I want to talk about how the fat belly has become a reviled cultural object, in part, because it’s become a metaphorical representation of the refusal to discipline “base” instincts and non-empirical ways of knowing - that is, knowledge and behavior derived from “the gut.”
I think the fear of fat bellies is connected to our cultural anxiety around trusting our “gut” - or instincts - because we have spent hundreds of years trying to suppress it culturally. More on that in a second.
We obviously have actual guts (intestines and other viscera) inside our bodies, which you could easily find during a surgery or during a CT scan. When we colloquially refer to “trusting our gut,” however, we are talking about something we cannot measure or see. When we talk about the second kind of gut, we are talking about non-empirical knowledge or intuition. Somewhere along the way we as a culture began to locate that intuition within our gut - or belly.
The fat belly, I think, becomes an outwardly visible "object" that represents an internal, invisible rebellion against a culture that values measurable outcomes and concrete ways of knowing.
OMG! I bet you didn’t know your belly was doing all that.
We live in a culture that expects us to suppress our “gut feelings” in favor of intellect and social mores. We also live in a culture that expects us to maintain a slender body - and a flat belly by extension. I see the anxiety around the size of a belly as connected to the anxiety around how much I allow “my gut” to determine what I choose to do - or not do - with my life.
Following “my gut” often leads to me doing things that are frowned upon by respectable society. In fact, it was my intuitive sense that diet culture is unjust and violent that led me to stop dieting. My gut also led me to postponing marriage, becoming a feminist, leaving Christianity and all kinds of other things that girls aren’t supposed to do.
If you know me you know that I’m ALWAYS talking about the universe, how my gut told me not to trust that one person that one time, ghosts, how I “had a feeling” that so and so was going to call me and they did, and all kinds of other stuff that places me firmly outside of the western narrative of progress or respectability. Girl, I’m Mexican. And Mexicans know that you shouldn’t trust no man who tells you to believe his books more than your own body.
I’d like to talk about a time that I suppressed my gut in favor of "intellect." Ready?
It’s 2010, and I’m in grad school. During the new student orientation, my gut hones in on someone who is the energetic equivalent of one enormous red flag made of tinier red flags that are made of tiny razors that carry tetanus. My gut immediately gives this girl the side-eye. As the orientation continues, however, I begin to throw the advice that my gut generously gave me to the wind. I’m a grown up grad student now, I thought! There was a lot of discussion from faculty about how important it is to be “collegial,” and presume that we are all working collaboratively. In short: that same old colonialist bullshit that lands people like me in Shitsville. My gut knew better, but now that I was in a fancy board room I decided to forsake her in the name of “success” and “self-improvement.”
I won’t bore you with the gory details, but in short I made the wrong goddamn choice.
Central to the building of an idea of western modernity was the notion that a superior species or race could be constructed through the denial and repression of our “primitive” instincts - for sex, food, love, fart jokes, etc. We can see the ripple effects of this violent history in modern day racism, sexism, classism and their love child - fatphobia. Dieting is all about the denial and repression of valuable instincts in the name of getting “exclusive” privileges meted out by the nation’s wealthy elite.
This fear of actual bellies feels connected to this greater fear of our ability to access intuitive knowledge - or “gut” knowledge - and instincts. The impulse to force us to slim down is in many ways about the cultural terror of desire, the complexity of our own humanity, and what might happen if we actually (and metaphorically) just ate the damn cake.
Ok, girl, time for a sandwich.
Today I think I made the best mental-health-in-the-Internet-age decision since deciding to de-install the Facebook app from my phone.
I decided to permanently close the comments section on my blog.
The decision was inspired by something that happened this morning. I realized I hadn't moderated my comments in a while, and I figured that I could tick something off the list for the day. So I got into the comment moderation section of my blog and saw dozens of comments on one post I had written on deciding to block this dude on Facebook because of a bad, unresolved feeling I had about our friendship a long time ago. Blocking people, last time I checked, is totally my (or anyone else's) prerogative. It is almost always harmless, and leads to the avoidance of unnecessary stress. And I'd guess that often the other person doesn't even notice that it's happened. Despite this relatively pacifist move, I managed to enrage about 3 dozen members of Reddit, where my blog had been re-posted, who invested in commenting through my comments interface (yes, they personally felt they had to come and e-lambast me when they could have just done it on Reddit).
