Sex and the Fat Girl: The Beauty Industrial Complex and You

Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a writer living in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter at @tashajfierce and read more of their work on their website.

Fat acceptance is often associated with the redefining of beauty standards to include fatness as a representation of beauty. We fight for our bodies to be considered sexy and desirable; we challenge the dominant beauty paradigm and attempt to present an alternative. Many words have been written, by myself included, to encourage fat women to love their bodies as they are and consider themselves beautiful. Books full of nude photos of fat women are published in an attempt to confront the reader with the reality of fat bodies and at least tolerate them, if not find them attractive. In positioning thinness as the beauty standard and attempting to change it so that fat women are included, are we merely propping up the idea of an across-the-board beauty standard by placing another more inclusive standard beside it? If fat is a feminist issue, why don’t we challenge the dominant view that beauty is a viable concept instead of just accepting that unilateral standards of beauty exist and trying to shoehorn fat women into the “beautiful” category?

Beauty is fleeting, subjective and variable. Different cultures have different ideas of what beauty is, but as Westernization runs its course throughout the world, more societies are being force-fed Western beauty ideals and assimilating them into their own. Western cultures’ ideals of beauty have fluctuated throughout the centuries, with fat coming in and out of favor. With the concept of beauty being so impermanent, is it really best for fat women to attempt to be included in what is currently defined as beautiful, or should we focus on dismantling the beauty system beside our smaller sisters? Of course there are many, many thinner women who benefit from this ideal and aren’t interested in challenging it, but if they are supporters of size acceptance, their interest should be piqued. We all have a stake in challenging the nebulous idea of beauty.

This is not to say that those fat women who feel they are beautiful should stop deluding themselves and just wear a potato sack and rock bedhead. The fact is, we don’t exist in a vacuum and although we need to actively challenge the beauty industrial complex, we can still have fun with makeup and fashion as long as we’re quite aware of the need to subvert the standard. Fat women who feel beautiful and don’t feel shame about adorning their bodies are subversive. Just as fat women who feel beautiful but don’t feel the need to adorn their bodies are subversive. But as we push for inclusiveness and the right to be seen and not just seen past, we also have to keep in mind that this system is inherently flawed and unstable and is in dire need of eradication.

Although the concept of beauty is a facade, I do believe it must be subverted before it can be removed. Fighting for fat women to be considered beautiful is important work. Being a fat woman and walking outside feeling beautiful, loving how you look is subversive. Reveling in your fat is ideal. But as you celebrate your sexiness, remember that even the paragons of beauty today would have been or will be considered ugly at some point—which makes it even more imperative that all women (and men) work together to first expand the standards of beauty and then eliminate them.

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

What about those of who

What about those of who aren't beautiful and don’t want to be? Even the thin ones because fitting one ideal doesn't warrant automatic inclusion in the paradigm. I'm sick of people insisting that I must have low self-esteem to see myself this way or contradict my self-image. A perfunctory compliment that all women are beautiful detracts from the traits I find desirable and worthy of pride, like intelligence and talent. I don't mind being ugly because my peers who want to be pretty risk skin cancer and spread colorful toxins over their faces, ruin their feet and posture in high heels, and withstand all sorts of misery and bodily harm through crash diets. I am better than them. Fat women, don't weasel your way into a social definition that doesn't recognize personal opinions or even basic humanity that you're genetically predisposed to carry more weight or visceral fat. Let them have their club that kicks them out over the slightest infraction - a pubic bush, a birthday.

Good points, but...

Hi Yuhka,

I think you make some great points here that are in line with Tasha's thinking: namely, that beauty ideals are not inclusive nor are they very useful. However, working against beauty ideals doesn't mean putting down other women or saying that certain women (or men) are better than others based on looks, personal preferences, or responses to social pressures. Please refrain from speaking negatively about other women in this space.


Excellent reply and...

I think your reply to Yuhka is very good but I do think it's important to stress that Tasha speaks about beauty standards in a general sense of what is the social norm - not individual beauty. What one feels is not always aligned to the social norm, nor is the social norm inclusive in its form.

So, in general you're - according to social norm - more beautiful when you're slim than when you're fat at the same time as you're more beautiful when you have a big chest than with a slim one. This of course is (usually) contradictive and should really make you question the sanity of our current social norm...

As Tasha writes your body type should make no difference when you appreciate beauty. Finding a fat person beautiful should not be an exception to beauty; it should be a natural fact - but in general this is not true.


"Please refrain from speaking

"Please refrain from speaking negatively about other women in this space."

How on earth was Yuhka doing this? She wasn't speaking badly about anyone.

She did so by referring to

She did so by referring to herself as better than the girls who feel prettier tanned and made up than natural, as she did. Just because they feel this way doesn't make them stupid or worth less; some people just like themselves better that way.

Beauty is just a four-letter word

I think one of the important distinctions when talking about beauty is how it is used as a tool for objectification. We are so sold into beliefs through advertising, television, fashion and the beauty industry that the outside of a woman is her entire value (which we are told is used to attract a mate, used to get a job, used to even get out of parking tickets), and as you so eloquently put, shoehorning fatness into the beauty category only serves to enslave more women, instead of addressing the total objectification (and lack of voice) that often comes with labeling and categorizing in the first place.

