Image from "Normal Women" campaign launched by Curvy Girl Lingerie owner, Chrystal Bougon. Click to read the original blog.
You may have heard that "Fit Mom" Maria Kang attacked
the recent Curvy Girl Lingerie
campaign that took a stand against fat shaming online by showcasing selfies of "normal women" with "lumps, bumps, scars and stretch marks."
When Facebook responded to her post by banning Kang temporarily for hate speech she told Yahoo! that she felt like she'd been "sent to the principal's office" and characterized the backlash as an over reaction to "this weight issue
From a November 25 Yahoo! Shine article:
“We’ve become so sensitive to this weight issue that people who speak out against it are vilified... It’s so backwards to me.”
In this statement, Kang attempts to position herself as a victim of those fighting to end size-based discrimination - characterizing legitimate concern and critique as an issue of sensitivity rather than one of social justice
. Furthermore, Kang uses the language of victimization to position her views as a minority opinion when in fact there is compelling evidence
that the bigotry she voiced is far more in line with cultural norms than the message that the Curvy Girl campaign was attempting to convey.
Negative body image - and some of its attendant disorders
- is a pervasive cultural concern. Proactive campaigns - like that of Curvy Girl Lingerie
- that feature countervailing images and messages are integral to changing the discussion about the significance of body diversity and creating space for women to heal from the pervasive thincentric ideal presented by mass media.
Though Kang's statement seems to dismiss the fight against fat discrimination, it is worth re-centering this discussion as one firmly based in civil rights and ending discrimination. As a fat activist, I am not engaged in a "weight issue," and in my opinion neither is Curvy Girl owner, Chrystal Bougon.
I am part of a movement
seeking to eradicate social and institutional fatphobia.
I am part of a movement
that advocates for the end of discrimination based on size.
I am part of a movement
that promotes the belief that women don't need to have an "excuse" if their bodies do not adhere to social expectations of fitness.
One of the issues I feel none of the articles on this debacle have addressed is the role that gender, race and class play in Maria Kang's messaging.
When I look at Maria Kang I see a woman of color. When I read what she has to say I see ideas that are deeply impacted by the stifling pressures of a fatphobic, sexist and racist culture. Her "What's Your Excuse?" image truly asks the viewer to justify not only her body but her very existence. In this question lies a challenge, and moreso, an accusation.
To me, Kang's question echos longstanding US narratives (like bootstrapping
) that simplistically reduce things like employment and class ascendency to "hard work." Fitness ideals fall perfectly
in line with the rigid individualism that characterizes so many of the impossible standards to which Americans are subject.
I see her dogged defense of an ideology that does not actually
benefit or humanize her (or really anyone) as the internalization of rhetoric that has long been used against people of color, women and working class people. I absolutely do not seek to absolve Maria Kang of autonomy or responsibility
, but do wonder about her (and others') investment in this type of self-defeating ideology.
The attention and overwhelmingly supportive response that the Curvy Girl campaign has received indicates the growing fortitude of a movement to end size discrimination. This work is more than a bunch of sensitive fat girls sending the Maria Kangs of the world to the principal's office.
The simple truth is this: I'm not fighting for the right to lord my amazing jiggly thighs over others in a jpeg. I'm not fighting for the right to give people boners. I'm not fighting for the right to be a hot mom.
I'm fighting for a life that feels like it belongs to me. I'm fighting for all the people who have been taught that hating themselves is normal. I'm fighting for every fat girl who perpetually has the word sorry half-formed on her lips.
I'm fighting for liberation.
So, it's the day before Thanksgiving and yeah, you're panicking.
