21 December 2015

Five things I have learned from writing this book

I think of fat as a life's work. Sometimes it is there strongly, very present in my life, sometimes I get burned out. But the question of what it is to be fat in cultures that hate fat people is on-going. I doubt I will ever find a definitive answer but so what, it's the journey that matters.

My book, Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is about to be published on 4 January 2016. It represents a period of great intensity for me, about seven years or so, maybe a bit longer, of thinking and working on fat. It's about to have a life beyond me and the many people who have supported the project over the years; it's about to go public.

I've certainly learned a lot about fat as I've done this work, but writing the book has been an education in itself. Here are five big things I've learned and a thing I knew before.

Our invisibility is profound
It remains unbelievable to me how much serious, credible, scholarly, rigorous work ignores fat people. I'm not talking about obesity research, that's a given, but the stuff that gets cited and circulated in other spaces and treated as reliable. It is extremely rare for fat people to be treated as a community, or series of communities, a social group, as people with agency who can speak for ourselves. This, to me, is so basic I can't believe it needs stating, and is emblematic of how dehumanised, patronised and alienated fat people are in general. Where fat community is mentioned, it is invariably white, straight, represented by organisations and based in the US. Want to see your own experiences of being fat in the literature? You will probably have to write it yourself, which might be no bad thing.

This is about revolution
Fat activism is a way of thinking about activism more broadly. It does away with the idea that activism always takes place in organised groups, through campaigns, on the streets with placards. It makes activism more accessible to people. It's what I think of as a meta movement, it has connections to a great many struggles for social justice and can offer useful insights, for example about bodies, marginalisation, absurdity, medicalisation. It's a way of approaching revolutionary politics so that nobody gets left behind.

The medium matters
The work, the thoughts, the people involved, the way a piece is published, this is all activism too. Caring about the subject means doing your best to consider who the work is really for and how they might find it. I have written elsewhere that I did not want this work to disappear into the academy, for example. The way that the work enters the world is very important.

It's lonely work
People expect you to be sort of magical and invulnerable. People you depended on and thought were rock solid will disappear. You are judged by people who don't know you. You share your thoughts where you can but you're basically alone with things. When I say you I mean me. It is very painful and hard work, work that is brutal and invisible a lot of the time. I won't be sad when it's over.

Things shift all the time
Communities fracture and change, people come out of the woodwork, I've found that who I am in relation to the work is constantly changing, I'm always reorientating myself depending on who I'm talking to. People can be very surprising too, over the past few weeks I've had conversations with people who I would never have thought would be interested in this stuff. This makes me feel very hopeful about the future of fat, a conversation can be pivotal and spark delightful changes, even though things are pretty awful a lot of the time.

There are bits of autobiography in the book, I situate it in my life. But I am part of a movement that is bigger than me, there are many who came before and I hope there will be people who come after. The book is a building block, something for other people to use. What I knew before is that this is not really about me, it's about a social movement that won't be stopped.


William said...

I worry about the point you made "Things shift all the time"

There is a life cycle to Social Justice Movements and I am beginning to believe that Fat Acceptance is the decline stage. It will be co-opted by one of the more subsets of Fat Acceptance.

Sleepydumpling said...

The loneliness of this work is the bit that really sticks out for me. While there is a sense of community among fat activists, it can be very cliquey and can turn on a dime. I am lucky to have a small core group of amazing activist friends that I can rely on but they are not local to me and the group is very small. The loneliness of my work is the hardest mountain to climb.

Dr Charlotte Cooper said...

I hear you SD. You are not alone, even if geography makes it feel that way. You are part of a movement of people that has been going on for some time, and the work you do will provide a basis for other people in the future. Don't give up hope! It's impossible to tell what or who the ripples you make will reach in time.

Sleepydumpling said...

Thank you, it helps to hear that, it really does.