Fat Isolation

On Tuesday over at Shakesville, Melissa McEwan wrote a really awesome piece called Big Fat Love. She provides a response to a culture of fat hatred by declaring that she likes fat people and considering why such an ordinarily benign thing to say has become an extreme and radical position in our culture. Even amongst fat people, the social conditioning to hate fatness is extremely powerful. Its hard to even fathom what we lose because of this.

In a culture of external and internal fat hatred, there is no real solidarity among fat people. Well, at least not any fat positive solidarity. There can be "solidarity" in apologetic fatness, but can such self-blaming commiseration really be seen as solidarity? Bonding in self-loathing is what has been prescribed to us by a fat shaming culture, but what about bonding through encouragement? Well, there are risks there. You see an awesome fattie out on the street and maybe you want to say "yay!" but what if they respond with embarrassment or resentment? Most of the fat people I see and interact with in my life would reject any kind of affirmational solidarity. Many would be outright offended by it! And while I can't endorse that attitude, its still one I'm forced to be bound by. You can't impose solidarity, after all. Being fat positive can mean feeling terribly isolated, even surrounded by people who look like you.

Even when we can find a sense of community, it often still bares significant risks of rejection and stigmatization. I'm reminded of my experience going to "BBW" Social dances when I was younger. I'm not sure everyone is familiar with these events, but basically they are dances run at hotels or clubs intended for fat women and men who are attracted to fat women. They tend to have a bad reputation in fat activism, and not without reasons I'll get to, but they are still profoundly revolutionary in a lot of ways. They offer a space for fat women to feel some community. To be in a room and not have to worry about standing out because they are fat. It creates a little pocket where fat people can recreate some of the experiences thin people take for granted. They don't need to be political to be really quite radical.

But, they often aren't just apolitical, and that's the issue. Because most fat people have internalized our stigmatization. Gather a bunch of fat people together, and odds are they'll mostly be unhappy being fat. And being fat does not preclude one from fat shaming others, either. It doesn't even preclude shaming oneself, after all! This where the sense of community can end up feeling illusory. If you get past the thrill of being in a room with other fat people having fun, you may feel worn down by the viciously anti-fat political nature of the community. There can be intense pressure to be apologetically fat, both through negative reactions to fat positivity, and social reinforcement of constant fat shaming discussions.

Even more genuinely radical gatherings can carry the same risks. A couple weeks ago, I went with my wife to a fat clothing flea market. I knew a bunch of radical fatties were there and there was a real thrill in knowing that, even if I was mostly just trying to stay out of the way of the shoppers. I remember feeling really inspired by the energy in the room, but I also remember the wariness in the back of my head. Fat isolation can lead to a lot of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Put a bunch of fat people in a room together, even a really positive and radical room, and there is still going to be a significant impact of internalized fat shame. And we're made to expect no different. We're made to expect fat negativity. Fat activists are routinely called on to even affirm fat negativity, as if somehow our belief in something different is a threat to all the fat negativity in the world and we need to expend our time reassuring fat negativity that we totally respect it. We are constantly being isolated in our fatness, and its draining.

This is one of the reasons I value virtual communities so strongly. They allow us to come together in ways we never can in our ordinary lives. I started typing "real lives" there, but that's wrong. This is real. The communities we can find and build online are real. When someone declares on their blog that they like fatties, that's real. When we sharing experiences and ideas on Tumblr, that's real. When we banter on Twitter, that's real. It may not erase a desire to experience these same things face to face, but it shouldn't. That's just something else and it doesn't take away from the communities we can find. Being fat and okay with it, or *gasp* happy, can be very isolating and there is nothing wrong with taking whatever solidarity we can find. We can't always trust that it will be okay to say "I like fat people", but we can find some little corner where it is.

We then try to carry that with us as we stampede across the landscape. It may not keep us from wanting other communal fat experiences, but its not supposed to. Indeed, it should make us want them all the more. Isolation is not integral to the fat positive experience. It is imposed on us by those who want us quarantined lest our fat fatness infect others. Even if we don't always know how to break out, we shouldn't accept that our quarantine is in any way justified. We're going to get out and we're going to get our fat all over everything.


Fattiboomballatti said...

I wrote something along this theme on my blog recently as well. Being fairly new to FA and quite excited about it I find that I run to my fat friends with this wonderful secret, "look what I have!!" and more often than not they are polite/ignoring to downright hostile. I have been so confused and sad by the responses I got from fat friends and family.

I was so excited I posted without doing a quality grammar check so let me preface that with the link: http://fattiboombalatti.tumblr.com/post/22754566395/selling-fat-acceptance-to-fat-people

Also, I have not revisted this post in awhile and was totally bemused to find it has 57 likes... I guess this theme is relevant for a lot of people right now.

Twistie said...

I know would become awfully discouraged without the fabulous positive fatties I've met online! Most of my circle in the fleshy world is either self-loathing fat or thin people who don't even notice the negativity coming out of their mouths. I can be wearing my scarlet fat necklace and talking merrily about baking cakes... and sure enough, someone in the room is virtually guaranteed to come up and start telling me about the great new diet they've just started or blurt out that their size eight self cannot have any cake until they've lost fifteen pounds. Oh, and by the way, that joint pain they've been having? Is totally because they're fat, amiright! You know, fatty, because you're fat therefore you have severe joint pain, too.

Drives. Me. Batty.

It's tough, because we're conditioned to think the person who isn't in lock step is the one who's wrong. In this case, though, everyone IS out of step except for us, but we're such a tiny minority that people just assume we think the way they do.

I'm sick of having people agree that yes, Twistie is a Fat Acceptance Activist, but she won't mind me telling her I've found a wonderful new way to be thin forever, never mind that I've never worn anything smaller than a size 16 in my adult life, and that was only when I was starving myself nearly to fainting spells on a daily basis.


Anonymous said...

I love fat dudes. Not being fat myself, I was not prepared for all of this crap when I married my husband: shitty comments, being afraid to get on a plane, being blamed/shamed for any health issue, etc etc. Our culture is insanely stupid about this; 100 years from now I think people will be viewing our attitudes and the state of science on metabolism and nutrition to be the equivalent of leeches and witch hunts.

You're a good looking guy and I love your suit.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
silentbeep said...

To the last Anon: You don't get it. And I bet you never well.

Brian said...

As always, I have no patience for people using my blog to fat shame. You've got a world constructed to privilege your fat shaming. You don't get to steal the few spaces that don't.

Julia said...

Fat shopping places can also be revolutionary in that you see a variety of sizes and shapes of fat. I really love seeing so many different kinds of fat, and different ways people dress their fat bodies.

Also given how fat shopping is often about scarcity of resources, it's amazing to see HEAPS of clothes.

Brian said...

Word on seeing huge mounds of plus size clothes. I've gone with my wife on a couple of occasions to events like this and can readily recognize what a revelation it is to have such a wealth of options in comparison to what she's usually presented with. I was even a little bit jealous because I know how frustrated I've been trying to go second-hand shopping in my size, though fully aware I've got tons of other privileges that more than compensate me.

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