my body and bodies like mine

So I presented my paper a couple of days ago and the world didn’t end.  As far as I can tell, it actually went quite well.  People asked questions, and came up to me afterwards to say they liked my work.  Someone even remembered me from my last presentation and said they were looking forward to hearing my paper.  Let me tell you, that blew my tiny little mind.  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).  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.  I’m still a little…anxious? awkward? embarrassed? about my paper.  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.  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.  Engaging with community is good for that.  So is socialising with other students, despite feeling awkward and out of my depth, and then tipsy and over-disclosing.  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.  When I say “fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity”, the most common response is “Oh, you mean like feeders and fetishism and stuff?”  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.  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”.  Followed by a difficult-to-divert disclosure of the hows and whys and whens and whats.  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.  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.  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.  But then what?  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.  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.  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.  Even though I know it buys into the individualisation which I find so problematic.  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.

10 Replies to “my body and bodies like mine”

  1. Your paper sounds amazing. Congratulations on a great presentation and for opening people’s minds about sex and fat people with ‘bodies like yours’. I thought this quote: “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…” was so important. When people tell me “Oh, I want to lose weight”, I always have to ask “Well, why?” Then we get into a circular discussion/argument about health and fat and it never seems to GO anywhere. That metaphorical boot is pretty strong.

    1. Yeah, the pointlessness of the discussion is disheartening. And it is so personal, so deeply connected to physical being, that it’s hard to get anywhere at all.

  2. “When I say “fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity”, the most common response is “Oh, you mean like feeders and fetishism and stuff?” The answer to that is now yes….”

    I LOVE that you will be devoting a chapter to this! It really IS a more common thought when discussing with the general public about fatties (and super fatties like myself). Many “more-close-to-the-weight-norm-than-me” people wrongly assume that if you’re as fat as I am AND married to/sleeping with someone way less fat than you, that person must have a fetish for fatties/feederism tendencies. It truly is important to dispel those myths for the sake of advancing fat acceptance, in my humble opinion. They need to be spoken out loud, even though most people internally accept that once they get to know you……you know…once you become “human”. The fact of the matter is, fat people fall in love/have sex for mostly the same reasons everyone else does….like having common values and goals, enjoying their personality, similar interests, enjoying their sense of humor and perspective of the world, chemistry, sexual attraction, etc. It’s ludicrous to hear people interject the fatness of one or both individuals when discussing the relationship of others in a way that is different from say, someone who marries someone who is much shorter than the other, or those who have completely opposite political views, or who even those of different races. When fat is involved, they often cluck their tongues and attribute a whole host of disparities upon that person and the relationship BECAUSE of fat stigma and stereotypes.

    Congratulations on your presentation ….Brava!

    1. Yeah, I find it amazing where people go with the idea of fat sex. I’ve actually dated a few people who identified as fat admirers (ie, they had a preference for fat bodies), but for whom personality and compatibility mattered as much as physical attraction. They weren’t fetishists or feeders, yet inevitably, when I told anyone about this for the first time, they’d go, “Oh, I saw this documentary on SBS the other week…you better be careful” meaning Fat Girls and Feeders which, ugh. I want to talk about how all these things get conflated together because they’re all ‘perverse’. I also think it’s so interesting that weight loss and thinness are eroticised, but it’s inconceivable to people that the opposite could happen to…it seems so obvious to me.

  3. Glad to hear the paper went well. 🙂
    I’m so excited that you’re writing/talking about Shallow Hal – my partner and i were just talking about that movie the other week and wondering whether any work had been done on it, because it seems like it would be fascinating. so, yay!

    1. Thanks! It’s weird because it’s such a daggy, awkward film, that really doesn’t work (for me). But at the same time, there’s so much going on on a whole bunch of different levels that I just HAVE to talk about it at length because there’s so much to say.

  4. I didn’t come and speak to you on the day, but I thought it was a fucking awesome paper! I had a great time, so thanks. And Good Luck with the thesis!
    best wishes, meredith

  5. It would probably be too controversial but I’ve often wondered why people rarely talk about the creepy fat hating gaze directed at children, where virtually they’re every bodily feature is lasciviously-it seems to me-described in a kind of “awestruck” disgust.

    Many of the people doing this are women and as that kind of thing often puts men to the fore, it might also be interesting from the POV that it can sometimes liberate things that would normally remain hidden (as is so often the case with how people appraise fatness).

    See what you think of this description. *Warning, fat phobic BS alert*

    1. That’s an excellent point, and one I really hadn’t thought of (aside from OH MY GOD DO YOU NOT REALISE HOW MUCH SHIT FAT KIDS GET ALREADY STOP MAKING IT WORSE YOU ASSHOLES ARGHHHHH).

      I think the gaze directed at children is really interesting, and it might be quite productive to look at in light of the Bill Henson brouhaha a couple of years ago and the stuff that followed on from that. The actual things being said are quite different, but there’s an significant similarity to the sentiment/anxiety.

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