Reinforcing Sexual Hierarchies in Fat Positive Spaces

For a long time I have watched as the fat rights community has continued to reinforce problematic sexual and relationship hierarchies in fat positive spaces. As a community we whole-heartedly reject the notion that fat bodies are inherently unhealthy or any other stereotype attached to our fat bodies, but what we don’t address is what I feel is almost a compulsive need to prove to others that we are not those stereotypes. While doing this we ignore the reality that people do fall into the spaces we are trying to not fill by distancing ourselves from them.

This kind of distancing continues this notion of a ‘good fatty / bad fatty’ dichotomy that makes it so those of us without “successful” relationships, who may or may not want to be in a relationship, feel as though we are somehow lesser than. If we were to be truly revolutionary we would be challenging the stereotype all together. Who gets to choose where self worth or social acceptability comes from? Who gets to decide that any person, regardless of body size, must conform to what we deem to be acceptable forms of relationships or sexual acts? Who gets to decide where someone’s sexuality comes from or what kind of sex is better? If we want to be revolutionary we should be challenging all standards of living, not just showing exceptions to stereotypes.

When is comes to sex and relationships the discussion is almost always led by someone who is partnered, is about having sex with other people while being slanted toward the idea that being a good fatty means being in a relationship. Very rarely does sex talk involve personal experiences from those of us who are not intimate with other people. It very rarely involves breaking away from the normative standards of sexual experience, which deems relationships between two people to be the best kind of relationship to be in.

Because of the widely held prejudicial belief that fat people are unlovable conversations have often centered on challenging that. It isn’t abnormal to come across blogs that tell people that they will be loved, that they will have fulfilling sexual experiences that focus on multiple partners being involved. This sends the message that intimate relationships with others, sexual experiences and self worth are related. While I highly doubt anyone has meant for this to happen, the reality is that by not making space for people who are not intimate with other people we are continuing to exclude people from this movement based on pretty archaic sexual hierarchies.

Within sex positive discourse it isn’t abnormal to see discussion about how female sexuality in particular, though I would say any gender that does not conform to the traditional role of male sexuality, is seen to have their sexuality given to them. The idea behind this is that sexuality is taught to women by men, that their sexuality is not manifested from within but from other people. Even when we remove ourselves from this traditional thought about sexuality and move into being more sex positive we still recreate this same narrative when we only talk about sex between partners or make a distinction between solo sexual experiences (aka masturbation) and sex with others.

It isn’t abnormal for me to be discussing sex with other people and a distinction to be made by saying sex with a partner is better than being alone. The truth is that I have found just as many people who don’t see the difference and the reality is that it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s sexual experience is different, I enjoy my sexual experience with my box of toys, and others might enjoy their sexual experiences to be with one partner or two or three. Some people do nothing, some do a lot. Every form of variation is valid, every form is good.

Discussions that center around only one kind of relationship or sexual experience, leaves room for interpretation that those are the only kind that matter. They continue to reinforce sexual hierarchies that are damaging not only to people within the fat rights movement but also to anyone who believes they are truly sex positive. Being revolutionary means speaking for all people, not essentializing aspects of people’s sexuality, relationships or worth.

For further reading,

“Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” Gayle S. Rubin

Photo Time!

I have been crazy busy, between Love Your Body Detroit’s Body Positive Scavenger Hunt for Love Your Body Day 2011, class and my 2 jobs. I participated in a photo shoot for a non-profit yoga studio in downtown Detroit called City Yoga. They wanted to show that all people no matter who they are can do yoga. It was a great day. I also have been getting my back tattooed since the middle of August and it is finally finished.

The tattoo itself has a ton of different elements that I put in. The quote is from “A Vindication for the Rights of Women” by Mary Wollenstonecraft. My fat dancing lady is not only to show a fat active body but also because I love Niki de Saint Phalle’s nanas and it is a recreation of her sculptures that can be found at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The tattoo style was for my favorite watercolor painter Stina Persson.

Taking Back Your Body

This will be posted on the Ferndale Patch tomorrow.

I was 18 when I found the fat rights movement. Unlike my peers who spent years of weight cycling and trying every diet they could, I have only ever been on one diet. My entry into this movement came from understanding the ways beauty ideals oppress those who cannot conform to them. I spent my whole senior year losing weight believing if I just got down to a size where I would no longer be fat, I would be worthy, I would be beautiful.

