Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Big Fat Revolution(s)

This week, I read Nomy Lamm’s “It’s a Big Fat Revolution,” which got me thinking a lot about body politics. Nomy Lamm describes herself as a “Fatkikecripplecuntqueer,” which is her way of re-appropriating a whole bunch of negative words slewed against her, and then using this identity as a launch point for her activism. Although her piece focuses on fat activism—reclaiming “fat” as positive, healthy, and normal—her piece opens up a lot of questions about normalcy and health itself . What is the ideal body type, who has the power to define this ideal body type, and who does this ideal type benefit? The following blog examines these issues of privilege and bodies.

It is a script that I have enacted many times with my friends, and with myself. I rehearse my script ritually in front of the mirror each night as my discriminating eyes interrogate each curve, and pouch, as my policing hands prod and poke at soft spots, calculating variances from last week. The script contains a conflict, a climax, a resolution. The conflict rests between two competing selves: the ideal me that exists in some unattainable place, unclear and out of focus, but undeniably a better me, and the material me that peers back from the mirror. The climax is the height of my anxiety, the realization that these two selves do not match, that I might be “that kind of girl” that has “let herself go”, that has become, unspeakably, Fat. Fat with a capital F. Fat as a state of being. The resolution to this script is the inevitable reconciliation that while I am not my mythical ideal self, I am not Fat. The interrogating eyes and policing hands do not make an arrest, but nor do they let me “off the hook.” I give my body a warning that I am under careful surveillance.

The script is harmful and problematic. As Nomy Lamm points out in It’s a Big Fat Revolution, the dominant mentality concerning negative female body image articulates the problem as “Women look in the mirror and think, “I’m fat,” but really they’re not. Really they’re thin.” Lamm writes that the harm in this mentality is two-fold: first, for its theoretical blindness to women who are, by societal standards, Fat, and second, for its implicit positioning of fat as inherently bad. To eliminate this debilitating self-loathing, the prevailing script on fat must be rewritten. Fat can no longer play the villain role. The Fat Revolution involves a recasting of fat as a “totally normal and natural thing that cannot and should not be gotten rid of,” and this fat revolution will occur through the everyday resistance of individual agents.

Alternative scripts and strategies that posit fat as beautiful and healthy are necessary in combating a specific form of negative body image; however, our scripts need to go further. Fat-hate is only one part of a larger script that polices what count as “healthy” and “normal” bodies. As Emi Koyama suggests in “A New Fat-Positive Feminism,” feminists needs to go beyond positioning fat as normal and healthy and challenge the very concepts of health and normalcy themselves: “we need to . . . question who is arbitrating these categories and who benefits.”

I return to the mirror with these thoughts in mind. I consider the privileges of my body as white, able, and gender-normative. Never before, in my mirror-gazing rituals, have my interrogative eyes considered the implications of my able-bodied legs, which allow me to access my university classes and allow me to climb the typical Montreal-style stairs that lead to my apartment. Nor my white-skin that allows me to shop at retail stores without being followed. Nor my long hair, feminine clothing, and made-up face that allow me easy entrance into most social groups. I have embraced these aspects of me, whether unconsciously or consciously, as healthy and normal aspects of my body. However, by holding these traits (white, able-bodied and feminine) as healthy and normal, I effectively exclude others from the privileged category of “normal.” I implicitly position those that are differently abled, non-white, and gender nonconformist as less normal, less healthy, less human.

Creating fat-positive scripts is integral in promoting positive body image. However, even a fat positive world will exclude others from positive body image and full personhood if the power dynamic behind concepts of “normalcy” and “health” remains unexamined. Feminists, myself included, must critically consider the ways in which the mythical ideal selves we fantasize are the product of an oppressive structure that marginalizes and stigmatizes any other body forms. Creating a body-positive world necessitates more than the positioning of fat as normal and healthy; more fundamentally, it requires a revolution in the definition of normal and healthy themselves.


  1. I don't think anyone benefits from fat-positive scripts. A healthy body image is one thing, and some folks are stockier than others. That's cool.

    But obesity should never be declared "ok." Heart disease and diabetes are terrible afflictions to have, and it is extremely detrimental to say that the main contributor to those things is fine.

    Perhaps there is fat oppression, but the answer to such inequity is not to pass off unhealthiness as healthy, but to take more care and reponsibility of our bodies, and to be more receptive to the signals they send us.

  2. I disagree with you, studentmusings. The "but fat is unhealthy!" argument seems to be some people's knee-jerk reaction when confronted with fat oppression activism, but that sentiment needs to be more closely examined. As Kate Harding has blogged about extensively at Shapely Prose (I suggest you read : http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/), it's a myth that being fat = being unhealthy. Fat acceptance movements aren't advocating an unhealthy lifestyle. There are a lot of fat people who treat their bodies much better than thin people and are still fat. And there's nothing at all wrong with that.

    The real cause of health problems is dieting, not fat.

    There's a reason that fat people are always targeted as being "more unhealthy" than other groups... and the reason is prejudice and ignorance. If you are concerned that people are not taking good care of their bodies, maybe you should consider protesting skydiving, BMX racing, rock climbing, or any other "high risk" activity.