The consistent pathologizing tone of the comments was what disturbed me the most.
More than hurling epithets (though, yes, girl epithets were hurled) or commenting on my looks, these comments sought to destabilize my notion of reality, to position me as moronic, ill-equipped to handle the "real world," and entitled. Well, ok, maybe I'll grant the entitled part, though I tend to identify as "pretentious-light."
More than anything I felt that these commentators sought to "put me in my place," arguing that I didn't have the right to block someone or have feelings about them.
In short: totes weeeird, girl. And totes draining!
The good news:
These people absolutely inspired me to take care of my mental health!
They made me realize something important: I need to invest only in the people who invest in me. People who aren't invested in me have no place in my comment section, my inbox, my thoughts, or my life.
I realized that even though often I get super lovely comments from very supportive people (thanks lovely, supportive people!) that my time moderating comments could be better spent writing, reading, painting my toenails, contemplating my fat bitch takeover apocalypse, or otherwise investing in people (and pursuits) who nourish me.
I'd looove to encourage you to invest only in the people who nourish you, the pursuits that make you feel stoked, and to have a conversation about stuff in person rather than online.
It's bye bye to comment moderation for this babe.
I've lived in San Francisco for almost 9 years, and until recently used the train primarily to get around. San Francisco is one of those towns that has a vast public transportation system - MUNI - covering nearly all its 49 square miles with at least one bus or light rail train, if not both. As lucky as I feel about having access to it, the train is also a space I've come to associate with fatphobic hostility.
I began to keep track of the instances of fat shaming I experienced in my daily life, and almost all of them happened while I was waiting for the train or on the train.
I experienced explicit fatphobia on/around the train often enough that I would sometimes alter my schedule to avoid high volume times and times that coincided with the end of the school day, sometimes I would stand rather than sit so that other riders would feel like I was encroaching on "their" space less, and sometimes I would "rebel," and spread my stuff everywhere over multiple seats and put my sunglasses on - daring someone to say something to me. All of these tactics, in short, are exhausting for different reasons.
People are often surprised to hear that most of the instances of fat bashing I've experienced have been at the hands of women, most of them white and thin.
Being in or around shared public space really seems to bring out the bigotry in people. I imagine it has something to do with the anti-humanitarian, zero-sum mentality that capitalism teaches us - the more room you take up, the less room I have. I think it has to do with internalized sexism and women keeping other women down on behalf of patriarchy. I think it has to do with the "audacity" of a fat brown woman living in rapidly gentrifying San Francisco. All of this is exacerbated by the entitlement that permeates the culture of The City. So I came up with a theory: anywhere where my outer thigh has the potential of touching another person's outer thigh is likely not a safe place for me.
In January of this year I got a car for the first time.
Since getting a car I have avoided taking the train even in moments when it's more convenient to leave the car at home.
I remember thinking/theorizing about 2 years ago: "if I could avoid taking the train I could reduce my experiences of fat bashing by almost 100%. And how fucked up is that?!" It made me think about privilege then. And it makes me think about privilege now that my theory has proven to be correct.
It is an incredible privilege to have access to things that help shield us from bigotry - whether that's light skin, more disposable income, a flexible schedule, or a car.
There are so many people who don't have a shield or who can't avoid taking the train between 7am-9am/4pm-7pm. There are lots of people who are scheduling their lives around other people's bigotry or who have to face it head on and deal with the stress of it. I'm thinking of you (us) and recognizing what you (we) have to survive. I hope we feel no shame for what we have to do to make it through today.
For so long I saw myself as a failure.
Even though there were so, so many signs that I was already rebelling against diet culture, I denied them. Each time I ate cake or decided to watch Dynasty instead of exercise, my inner badass was saying "girl, this sucks." The badass inside my head won a lot, but I couldn't see those choices not to comply as CHOICES, only as failures.
After breaking up with diet culture I began to see that my body is this cute thing that comes with me to all the places I love and helps me do weird and amazing things, but my body is not the most important thing in this story.
