The idea crystallized in Rarotonga in 2009.
Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here's my description of Raro from my chapter, "Pecan Pie, Sex & Other Revolutionary Things" in Hot & Heavy: "There women wear flowers in their hair, wardrobes are full of pinks and oranges. It is a place where shoes are optional, and glorious mouths open and big tummies rollick when women laugh. This is a magical place, where giant clams stake their place on the lagoon floors, where glow worms dance during full moons, where a prehistoric language still percusses on the tongues of every inhabitant, where papaya is perfected by humidity and sunlight, where the dragonflies are as big as hummingbirds.
There’s only one road that circumnavigates Rarotonga, and lagoons are never more than ten feet away. You can touch electric blue starfish just below the water’s surface while bright yellow fish scuttle past your toes. You can pick starfruit, mangoes and coconuts from trees beside the road. Television is comprised of one channel. Dishes are made up of coconut milk and lime, raw fish and spinach, chicken cooked in an underground oven called umu. Here you wear a flower behind your left ear if you’re taken and behind your right ear if you’re single. The island is green and lush. And the women are huge."
I was visiting from New Zealand, where I’d sequestered myself for five months with my boyfriend, Sam, attempting to know love, to learn something about myself, to leave San Francisco and all its hipness.
My thesis was entitled “How Fat Women of Color Queer the Feminine.” It was a qualitative project in which I interviewed 10 women about their lives, their bodies and their relationship to femininity. I discovered lots of things, among them that some fat women feel that they are not allowed to be "girly" in childhood because of their fatness and that this may lead to gender confusion. The stories the women I interviewed told were fascinating to me and to other scholars who found out about my work. I got lots of support and encouragement from fat activists and fat studies scholars. For my research I began to read books about fat (like Dan Kulick’s Fat: The Anthropology of an Obsession and The Fat Studies Reader) and attend fat positive events (like the NOLOSE conference). I began to host my own fat positive events. I hosted a panel at Good Vibrations, called “Hot Fat Femmes” and then another event for the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society called “Queer F’attitude.” My research in graduate school led to a journey into the “fat underground,” where fat women wore bikinis and ate dessert and had great sex and didn’t talk about diets. It was amazing and it changed my life.
While I was in graduate school, fat blogs and “fatshion” were taking off. Fat Studies was actually a feature at conferences I was attending for the first time, and presentations of my research filled entire rooms with interested participants. When I was nearing graduation I wrote the senior editor of Seal again, asking if she remembered me and telling her that this fat thing was catching on. This time I had an idea for an anthology and after some negotiation I got the answer I’d hoped for back on the beaches of Rarotonga: Yes, Virginia, we will publish your book about fat girls.
Once the initial shock and amazement wore off, I remembered that I had never edited an anthology before, that I was terrified, and that I had six months to overcome that and have a finished manuscript. I had meetings with other writers and mentors, most of them said I’d never get it done on time. I got in touch with bloggers, writers, vloggers, scholars, activists, big women I saw at Costco (“Hi, you look really fierce. Do you want to write for my book?”). When the submission deadline came I had close to one hundred submissions. I couldn’t believe it. For a topic that is relatively new and very taboo (increasingly taboo with the redoubled efforts of the War on Obesity), I was amazed that so many women were willing to share their stories with an unknown editor, to use this word, to be part of something so different.
Editing this book has afforded me realizations and a million other things. There were nights I stayed up reading the same submission over and over, nodding with recognition, sometimes crying because the story held resonance or remembrance or regret that we shared. Their stories inspired my writing and my sense of urgency. Even though people (largely lesbian/queer feminists) have been doing what could be called “fat activism” since the 1960s, we still find ourselves at a point in history where the word is taboo, the concept unthinkable. If you are fat you could live your entire existence truly believing that you deserve nothing approaching what I call life.
I had a realization early in the review process. I realized that in my desire to empower women I wanted to edit out parts of the story that made up the tales of liberation the contributors were telling. I wanted to show them only the shiny, fun bits, the bits that come after a lot of thinking and dreaming and contemplation and pain. I realized that my attempt to mask these parts of the story was my way of trying to protect readers from having to relive experiences that had hurt them, but I realized that to do that would be inauthentic. Refusal to tell the whole story is a kind of lying.
The stories in the book are varied and amazing: from a woman who discovered her fat vulva in a sex class to a woman who learned her liberation over 6 days she spent naked as an artist painted her, stories that began in the home of San Francisco’s biggest coke dealer and that ended with a mother’s refusal to continue a legacy of intergenerational body shame. This book is amazing and historical, a book that will still be read in fifty years for the first or fifth time, and I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to oversee its creation.
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