Fat is a Feminist Issue

“It’s just really frustrating,” I said, turning my head to look at him, “that people reject me because of my body, you know?”

“Well,” he pointed out, taking a swig of his beer, “would you really want to date someone that shallow anyway?”

“Well, no. I suppose not. But it’s the principal of the thing, that people so quickly categorize each other. That I know people who would be ashamed of dating someone like me, because of my body, even if they were really into me. That’s fucked up.”

“Yeah, society is pretty fucked up.”

We sat in companionable silence for a moment, the trees sighing overhead and the sand trickling down the bank. I was trying to muster up the will to get into the river, but it was still a smidgen too cold. I sipped my own Eye of the Hawk and stared moodily into the sand.

“Besides,” he added, “I don’t think you’re bad looking.”

It’s kind of funny being surrounded by people who “don’t think I’m bad looking” because they don’t want to admit I’m fat. It’s cool, I say, I know I’m fat, I’m not blind. And did it ever occur to you that maybe I don’t like being objectified, that there are more important things in my life than prettiness? I know that my body is out of fashion, and that doesn’t really bother me. What I think they don’t realize is how hurtful it is to have people constantly reject a part of your identity. I mean, if you had an African American friend, you wouldn’t say “oh, you don’t really look that black to me,” would you? Especially when fat is so bound up in who I am, and in how I live my life. I might not be the chunkmonster, but I am no slim and svelte vixen. Curvaceous, they say, or just curvy, or maybe ample, chunky, pudgy. I’ve always hated “chunky” because it makes me think of ice cream. Why not just say “fat”? Heavyset. Stocky. Or maybe we live in a skewed reality where my body really is normal and healthy, and I just feel like an elephant beside the armies of skinny girls I run around with. Especially when there are people out there who fetishize and lust after bodies like mine, it seems a shame to deny it.

“It’s funny,” I said, “that there are actually people out there who are really into my body type. But I’m not into them. And I find that as weird and repulsive as people who reject the possibility of involvement with me because I’m fat. Both things are just fetishizing something, not thinking about people as people.”

“I think that you are too hard on yourself,” he said. “Really I think chicks are way more bound up in this stuff than men. I mean, I know lots of guys who don’t care about that stuff.”

“Really? Because I don’t know anyone who ‘doesn’t care about this stuff.’ I know people, people that you know too, who might be into fat chicks, but would never admit it, because they are ashamed of it. Because they think that their friends will make fun of them for going out with a fattie. So they date parades of anoretic tortured women instead, because that’s better. I’m fairly certain that of all the people we know, the ones who might consider dating me would do so in spite of my size, not because they didn’t care.”

But he did have a point. Some of the most severe critics of women’s bodies are…other women. “But,” you say, “it’s the oppressive fashion industry which is so hard on women!” Who do you think works in the fashion industry? Runs fashion magazines? It’s not just men, folks. A lot of women are high powered designers, magazine editors, and authorities within the fashion industry. And those women have the same unrealistic standards that the men in the industry do.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are doing this to ourselves, but we certainly helped make the bed, so to speak. Every time a woman criticizes another woman for her body, belittles someone for her size, or makes a judgment about someone because she is fat, she feeds the beast. Every time you assume it’s safe to leave me around your boyfriend because I’m fat, it’s a knife to my heart. And every time a friend says “you’re not bad looking” while refusing to meet me in the eye, a little piece of my soul is chipped away.

“I just think it’s funny, funny and tragic,” I said, “that people are repulsed by me and won’t admit it. Or that people talk trash about ‘fatties’ while they’re around me, and they just don’t seem to make the connection. Or they say ‘we don’t mean people like you.'”

“Well, I mean, they don’t. Mean people like you, I mean.”

Ah, so what is a “person like me”? A jolly fatty? A fatty you know, so you can personalize the fatness, and you have trouble tossing it by the wayside because it doesn’t meet with your standards? I mean, I hear people criticizing fat people who don’t exercise, fat people who eat all the time, and fat people, who, *gasp*, embrace being fat. Gee, kids, that sounds a lot like me.

It’s not that being fat is a barrel of laughs all the time. When you go out on a date that someone else set up and the other person is horrified by your size, it’s hard to keep smiling. When nothing seems to fit when you want to get dressed nicely to go out, you can be filled with bitterness. When people ignore you because you have an invisibility cloak of fatness on, it can be devastating. When nothing a store sells will fit, it can be enraging. But, on the other hand, I eat whatever the fuck I want. I love my curvy body, and the things I can wear on it. I love the expression of shock I see on people’s faces when I play tennis, run, paddle a canoe. It fills me with delight when people are surprised that I am intelligent, thoughtful, and capable of contributing to a conversation. There’s something about always being underestimated that fills you with a determination to kick ass. And that’s something that skinny girls with socially acceptable midriffs just don’t get to experience.

Feminists should care about fat and fat acceptance because fat people are in a place right now where women were not too long ago. And to deny a huge part of the population acceptance is to ultimately undermine the movement, as feminists learned when they tried to segregate the movement, and when they tried to take queers out of the equation. You may be “so repulsed by fat people that you want to vomit,” as someone said to me once, but we are going to be a crucial part of the liberation of women, whether you like it or not. Ignore us at your own peril, sizeist feminists.