My choice is.
I made a decision not so long ago that I was going to stop dieting and stop hating myself and stop weight cycling and to CHOOSE ME rather than some culture of adherence that seeks to reduce me to a reproductive hole who straightens my hair so I can get a job I hate, come home and blow a husband I loathe, and make dinner for children I didn't want to have.
In choosing ME I decided that I would eat what I wanted (not never ending parades of dressing-less salad) and I was going to move for fun (not for weight loss) and I was going to live right now (rather than wait til later). And when I made that very feminist choice I said to myself "whatever my body looks like while I'm living the motherfucken dream, so be it."
So when I see my fat body now I remind myself that I know how to starve myself, I know how to exercise for 2 hours a day, I know how to obsessively count each calorie and each gram of fat. I know that life. I've lived that life.
And I don't choose that life anymore.
My culture is very committed to seeing my fat body as a failure. According to this culture, my body is an artifact of my inability to perform at a standard that has been set for me.
My fat body lives in a metaphorical negative space or vacuum - the automatic space that has been left behind, the leftover space inhabited by all those who couldn't "make the cut." Or so the culture tells me. The culture is very invested in constructing this island of misfits as a space that no one would ever choose. It is only a place to which people are relegated.
My body is not seen as part of a choice I've made or something that is constituted by neither failure nor success. There are even those whose politics align largely with my own who are committed to pleading a case that my body is a failure that is "not my fault," and in so doing seek to assimilate bodies like mine into a greater western progressive agenda.
I would probably agree that my fatness has something to do with my family being fat. I would probably agree that even taking the recommended measures for diet and exercise, I would likely still be considered fat by medical and even social standards (at least in San Francisco, where I live).
But I'm not interested in exonerating myself. And perhaps more importantly, there is nothing that needs exonerating.
I'm not interested in the culture "understanding my circumstance" as having come by no fault of my own. I am not interested in my body being constructed as one in a batch of failed prototypes. I am not interested in being seen as a success in a culture where success means complicity in a war against myself (not to mention a war against poor people and people of color and women).
Even though I have made this choice, the culture is very committed to seeing and constructing me as a failure. Why? Because who would CHOOSE not to opt into the privileges I could be afforded for my obedience? Who would CHOOSE not to go along with the notion of health and progress set out for me by the state? Who would CHOOSE not to go along at any cost?
Well, honestly, more people than you think. And hell you might already be doing it right now and not even know it!
Jack Halberstam in The Queer Art of Failure speaks of this very phenomenon. All of those who are outside of what is considered normative MUST be seen and constructed as failures. Our choice to be outside of the violent - and frankly BORING - center of privilege must be erased. It cannot be seen culturally as a choice because this would too quickly unveil the critique that making such a non-compliant choice indicates. When we choose not to assimilate this is very powerful because we are in essence saying "your party sucks." And, girl, patriarchy really doesn't like to hear that.
We are taught to see ourselves - all those outside of the boundaries of white/assimilated, wealthy slenderness - to be (metaphorically) standing with our noses pressed to the glass of this "glamorous" world to which we have no access. We believe that is who we are. That our identity and very selfhood exists only in relationship to these people and the aesthetics of their lives. I believe this to be far from the truth. At least it is far from my truth.
It took me a VERY LONG TIME to leave diet culture. It also took me a very long time to realize that I am a beach dwelling bohemian writer/thinker/artist type. I was convinced that this was just a phase. I couldn't understand WHY I kept coming back to my artsy, intellectual, fashion adventurous, bitchy, irreverent friends who cursed and talked about shit and penises at dinner parties that would evolve into dance parties after shots of sparkling pinot noir from Grocery Outlet. I couldn't understand why I preferred only mini-vacations into the world of the Marin housewife, sipping chardonnay, putting a napkin on my lap, giggling quietly at sexist jokes and exposing only "tasteful amounts of cleavage." I always wanted to go back to the drinking dancing heathens, and I felt shame and confusion. Doesn't EVERY brown girl who was raised by American dream loving immigrants, given the opportunity, want to disappear into the manicured lawns of white suburbia? I couldn't even interpret the signs that were all pointing in the direction of my desire. I had bought the line that bohemians are only bohemians because they can't be anything else. It took me an embarassingly long time to realize that I didn't want to "graduate" to Marin. I wanted to be somewhere where I felt nourished and seen. White suburbia wasn't that place for me.
