30 October 2009

Interview: Erin Remick

Her best friends are a dinosaur and a cat, and when she looks in the mirror she sees a demented panda. Welcome to Erin Remick's all-singing all-dancing world o' fat activism. Fat Dinosty, her beautiful video series, has enjoyed screenings to appreciative audiences in the US, UK and Germany, and her longer work, Embodied Revolution, explores the intersections between bodies, difference, identity and more. I wanted to know more about this gal and her projects, so I sent her an email and asked her some questions. Luckily she replied, and this is what she said.

How did you get into fat stuff?

My lovely friend Nora Bee got me into fat activism. I’m not sure if she realises this but she totally nudged me into my first moments of body consciousness. I like using the word conscious because I feel like it implies deep personal reflection and work versus limiting our thoughts about bodies to what the surrounding culture and media has to say. I’ve always been sceptical of beauty ideals, and have probably been a feminist since I understood what the word equality meant, but I never realised how much all the negative crap* had infiltrated my body until I met Nora.

Growing up, I kept myself above self-hate by using the phrase, "it’s what is on the inside that counts" as my personal mantra. It only took me 20 years to figure out that ignoring my body so I could focus on my spirituality and brains was detrimental to my personal growth (I was a really religious and nerdy kid). Nora really helped me with that by being my friend and one of the first people who ever talked candidly to me about their body without hesitation, question, or insecurity.

My second nudge, which was more like a punch in the gut, came from Gloria Anzaldúa. In high school I had read This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. It was probably the first feminist book I ever read and it completely shaped my activism and feminist identity. A few years later it was reading Interviews/Entrevistas, a compilation of interviews with Anzaldúa, which drastically shifted the way I thought about my body and all bodies.

Anzaldúa is often noted for her writings about the borderlands but much of her work focusing on bodies and spiritual activism has been overlooked. At a very young age Anzaldúa began to separate herself from her body due to a rare hormonal dysfunction that left her in immense pain starting in early childhood, much of her writing about bodies entails the personal journey of remembering her own.

Her pain and separation felt very real to me and pushed me to go back into my life and essentially remember my own body’s history. A lot of the writing I’ve done for myself and in my zine tends to focus on that concept of remembering. I guess you can say that Anzaldúa reminded me that I exist on this planet in a body. It’s a bit strange when I put it that way, but I think that’s the truth. Everything I do for body activism is because of and for Gloria Anzaldúa and her life’s work. I get kind of choked up thinking about it sometimes because I truly do not know where I would be without her words in my life.

*that’s my eloquent term for fatphobia, queerphobia, sexism, etc etc

How do you explain Fat Dinosty to people who have never seen it?

It’s about a fat girl, me, and a dinosaur, Sebastian, who have lots of fun while deconstructing fatphobia and other bad stuff. Oh, and there is an androgynous kitty too!

Hmmm.. maybe it’s just one of those things you have to see to understand.

What are your plans for Fat Dinosty?

Well, I’m currently writing the next episode and planning to shoot at the end of November if all goes well. I’m actually going to school right now for a video production certificate, so I’m hoping to take advantage of the fancy equipment while I can and maybe even work on Fat Dinosty for a class project, now wouldn’t that be awesome?

I definitely want to keep the series going. My sweetheart is helping me a lot with the writing and that’s a lot of fun. I think we’re a good team.

It’s been so amazing to see the response to the project. That definitely keeps me motivated and upbeat about it all as well. I’m all about bringing more fat positivity into the video realm, and it’s pretty clear that Sebastian is needed in the world!

I'm interested in how you use cuteness in Fat Dinosty, these films are amazingly cute, so cute, insanely cute! Is cuteness a conscious decision, or an activist strategy for you? Tell me about the cuteness!

This question is really funny to me because a few years ago I wrote an alarming amount about cuteness and its relation to fat.

I’ve been called 'cute' all my life but rarely anything else like 'sexy,' 'attractive,' 'hot,' 'beautiful,' etc. In my contemplating, I linked this phenomenon to the idea that my fatness somehow made people think I looked childish and therefore 'cute.' Part of my deconstructing involved a lot of consideration about my chubby hands and how they remind me of little kid hands. I still feel a lot of truth in this theory and often believe I’m not taken seriously because I’m fat, or like someone would like to pat me on the head when I do something good. It’s weird but I totally feel it. For a lot of us fat folks, growing up we are told we will 'grow out of' our 'baby fat.' So, in some weird way, it’s like the world thinks I haven’t grown up when they have because I still have baby fat and therefore haven’t acted enough like an adult to grow out of it.

Maybe Fat Dinosty is my subconscious attempt to debunk this by being ridiculous and grotesquely cute. I like to think of it that way. Plus I really like to draw people in with cute shiny things and then make them learn something or think differently about an issue without realizing it until they’ve been brainwashed. Yes!

Embodied Revolution brings together gender and body activism. What is it that makes these such crucial intersections? How can activist alliances be built around gender and body stuff? I think it can be hard to create bridges between communities where there may already be fat- and/or transphobia.

