So, the short story is that the new documentary 20 Feet from Stardom is pretty much a film about fat femmes of color.
How did I miss the Feminist Wire's deliciously nuanced write-up of this movie? Thank GOD it was between this and the newest Wolverine installment at the Balboa Theatre (which is walking distance from my apartment and has two screens total), otherwise I would have missed it altogether.
20 Feet follows Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, and Tata Vega. Their voices everyone knows (because they made the sound of many rock hits) but their names few remember. They've sung (and continue to sing) for acts like David Bowie, Sting, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.
I was really struck by the narratives of size, sexuality, race and gender that were evident in this film. All of the protagonists were women, most of them deviated from US standards of thinness, and all but one were Black. Theirs were/are the voices - and bodies - used to make white men lead vocalists sound/look better or "rawer."
There were several points in the film where they spoke frankly about oft-neglected themes in the history of rock music. To name a few:
As the world’s most rabid consumers of black culture, white folks’ imperialist yearnings to be “black” (from Jack Kerouac to Norman Mailer to Sandra Bernhard) emerge from this grand obsession with the supposed wild, raw, unfettered, close-to-the-bone emotion and physicality of the Black woman belting out soulful paeans to life and love.
I met Joanna at the UC Davis Queer People of Color Ball & Mini-Conference in June. She's an undergrad studying English and Chicano/a Studies who's graduating in December. She sent me some of her poetry and I fell in love! She's super brilliant, super cute and super fierce and I thought you should meet her.
Virgie: How do you identify and how do you see your other identities intersecting/interacting with your fat identity?
Joanna: I am a Queer Chicana born and raised in a low-income community of color called Logan Heights in San Diego, California. My parents are both from Mexico City, with little formal education - but very resilient and amazing people. I am fat and fabulous, always have been - but I didn't always recognize it. It has taken me a very long time to see myself as beautiful.
Growing up I was bused into a middle class, predominantly white neighborhood called Point Loma for my k-12 education. I realized at a very young age that my appearance was not desirable. Every single aspect of me was undesirable and I was reminded on a daily basis. My complexion was not light enough, I was not thin/skinny enough, I was not rich enough, and my family was not educated enough.
My neighborhood had more access to liquor stores; grocery stores were few and with limited food options. Children were likely to be taking care of their siblings while their parents were off working - out of necessity. Families are likely to shop for groceries according to price versus wholesomeness.The inaccessibility to quality and affordable food, holistic education, and stable employment has shaped my experience and my perception of self.
I grew up failing to understand how my identities intersected and were rooted in systems outside of myself - but I grew up blaming myself for being fat, for being "uneducated", and wondering why we were always struggling. I have recently come to an understanding about my experience as a low income fat femme queer chicana; I control my own body, even when I cannot, to the same degree, control my reality and experiences. I choose to be happy, shameless and always celebrate my body and my mind - everything that makes up who I am.
Virgie: One of the things we talked about in my workshop at the QPOC Conference was the way that marginalized communities create "armor," and how we use fashion or makeup or attitude to resist and cope with that marginalization. For me, that armor is my femme fashion and my uppity attitude. What is your armor?
Joanna: My armor is my chola style winged eyeliner. Some people call it "cat eyes" and others mock me because the wing is too far out for their liking. I actually began using eyeliner in middle school - 8th grade to be exact. My sister applied it because I was going to take star shots with a group of friends. Star shots are pictures teenagers used to take at the mall. You'd get wallet size pictures and you could give them out to your friends.
I remember being so excited because 1) I finally got to wear make up - something my young mind recognized as a sign of growing up and 2) the affirmations that my friends would give me for wearing it. It was appreciated among my friends. My community is known for all of its previous gang activity. It was in some way traumatic to be surrounded by that lifestyle but gang life is a separate conversation of its own.
It shaped my experience growing up, and while I wouldn't say I was a chola, I grew to appreciate the people that were much more involved. I feel as though I recognize this aspect of my community, and while violence is not something to be celebrated, those folx have created their own version of resistance against the many forms of systemic violence against their bodies. I feel as if wearing my eyeliner keeps me connected to my community.
It makes me stand out in academic spaces, spaces like UC Davis and the city of Davis which is primarily white folk. My eyeliner reminds me where I came from, where I must return, who I love, it reminds me of those that keep me motivated. It is a source of empowerment.
Virgie: What do you as a young qpoc (queer people of color) need/want from fat activism/community?
Joanna: Embracing my queerness has allowed me to embrace my fat body as beautiful. It took 21 years and moving to Davis for me to have a space to discuss issues pertaining to queer bodies. I feel as though communities like mine, low income communities that don't have spare time, don't have access to the education that will allow them to contextualize their reality, aren't taught to celebrate themselves, love themselves even though there are multiple ways in which a person can love themselves. For that reason, I'd like more visibility. My answer is simple but difficult to attain.
I didn't know there was such a thing as a fat activist or a fat community. I was self loathing for several years. I had never seen, much less entered queer spaces for many many years. I was repressing my thoughts and withholding my questions for several years.