The admission of failure - of the non-consensual nature of the aberrance - is a requisite part of the process that then allows the culture to forgive you and in so doing aggrandrize and confirm itself as a benevolent, progress oriented patriarch.
But I, like, don't need your forgiveness patriarchy. And I don't want it.
I'm stoked to have failed at being the culture's patronizing notion of a successful woman. I take a stand against oppression. I am a woman who believes in the feminist right to choose. I am an anti-racist brown person and a fat liberationist.
And, no, I'm not sorry.
This post would not be possible without the incredible work of writers and intellectuals like Jackie Wang, Jack Halberstam, Juana Maria Rodriguez & countless others living out their anti-assimilation every day.
Today I walked into Whole Foods (I'm going to take a moment right here, yes, at the beginning of this blog to apologize for being a fat girl who shops at Whole Foods, but I am also a Taurus and WF is like the grocery food equivalent of, like, Last Chance Saks Fifth Avenue, ok. And they also give me free cookies like every time I'm here. I'm actually going to include a picture of the box of cookies they gave me for free today.. just because I was perusing some cookies. They anticipated my desire for their cookies and offered me a box. Yeah, they're right there. Anyway..).
I was looking for lunch. I picked up some salty things and an iced coffee, and then I went on the prowl for a pastry to pair with my coffee. I walked with my tiny green cart designed for singles and young professionals to the refrigerated desserts section. This is where the slices of marble cheesecake, the dulce de leche parfaits, the berry pie, the lemon pot de cremes, and the 6 inch-high strawberry shortcakes live.
I stood there looking for something that appealed to me, and I had this deja vu/flashback style moment. I thought about my life a few years ago, when I was still a diet-proselytizing, weight-loss fanatic. Back then those desserts would have been screaming at me in unison: Back away! We're not for you! Do you want to lose all the progress you've gained? Do you want to end up dead on the floor of your apartment with your face being eaten off by the komodo dragon you bought at the reptile show because you were lonely, like that guy on the Animal Planet show Fatal Attractions?
As I stood before these treats today, I had a realization:
This wall of dessert doesn't send me into a tailspin of self-loathing, confusion and salivation. I can have ANYTHING on this wall. I can have multiple anythings on this wall. My god. I don't hate my life. I don't hate these strawberry shortcakes. I have come a long ass way.
I rarely take the time to have these moments. To tell you the truth, moments like the "wow I'm standing in front of a wall of dessert and I don't hate myself" one don't happen often. That voice of a culture that taught me that dessert is evil and I'm eviler for wanting it, it just gets quieter and quieter all the time. And I don't miss it, girl.
So, here's to small victories and creamy desserts that don't talk back.
Wanna have a #ShameFreeSummer in the body you're in right now? Register for Babecamp. Registration closes on July 5. Click here to read more.
While we are hot for Paul Rudd or Chris Pratt, actors like Kevin James are perpetually the butt of the joke because of the same qualities that Dad Bods possess but "in excess."
Mackenzie Pearson wrote an article theorizing on the cultural obsession with "dad bods" like Don Draper's or Chris Pratt's. Pearson writes: “The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’”
Someone asked me about my thoughts on Dad Bod and it took me a week to come up with this: I kind of love it and I kind of hate it. Here are my 3 LoveHate reasons:
1. As a fan of man belly, Dad Bod is totally my thing
Am I fan of people who eat 8 slices of pizza at a time? Yes. Do I prefer Chris Pratt circa Parks & Rec over his Guardians of the Galaxy look? Yes.
2. BUT I agree with Brian Moylan of Time when he wrote that this is the same old sexism we've been seeing forever
Moylan called Dad Bod a "sexist atrocity," pointing out that:"The problem with the Dad Bod isn’t what it says about men, but what it says about women and how we treat them." Women - especially mothers - get lambasted if they don't return to their pre-baby weight (remember Maria Kang?), while men get ever hotter as they age or gain weight.
