Reflection: Not Just The Funny Fat Friend - Big, Bold, and In The Lead
In my primary school days, I had a friend who loved to draw. While the rest of us were dozing off in class, she would draw us in her gridded notebook. After class, a group of us would gather around her table, hoping to see little cartoon versions of ourselves.
She drew me once, and when she showed it to us after class, she said, "Everyone else's shoulders took half a grid. Victoria's took one whole box."
I can't remember how I reacted, but I do remember feeling embarrassed and guilty. When I got home that day, I know I cried, but I didn't tell anyone about it. There was just no way to put that experience to words that would communicate anything but my own fault.
I am fat.
I say those words to myself a lot more than they are said to me. I reckon I should be thankful that the people around me are polite. Unfortunately, that appears to be a privilege and, sometimes, too much to ask. Not that the shaming never happens, but anymore and I don't know how far I would spiral.
My mind's dictionary listed 'ugly', 'worthless', and 'not good enough' as equivalent to the word 'fat'. I had an obligation to feel ashamed and I did everything I could to meet it - avoiding mirrors, dressing to hide, laughing off public shaming and unsolicited advice. That was the normal, expected thing to do. If I wanted to be complimented and respected, I had to do was lose weight because, otherwise, I did not deserve it.
That voice in my head was deafening. I tried silencing it by satisfying its demands, and that meant splurging my allowance on results-in-a-week pills, some anonymous brand of slimming plums, and a Chilli burning-sensation slimming gel.
PS: they didn't work.
I am fat, and I am not here to tell you a sob story, only to speak about my experience as both a personal liberation and, hopefully, a source of strength for someone else.
Trigger Warning: Fat-Shaming, Mention of Eating Disorders, Racism, Sexism
The Fatness Spectrum
In October 2020, I launched a podcast dedicated to normalising difficult but important conversations. It went live with an episode on Body Positivity where I interviewed two amazing women on their activism and plus-size label. In that conversation, I was introduced to terms of the fatness spectrum for the first time.
Feel free to check it out here: linktr.ee/thetrulyotherpodcast
Graphic from http://thefatlip.com/ via https://fluffykittenparty.com/2019/10/05/fategories-understanding-smallfat-fragility-the-fat-spectrum/
According to the spectrum, I am somewhere between small-fat and mid-fat.
I am not sure about the purpose of compartmentalising the sizes into specific terms, perhaps it gives context as to the experiences of each size. One thing it does, though, is normalise the use of the word fat. When fat people use the word fat, we could reduce size stigma by reclaiming the term.
When did the word 'fat' become a bad word? People come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, genders, sexualities, and identities, and each of those identities have their own set of positive and negative experiences. People who are taller than the norm, for example, might get stared at on the streets. Yet, we don't say "she's so tall" with the same perspective and intention as when we say "she's so fat", because tall is not a bad word even though it is a descriptor just like the word 'fat'.
Very evidently, the discrimination that comes with uses of the word 'fat' have been internalised and normalised to the point where it is expected. The more we think that the vocabulary commonly-used to disseminate stereotypes are normal, the more we reinforce ideas that people of a certain size, shape, skin tone, gender, or sexuality are obligated to feel ashamed of who they are, of how they look like, and are generally unworthy of love and joy, which is wrong.
In fact, I'd argue that the fat experience is a spectrum in and of itself. I cannot speak for others, but I have been both fetishised and demonised, offline and online. Society constantly wants fat people to want to lose weight, then make fun of them in the gym. They say they are concerned for your health, but undermine your effort when you make it, and criticise you for not doing enough. It appears that the integrity of those who fall out of convention come at the whim and fancy of society and proponents of the norm. And when the discriminated against don't take things lying down, suddenly they're the angry aggressors and "need to calm down".
I do not need to be eradicated.
The experiences of bigger people have been slighted and undermined, not by a lack of effort from the part of the media. Yes, I am looking at the overdone funny, fat friend whose only deserves a supporting-character status and no real plot development of their own. We also have the plus-sized woman's classic rom-com narrative where her goal and story is only validated when she pines for and gets the conventionally attractive, popular jock. Also, not forgetting the 'DUFF' narrative where a fat person's value is determined by the compassion of her conventionally attractive peers.
To be clear: body positivity is not promoting obesity. No one is asking you to produce movies asking people to ignore their health and well-being, as if eating disorders aren't a thing. All we are saying is that just because someone looks different and/or has a bigger body does not mean they need to feel ashamed or must desire change. Similarly, being active with my body does not mean I have to change it. What a person decides to do with their body is their own business, and it should remain their own business.
The weaponisation of fatness has to stop, and it is not just about fatness. The perspective of fatness as a sign of failure spills-over towards heightened racism, sexism, and discrimination.
I do not have to be fixed, eradicated, silenced, or shamed.
I am not just the funny fat friend.