So I presented my paper a couple of days ago and the world didn’t end.Â As far as I can tell, it actually went quite well.Â People asked questions, and came up to me afterwards to say they liked my work.Â Someone even remembered me from my last presentation and said they were looking forward to hearing my paper.Â Let me tell you, that blew my tiny little mind.Â I’ve long thought that I was pretty much invisible (I’m can be terribly shy and a bit of a wallflower), so it’s always surprising when someone sees me, let along remembers me.
It’s good to get some outsider perspective sometimes, too – a lot of my academic angst comes from knowing how far my work is from what I really want to say, how far I have to go (which is objectively a fine position to be in, that’s why the process of writing a thesis takes years and not hours).Â For a lot of people, though, it’s the first time they’ve been exposed to these ideas, and that’s a good reminder that what I’m doing – what we’re doing as a community – is both new and important.Â I’m still a little…anxious? awkward? embarrassed? about my paper.Â I can’t tell if it’s because I’m talking about such a daggy film (Shallow Hal), or because I’m talking about sex with bodies like mine, which is, well, an awkward thing to talk about in front of an audience.Â I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of that internalised shame about how ridiculous it is for a fat girl to ever think anyone would want to fuck her (a la every teen sex romp film ever made) – which is ironic, because that’s one of the main things I talk about in my paper.
Anyway, it was also fabulous to hear about the work other people are doing – there’s all sorts of fantastically interesting stuff to think about, and I’m feeling energised and full of purpose and direction.Â Engaging with community is good for that.Â So is socialising with other students, despite feeling awkward and out of my depth, and then tipsy and over-disclosing.Â That’s kind of how it goes.
When I’m talking to new people socially about my research, there’s a lot of different reactions, but two stand out for sheer frequency.Â When I say “fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity”, the most common response is “Oh, you mean like feeders and fetishism and stuff?”Â The answer to that is now yes, I will be devoting a chapter to that, mainly because that’s the most common thing people ask me about which seems to warrant further investigation.Â My chapter will be focussed on the reactions of the ‘general population’ more than fetish practices, though.
The second is a hushed, confessional “You know, I used to be big too”.Â Followed by a difficult-to-divert disclosure of the hows and whys and whens and whats.Â I don’t want to dismiss people’s experiences, and I think there’s all sorts of ways of managing one’s embodiment which are completely valid.Â But I don’t want to talk about weight loss uncritically – which doesn’t mean I want to condemn it, but I do want to question, not so much a particular individual choice as paradigm which makes that choice mandatory.
(That said, we are all endlessly engaged in choices which, if not mandatory, are almost always highly constrained.Â Which is to say, I think it’s important to understand that ‘choices’ are often compelled, that we’re not exactly the freely self-determining agents of our own individuality as neoliberal ideology would have us believe.Â But then what?Â I’m not sure where that line takes me, except to further individualisation, which is not quite where I want to go…)
The fact that the ‘choice’ to loose weight is socioculturally compelled is very high on the list of reasons why I try to avert these conversations.Â Because as much as someone might genuinely be talking about their own, individual experience, as much as they might not be trying to imply “I did it so you can too” (and I believe this person really wasn’t doing that), the culture at large has had its metaphorical boot on my metaphorical neck trying to stop me from swallowing any metaphorical food since I was literally four fucking years old.Â It’s also why I find the impulse toward a ‘good fatty’ defence so strong, even though I know it’s feeding into the same thinking which hierarchises certain bodies over others, which says this way of being is better than that way.Â Even though I know it buys into the individualisation which I find so problematic.Â It’s why health discourse about obesity is deeply fucking personal even though I’m in perfect health – because health discourse is mobilised against all fat bodies, healthy or not; because it is used to compel, if not change, then certain modes of embodiment and subjectivity, certain ways of being and being seen.
It’s hard not to take it personally when it’s about my body and bodies like mine.