3. At the end of the day this is still glorifying the "right" kind of fat - "Dad Bod" is just "curvy" for men
My biggest problem with Dad Bod is that there's an arbitrary line, where Dad Bod veers into something we don't find culturally appealing. While we are hot for Paul Rudd or Chris Pratt, actors like Kevin James are perpetually the butt of the joke because of the same qualities that Dad Bods possess but "in excess." At the end of the day that line is the biggest problem for me.
I’ve been trying to be nice.
I’ve been trying so hard to be nice that I waited, like, 4 months to write this blog hoping that I was just having a little case of the Mondays. But something happened today that made this blog pop out of me like an overdue processing baby.
Today on my Facebook feed there was a comment from someone I had a crush on when I was 21. He was a libertarian, a chubby-ish blonde, a frat boy who taught me how to love songs by Journey, a dude who referred to his father as “my old man,” an alcoholic in denial with an incredible vocabulary and a nose that had been broken. We used to have long, amazing conversations. I was still dieting back then, had gotten to a size medium in the juniors section (but had “plenty to go” in my mind). I was smart, opinionated. I felt that he reciprocated my attraction, but only a little. One time he left the room to use the bathroom, and came back with his hair straightened, he came in running his fingers through it. Since we were alone I knew this was for my benefit.
I had one tall, red-headed, slender queer feminist friend who inspired men on the streets to construct impromptu poetry. She was dating a fat activist and was trying to convert me to fat activism before I even had the framework to imagine that I wouldn’t inevitably be thin in the future. She was so disgusted by my desire for this libertarian frat boy: “Really, him?” was what she would say with a wrinkled nose. She was a voice auguring my future. I would come to execute a million wrinkled noses and judgily italicized “hims.”
“Yeah, he’s smart and I love his vocabulary.” I was hopeful, so I flirted with him, expressed my concern for his constantly chasing vodka with water when he was alone, found chances to be around him. Despite the minor reciprocation of desire, I could sense that there was something about me that made me unappealing to him. At the time things were simple. People didn’t like me because I was fat. And that was my fault. Oddly, this mindset – though shitty – made everything simpler. If everything negative was my fault, then I just had to work harder to be better. The end. This exonerated everyone around me at my expense, sure. But it made other people seem a little less assholey than they actually were, which – in retrospect – was kind of nice. I realize now that I was right. He definitely didn’t like that I was fat, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit all the other things that I sensed were at the core of his rejection.
A few years ago we connected via Facebook, and after looking through his feed and pictures I was able to piece together what had happened back when we were 21. He had been single for over a decade until he found the sweet-faced, athletic, middle class, blue eyed, blond haired girl of his dreams. I had sensed her presence in his desire a decade earlier - an imaginary woman who was still somehow better than me. Rather than recognize what a dick he is, I went back to that place of blaming myself and feeling ashamed.
When I saw his comment today, I went back to his feed to see what he was doing (because, yeah, I’m a total painslut). Pictures of him running in a field of flowers with this blonde dream lady. Yoga. Oh, marathons. Original. Those gross feelings began to return, but this time I was able to hold space for myself and recognize that I was in pain and that the pain wasn’t my fault. He is an asshole. My friend had been right all along. He’s not the kind of asshole who starts fights about men’s rights or the kind of asshole who goes on tirades about how the prison system is actually awesome, but he’s the kind of asshole who’s kind of a low-grade stealth bigot all the time.
Blocking him was not the nice thing to do. I could have been generous and imagined how his education in sexist white supremacy must be so hard for him. But I just couldn’t get it up for generosity today, girl. Today it was either him or me. And I chose ME.
Trying to be nice is hard for me because when I’m nice – and I mean, genuinely, like vulnerable-no-suspicion-wow-this-could-be-a-beautiful-thing-we’re-building nice, all I can think of is the disaster/betrayal/cataclysmic heartbreak that feels inevitable. And this is a product of my brain reacting to stuff, shitty stuff.
This is my brain reacting to an awareness that fatphobia and sexism are not in my rearview mirror. I’m living with them right now, every day.
