09 April 2011
Report: Burger Queen 2011
What are fat activists to make of this beauty contest which revels in fast food, excess and carefree attitude? It seems a far cry from what Katie LeBesco identifies as the will to innocence in fat activism, ie the assertion that fat people are not responsible for getting fat, don't choose to be fat, and can't change. It also seems far away from healthism in fat activism, exemplified by images of beaming salad-loving, yoga-doing fat folk. It doesn't really fit more common-or-garden forms of fat activism, such as refuting health claims made against obesity, fashion consumerism, or placard-waving protests.
Burger Queen takes on the appearance of fat lib – 'fat is a politic' – but also revels in themes that would upset orthodox fat activists. I'm talking about greed, love of grease, grotesqueness, nihilism. It breaks the rules, not least because of its resident judge, Amy Lamé, who is both a great supporter of fat activism in the UK, and also appeared on Celebrity Fit Club. Intentional weight loss is a big no-no in many fat activist quarters, and weight loss reality shows have often come under fire for whatever it is they're seen to be promoting.
So what is this politic? For me there is a flimsiness about Burger Queen as a political statement. Revelling in burgers and chips as a refutation of healthism is too neat a mirror-image flip, it maintains a relationship with dominant ideas about "the obese" when it could be going off on a much weirder and wilder tangent that has nothing to do with obesity rhetoric and everything to do with creating autonomous fat culture. So for me it doesn't quite go far enough.
I'm interested in new forms of fat activism that have or don't have a relationship to feminist fat activism of the past. It's fascinating how ideas mutate and fall back on themselves. I think it's great that Scottee is not bound by what has become fat activist orthodoxy, and neither can he be neatly compartmentalised as a Bear – the only other option available to fat queer men at the moment, apparently. But I also wonder if he knows about this great movement, and if he is incorporating it into his work. For example, when Scottee raised a few eyebrows at The Fat of The Land: A Queer Chub Harvest Festival, with his apparently sincere poem about a tragic fat girl did he know that he was rubbing people (who were looking for 'positive images' of fatness) up the wrong way? Was he being ironic and confrontational? Was it something else? On the other hand, Burger Queen is absolutely coming from fat activist tradition, in which people use the forms of activism most available to them, in Scottee's case it's queer performance art. The beauty contest, too, although well-worn, has been a site for fat activism in the past.
What Burger Queen reinforces for me is my disillusionment with what I thought were the certainties of fat activism. When I started my research into the movement I was pretty sure I had a handle on what was and what was not fat activism. A couple of years on those ideas have been erased only to be replaced with a growing discontent with the side-effects of certainty: boundary-policing, intolerance, a prudishness about the down and dirty ways in which some people talk about fat or embody fat, the divisions between good fat activists and bad fat activists. So I'm keeping an open mind about Burger Queen, I'm looking forwards to seeing how it turns out, and I'm hopeful that it will be part of a queer turn in fat activism, work that messes up fat, makes it unruly and complicated, not nice, safe, or easily knowable.