Maybe you're panicking because someone at Thanksgiving dinner is going to talk mega shit about the weight you've gained or inappropriately praise you for weight you may have lost in the intervening 11 1/2 months since they've seen you. Maybe you're panicking because your brain is remembering the dieting frenzy that Thanksgiving used to usher in for years and years and you're worried that you're going to snap back into self-loathing or self-harming behavior. Maybe you're panicking because the internet has begun to explode with stories about body image and dieting and fat-free marshmallow pie and babies and grown-up life. Maybe you're panicking because you don't have family and you're tired of and hurt by the 24/7 Thanksgiving family talk. Maybe - if you're like me - you're panicking because even though holidays are allegedly supposed to be about love they always end up being about tightened anuses because love is hard and shit is complicated.
Regardless of why you're panicking I want you to know that there's nothing wrong with you for panicking. Your body and mind are reacting to what they know and remember. Your body knows we live in a fatphobic culture. If you're worried about eating and food and your body that's because you've been taught to worry about eating and your food and body. You don't need to breathe your way into self-actualization (unless you want to). You don't have to wish you were above it all. You don't have to have worked your way through all of it. And even though it might seem like you're in some kind of sad moldy tunnel with no end in sight (even if it feels like you've seen this tunnel a hundred times before), you're actually in process right now. You are actually doing and becoming.
So, do what you have to do (that isn't especially ass-holey or illegal) to survive this and care for yourself. Trust the tools you have developed. Trust your body when it tells you what it wants and needs. Give yourself those things.
If nothing else, think of the clearance canned pumpkin.
Never in a million years did I think I would be invited to read about fat positive feminism on the Sister Spit Tour
, but it happened and the tour is slated for Spring 2014. I will be traveling the country (and Canada!) with other amazing feminist and queer performers, artists, writers and there's a good chance I will be reading some fat positive stuff in a town that perhaps less than 50 miles from you! I totally can't wait to read fat positive stuff no more than 50 miles from you! So yeah, money needs to happen. But get this ghurl, we could be hugging and taking selfies come Spring! So, I'm going to ask you to donate to the Sister Spit IndieGoGo campaign
. Ghurl, even I'm about to donate because the campaign ends in 13 HOURS!!
That's how amazing this shiz is. The proceeds support me and other amazing activist-artists who are amazing. Thank you in advance and p.s. if it's between donating and paying for groceries then get the groceries please and don't even feel bad!xo,
Ashley Young is a contributing author to the fat positive anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.
Being a contributor for Hot & Heavy made me embrace the word "fat" with pride. Not only have I learned to embrace the term in my everyday life, but I also embraced it as a writer.
Around the time of publication, I was embarking on a full time career as an author and an editor. I never imagined the first piece I would have anthologized would be on the topic of fat positivity. I had been writing a lot about my childhood struggles and coming to terms with my sexuality through queer love, but it wasn’t until I started my piece for Hot & Heavy that I fully began to understand how my plus-sized body has played a crucial role in my own self-discovery as a brown skinned woman.
Publishing with H&H also reinforced appreciating my body in the nude. In February of 2011, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, my partner and I had the opportunity to shoot with photographer Substantia Jones. When Substansia gave us the option of posing nude, we went for it. My partner, Sara Vibes, a sex educator and leather woman, has always encouraged my body with the presence of her own. She herself holds many stories of fat girl triumphs and blues so for the two of us, it was a lovely chance to capture our body dynamics on camera. Our photos not only appear on two months of Substansia’s Adiposivity 2014 calender, one of them was also published in this month’s nude issue of Diva Magazine.
My growing acceptance of my fat body has also appeared in some of my other writing projects. After publication in Hot & Heavy, with the support of my partner, I quit a job that I hated and started working full time on my first novel, “The Liberation of the Black Unicorn.” This project has become a wonderful healing tool for me. I am using Audre Lorde’s form of biomythography as well as her poem “The Black Unicorn” to write out my journey to Black Queer Womanhood. I discovered that much of body liberation came from disregarding the myth that my fat body cannot be desired and surrounding myself with people who fully embrace me. The people I surround myself with who re-affirm my body love are my queer, polyamorous, kink and leather family and friends, many of whom appeared as fictionalized characters in my novel.