My need to be beautiful began at the age of 5 when my parents were told I should participate in beauty pageants. The recommendation came from the mother of Ashley Johnson who at the time was in my brother’s preschool class and moved away the same year to take the part of Chrissy Seaver on the show Growing Pains. After that I was thrown into a life where my outward appearance was made to be more important than the characteristics that made me who I am today. While I only spent a year actually participating in beauty pageants the need to be pretty stayed with me and attached itself to my sense of worth and to my gender. Once I became fat those values I built up around me were ripped away over night.

I was 11 when I was first called fat. I was not always called fat; I had a whole slew of names that came with the change in status when I entered middle school, big bertha, earthquake (this was often screamed while my classmates shook tables), and jolly green giant. When I think back on it now I find it amusing that my classmates somehow thought that my body would create a seismic event when I walked. To be honest I changed that year, emotionally shutting down and trying to build up a wall around myself for fear of being vulnerable to their attacks but it wasn’t until I took a road trip with my dad at the end of the school year to visit my aunt everything came into focus.

When I talk about my past with body shame and fat stigma, it isn’t abnormal for people to tell me how it wasn’t the media, or their peers but parents and family members that brought on their own shame and the resulting consequences. I truly believe it is different when it comes from your family. We are told family is suppose to love us no matter what, but this isn’t true and when they say hurtful or damaging things it should be addressed as such.

The words my aunt said to me were simple and in her own mind were probably coming from a place of misplaced care.  When she told me, “You would be so beautiful if you were thin,” it was not only the first time a family member addressed my body, but also the first time it became clear that I lost something tangible by being fat.

That is why I am so passionate about the work I do today. Being taught to hold my personal appearance as a sign of my worth and my femininity, only to have it taken away when I no longer conformed to societies beauty ideals changed how I felt about myself. Because performing beauty is a standard requirement for someone who is gendered female, I spent a long time disassociating with my body and my gender. When I was finally able to understand that my pain was from the way I was socialized in my early childhood and teens I was able to disconnect myself from the equation. In other words, the way I was treated was not my fault or because of my body but due to the fat stigma in our society.

The changes were drastic, I stopped speaking negatively about myself, my body and/or otherwise. I also stopped speaking negatively about other people’s appearance instead judging them on their own interactions with me personally. This alone made learning to love my body and feel more connected with it, after hating it for so long, easier. Once I change the ways I thought and talked about bodies I started to address why I learned to feel that way, taking my life and tearing it apart to give myself a deeper understanding of where all of my shame came from.

Stopping my own body shaming was not an overnight process, it is still something that comes up at unexpected times, but when it does I’m not scared anymore. The only thing I fear now is going back to where I was before.

If you suffer from body shame, seek help. Surround yourself with people who will support you no matter what body you live in. Address why you feel the way you do about your body, and know that those feelings are not because of you. The Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor and is an amazing resource to take back your body. 

October 19th is Love Your Body Day.

The National Organization for Women’s Oakland County chapter will be holding an event titled “Love Your Body: Media and Body Image” I will be speaking about the language we use to talk about our bodies. For more information visit their event page, linked above.

AND! Don’t forget about Love Your Body Detroit’s Body Positive Scavenger Hunt.

Celebrate Love Your Body Day with a Body Positive Scavenger Hunt!

Finding positive body image in our media-driven society is a hard task, but hunting down body positive pigs doesn’t have to be!

In celebration of Love Your Body Day 2011, Love Your Body Detroit is throwing a weeklong event that not only will make way for people to have a better relationship with their body but also bring awareness to a number of female-owned businesses in the area.

Participating businesses include,

Have Hips – Clawson

Rouge Makeup and Nails – Ferndale

Naka – Ferndale

Thicke Madam Boutique – Ferndale

Painting with a Twist – Ferndale

City Bird – Midtown Detroit

Pauline’s Closet – Midtown Detroit

Each business will be hosting a piggy bank that has been decorated by artists and activists from around the country. To participate in the scavenger hunt each participant must take a photo of themselves with as many pigs as they can find. After their “hunt” they can send their photos to LYBDetroit@gmail.com and each photo will count as an entry into a raffle with prizes from each participating business. If a person visits every pig their entry into the raffle doubles. All photos and winners will be announced on Love Your Body Detroit’s Facebook page.

The event begins on Love Your Body Day, October 19th and runs though Sunday October 23rd.

Let us know you are participating by going to our event page.

VLOG: That time I Invaded a Weight Loss Casting

On June 18th I went to a weight loss casting to show not only the casting directors but the other participants that weight loss is not the only option to being fat. You can be fat and happy. Fat and healthy.