Whilst hands are raised in horror, I'm coming out to say that I support Donna Simpson in her quest to become the world's fattest woman. Need to know more? A news story about her is currently zipping across the wires, get ready to encounter her on a talk show near you soon.
It's questionable whether or not becoming the world's fattest woman is really her intention; it could be the Daily Mail's journalistic spin on running a random stereotype-filled story about a superfat woman on the eve of bikini season – always a crowd pleaser; or it could be part of Simpson's own marketing spiel for her website. Maybe it's all her anonymous husband's idea.
(I'm uncomfortable with the way that Simpson's daughter is being used in the photographs, perhaps to denote that she is a 'good mother,' a necessary defence against her likely demonising. Hopefully her daughter is finding the attention interesting, exciting and illuminating).
But supposing, against all odds, the headline is a genuine reflection of her true intent. The photographs accompanying the Daily Mail article show her sitting on a tatty settee, and shopping in a supermarket. Her circumstances look modest. It makes me wonder if becoming the world's fattest woman is a shorthand for making something of your life when you have very little. When you have very little, your body is something that you can use to make something. You can sell sex, you can fight, you can be in a freak show, you can sell parts of it. Simpson lives in a country that venerates individual enterprise, and here she is with a business getting people to pay to watch her eat; she's an entrepreneur of the body.
It's perplexing that such a body project should be presented within a set of ideas about fat. I suspect I speak for many when I say that I'm not interested in becoming the fattest woman in the world myself: I don't like eating massive amounts of food, I have no fat fetishist constituency to please, I try to maintain my health as far as I can, I have other skills that garner capital. Simpson is clearly ahead of the rest of us, operating in a rarified realm, yet her story is being used as a proxy for all fat people. The stereotypes in the news report reflect cultural anxieties about over-consumption, junk food, idleness, disability, 'the children', and whose tax £££$$$€€€ will pay for this!? She's apparently a symbol for us all, when few of us are in her league.
In seeking to become the world's fattest woman Simpson reminds me that bodies have no rules and that we can do what we like with them. Bodies are our connection to freedom (which might explain why they are so heavily policed). Even when one's rights have been eroded to nothing, one can hunger strike. I don't think Simpson's gaining project is about rights, but I do think it's about pushing the limits of human embodiment and probably about making some money. The celebrated French artist-philosopher Orlan does this through surgeries and gets exhibitions and monographs written about her. Simpson's body project is vernacular, so she gets trashed, but both unsettle notions of what constitutes a proper body. I think it's good to challenge propriety, even when it's work that I wouldn’t undertake, I think such challenges are heroic, I respect the pioneers that undertake them.
What would make this project really zip would be a collaboration of some kind with other superfat women. It's thrilling to read that Simpson rejected weight loss surgery, for example, and surely there are other similar accounts out there, proving that WLS dos not have to be default if you're very fat. Bring on the superfat visibility, be the authors and advocates of and for your own lives. And where's the current world's fattest woman? Surely she deserves a comment.