Fat runs in my family. A couple of aunts, a cousin or two, and a few other family members are (or have been) a weight that society has deemed unacceptable. I was sitting with one of these aunts the other day, killing a little spare time before a job interview, and she was looking at my copy of Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology. She glanced over the cover skeptically, then looks at me and asked, “Why did you get into all this body stuff?”
My immediate internal response was confusion. Why did I “get into” accepting myself? Isn’t that something that people are always telling you what to do? Love and accept yourself the way you are, we’re all made differently, etc. and so on? Did she mean, why did I become more political about it? Why did I decide to not make changing my body the entire focus of my life? Why did I end up accepting fat bodies as just as worthy as straight-sized ones? Why did I accept fat?
What I ended up saying that day was that I had hated myself for 27 years straight, and I was tired of it. But her question stuck with me: why did you get into all this body stuff? I think what my confusion was really centered around after she had asked me that the question of why she wasn’t into “all this body stuff.”
People are always telling you to love and accept yourself. The idea that they mean only accepting an acceptable version of yourself isn’t new. Specifically with fat acceptance, you see the rampant fear of “glorifying obesity.” You must keep fat people in shame, or how will they ever rein in their obvious lack of self-control and fit back into the sizes society has deemed healthy, attractive, and appropriate? (Side note: Jes Baker has had wonderful things to say about this, definitely check her out).
This shame that fat people must be kept wallowing in keeps us in a rut of self-hatred. I’m fat, but I’m not that kind of fat. How often has this phrase popped up around different identities? The idea is that you know what’s problematic about your identity, and you’re not any of that. You’re aware you’re fat, but you’re working on it. You eat veggies, not Big Macs. You’re restricting. You work out. You know your body is bad, but at least you know and you desperately want to change, unlike those fat people. Y’know, the ones who’ve let themselves go.
Y’know. These ones:
[Photo is the character Fat Bastard from Austin Powers movies. He is shown in bed from the torso up, naked, covered in hair and frosting. He is eating cake.]
There he is, the ultimate problematic fatty. That’s the basis of his humor, isn’t it? And that’s how every fat person wants to avoid being seen.
If you’re going to be seen as a “good” person and you’re fat, you need to be trying to fix yourself. That’s the only acceptable way to be. You need to make sure you don’t become Fat Bastard. So you push yourself away from other fat people, you make sure you’re not associated with them, and as a result fat people exist as individual scapegoats. By isolating and dividing fat people, society has insured that we continue on our own narrow paths of trying to lose weight, get “healthy” (see: lose weight), and stay blind to every systemic issue we are faced with on a day-to-day basis. Chair too small for you? Your own problem, and yours alone– lose weight. Need to buy two airplane tickets? Your own problem. Lose weight. Can’t find professional business clothes in your size? Your own problem. Lose weight.
These things are never seen as a problem with society at large– they are always seen as the problem of the individual. When fat people do come together, do organize, do advocate, we are told we’re glorifying obesity. Isn’t it far more comfortable to know your place, know you need to lose weight, and know that you need to feel that shame if you’re ever going to be the way you should be?
I can’t know exactly what my aunt was thinking when she asked “why” I’m into “all this body stuff,” but my thought is that on some level she was really asking why I decided to try to shed that shame. Why do I no longer know my place? Why am I suddenly a problematic fat person?
I don’t think I have a choice anymore. I don’t have the energy to continue living in shame and making sure everyone knows how sorry I am for the body I inhabit. Either I love myself, shamelessly, completely, and (in the eyes of some) problematically, or I just give up.
I don’t feel like giving up. And if I’m Fat Bastard, then I’m Fat Bastard, and to that I say: I’m dead sexy.