If you’d like to read more about the process of my novel, check out Elixher.com for my piece on biomythography at http://elixher.com/a-liberation-story-redefining-myself-through-biomythography/
Ashley (left) with her partner, Sara Vibes
Claiming Fat Power
I wrote my piece for Hot & Heavy
at a point when I was really feeling my power as a public fat person. I was doing some interesting projects, I had a secure income for a period of time, and was embroiled in an academic project, a PhD, that I hoped would bring me status and employment. Things sort of went the way I wanted them to in the intervening period, but it's been a bumpier ride than I imagined.
I got my doctorate and struggled, as everyone who does this kind of thing struggles, with getting it finished in a timely manner. My Dad died suddenly but not unexpectedly a month before I submitted my thesis. Pow. I saw a bereavement counsellor who helped me through the immediate aftermath of losing Dad and the then forthcoming loss of my identity as a researcher within an academic department, and the loss of my scholarship income as the programme ended. She reminded me that I have power and resources, and that I should use them. I took her seriously.
I decided that, for now, the academy is not the place where I want to focus my attention. I found out that a PhD sounds fancy but doesn't guarantee a good job. I started to find out more about the Para-Academy, a body of work and activism that seeks to undermine the elitism of knowledge production in universities. I started to think more critically about what it meant to be part of an institutional knowledge machine, and especially about how I might make anti-oppressive work, particularly within Fat Studies. I started to build on an idea called Research Justice, which is a way of doing research that puts people who are usually marginalised by research at the centre of things. I designed a couple of small research justice projects, one about how fat activists experience being stitched-up in the media, and another about fat people and their resistance to institutional violence. This helped me to think about where I might take my academic training, it opened up new possibilities.
I returned to Plan A, which was to set up business as a psychotherapist. I started working with clients who wanted to talk about themselves in relation to politics, their bodies, oppression, agency. Some of my clients were and are fat people who need a non-judgmental space to explore what that means. It felt amazing to be able to channel some of my experience into this work. I have big ideas for developing this service and for thinking about how fat activism might generate ways of supporting people's mental health. There is so much to do!
Some unexpected things came up: invitations to speak, performances with a band, films. I got invited to be a columnist at DIVA magazine, where I write about queer identity and fat. I was joined the board of ScotteeInc, a charity supporting queer fat performance. I produced a wigged-out event called the Fattylympics. I produced some fact sheets for an LGBT health organisation about fat. I started the process of publishing my thesis in a way that would help the most people. Nothing was secure or certain, but the work continued.
When I think about body love, which is admittedly not very often, I think about where my fatness has taken me (towards some of the things that I have described above, for example). If I had lived a life of trying to deny my body or making it into something else, I would not have the riches that I currently enjoy with regards to work, community and creativity. My sense of valuing myself as a fat person is not limited to whether I can tolerate looking at, feeling, or knowing my own body; it's about claiming power and, as far as I can, using that power ethically for the good of all beings. Hot & Heavy
was not the first time that I have published work relating to fat, in many ways I am an old hand at this. The anthology Shadow On A Tightrope
was the first book that really politicised me about fat, and I'm sure Hot & Heavy will do that for others. I value both books because they represent a collective moment. This breaks down the idea that the movement is merely a platform for some (inevitably white, middle class, urban North American, 'exceptional') high profile people or celebrities who have managed to capitalise on the beautiful and wonderful idea that fat is not such a terrible thing to be after all. Hot & Heavy
shows that there are many of us thinking about this stuff and mobilising around it in our own ways. I want to keep that in mind, and encourage others to do so too, to claim our own spaces, and to know that fat power is for everyone. Charlotte Cooper
11 September 2013
Read Charlotte's chapter, "Hey Sister, Welcome to my World!," & support fat positive community and literature by purchasing a copy of Hot & Heavy and by liking us on Facebook!
When Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion
was about to be released by Seal Press
last November, my publicist at the time, Andie (who loves alliteration and earnestly preparing for the zombie apocalypse), recommended we brainstorm a campaign in anticipation of publication. At first I thought 30 days of fat-something... And Andie suggested 50. Since "fifty" and "fat" both start with "F." And so 50 Days of Fat Ferociousness was born. I asked about 35 people to tell me what made them hot and heavy, and then I added some major fat figures/ illuminati to the mix. Here are some highlights...
It was 2011, and I had nearly lost my mind in grad school.
I had been through months of therapy, had fled the country, had come back, had cried about a gallon of frustration tears, had subjected my friends and boyfriend to the same conversation (the "I think I'm losing my shit!" conversation) about ten trillion times. You know that harrowed, defeated, puffy, pathetic look that people who have just gone through an intense breakup have? Yeah, I had that
look every day for over a year. I was in an abusive relationship - with academia
, but it was all about to end.
I was sitting at my desk at the (now defunct) think tank where I was working, about a month before graduation. The idea for what is now Hot & Heavy
hadn't exactly been born yet, but a different version had been growing inside my head for two years by this point.
I decided to write Brooke Warner
At the time she was the acquisitions editor at Seal Press
. I had written her two years before, right before I was accepted to my master's program. I had pitched a manifesto called "Fatties of the World Unite!" And even though it was ultimately rejected, Brooke encouraged me to keep writing and to move forward with the idea of a book on the subject of fat. She had said back in 2009 that it wasn't the right time for the book, but after spending over a year researching fat women and existing in what I call the "fat underground" I was sure that the world was ready for this book - that the world needed
Brooke agreed. She actually pushed my original idea - of an anthology exclusively about fat sexuality - to what the book is now: a collection of stories about all aspects of fat girl life. So the book got the green light! I was dying with joy and delight and excitement. I decided to leave the country again after I graduated: this time to visit my friend Brittney in Beijing and then to one of my favorite cities in the world, Bangkok. I remember literally waiting an hour at a Thai post office to send the signed book contract back to Berkeley.
From that point I had six months to put together an entire book.
So I put out a call for contributors...
Each of the submissions pushed my understanding of fatphobia, of fat life, and the complex ways that fat intersects with other identities. Reading fat girls' stories forced me to grow as an editor, as a woman, and as a fat person. For so long I had believed that fat positivity was a magical power only wielded by magical people. When I began I really thought the book would be a light-hearted guide to living a fabulous fat life. But the stories were more complicated than that. What I discovered was that body love was a tool that was hard won by people with incredible strength, resiliency and drive to subvert a culture that seeks to stifle - or altogether exterminate - their right to life.
The title "Hot & Heavy
" didn't come until later. I was waiting for that perfect moment. I knew I couldn't - wouldn't - settle when it came to the name this book would have. I had asked a bunch of people and racked my brain. And then the moment came! It came while I was reading the holiday gift guide in O Magazine
on the toilet (as one does, ghurl!), and one of her brilliant copywriters had suggested giving a "hot and heavy" gift like a crock pot. That was it! That was the title I'd been searching for!
At the end of the editing process I had thirty-one stories. Once I submitted the manuscript it was another eight months before I would have the book in my hands.