This is a product of my brain – an incredible data compiling and analyzing machine - reacting to emotional trauma and calculating the risk of being nice or vulnerable or sweet. My brain almost always crunches number and spits out the same result: not worth the risk.
This is something I saw in my dad, who (like me) had a tendency toward what therapists call “catastrophizing.” This is when the worst case scenario is all you can think about. It cycles in your brain until your entire world is made up of worst case scenarios. This is a byproduct of trauma – growing up with an abusive father, growing up in poverty, coming to the United States and experiencing anti-Mexican xenophobia and colorism.
Ok, wait, sorry. I really need to go to a rose garden right now, girl. This went way longer than I’d expected.
To Be Continued…
I've spent the last two weeks traveling up and down North America - Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Portland, even Fresno! - giving a fake - and supremely snarky - TedTalk, in which I explain the history of the creepy ass dudes who pioneered the dietary reform movement (who were also big circumcision advocates), the connections between weighing yourself and the prison industrial complex, and also my suggestions for avoiding straight white dudes with hella privilege as a way of improving your cardiovascular health by a million healthy health points.
But why a fake TedTalk, you might ask! Well...
If you're anything like me, you're a bit of a snarky bitch who finds the idea of our cultural obsession with quantifying everything a bit, I dunno, fascistic. If not utterly puerile, girl!
If you're anything like me, you've also come to realize that things like TedTalks are engines of this weird neo-liberal fascination with knowledge production and information sharing. If you're a Westerner, like me, you grew up with the idea that gaining information was inherently valuable, and not just any ol' information - the kind that positions the West as a pioneer and a leader in global progress as well as Western "ways of knowing" as superior and that people who aren't on board with this very particular kind of information gathering/spreading is backwards if not dangerous.
This knowledge is broken down into numbers and charts that make us all "ooh" and "aww." These numbers and charts end up becoming things that we worship and obey. And then we begin to create meaning and worth from these numbers and charts that kind of don't really actually mean anything at all. Think, for instance, of the quite arbitrary and strange way we calculate something like Body Mass Index, etc. All of these things dovetail so perfectly into diet culture and explain some of the reasons it is so widespread.
And I have a major problem with all of that!
When faced with such silliness I was left with no choice but to make fun of it, of course! And so I did! And here's pictures of me doing it. The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles filmed the entire show of which my TedTalk was a part. Thanks, Hammer Museum!
Here I am explaining a very official PIE CHART with a very ACCURATE breakdown of life's most important pursuits when taking into account the new BMI - Burgers & Milkshake Index - I SCIENTIFICALLY formulated. In order of BMI importance:
I have this theory. I think the #fatkini has revolutionized the direction of fashion trending: from plus size to straight size, rather than the other way around.
Glamour named high-waisted - or retro - bikinis among its top trends in 2014 and this year Victoria's Secret - yes, as in, omg-can-we-make-everything-tinier Victoria's Secret - is carrying high-waisted bikinis. Don't believe me? Look at Victoria's Secret swim collection from 2013. Not one, single, solitary high-waisted style. In 2015? 6 styles.
I trace the provenance of this trend to Gabi Fresh's 2013 #fatkini debut.
For yeeeeaaars I felt like two-piece bathing suits were not accessible to me because it seemed like every year there was less and less fabric to offer any support for my big butt, boobies and belly. I can't wear two triangles instead of a bra! And Oh. My. God. The strings! it felt like swimsuit manufacturers were yelling "PLEASE DON'T WEAR A BATHING SUIT, FAT GIRL!" every time I went shopping for something water-friendly.
Like many fat girls (and lots of other people too!), I used to hate swimsuit season. It represented another opportunity to feel ashamed of my body. My idea of a swimsuit used to be walking fully clothed into a pool and hoping I wouldn't drown in the sea of fabric in which I'd protectively encased myself.
Nowadays, I'm an avid - bordering on pathological - swimsuit shopper. And fatkinis had everything to do with that shift. I was waiting for - nay, stalking - swimsuit season this year hard, girl, suspecting that Forever21 and SwimsuitsForAll were going to stock even hotter swimwear than last year.
AND I WAS RIGHT.
