One evening last week, I went on a walk with my husband Bob. Halfway through, we sat on a parkway bench, talking. We were startled by a voice shouting out of a car going by, a middle-school-aged boy with his head stuck out of the open window, looking at us. We turned to each other, puzzled. “I think he said, ‘Fat Positivity.'” That’s what we both heard. But… why?
Bob went on with what he had been talking about, and I found myself unable to listen. I felt the familiar warm flush of shame on my face, and my mind started spinning on the incident. “Fat Positivity” sounded, well, Positive, but was it taunting? Was it solidarity of some kind (a lot to expect from a young boy)? Even if it was well-intended, it was still someone seeing me in all my fatness, noticing it, calling it out. I felt seen in a way I didn’t want to be, attention being called to an aspect of my body that is unacceptable by society’s standards, not to mention being judged as unattractive, undesirable, and a personal failing.
Fat people are often treated as less-than (ironic, isn’t it?), labeled with the stereotypes of lazy, gluttonous, weak-willed, greedy, unhealthy, even unintelligent and unlikable. Most fat people have experienced some kind of shitty treatment because of their size — little kids staring and pointing, unwelcome judgmental comments in grocery stores or restaurants, horrible troll-comments on social media photos, getting shamed by ignorant doctors at medical appointments, and yes, getting shouted at by people driving by in cars. Or humiliating photos of fat bodies on airplanes, tweeted out by strangers who are disgusted and annoyed. We live in a fatphobic, diet-mentality culture. It’s everywhere. Just go to almost any gathering of women and you won’t be able to escape the conversations about food and being good and diet and points and weight…
“Size” on Stage
This weekend I got to see a play in the Minnesota Fringe Festival called Size. The description said, “Nothing tastes as good as rejecting bullshit societal standards feels. With songs, sketches and stories, the creators… and an array of artists present a love letter to every body.” I was so excited to see this. This is a subject I’m passionate about, and I love to seek out like-minded people.
My eyes got really big when I opened the door to the lobby at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis. It was packed! None of the shows I’d seen at Fringe this year had such a long line to get in. I was thrilled looking around as we took our seats. The 160-seat arena was almost completely full, and two-thirds of the crowd were “regular-sized” folks. Apparently, the producers’ previous Fringe show the year before (Not Fair! My Lady, which calls out misogyny) had been a crowd favorite. No matter what drew people to see this show, it was immensely gratifying to know that so many would be more aware about the issues fat people face.
The show was funny, devastating, tender, honest and illuminating. There were skits about gym classes, pompous college professors, clothing retailers, restaurant scenes, uniforms that don’t fit, feeling invisible, mother-daughter relationships, etc. I could relate to most of the stories, and I felt gut-wrenched and empowered in turn. Bob got emotional during the show as well. He knows what I’ve been through and has witnessed my pain from similar experiences.
In the program for the show, one of the producers Colleen Somerville wrote: “The stories, themes, and ideas we share with you here are a mere sampling, but they’re true, they’re personal, and we are proud to set them within the greater pantheon of fat liberation, fat justice, body love and body positivity.” Amen to that!
For me, this is a hard topic to write about. I have felt body shame for so much of my life, starting as a young kid, no matter how big or small I was at the time. Yet I feel compelled to speak up about it, to add my voice to those bringing awareness to this topic. There is so much emotional pain for so many people in this realm of bodies, and all the wasted energy of self-flagellation and self-disgust. It shouldn’t be this way. The Fat Splash pool party I wrote about a few weeks ago shouldn’t be an exception or a rare safe place for people to have freedom about their bodies.
I know it’s a long road ahead. I’ll still go to parties and hear five different conversations amongst women about food and being good and diet and points and weight. Change usually happens slowly. All I can do is speak up, share my experience and knowledge, and bring awareness to this subject. Awareness, and theaters full of enthusiastic audiences are great steps forward.
*I got the above button after the show with a donation to the Radical health Alliance. For more information on who they are and what they do, go to: www.radicalhealthalliance.org