Events that I have been exposed to through academia, such as conferences, retreats, and community dialogue spaces are closed off from specific communities and groups of people that don't have the economic stability, the education, the language; the resources to find those spaces.
I want visibility and accessibility for these communities. I acknowledge that it takes a lot of individual action to empower a collective - but the reward comes when that collective is empowered and self-loving.
Yeah. Joanna is pretty fucking amazing. Ghurl, I told you! Below is one of her poems, "I Slip Into the Tub."
Want to send her love or a graduation present (yeah you do)? Find her on Facebook or write me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I slip into the tub
I watch the water rise
Cuando entran mis piernas
Half way in
Half way out
caressing the body
everyone is afraid to love
I stand in fear
Of my reflection
I stand in fear
Of my longitas
When I see
That my reflection fits in the mirror
In crowds I look
around the room
and find the easiest way
for this luscious body
Through the crowd
To spare myself
The scoff that comes
When my fat hips
My Big arms
Rub up against someone
I hear my abuela now
“Ay Mi gordita
Ya no comas mucho”
And my tio
“Estas bien chula mija
Pero te verias mejor si pierderas peso
Si te quieres tienes que perder peso”
I could not be beautiful
I believed it.
I look at the chair
Before I sit
I look at the width of a table
Before I choose my place
I make sure
I will not make you uncomfortable
When you sit next to me
On the bus
I take up
More than one seat
But less than too
So I set my backpack
Next to me
Hoping you will not laugh
I talk to my tummy
The only one that understand me
The one that knows
I comfort it
And rub it
To show it the love no one else can
I protect you
From my fat
And I protect myself
From your bullshit.
I wear my sweater
And I wear your shame.
I carry your uncomfortableness
And maybe I carry your self-esteem.
But when I remove my sweater
I remove my fear
I click away
Of a body
I grew up shaming
And I share its beauty
I share my love
My fat queer body.
And know that it does not define me
But it is a part of me I can no longer hide
To make you feel comfortable in my presence
It is mine just as much as my thoughts, goals, desires, and dreams
So when you see me
You should know all of me
So when you know me
I hope you will love all of me.
So many kinds of fat girl good have happened in the past two weeks.
I've been traveling non-stop and am many blogs behind; so you'll be seeing many posts this week, friend. I spent the weekend in Las Vegas at BBW FanFest with TroubleFilms promoting the release of Lesbian Curves: Hard Femme (which I spent all weekend watching.. on a loop.. spoiler: it was uber hot).
The story behind this weekend begins:
So, Courtney Trouble asks me if I want to go to Vegas with 3 BBW porn stars...
Courtney suggests that I come along and write about the experience. So, immediately I have these ideas that I'm going to be the Hunter S. Thompson or Jack Kerouac equivalent of BBW porn journalists.
The art of face sitting is a delicate one. Obviously I was curious about face sitting, but in the past when partners have asked for it I have shied away - often because they were smaller than I am and I worried about crushing them. Well, Empress Kabani assured me that that was the point. Her pet (cute boy on the floor) loved getting stepped on and sat upon. You'll have to go to my Facebook feed for the video!
During the workshop I found myself becoming... well, a bit verklempt. I was sitting next to two cute Swedish guys and found myself the object of their attention. I decided that my porn journalism ethics (Rule #1 of porn journalism: porn documentation comes first!) outweighed my desire to just sit on their faces.
So, I waited until pool time to approach them and ask if them if they wanted to play. I had been eyeing and flirting with a cutecute security guard. It was between him and them, and I just went with the pure math of fat girl economics: two is better than one. I sauntered over in my fatkini and basically told them I needed some vibrator batteries and if they wouldn't mind getting me some, and well, I'm sorry but you'll have to take me to coffee for the rest of that story.
I had an AMAZING time at BBW FanFest with my first porn journalism gig! Special thanks to Courtney Trouble, Kitty Stryker, Betty Blac and Cinnamon Maxxine for making this weekend possible <3
Look up their work, buy Lesbian Curves (ohmigod BUY LESBIAN CURVES), and send them love and presents!
My nail universe is expanding more rapidly than the horoscopes had predicted for 2013. I went to get my nails did a few days ago, and my manicurist suggested that though my color choice was tres sick that not adding some flare would be a mani-tragedy. "Glitter tips?" she asked. I can't resist anything that involves the g-word. So, for $5 more (the cost of French tips) I got the glitter tips.
Upside: AMAZING nails for my date that night and for many days to follow.
Downside: FULL day to dry (I had to do some quick Mani-McGyver'ing when I tried to snap my thigh high into place and found that I'd shifted my glitter tip - note, if this happens, Margarita Femme-inista has informed me that you just lick the nail to help lubricate and just push it back into place, smooth over with your finger.)
Note to glitter tip novices: do this at home with several hours set aside for low-impact hand-related activities so they can dry properly. Also, let the base coats dry completely before adding the tip.
