I find it thrilling to see film and video of fat activism from the early years. I've read plenty about this work, but seeing the people involved reinforces that this is real, it really happened, I'm not making it up. Why I have a persistent fear of having made any of this up is perhaps testament to the gaslighting of obesity epidemic discourse: fat people are worthless, the idea that we might have cultures, histories, even community or identity is beyond belief.
Sharon Lia Robinson is a poet who has long been a part of fat activism. In this video she reads her poem whoever i am, i'm a fat womon. This poem includes the line that became the title of the ground-breaking fat feminist anthology Shadow on a Tightrope. It comes from her chapbook, published in 1978, fat womon/renaissance, written under the pen-name of Sharon Bas Hannah. Here is the full text.
whoever i am, i'm a fat womon was written in 1976, and the main part of this film, framed by more recent edits, was recorded by Lynne Conroy in 1979 at a rehearsal for the Radcliffe College Women's Theatre Festival, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The poem itself is lovely, but what strikes me when I watch this video is knowing how young and radical fat politics were at the time, and that they were embedded within feminism. That's changed a lot since then. I'm also moved by the use of poetry to explore fat feminist embodiment and experience. Making culture is a means of surviving and thriving, as my research and my own practice has shown over the years.
But what I like most is that this video is not a fat woman on a news report or a TV talkshow, it's not somebody debating their right to exist. The video shows a fat feminist reading her poetry on her own terms.
You can find out more about Sharon through her website.