My own activism greatly focuses on the intersection of oppressions and understanding the importance of this when creating movements for social change. When I originally set out to film Embodied Revolution I intended to focus on interviewing people involved in gender activism but that shifted into something much more inclusive as the project progressed. I learned so much just by talking with people and found within these stories a very simple connection, the body. Over and over it became clear that most of this work focused on healing communities that had experienced discrimination based on physical appearance.

One of the most enlightening comments for me came from Amanda Piasecki, a fat activist who considers herself a body autonomist. She said that fat bodies are generally considered public property and can be commented upon without question or consequence. This concept of bodies being public property can also be applied to folks who fall somewhere outside of the 'appropriate' gender roles set by our culture. The more and more I started to consider this idea, the more I realised how much it applied to a great deal of 'isms.' Our bodies are constantly being judged for one reason or another; skin tone, shape, ability, fat content, sex, symmetry, gender presentation, etc. It seems simple to me that the fight for equality often begins with the body. We all fight, every day, for the right to live in this body we’re given without being questioned, judged, discriminated against, or attacked. That message should ring true to nearly every social justice movement. Although it’s a simple concept it can be a powerful way to connect all these issues on an incredibly tangible and for some, even a spiritual level.

I definitely feel you when you say it’s hard to create bridges within communities when there may be fatphobia/transphobia. I think a lot of this goes back to the idea that bodies are considered public property. We’ve kind of learned from the media, our families, and peers, what bodily things are okay to judge people for. Fat and gender both generally exist in the 'it’s okay to comment and place judgment' category, which can make it incredibly difficult to go into a situation where you know this to be true. Sometimes all I have to do to deal with something like that is to remember how far I’ve come within my own self-acceptance and to remember that no matter what a person might appear to look like, pretty much everyone has experienced body hatred at some point. I think it’s valuable to focus on how our issues are similar and create a common bond with that, then open up about what our needs are as a fat community, or genderqueer community, or what have you.

What needs to happen for people to be able to see this film?

Sadly, I haven’t done a showing in over a year but I’m definitely open to it. I’ve also considered having copies made to sell for a good while but financially I have just not been able to do it. Originally I thought that I would be travelling and showing the film more, but life happens I guess. Part of me thinks that I stopped focusing so much on that simply because I still consider the film a work in progress. It was for my senior thesis and initially I was planning on creating a 20 minute piece but, as things like this often do, it sort of took a life of its own and decided to be much more than that. Because it was for my thesis I ended up having to edit a 90 minute documentary in 6 months, hello stressful and challenging! There are a lot of voices that got left out in the rush and lots of ideas I’d like to revisit in the future. Aside from that, I do believe it’s important that people have access to the film to be able to hear about the social justice work that the amazing interviewees are involved in. I try to keep in touch with anyone who wants copies and figure out a way to get one to them. So yeah, if you want one just email me and I’ll try to work something out!

What kind of films would you like to make in the future?

I really want to make a young adult fantasy movie with queer leading roles. I’m still embarrassingly obsessed with fantasy movies like Return to Oz and The Neverending Story from my childhood. I think working on something like that would be the most magical and thrilling thing.

Other than that, I would love to film more documentaries. Working on Embodied Revolution was so empowering for me and just felt good. Making documentaries completely validates people and what they do/who they are. I read this book once called The Feminine Face of God where this woman interviewed women from a wide range of religions and spiritual practices who were considered spiritual leaders in their communities. In the intro, the author talked about how some of the women cried when she asked them to participate in the book because no one had ever asked them to talk about that part of their lives before. I thought about that a lot when shooting and editing Embodied Revolution. So much passion and work goes unrecognised. I can’t believe the stories and inspiration that exists around me, sometimes it’s too much to even think about!

People fascinate me and making documentaries lets me ask questions that I normally would not or could not ask in a regular setting. I’m a really introverted person but if I have an excuse, like making a documentary, to get to know someone and hear their story then it’s the perfect way to get over my shyness.

I think I am a sociologist at heart so it makes sense that I have such an interest in documentaries. I’d like to go to grad school for sociology at some point and find a way to link my video skills with this study. My main interest is social justice movements, it’s super fascinating to me how they are created and sustained. I can see myself interviewing hundreds of people about their activism and some day making a series about it all. It is very important to me that the stories and personalities involved in creating social change are not lost or forgotten. I definitely feel like documenting the people involved in these movements is going to be a huge part of my life’s work.

What's next for you?

Right now I’m pretty focused on getting through this certificate programme and getting my foot into a door, any door, in the industry. Up until now I’ve mostly been a self-taught filmmaker. It’s been really great learning all of the little details that make video go from being good to amazing. I’m really starting to feel more like an artist in the editing room and that’s a great place to be.

Other than that, my sweetheart and I are working quite diligently on a week-long body image workshop for a conference this summer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and it’s wonderful to be working on. We would both like to bring it to even more communities in the future. One of our other collective future hopes in life is that we can buy some land and start a fat positive camp for youth. I’m all about people accepting and loving their bodies from an early age!

What else would you like to say?

Bodies are amazing things, don’t forget to treat yours well and appreciate it every day!

Dirty Love
Erin's YouTube Channel

Embodied Revolution

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