18 April 2011

Some benefits of being fat

I'm always especially bummed out when left-wing, feminist or otherwise progressive media fail to address fat in a way that is sufficiently critical. Jezebel used to be better but now reiterates tired weight loss rhetoric, The Guardian is openly fatphobic, and Sociological Images can never seem to quite go the full distance and critically engage with the fat, possibly because of its legions of fatphobic commenters. Some Benefits of Being Fat, a recent post, is a good example.

Here a fat woman is deemed to be non-sexual, and fat is a protective layer against unwanted abuse by men. These claims are nonsense. Just one peek at, say, The Adipositivity Project, disproves the former, and any fat woman could tell you stories of harassment, sexual or otherwise. It's like a Looking Glass version of the 'she was asking for it' discourse in relation to sexual violence and upholds the myth that only pretty girls get raped. This argument supports the idea that the authentic person, one's inner truth, is always thin, that fat is always extraneous and therefore disposable. It also buys into the notion that bodies are entities of choice, and that such choice is not part of discourses of fat hatred.

This pithy little post demonstrates the pernicious influence of a certain kind of feminist psychoanalytical thinking about fat, championed by Susie Orbach and her Women's Therapy Centre in the 1970s. It also demonstrates the lack of critical engagement with that discourse within sociology, feminism, and social science in general. By failing to locate this discourse the post retreats into unsubstantiated truth claims, a kind of 'but everybody knows it to be true' mentality, which is ironic given that sociology is supposedly about unpicking such allegations. I think the post also supports the idea of sociologist as unbiased observer, a mere vessel that articulates the facts - bunkum! It makes me wonder about the author's relationship to fat, whether or not they believe that fat actually protects women from harassment, whether they are fat, etc.

By suggesting a couple of shitty imagined benefits, the Sociological Images post is basically saying that there are no benefits to being fat. Thanks folks! But this is not a universal truth either. There are benefits to being fat, and these might be different for everyone. For me these benefits are not just about fat but also things like skill, luck, work, etc. Anyway, shall I name some of them?

Benefit! I like the way my body looks and feels, and other people like it too. The struggle of self-acceptance and self-esteem I underwent when I was younger has paid off in golden years of embodied peace, with only occasional excursions into ambivalence.

Benefit! I did an MA about fat politics and got a distinction. The research for that project went on to become a book, which I published when I was 29. The book was and is taught in universities. People often tell me that it changed their life and, 13 years on, I still get fan-mail for it, and enjoy seeing battered and underlined copies of it in libraries.

Benefit! I've been invited round the world to speak about fat. As I write this, I'm sitting in the sunshine in a beautiful house in Hamburg where I have been Artist In Residence for a couple of weeks, in which I'm being supported to make a zine of the Queer and Trans Fat Activist Timeline that a bunch of people co-constructed in California last year.

Benefit! Not only am I doing a PhD about fat activism for free, I'm being paid to do it.

Benefit! I'm a part of communities of fat people who are organised, politicised, and using every means necessary to create liveable lives for themselves, and for everyone.

Benefit! Fat gives me a way of understanding things, it's a kind of lens that I draw upon in conjunction with other theoretical frameworks. It has revolutionary potential.

Benefit! I get to see and participate in marvellous, eye-popping, life-affirming things that I would never have access to if I were thinner and had not lived a fat life.

What are other benefits of being fat? Silly, serious, share them here if you feel like it.


S. said...

Well, I've heard/read fat people say that they were told by doctors that they walked away from things like car crashes with much less serious injuries than a thin person might have, because their fat protected their internal organs. I'd say that's a pretty damn big benefit!

Also, in a world where women generally are expected to make themselves small and fragile, being physically unable to do so is -in my eyes - a benefit, even if it is sometimes an exhausting one (same thing with being really tall and muscular, like me).

Erika Ai B. said...

I read the piece on the sociology blog, and felt the same way. It's a slap in the face when they can not cover any fat issues without being so polluted-I don't know what I expected, but it was still disappointing.

vesta44 said...