I, for one, find it incredibly telling that the women we are sold as beautiful (be it thin, athletic, curvy, fat, robust, etc.) rarely, if ever, open their mouths. Models rarely give political statements, and the few who do are made to answer for their beauty when they do have something to say.

Can't we just BE, without having to worry about being labeled, categorized, and enslaved? Beauty is another four-letter word that tricks us into a perpetual caste system.

Beauty is indeed subjective

Beauty is indeed subjective and variable. But it can also be a source of joy, tenderness, togetherness, and pride without vanity. (Hell, pride with vanity too! but I'm not pushing for that..)

>But as we push for inclusiveness and the right to be seen and not just seen past, we also have to keep in mind that this system is inherently flawed and unstable and is in dire need of eradication.<

Beauty standards are inherently flawed in many ways--but I don't know if eradicating the concept of personal beauty is anything I'd be after, or that the concept of beauty is a facade. What I want to change is the attachment of personal beauty to personal value, the idea that my self-presentation is a form of currency that only has value because others assign that value to it, or the idea that being beautiful or not-beautiful carries qualities beyond mere appearance. (I mean, certainly people who are defined as beautiful or not-beautiful might develop qualities based on the reasons of others, but those qualities aren't inherent.)

Sex and the Fat Girl - what is a 'fat girl?'

I'm curious to know what exactly a 'fat girl' is. Simple question, whose criteria? This question is not intended facetiously. I'm not skinny by any standards, even those of the Pacific culture that is part of my nation, but I don't categorise myself as fat. But reading this, I'm wondering if I should!!

Different ideas of beauty

I think this is an interesting question. I'm living in the Pacific at the moment and the way my body is viewed is very different to my home country. In my home country I am seen as fat and I certainly don't fit the standard beauty ideal. In the country I'm living in at the moment I am seen as just right and very beautiful. The fact that I have a bit of fat on me is perfect and totally acceptable. Some of my friends who are thin and therefore beautiful at home are seen as too skinny and unfeminine here.


Personally, I think it's probably subjective to your cultural and social group. For instance, I grew up around bikers and fat women were actually pretty common and often considered desirable. 'Big momma' wasn't considered fat, in the sense that it is in regular American culture, but more as a meaning of large breasts or curves. I always got the idea that it meant someone you could practically sink into. Fat is rather relative in that way.

O'course, if you watch Sons of Anarchy, bikers don't bang fat chicks unless they're desperate or indiscriminate. B)

disappointing juxtaposition

Dear Bitch Magazine:

when reading your latest "Sex and the Fat Girl" post, i noticed the ad for new t-shirt colours and went to check it out. Alas, while you may have expanded the colour range the size range stays unchanged. How is it that your magazine can publish great size-positive articles and challenges and yet not consider that perhaps offering a choice between "women's sizes" (which go up to 14) or "unisex" (which appears to be shown on men and use men's shirt sizing, suggesting that perhaps unisex is actually men) is problematic and wildly contradictory?

Perhaps its time to turn that lens on yourselves as well and consider what message(s) you send when you make decisions like this?

deeply disappointed,

(a woman despite being outside a size 14)

Hello Jenn, Thanks for your

Hello Jenn,

Thanks for your comments. You're right that, unfortunately, our women's tees only go up to a size 14. We don't produce the shirts ourselves and have had a difficult time finding a clothing company that is ethical in its labor practices, affordable for our budget, and size-inclusive. (If you have any ideas as to where we could look, please do let us know!)

I can tell you that our unisex shirts, however, are indeed unisex. They run up to a women's 4XL and are cut like basic short-sleeved t-shirts, making them pretty gender-neutral and wearable (as long as you're someone who likes to wear t-shirts).

I hope that answers some of your questions, and I hope you'll continue to read Tasha's posts on fat acceptance. Her articles are great, and, if it helps, she isn't involved in any of the merchandise decision-making.


Thanks for posting this - very refreshing and insightful.

Beauty as subjective

I don't know that I want to take the power or feeling or emotion out of the word "beauty."

Where I'd like to get is where I can find people (and myself) beautiful just as I find flowers, buildings, trees, etc, beautiful.

What I don't initially find beautiful often has so much to offer. Ugly flowers might smell beautiful or produce the pollen that the bees turn into the honey on my toast, ugly buildings might be environmentally built and function well for their purpose, ugly trees might bear delicious, nutritious fruit or oxygenate my air better than their pretty cousins. . .

A person I don't initially find beautiful (on the outside), might be wonderfully, magically, wholly beautiful on the inside, and when I learn that, their outside will come to reflect that to me.

I understand that the "beauty industry" and the beauty myth been very destructive to and limited women, their self-worth and their potential, but social media and industry aside, finding beauty in the everyday, in everyday people enriches my life and appreciation of it. I can't ask or expect other people to find me beautiful. I can, though, expect of myself to pour more time, effort and money into making my inside beautiful than my outside, whether it be thin or average or fat.

I'm not saying for a second, though, that it's not an uphill battle to turn away from the tv, the magazine, the music video, the movie, the news, etc. and cultivate the beauty within without seeking to be validated for our beauty without - thin, average or fat.

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