Here I am with the proofread copy
Before the book was even officially released we were asked on the Ricki Lake Show
Discussing the finer points of the book's significance on CBS 5 morning show
Reading at Modern Times Bookstore (left to right; top row) Virgie Tovar, Tigress Osborn, Genne Murphy (left to right; bottom row) Abby Weintraub, Jessica Judd, Deb Malkin, Deah Schwartz
Honey Boo Boo with Hot & Heavy
At the book release party hosted by the Booksmith (left to right) Kimberly Dark, Virgie Tovar, Deah Schwartz, Tigress Osborn, Jessica Judd, Genne Murphy, Deb Malkin
Substantia Jones of Adipositivity.com (whose photography is featured in H&H) reading from Hot & Heavy at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York
Reading at Pegasus Bookstore in Berkeley, CA in my favorite strawberry dress (Domino Dollhouse)
At SOMArts program Feast of Words
Ashley Young (right, pictured here with her boo), author of Hot & Heavy chapter "Women with Big Bellies"
Recently Hot & Heavy
contributor Ashley Young
(pictured above) asked me how editing the book had impacted me. I answered:
Hot & Heavy
has had an enormous influence on my politics and that has impacted the way I see my body - and the way I think of it and treat it - as a political tool. Bodies are extraordinarily political, especially fat bodies. Hot & Heavy
really forced me to think about the path of resistance that so many people have taken in the name of liberation. The women in Hot & Heavy
have taken great personal risks to be who they are, to be free. I wanted to be part of that legacy. I wanted my body to be part of that history.
This piece is part of the one year anniversary of Hot & Heavy's release. Support fat positive community and literature by purchasing a copy of Hot & Heavy and by liking us on Facebook!
Superheroes Need Love Too
First off, I have shitty luck with cars. Second, glitter solves everything (or at least makes it shiny). Third, a lot can happen in a year…
In spring, my best friend Miranda prodded me into producing my first show in her down-home diner to replace a folk singer who had anti-gay tirade in San Francisco. ‘You are Loved: A Big Gay Cabaret’ was a celebratory fundraiser featuring comedy, poetry, burlesque, drag, singers, and me fisting a unicorn piñata in my finest Toddlers & Tiara’s outfit. Mary Lambert closed the second night with ‘She keeps me warm’ to a tearful audience singing ‘love is patient, love is kind...’ It raised $3000 for queer kids’ camp because we make space for community love, not hate.
A week later, a pickup truck ran a red light going 45 mph and totaled my car (again). A witness climbed into the passenger seat, held my hand to calm my crying, and assured me the first responders would be cute (indeed). The accident left thick red seatbelt bruises across my chest so I went to the ER. My friend Liz came and held my hand for 4 of 8 hours spent waiting for CAT scan, then took me home and even procured groceries. After a week in bed, I dusted myself off, thought I was fine, and launched headlong back into saving the world one over-commitment at a time.
In summer, I drove to Portland to read my story to a room full of fabulous fatties. I spent a whole weekend at NoLose in queer body positive space, with fierce radicals, writers, fatshionistas, and food. I performed my ‘Butterball’ act dressed as a giant turkey, striping down my feathers, and humping a life-sized stick of butter while basting myself in gold glitter. Every night held a pool party full of plus-sized queers in fatkinis singing ‘I will survive’, pausing only to cheer wildly as newbies joined the jubilance. I wish I could bottle that condensed joy and keep handy for when the world gets mean.
Midsummer I wore an amazing orange sundress because I’d been hiding in frumpy invisibility. The hot bus driver pulled up to my stop, turned with a blazing smile, and exclaimed “That dress is amazing!” Thus began my ‘Summer of the Epic Sundress’ and everyone took notice. People on the street, even my most cantankerous co-worker confessed to loving my outfits.
Bus driver and I flirted until I finally presented a show flyer to vet the debauchery she was getting into (literally, Debauchery! is a queer strip show for charity). The next day she broke all the rules and asked for my phone number. We talked on the phone for hours then spent an entire Saturday in a park swapping stories. We dined at the restaurant where I had my first show because she wanted to know my world (and this was home). I gave her my copy of Hot & Heavy to know how I became a superhero. At the end of the night, she asked me not to run away.
Truth be told, I’d been shut down behind a mask of benevolently busy to hide away my heart. This girl with her wide-eyed intensity and star tattoos cracked me open on all the levels and brought me back into the world. It was time to remove my disguise and get real about feeling with my heart again.
