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.