Benefit - When I was 19 (in 1972), I got hit by a car and fractured my pelvis in 3 places, broke both bones in my lower leg, and broke 3 front upper teeth. I was 5' 9" and weighed 235 lbs at the time. If I had weighed what the height/weight charts of the time said was acceptable (140 lbs), I doubt very much that I would have survived (I was pedestrian when that car hit me). When I finally recovered enough to get out of the nursing home 8 weeks later, I weighed 160 lbs and that was with a cast on my leg that came half-way up my thigh. I doubt very much that I could have survived losing 75+ lbs if I had weighed 140 lbs and survived the car hitting me.
Benefit - My mother was fat when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It spread to her bladder, colon, and stomach. She fought it through various surgeries for 10 years before it finally killed her. Overall 5-year survival rates for ovarian cancer are 44.7%, for the type my mother had, 5-year survival rates are 29.6%. She made it 10 years.
Benefit - Fat people who have heart attacks/strokes are more likely to survive them than thin people. I'm assuming it's because fat people have reserves to draw upon that thin people just don't have.

O.C. said...

Being fat, or rather, learning about fat acceptance because I was fat, gave me body confidence and sexual confidence I doubt I ever would have gained had I been slimmer. I hear so much body insecurity from my thin friends, and I feel sad for them that, being more conventionally "attractive", they'll never have the same experience of developing body confidence against all odds, as I did. Thanks to my fat.

My fat also makes me strong. I lift weights, but sometimes have to stay away from the gym for a week or two. When I go back, I'm always stunned at how I can come in from off the street and immediately lift much more weight, much more easily than the thinner women in the gym, even those who work out constantly. I would love to see medical or athletic research measuring the strength benefits of moving a larger body around in the world. But that would be encouraging us to be fat, wouldn't it? Which would be inherently bad? Hah!

Michelle said...

Benefit! Being openly fat also allows me to check out of OTHER societal rules that I find inconvenient, including but not limited to: acting/dressing "feminine" when I'm not feeling inclined, reading beauty magazines, shopping at body-negative clothing stores, feeling obligated to go to the gym, feeling obligated to diet, etc. etc. etc.

Faycin A Croud said...

Heavy people have a much lower risk of osteoporosis. At five foot seven and 275 pounds, I always envied my father's naturally slim relatives who could eat like a whole pen full of hungry hogs and never gain a pound. But my paternal grandmother and great aunts all developed severe osteoporosis in their elder years. My grandmother was so hunched over that she couldn't take a full breath and she kept getting pneumonia. It was hellish. I was relieved to see that at my size, my risk of osteoporosis is quite low.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Woah! Thanks all!

Fat Bastard said...

Great article! I Fat Bastard give it five very enthusiastic OINKS!

Frances said...

I did a post on this last year! It was a fun exercise: http://corpulent.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/what-are-the-benefits-of-being-fat/

Benefit! I get to see and participate in marvellous, eye-popping, life-affirming things that I would never have access to if I were thinner and had not lived a fat life.
I had never thought about that, but it's absolutely true. My fat, and my fat activism, has introduced me to so many people ane experiences that I never would've engaged with had I been thin.

KellyK said...

Being fat made my hypothyroid obvious to doctors, and I actually got treatment. They didn't take my complaints of being constantly cold and exhausted seriously, or my TSH, but once I gained a bunch of weight, I was actually prescribed meds that make my life way better.

(Yeah, there's something sad about the idea that it's okay to feel like crap as long as you're in a "healthy" weight range, but gain weight and "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE." Still, it beats *still* being untreated.)

lilacsigil said...

Benefit: I take up space, and I can defend that space if I need to with my sheer size. No-one pushes me aside. I just don't move.

(This is not to say I won't share space - I will - but I won't take up less space just because I'm female and someone wants to spread his legs or swing a backpack.)

Sleepydumpling said...

Benefit: more real estate to tattoo. I can get a whole lot more art on my body than someone who is tiny, that's for sure.

C said...

Floating!!!!!!!!! (wheee!)