Determined to dazzle, I worked all my femme fanciness in a barrage of sundresses and mutual seduction. We shared hushed secrets in on the daily commute, full of smiles and sunshine. I wrote her stories of my life in mix tapes, rainbow notecards, and metaphors of supernovas beneath our ribs. She complimented my outfits every day and said I had never been invisible, even before the sundresses.
The first time she saw me perform, I dressed in sparkle tulle storm clouds and sequin rain, to dance with rainbows (no really) as a love letter to the community. Before I went on stage, she kissed my glittery shoulder and told me I was beautiful, then said it was amazing we could find each other after years of circling around the city…
Of course she wrecked me, but it doesn’t matter how that story ends. Around that time, I admitted to the physical hurt too, and thus began my fall of cultivating self-care and self-love. Sometimes catalyst for change comes in the form of mixed-signal girls and speeding pickup trucks. Such is life.
This year, I’ve learned that you can’t save the world if you are keeping yourself from experiencing it. Sometimes the lesson isn’t about being indestructible and impenetrable, rather the joys (and pitfalls) of opening up. It’s the willingness to take risk teach us who we are and where our beauty lives. And even superhero fat girls need room for puffy pink heart clouds and fattie dance parties and new sundresses once in a while.
Also, you can’t save the world without the people who show up to you. As fall turned towards winter, friends and community held me as I cried until I found equilibrium against a year of epic beauty, harsh realities, and amazing amounts of gratitude. I’m finding balance between altruism and heart tending. Last week, I performed with a live jazz band and bought a ticket to Thailand. Yesterday, I was in a room full of giggling queers rehearsing a strip version of ‘What does the fox say?’ Its heartbreak and joy that make us grow.
Maybe I needed to get hit by truck and a hot(mess)busdriver to knock me back into the world. The universe can drop-kick us to where we need to be when the time is right. This year my 3rd car was totaled and I’m still alive. I’ve lucky enough to see my stories reflected in the hearts of people who wanted to listen. I’ve been reminded that I’m lovely and luminous. And this summer, I charmed an entire city with my epic sundress collection.
Link to an article about You Are Loved and the accident: http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews41_19/page7.cfm
And make sure to visit Cherry's Facebook page
! Read Erin's chapter, "Shiny Sparkly Things," & support fat positive community and literature by purchasing a copy of Hot & Heavy and by liking us on Facebook!
Jessica Judd is a contributing author to the fat positive anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. This piece is part of the one year anniversary of Hot & Heavy's release.
Nearly two years ago I shut myself in my office the night before the deadline for submissions for Hot & Heavy
and wrote my piece.
I’d planned to do it sooner but then our house purchase went through and there were renovations and moving with two small children. Then my mother-in-law died in an accident and my aunt, the aunt who was like a second mother to me and a grandmother to my children, become suddenly and unexpectedly very ill and spent the next few months dying in a hospital while we watched, stunned and grief-stricken. I almost gave myself permission to not write my piece, to put it aside because I had too much going on, but I decided to do it.
I wrote it, my aunt died, then within weeks of her memorial service my closest friend from high school died suddenly. Then two more people whom I knew but was lesser connected to also died suddenly. It was a little like swimming in death. I was shaken and full of grief.
Then the book came out and I revisited “Blue Pants” for the first time since I had written it and it made even more sense to me than it had when I first wrote it.
There was a new message I saw in it...don’t wait
Don’t wait to do things until you are thinner/smaller/less fat. Don’t wait to do the things you want to do until you meet some arbitrary standard. There may not be a tomorrow.
