This weekend I went to my first Fat Splash — a private pool party for fat people. The event was sponsored by Cake Plus-Size Resale, a new-ish consignment shop in Minneapolis with a fabulous selection of clothes and a safe, body-positive space for shoppers. My daughter Gennie eagerly snatched up two tickets for us when they went on sale, which was smart because the party sold out in 12 hours, and an additional party sold out quickly too.
Over the years, I’ve heard about fat pool parties in various books, articles, blogs, Facebook groups in other states, and more recently, saw one on the recent fat-positive Hulu show “Shrill” (which is based on the wonderful book by Lindy West). These parties looked fun and freeing, but also far-away, unreachable. I didn’t think I’d ever get to go to one…
But here it was, in my own city! And I needed a new bathing suit. I have a very utilitarian, sturdy suit that I wear for water classes, but I wanted something I could feel good in. That, my friends, is a very tall order. Most women do not relish swim suit shopping. Our culture’s complicated, perfectionistic and judgmental messages about women’s bodies make it hard for most women to feel good about their body in clothes, much less a form-fitting swimsuit. It’s extra-challenging when you have a fat body that is labeled “unacceptable” by the culture. Showing more skin when you’ve got more skin to show is super vulnerable. Besides, it’s hard to find a suit that fits my body and my curves, much less one that I’ll actually like.
But my dear, fashion-y daughter was very excited about this party, and she was so positive about going shopping with me and making it all fun. The planets all aligned and I did find a cute suit that I wanted to wear. Achievement unlocked! She found her swim separates online.
We were both excited for the party, and the weather cooperated with a nice 80-degree evening. The event was held at a community center’s outdoor pool, which was perfect. There was a water slide, diving board, floaties, and DJs playing tunes for us. A sychro swimming group called The Subversive Sirens taught us a flash mob dance to Lizzo’s “Worship Me.” There were deck chairs to lounge on, and a glorious heated pool to swim and dance and chat in.
Best of all was the crowd — a few men and a whole lotta women with their big soft curvy jiggly ripe fleshy bodies in a peacock-parade of colorful bathing suits. A jungle of tropical flowers not wilting in the summer heat. The pièce de résistance — the smiles, the carefree laughter, the cheers whenever anyone jumped off the diving board.
It. Was. Delicious.
Unfortunately, lurking in the background was this idea of The Contrast. This was a safe space for fat bodies and the tender souls who inhabit them. We could be free and frolic. But the regular world is not always a safe space for fat people. Body shame is a reality for people in all kinds of bodies, and even thinner folks are not immune to it. Fat people face it all the time, not to mention the constant pressure to lose weight and the degrading assumptions people make about fat people. You don’t have to look far to find stories of downright cruelty and hate-behaviors that fat people have been subjected to by strangers or people they know. Often our bodies don’t fit in spaces that everyone else’s do. We often learn to be guarded, to hide our shame.
The beauty of fat-positive spaces (physical ones, or online) is that we can put those burdens down. We can dare to try out feeling good about ourselves and our bodies. Knowing we have a community of those in the same boat, we can start to try out the challenge of loving ourselves out in the bigger world. We might get slapped down over and over doing that, but everyone has the right to feel good about themselves.
Whatever you think about fat bodies and what they should do and why they are that way — none of that really matters. (And you are probably wrong, since most of what our culture teaches us on this topic is bullshit designed to make a lot of people a lot of money.) What does matter are those tender souls who inhabit the fat bodies. I’m one of them. My life has been deeply and negatively shaped by my self-image, learned body shame, cultural judgments that I unknowingly bought into, and so many aspects of diet culture and fatphobia. I looked around the pool party and the crowd of happy, laughing fat people and kept asking myself, “What’s so wrong with this? Why have I fought my whole life against this (only to end up here anyway)?”
In so many ways, it was a beautiful night. All I can do is take away from it that feeling, that freedom, and stand up for myself in my own head (my own Internal Critic) and in the world (whatever its messages may be), against the shame. Oh, toxic shame. You aren’t invited to this party anymore.
[Photos by Theresa Jarosz Alberti]