the original post and multiple times by moderators, is most definitely concern trolling.

Don't forget The

Don't forget The Adipositivity Project! Those images are amazing - gotta spread the love. :)


I watched

but did not comment on the original blog posts simply because of the rain of negative messages people spilled without realizing (I assume) the toxicity of what they said. I realize now that I let them shame me into silence. I could not imagine that my saying anything would change a single mind. They shamed me. They muted me. Their fear and disgust made it impossible for me to step up.

I've lived with the label "fat" for almost 40 years, since I was in grade school. I carried it (and a whole host of 'solutions', from pills to diets to food rules to exercise regimens) throughout my life, even during periods where photographs of me demonstrate clearly that I was bright, active, lovely, and physically healthy. I realize now that I don't really know what "fat" means, except that it applies to me no matter what my body shape or size, and it is a very bad thing which limits what I can wear, what I can eat, what I can do, and what I can expect from life. It's a word that, added to any other insult, compounds and intensifies the insult. It's one thing to be a slut. It's another to be a fat slut.

I'll say it now -- thin does not mean healthy or beautiful or good automatically. Those qualities are not attached to a particular word or a particular body shape and size. Those associations are not universal truths. Someone labeled fat can just as easily be healthy, beautiful, or good as someone without that label.

So, thank you for these articles and for the blog posts to come. I can see I have so much to learn here. At least I have an opportunity to stop feeling this shame and cease to be silent when I and those similarly labeled as fat are ignored, shamed, told we are killing ourselves, etc. It won't be easy, but I think I'm up for it.

This is a really important

This is a really important point, Murphy Jacobs! By setting up adversarial environments filled with fat shaming, people are ensuring that fat folks who want to engage are silenced and can't participate in the conversation. Feminists grappling with intersectionality often asked why marginalised groups 'don't just join the conversation' and that's really hard to do when the conversation is openly hostile.

Thanks for the great post. I

Thanks for the great post. I am one of those women who probably won't ever like the label "fat" and people are welcome to use it, it's their right and if that's how they identify, then that's how they identify. Just don't call *me* fat. I would get upset if someone said I was a fat woman, and because of that, I won't say anyone else is (unless that's how they identify personally). That's all about that.

It's absolutely definitely true that larger bodies are very threatening to others, and they don't want to accept them as equals or think of them as less of a person. I deal with this just about every day at work (I work in the bridal industry) and it's so disheartening to me sometimes because I just see these women beating themselves up because they don't wear a specific size. And I understand that it's a big deal to them, but to me, they look great. I guess I just wish people wouldn't focus so much on size and looks and more about how they are as people, and I guess that just shows what an unfortunately looks-centric society we are.

I absolutely agree that a series like this is very much needed, and i will definitely be keeping an open mind about the word "fat." I don't think I can learn to love it and use it to describe myself, but if other people want to use it for themselves, I respect that.

And I am astounded that anyone would say that those photographs are not pleasant to look at, I guess they don't like looking at Renaissance nudes either. Or countless other works of art. But then again, a lot of contemporary art is like a punch to the gut, it makes people uncomfortable, it highlights their own prejudices. It's not to say that the subject itself is unpleasant, it's that the viewer is the one who has the reaction. When I look at those photographs, it does not make me uncomfortable in the least bit. But to those who are uncomfortable, it definitely should make them think about *why* it makes them uncomfortable.

Hear, hear!

Another excellent piece! I'm loving the influx of fat acceptance pieces coming from Bitch lately.

Kate Harding's Shapely Prose was my 101 course in fat acceptance, and I'll admit, it took me a little time to wrap my head around just how much fat/size acceptance and feminism intersected. Not because it's a stretch (because it's not in the least), but because I had the idea that certain body types are by default unhealthy crammed down my throat from the time I was born. From family, friends, television, everywhere. It takes time to unpack some of that, and now I'm elated that I was able to do so. So, I sincerely hope some of those resistant to fat acceptance take a little time to really think about it and come a similar conclusion: fat isn't a bad word, and reclaiming it strips the pejorative and its users of their power.


I've definitely been learning more reading these blogs about this issue. While I agree with the last statement of your post, I think part of the problem for some people that was addressed in other threads was the idea of sensitivity to those who aren't quite at the place you are and are working to get there. I for one still can't get into calling anyone fat because my only experience with that word has been hearing used in a hateful way. So I am sure as hell not going to use it for others unless I know it's OK with them. Reclaiming the word is a great idea, but I think for a lot of folks, the trail will have to be taken with baby steps.

brilliant. Brilliant.

brilliant. Brilliant. BRILLIANT. I've been following the whole Size Matters series so far, and it's been a mixture of feeling triumphant (that Bitch is addressing the issue of fat acceptance and media depictions of fatness head on) and utterly heartbroken (that a good portion of my feminist "sisters" seem to be so oblivious about the whole thing). Fatphobia is something that many of us face every day and can be as obvious as people shouting insults at you on the bus to as well-meaning as being told what a pretty face you have, if you would just lose some weight. This is an especially damaging type of prejudice, because not only are you hated by those around you, but you're also taught to self-hate at a very early age... Women, and Feminists in particular, if anyone, should be able to understand this concept. Or so I thought.