I have been fortunate to have two years’ worth of tomorrows since I wrote “Blue Pants." Two years of pain, joy, heartbreak, successes, failures, love, and adventure, all done in my fat body. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to read “Blue Pants” in public six times now. When I first read it to an audience I was struck by how difficult and painful it was for me to read, by how quickly and painfully the tears came. Each time I read it, it gets easier, the pain a little less. It didn’t feel painful to write. When I wrote it I actually thought it was funny...way funnier than it sounds when I read it out loud. I think when writing out my experiences as a fat dancer it was easy to distance myself from how painful it has been at times for me, how painful and hard it can be to step into a studio of dancers half my size and age and feel and act like I belong, how painful and hard it can be despite doing it for fifteen years now.
My oasis of fat positivity and body love remains Big Moves
. We are still going, possibly stronger than ever, coming up on our thirteenth anniversary. Not long after I wrote “Blue Pants” we changed the name of our resident dance company from the Phat Fly Girls to emFATic DANCE in order to have a name that, given our historic demographics, was not culturally appropriative, was gender inclusive, and better reflected what we do. As emFATic DANCE we have grown from a company that had hovered around 6-8 dancers for the past many years to one with sixteen to eighteen dancers. Consider my mind blown. With so many dancers we have been able to stretch further in both our concepts and our choreography which has been very exciting and fulfilling. I remain overwhelmingly grateful that every Saturday I get to share space with such an amazing room-full of fat dancers, that they keep keep showing up, and that they keep believing in what we are doing even when it is not without its struggles.
This past year has been difficult for me in terms of my body. I incurred multiple foot injuries that had me first in sneakers full time then a cam boot for two months. I didn’t really dance, save for our annual show which I had a don’t ask don’t tell agreement about with my podiatrist, for nearly four months. Not only was I not dancing, I couldn’t go on walks or hike. Without hiking or doing outings that required much walking I wasn’t able to do much photography. It really sucked. Being very visibly injured and not very mobile also made me feel hyper-visible as a fat person. It led me to evaluate more deeply how much privilege I am typically afforded by being a “good fatty”--the fat person who exercises, who is “healthy”, etc.
Despite thinking about this extensively for many months I don’t have super-coherent thoughts around how to combat this assignation of privilege, though I am working on doing so in small ways. Feeling hyper-visible led to me feeling more vulnerable about my size than I had felt in a long time. I work hard to incorporate body love and fat liberation into my interactions with myself but it has been a hard year for me in terms of relating to my body, a body that really felt broken a lot of the time.
Broken or not, my life, and time, has marched on. My children got older and more delightful. My husband and I happily marked our eighth wedding anniversary. Our family traveled and had adventures. We saw the amazing geothermal activity in Lassen Volcanic National Park, sat in front of Burney Falls, roamed a beach in Carmel on New Year’s Eve at sunset, went inside a wind turbine in Vancouver, swam in our clothes in the waters of English Bay at Stanley Park...and so much more. I got more serious about my photography and my work is being shown in local juried art shows and I have sold a number of my prints. Big Moves
/emFATic DANCE has had two big shows, and many smaller gigs, since I wrote “Blue Pants”. I acquired a bike for the first time in nearly twenty years and am loving riding it. I have found time to swim again.
I continue to work on loving my body not just because it really is beautiful and fabulous, but also because despite how I feel about it on any given day, my fat body is what gets me through the world and makes all of what I do possible.
Read Jessica's chapter & support fat positive community and literature by purchasing a copy of Hot & Heavy and by liking us on Facebook!
Kitty Stryker is a contributing author to the fat positive anthology Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. This piece is part of the one year anniversary of Hot & Heavy's release.
It’s “Hot & Heavy”’s one year anniversary.
It’s also been one year since my abusive fiance and I finally broke up for the last time, and I had a massive breakdown. It was for the best for multiple reasons, not least of which was because of the feelings of fetishization I felt under his gaze. The whole thing smacked of irony; my piece in Hot & Heavy was about being a fat sex worker, and I talked at length about how relieved I felt to not be objectified by my lover. Once the fog lifted, I could step back and recognize that the relationships I said on paper I felt so empowered by actually made me feel small. Every time I read my piece I felt angry at myself for putting up a facade and hiding behind it.
