I'm always especially bummed out when left-wing, feminist or otherwise progressive media fail to address fat in a way that is sufficiently critical. Jezebel used to be better but now reiterates tired weight loss rhetoric, The Guardian is openly fatphobic, and Sociological Images can never seem to quite go the full distance and critically engage with the fat, possibly because of its legions of fatphobic commenters. Some Benefits of Being Fat, a recent post, is a good example.
Here a fat woman is deemed to be non-sexual, and fat is a protective layer against unwanted abuse by men. These claims are nonsense. Just one peek at, say, The Adipositivity Project, disproves the former, and any fat woman could tell you stories of harassment, sexual or otherwise. It's like a Looking Glass version of the 'she was asking for it' discourse in relation to sexual violence and upholds the myth that only pretty girls get raped. This argument supports the idea that the authentic person, one's inner truth, is always thin, that fat is always extraneous and therefore disposable. It also buys into the notion that bodies are entities of choice, and that such choice is not part of discourses of fat hatred.
This pithy little post demonstrates the pernicious influence of a certain kind of feminist psychoanalytical thinking about fat, championed by Susie Orbach and her Women's Therapy Centre in the 1970s. It also demonstrates the lack of critical engagement with that discourse within sociology, feminism, and social science in general. By failing to locate this discourse the post retreats into unsubstantiated truth claims, a kind of 'but everybody knows it to be true' mentality, which is ironic given that sociology is supposedly about unpicking such allegations. I think the post also supports the idea of sociologist as unbiased observer, a mere vessel that articulates the facts - bunkum! It makes me wonder about the author's relationship to fat, whether or not they believe that fat actually protects women from harassment, whether they are fat, etc.
By suggesting a couple of shitty imagined benefits, the Sociological Images post is basically saying that there are no benefits to being fat. Thanks folks! But this is not a universal truth either. There are benefits to being fat, and these might be different for everyone. For me these benefits are not just about fat but also things like skill, luck, work, etc. Anyway, shall I name some of them?
Benefit! I like the way my body looks and feels, and other people like it too. The struggle of self-acceptance and self-esteem I underwent when I was younger has paid off in golden years of embodied peace, with only occasional excursions into ambivalence.
Benefit! I did an MA about fat politics and got a distinction. The research for that project went on to become a book, which I published when I was 29. The book was and is taught in universities. People often tell me that it changed their life and, 13 years on, I still get fan-mail for it, and enjoy seeing battered and underlined copies of it in libraries.
Benefit! I've been invited round the world to speak about fat. As I write this, I'm sitting in the sunshine in a beautiful house in Hamburg where I have been Artist In Residence for a couple of weeks, in which I'm being supported to make a zine of the Queer and Trans Fat Activist Timeline that a bunch of people co-constructed in California last year.
Benefit! Not only am I doing a PhD about fat activism for free, I'm being paid to do it.
Benefit! I'm a part of communities of fat people who are organised, politicised, and using every means necessary to create liveable lives for themselves, and for everyone.
Benefit! Fat gives me a way of understanding things, it's a kind of lens that I draw upon in conjunction with other theoretical frameworks. It has revolutionary potential.
Benefit! I get to see and participate in marvellous, eye-popping, life-affirming things that I would never have access to if I were thinner and had not lived a fat life.
What are other benefits of being fat? Silly, serious, share them here if you feel like it.