But back to my theory. In pursuing my selfish fatkini research, I began to see a lot of high-waisted bikinis in sizes small through large - a major shift from years previous to 2014 and 2015. And so, um yah, I do think that the fatkini revolutionized trending history. This is an example of the incredible power that fat girls have! We made something so hot that swimsuit manufacturers just couldn't say no.
The skeptic might be thinking: but what about the 2012 Taylor Swift debut of a red polka dot vintage style two-piece?!? To which I say: people were clambering to figure out where exactly she got this magical unicorn of a swimsuit. Answer: fashion forward/vintage-inspired Modcloth.*
*I'm an affiliate for ModCloth!
I just gave a teleconferenced lecture for students of the Widener Human Sexuality Studies program this morning (yes, people are learning on a Sunday!). One of the students submitted the following question:
"The mainstream body-positivity movement lacks in intersectionality, often focusing its efforts still on thin-to-average able-bodied white women. What are some ways that folks within the movement can work on a paradigm shift toward including, for instance, disabled bodies and bodies of color, among other marginalized groups?"
I found that I had a LOT to say about this topic, but I was particularly struck by the concept of "including" marginalized people. The word "inclusion" is a buzzword in political organizing that typically indicates some vague understanding that something just isn't right here. The idea of inclusion is typically thought of as an innocuous way of discussing the perceived lack of meaningful engagement by people who are experiencing the greatest impact of the political issue at hand. But I don't think it's an innocuous idea. I think there's a lot embedded in that word, and so I wanted to give you three reasons to rethink the idea of inclusion. Are you ready?
First, embedded within the idea of "inclusion" is a kind of white supremacist/heteropatriarchal/thincentric/ableist framework or epistemology – the presumption that thin people need to create space for fat people or white people need to create space for people of color or that straight people need to create space for queers or that able-bodied people need to create space for disabled people. This kind of presumes that we are not already organizing or creating meaning in a way that works for us. To put it bluntly, people with hella privilege cannot even imagine that people with less privilege would be doing something super cute/amazing/dare-I-say better without them. And this is super presumptuous and also just inaccurate. Likewise, I think that movements led by marginalized folks are specifically interested in being un-seen by movements led by people with hella privilege.
Second, any movement that engages heavily with reinscribing dominant aesthetics – or respectability politics – is not going to be of interest to marginalized folks who see that dominant aesthetic as problematic and violent. Focusing on "inclusion" bypasses the idea that there may be core value differences. I've learned in observing and participating in queer fat politics that organizing was based around the idea that the state was always going to be fucked up and disinterested in promoting any real holistic justice. So, rather than focus energy on trying to win our way into the hearts and minds of the American people, the focus was on the needs of the people who were dealing with the hardest shit. These are not particularly "glamorous" or capitalism-engaged aspects of survival. A lot of strategies among people dealing with intense levels of marginalization focus on getting people immediate care – sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, things like meds, food, housing, scooters, interventions for extreme isolation, etc. These are things that the larger body positivity movement has no interest in addressing because there is a real risk of losing traction – of losing legibility - in the greater culture if these become focal points. "Body positivity" is by its very name a white or middle class movement because positivity is not a resource that is at the top of the list for people with multiple marginalized identities.
Finally, and - in my opinion - most importantly, is that the word "inclusion" presumes the maintenance of that movement's current leadership with the understanding that these "included" people will become absorbed into that movement without any radical rehaul of its current hierarchy. This idea reinscribes the idea that the status quo needs a few edits but is largely headed in the right direction. But is it frealz though? This fatty says noo.
I think we come to 2 important questions:
1. What do the people who see inclusion need or want from the inclusion of people who are not well-represented? I think this is an incredibly important question for organizers to ask themselves. We all kind of know that a lack of poc or big bodies or trans folks is an indication of a failure, but do organizers desire their inclusion simply as evidence that they are not failing or is there some greater desire to be in service to people who are experiencing the greatest impacts of marginalization?
2. Is the individual or group who is seeking "inclusion" ready to change up the agenda, the political tools they use, or the hierarchy of leadership?
So deep! I'm going to leave it at that. Work it out!
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.