So here’s the truth. I had a girlfriend who was stunningly attractive, and was a sex worker, and who loved my body. I would wake up next to her stunned that we were together and in many ways it did wonders for my self esteem. She liked to treat me to nice things, and I, in turn, tried my best to be a good girlfriend- but I struggled to have sex without communication, and she would get frustrated with my desire to ascertain what exactly she wanted. I put up with emotional manipulation and passive aggressiveness because I felt like I should be counting my blessings, and maybe I was messing things up and needed to fix my approach.
It was later in our relationship that I realized that she was more interested in my body and sex with it than in actually engaging with me as a person. I still remember when she accused me of not putting out enough for the fancy dinners she bought, as apparently our relationship was transactional without her having let me know. The talking, apparently, was getting in the way of the fetishization. I felt, in turns, heartbroken and angry.
My boyfriend, meanwhile, was depressive, chronically unemployed, living with mum and physically abusive. But he was so pretty- so again, I would close my eyes, block my ears, and sing loudly to ignore all the issues in the relationship because having someone attractive want me made me feel better about myself. Bruises be damned, right? And he, too, loved my body… at least he did, until he stopped paying attention to me, preferring instead to gaze longingly at Tumblrs that made me wonder if I wasn’t fat enough to be attractive to him. I started to realize that my fat body was a symbol of maternal caretaking for him (and I was the exact same body type as his mother… figure *that* out for a second) and that his objectification was less about desire for me and more about being stuffed back into the womb.
One year ago, we broke it off for the final time. I finally admitted he was physically abusive and had been for three years. I had an anxiety attack and a mental breakdown. When you create facades for safety, having them suddenly ripped from you creates a sense of freedom- wild, horrifying freedom. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I was no longer covering for someone else. I didn’t know how to exist when I knew these facades existed, that even fierce activists like myself would construct them rather than be interrogated by a world that hates my sex work, hates my body, hates my queerness.
It’s really hard to admit you’re a survivor of an abusive relationship when you’ve spent years putting a spin on it so people accept you. I needed our love to be real, our partnership to be healthy, because I didn’t want to be seen as just another self-hating sex worker, or fat woman, or queer person. So I smiled, and was fierce, and pretended it was all fine. I just told myself that he was just struggling, that things would get better, that we could get better together. I think I needed it to be true.
When you’re an activist for particular issues, it can feel like there’s no space for you to have difficulties. Being a sex worker *or* a fat woman in a long term abusive relationship feels like a tired cliche. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on because admitting it would give people ammunition to claim I had self-esteem issues, that being a sex worker or being fat made me feel like I didn’t deserve better or something. No, I knew I deserved better, but I also knew how it felt to be abandoned because of stigma. I didn’t want to walk away from a relationship because he was having mental health issues and difficulty getting treatment for them, even if that exploded on me occasionally. Perhaps years of feeling depressed because of systematic oppression gave me a sense of empathy, even for someone who was trying to throw me down a flight of stairs when he was angry. I truly believed him when he said he didn’t want to be That Guy, even though his behaviours showed otherwise.
The line between a saint and a fool is blurry at times.
Anyway, I wrote about my experiences, and I recovered. I retreated from social engagements, and I recovered. I acknowledged what happened for what it was, and I recovered. I grew into my vulnerability and was made stronger through the acceptance of it… and I recovered.
Now I realize how important it is to be honest about where I was at, and how I felt. I deserve better than the fetishization and sexualization of my body. I deserve love that doesn’t hurt me. In a way, being a part of “Hot & Heavy” forced me to look into multiple mirrors, not only via the experiences of the other women in the book, but my own funhouse view of my own life. And while I don’t always love what I see, I am grateful to be able to honest about that. Because really, my activism and my mental health require embracing, not just the good days, but the sad days and the angry days as well. Just another fucking opportunity for growth, right? And grow I most certainly did.
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