14 July 2011

Reflecting on East Asian fat cuteness

When I was a kid I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years as part of what I have come to understand as a weird experiment in class and colonialism. I'll explain that in more depth in Chapter Three of my memoirs, whenever I come to write them, but for now I just want to say that Hong Kong in 1976 was when I first encountered Hello Kitty and, to a seven year old girl, that stuff was like crack. I've never been able to shake the habit and as a middle-aged woman I still go gaga for hyper-cute Asian graphics. I've been lucky enough to spend time in Japan in recent years, where I have pawed and prodded my way through the country's top stationery departments.

In London, where I live, Artbox is where I go for a fix. I was there yesterday, hyperventilating greedily over pencil-cases and plastic key covers. I bought this notebook. The cover has the picture of a rabbit or a bear with fat cheeks. The text says: "Fatty Animals: I do not mind fatty!!" and on the back there are more pictures of the fat rabbit eating a biscuit, a fat bear sitting and puffing, and more text: "We like to eat and hate to move. We are fatty animals". The paper inside the notebook is unadorned.

I did a little bit of peeping and checking this afternoon. Mind Wave sells character-based stationery and cute stuff in Japan and look like the originators of Fatty Animals. If they have Fatty Animals on their site, my Japanese is not good enough to find it, but there are other websites featuring Fatty Animals products, like pencils and pencil-cases, and other notebook styles.

I was so interested to see this stuff because I think it demonstrates a popular resistance to dominant obesity discourse in Japan, a place where Western fat activists might assume there is none, and where people in the West commonly assume there are no fat people. The reiteration of fat as being caused by eating biscuits ane being lazy is problematic, but the line: "I do not mind fatty!!" is pretty amazing, I think, as both tolerance and celebration of fatness. It ties in neatly with Fat Studies work about obesity rhetoric and pets (Cooper, 1997, Kulick, 2009). I like the way that this form of engagement with obesity discourse has travelled and messes with neat assumptions about who is making fat culture, where and how. What can I say? It's excellent to see this playing out through the medium of anthropomorphic animals and cute stationery.

Cooper, C. (1997) 'Would You Put Your Best Friend on a Diet?'. Yes! London. 4:23 June/July. 14-15.

Kulick, D. (2009) 'Fat Pets', in: Tomrley, C. & Kaloski Naylor, A. (eds.) Fat Studies in the UK. York: Raw Nerve Books, 35-50.


Alexie said...

There are some troubling assumptions here: that these represent "popular resistance to dominant obesity discourse" and "that this form of of engagement with obesity discourse has travelled". How do you know that either of these things are what happening, unless you speak Japanese fluently and are immersed in their culture? The discussion around obesity may be entirely different in Japan (especially since they valorise fat through their sumo wrestlers).

Charlotte Cooper said...

I hadn't thought about that, thanks. Thinking now, I don't know that they represent those things to Japanese people, I'm not a fluent speaker, and even if I was I wouldn't be Japanese. But they represent a travelling discourse to me, and one that is about resistance. I would like to know more about obesity discourse in Japan, it's true that Sumo is one of the ways that fat is valorised, I wonder if there are other ways too.