Now, onto Tocca! I got this Tocca blood orange bagno profumato body wash on sale at Anthropologie. Usually on sale for $20ish, I took a whiff and fell in love. Then I got it in the shower and I fell super duper uber in love. The lather is amazing, the smell is even more delicious than the whiff had suggested, and only requires (literally) a few drops for the entire body. Though generally my only body wash splurge is Lush's Flying Fox (whose primary ingredient is honey!), I might be a new Tocca convert.
Today I updated on Facebook:
I sometimes have these moments of romantic existential crisis in which I question every romantic decision I've ever made, wondering who/where I would be if I'd done things differently. I worry that I messed up. But when I'm grounded and feeling abundant, I remember that I said no for a reason and I remember that I can have, will have all the love, romance, connection I want and in exactly the way I want it. And that sometimes the only way to it is through it.
On Monday I celebrated the new moon with a group of wondrously inspiring babes and as we sat on the shore of the Pacific Ocean we each shared what we wanted to attract in this new moon phase and what we wanted to release.
I said I wanted to attract vulnerability and the integration of all the parts of my life that have felt splintered (I was thinking about the way that my romantic/sexual life often feels completely separate from all the rest of my life). I said I wanted to release feelings of scarcity.
When I'm feeling confused or unclear about where my life is headed and why I'm doing what I'm doing I find that my anxiety settles on the part of my life that seems the least clear to me: my romantic life. I start to question my past decisions and often conclude that I've irreparably damaged my ability to love, to be close to someone, to ever have any chance of romantic/sexual bliss.
And then I realize that I'm creating my romantic/sexual bliss right now - sometimes through amazing and strangely funny dates and sometimes through those very feelings of failure and loss. I'm making my bliss, it just doesn't look like the model of bliss I've been taught to want.
It's funny how surprising that is to me! I do so many things that are unorthodox, impolite, strange and generally affronting to mainstream cultural appetites. That my love style is unorthodox should be a given. But it somehow just isn't. :)
I'm still working through all these thoughts and feelings. So, I'll end with this thought: last weekend a new friend told me that I needed to be aware that I would find as many people in my life as I wanted who would love me for all of me.
And though I don't always believe her, today I do.
If you're anything like me you love an amazing pair of thigh highs...
If your body is anything like mine you know the struggle of finding thigh highs in the right size - and finding a pair that stays in place...
Chrystal of Curvy Girl Lingerie introduced me to Kix'ies and they sent me a pair of these argyle cuties in just my size...
And I fell in lurve! I give Kix'ies two chubby thighs up!
After my recent experience with the inappropriate image of me used by the SF Chronicle for an article on whether "obesity" is a disease, I found myself feeling a lot of things: hyper-vigilance, betrayal, a sense of shame for my own naivete, and exhaustion from the aforementioned emotions.
I allowed myself to actually feel all this rather than go into survival mode. My usual impulse is to beef up the emotional armor I've created for myself to buffer me from the culture's unceasing attacks on fat bodies, on women's bodies, on people of color bodies - the intersections where I exist.
I was frustrated because I knew there was something I was missing. Yes, images of faceless fat women have been used as fetishistic objects to hurt us, but there was something else that I couldn't quite articulate that I knew was there.
And then I figured it out.
My body is so powerful that they couldn't show my face because it would be impossible to hide the joy of my existence. My body is so powerful that they can only show it in bits and pieces, disjointed from the story of my survival. My fat body tells the story of my strength. My fat face sings the truth of my beauty. My body flouts "conventional wisdom," destabilizes a hundred years of lies and half-truths spoken from the mouths of charlatans. My body resists colonial rule; it refuses to be subjected to state-generated ideas of fitness or femininity. I am complete. I am hot. I am complicated. My body holds a lifetime of pain and joy and love, and you can't see me as whole because my fat body is so powerful that it would shatter your world view, make you question the very reason for your existence, thrill your heart, incite your soul.
The desire to suppress my body and my existence reveals the truth of my power.
Photo by Shilo McCabe
Inspired by Marilyn Wann's recent opinion piece on CNN, this morning Dr. Deb Burgard, Marilyn Wann, Golda Poretsky, some random fatphobic urban planning PhD, and I gathered on Huffington Post Live to discuss the American Medical Association's recent decision to classify obesity as a disease.
Among many points that were made, I voiced my concern for the disproportionate impact that this decision has and will have for many of the nation's most marginalized communities. Read the original blog I published the week the decision was made to get a more thorough rendering of my critique.
Take a look at the video. I say it's a victory for Team Fat.
Fatphobic medical industry and public health polemicists continuously invoke buzzwords like "choice," to obscure the reality of racism and classism. In fact, during this morning's interview Dr. Fatphobe posited that where you live is a choice in the United States in response to my pointing out that one can fairly accurately gauge a person's BMI if you know their zip code. This brazen instance of racism and classism truly characterize the flimsy arguments that create a culture of fatphobia.
I was asked if I believed that the AMA decision was creating a war against US poor. My answer: ABSOLUTELY.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.