For example, my mother, who loves me more than life itself, has been trying to get me to lose weight since I was about 12 years old. When I was 17, I was getting into fashion and buying cute clothes, but since I wore a size 16 at the time (and this was pre-Torrid and back in the day when Lane Bryant was still mainly in the business of making grown up clothes and "moo moos"), shopping was rough to say the least. Cute clothes were hard to find, they cost more than straight sizes, and even if you could find a 16, things like length and overall fit were still iffy at best. So, to make it all better, mom offered me a $500 shopping spree if and ONLY IF I was able to drop 35 pounds (which would have put me at 5'8" and 136 pounds... a weight I haven't seen since the age of 11). That way, I could wear whatever I want and everything I tried on would look nice on me. When you ask her why she would implement such a plan, her answer is that she's not only concerned for my health, but also for my self-esteem. She knows that being fat means being treated differently, and by rewarding me for weight loss, she was trying to save me from a life of shame and ridicule. Of course, I never was able to reach the weight loss goal, which, as if I didn't already feel like such a loser, made me feel a thousand times worse about myself. The point of the story is this: most people would agree that Mom, of all people, was acting out of nothing but genuine concern and love for her daughter, whom she only wanted to protect, and really, you can't blame her, right? THIS is the problem that needs to be overcome. Mom shouldn't have to feel compelled to subject her daughter to crash dieting in order to protect her from the world. Mom doesn't seem to understand that her comments and tactics over the years to get me to lose weight have done nothing but crush my spirit and remind me that there is something allegedly wrong with me that prevents me from being a whole person in the eyes of the rest of the world. She doesn't see it that way, because SHE knows I'm great, but she wishes that the rest of the world could see it, and they simply can't in my current bodily state. It's one thing to be ridiculed by strangers at the mall.... It's quite another when those who love you the most unknowingly and unwillingly perpetuate the damaging effects of fatphobia. It's THAT pervasive. And therefore, it's THAT problematic.

Okay, that was way longer of a tangent than I meant to go on, but really, I just wanted to send a big fat thank you for tackling the last socially acceptable form of prejudice with grace, wit, and intelligence. Can't wait to read more.

I cannot allow a statement

I cannot allow a statement about fat being 'the last acceptable prejudice' to pass without comment. This statement is made a lot, about a lot of prejudices, and it is patently untrue. Claiming that a particular prejudice is 'the last acceptable' one is a slap in the face to people fighting prejudice on multiple axes of oppression in their daily lives, and it's statements like this that cause some people to feel alienated by feminism. When we are told the prejudices we experiencing aren't happening anymore or aren't deemed acceptable by society when we have ample evidence to the contrary, it's a denial of lived experience.

Okay, I understand what

Okay, I understand what you're saying. I certainly didn't mean to deny anyone else's struggle for equality and acceptance, and I apologize for the wording of that sentence. But I stand by my argument that fatphobia runs rampant, both in real life and in popular culture, and it's allowed because it often gets masked as "wanting to help these poor, pathetic fat people."

This also brings up another argument on the topic of fatphobia, something I found a lot of when doing my research for my senior thesis in my social protest and resistance class (my paper was called "Nothing to Lose: Social Protest Rhetoric of the Fat Underground" and was actually presented as part of a panel discussion at the 2008 ECA Conference) - that fatphobia is not a "real" concern and that the entire realm of fat studies and fat activism is just an "excuse to be fat," and furthermore, that it "promotes an unhealthy lifestyle." Other interest groups, even within the realm of feminism, often resent the idea of fat acceptance because they feel it's trivial, even silly, and that their own cause is so much more important. After all, there's no law that says I can't marry another fat person. I guess they figure "all you need to do to overcome your societal oppression is lose weight, so put down your picket signs and hit the gym." It's a real bummer. I used to be adamant about the fat acceptance movement, but in all honesty, after being met with so much resistance, I've been feeling awfully defeated lately, which is why I was so pumped to see Bitch finally tackling some of the conversation.

All forms of bigotry and

<em>All</em> forms of bigotry and -ism fail are condoned in a society, which privileges certain lived experiences over others. Racism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, classism and so forth all operate with impunity in a society with its intolerance woven into the very fabric of its institutions.

Fatphobia is blatant, while it is couched in concerns regarding health, it's not about health. It's about dominance; just like the other forms of oppression.

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New Show

This post and thread made me think of this new show http://bit.ly/cSXbVC At first I thought it was refreshing to see fat main characters. But Chuck Lorre is a misogynist so I can't really get behind anything he does. Then of course they have to make the fat people "Overeaters." And Lorre hedges his bets by saying he's being brave with the casting but then assuring everyone that they will be fat shamed.

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