12 March 2012

Report: Burger Queen 2012

Burger Queen photo by Holly Revell
I think of Burger Queen as a platform for queered fat performance framed as a beauty pageant that is currently taking place in London. This year there are four heats and a final adjudicated by an ever-changing line-up of subcultural celebrity judges. The finalists will compete for a chance to win some tasty prizes, including a heavily glittered Unhappy Meal. There are many things that I love about Burger Queen, not least that it's really tongue-in-cheek and also deadly serious.

Last Thursday I took part in the second heat of this year's Burger Queen. I entered because I really enjoyed being a spectator last year, wanted to support it, and basically had a moment of madness when I clicked 'submit' on the application. I think it takes a lot of guts to put on the event, I know it's hard to find people to take part because, sadly, there's a world of non-show-off self-hating fat people out there. It's also telling that a sponsor pulled out at the last minute because they did not want to be seen to be promoting obesity. So I support what Burger Queen is doing and I want to see it thrive because, as well as love sweet love, what the world needs now is a full-on parade of shameless fatties.

On Thursday I was one of three contestants, the other two being Ginger Johnson and Bella Fata, who brought style, action and sass in spades. We holed up in a tiny room above the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, put on our outfits and hung out, waiting to be called to the stage for the three rounds: Trend, Talent and Taste.

For Trend I decided to bring some fat feminist realness to the room, it being International Women's Day and all. I wore a lurid tie-dye kaftan, shortened to show my legs; a knitted garter that spells F-A-T; some home-made bangles; a copy of Shadow On A Tightrope around my neck; and a giant fat feminism symbol on my head. This is the symbol designed by Karen Stimson for the Largesse Fat Liberation Archive. I also carried my Fat Bloc sign. For Talent, I showed some pictures and told some stories about fat activism, and ranted the Fat Liberation Manifesto. For Taste I made an Obesity Timebomb: a lemon cake topped with whipped cream, little hand-drawn toppers of the Burger Queen team, and a sparkler. There were three sparklers but I lit them too early backstage and they burned out – whoops!

I had completely underestimated how much work and nerves would be a part of my Burger Queen experience. This stuff takes a lot of effort! I don't know how the Burger Queeners pull it out of the bag every week, it took me a day and a half to recover. Luckily for me the work paid off, the gods and the judges smiled kindly on me, I won the heat and will be part of the final on 29 March.

I think I'm going to need a bit of time to process this experience. I still feel as though I'm in the middle of it, which I am because I need to prepare for the final. It's hard to have perspective. I suppose one of the big things for me is about how Burger Queen has affected how I think about and do fat activism. I love playing with the symbols that have become a part of my research, and it feels really exciting to bring the ideas I've been working with away from the academy and into different kinds of places, I think it's great that people have been so receptive to that. Mainly though, it's been a lot of fun, a hoot in fact.

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