I woke up this morning to a Facebook news feed flooded with reposts for this video. It seems that Greg Karber had the idea that the best way to make Abercombie & Fitch pay for their recent fat bashing and refusal to donate damaged clothing, was to locate their clothing in a thrift store and give it to the homeless. If Abercrombie & Fitch is so concerned with their image in relation to the bodies that wear their brand, then surely the best way to get back at them is to put their branding on dirty, stinky, homeless people, right? I mean, ‘cuz… HILARIOUS, ammirite?!
Look, I get the impulse. And I get that anything that channels resources toward the disenfranchised can’t be a holistically bad thing. There’s a little room for some shades of grey here. But intersectional feminist media analysis requires that this video get a serious finger waggle and, as I’m having a certain intellectual curiosity about the sheer amount of displaced rage I get flung at me when I point out the damaging parts of ‘feel-good’ social phenomenon, I’m up for joining the ranks of the inevitable chorus of criticism targeted at this video.
Thing One: This further dehumanizes homeless people.
The subjects of this video are not in on the joke. They’re not approached for consent. They’re not re-appropriating their own stigma in service of a statement they are making themselves. They’re not pictured as multi-dimensional humans with thoughts and feelings. They’re a nameless, silent mass, individualized only long enough to be videotaped while being handed an item of clothing, and then tossed back into the fray. He mentions that some folks are suspicious or tentative in accepting the clothing. Well, how would you feel if some random stranger walked up to you on the street and thrust a pair of pants at you while someone followed him with a camera?
Further, the very crux of this joke on Abercrombie & Fitch is that their clothing will now be associated with the stigma of homelessness. This project does nothing to eradicate that stigma. It reinforces and legitimates it by relying upon it to make its point. It could be said that Karber himself doesn’t believe in that stigma and that he’s using irony to make a point about the ridiculousness of ‘cool’ as a concept. But the framing of the video makes none of that explicit, doesn’t acknowledge its exploitation of the homeless, does nothing to address its dehumanizing framing and does nothing to involve the homeless individuals in a way that grants agency and subjectivity. So, the irony argument is pretty much shot down there.
Thing Two: Race, Class, Ability and Mental Illness
Homelessness and its related stigma intersect along the lines of race, class and ability. Part of the unspoken joke here is that A&F’s branding is heavily centered around white, affluent, fit, aspirational 20-somethings. A simple google search will make that obvious. So the polar opposite of that is older, homeless, people of color — of which the video is heavily composed. With the exception of obvious disabilities or mental illness in the video, pretty much there’s your punchline. Pretty much, I’m not laughing.
Thing Three: Making fun of people who make fun of people who aren’t attractive by pointing out how unattractive they are is kind of a fail.
This is a smaller thing here, but worth mentioning. Halfway through the video, Karber points out the hypocrisy of the A&F CEO wanting to market to cool kids when he, himself, is seemingly unattractive. I’d like to point out that this is just completely not helpful.
SO listen. Grab all your Abercrombie & Fitch clothes. Donate them to a shelter. Donate other stuff, too. That part of the video isn’t such a bad thing. But understand that a real, ethical protest doesn’t throw anyone under the bus in order to achieve its goal — especially not the most disenfranchised groups among us. There are ways this kind of protest could have gone down without legitimizing stigma. Stigma could have been intentionally used to mock both A&F and the stigma itself. But to do that requires the active participation of those stigmatized and having the presentation of that protest centered around that group’s agency. Example: Fat folks could modify thrifted A&F clothing to fit our fat bodies, and/or could simply stuff ourselves inside of it and stage a public protest. Or fat folks and other groups who feel oppressed by social hierarchies of ‘coolness’ could make parody shirts and do the same. [Update: These folks are putting together an 'Occupy A&F' protest in the USA!] These protests are humanizing and incorporate the voice of those impacted by A&F’s policies. Any protest that does not has the potential to be damaging and exploitive.
I don’t think I love anything as innocently or defiantly as I did when I was young. Increasing criticality robs joy. Even my favorite things are tempered. The exception, though, are people. At least my people. Them I love better than ever. Spectacular personal failure breeds compassion for the flaws of others. Also, the more I learn about how fucked things are, the more I’m amazed by the beauty of the people who survive it all with any ounce of compassion. Boo to the bullies. Hurrah for the broken.
I noticed a little traffic coming in to the site today from a reddit thread. I usually check those because, to be honest, reddit freaks me out. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from other rad fatties who’ve been flooded with mean-spirited emails after being featured there. Luckily this one was little more than a blip but its content concerned me.
For those too busy to click, someone kindly posted a link to my site as an offer to those struggling with body image. In the comments, someone who claims to have known me in real life cited me as a source of struggle in her own body image, stating that I’m “the kind of fat activist who thinks fat is a superior state of being” and that I tried to shame her for failing to be fat enough.
That this particular blog post was inspired by a random comment about me on the internet is kind of beside the point. I mention it because it got me thinking. I often see this misconception in conversations about fat activism happening outside of fat activist circles. Smaller fatties or thin folks who are tentatively reaching out to fat activism hit up against something that pokes them in a tender spot and finds them feeling left out or unwelcome. The space I can imagine that happening in most frequently is the space of checking privilege.
So first, I’d like to clear up the initial misconception. As the fabulous Glenn Marla says, “There is no wrong way to have a body.”
As I can only speak for myself here, I want to state that I believe this fervently. There is no kind of embodiment that is superior to another. Any belief to the contrary would collapse the very foundations of my ethic. The point of social justice movements like fat activism, disability rights activism, anti-racism, feminism, queer rights, etc is to create all bodies as equal, independent of difference. I, personally, want a world in which all bodies exist in spaces of equal accessibility that are free of stigma and oppression. To that end, holding or projecting negative beliefs about bodies that aren’t like mine is exactly counter to that goal. So let me state clearly: I do not believe that fat bodies are superior. What I do believe is that fat bodies are not inferior. And there’s a world of difference.
So if this is what I believe, then how could someone walk away from a conversation with me thinking otherwise? Now, I’m not ruling out the possibility that I simply spoke carelessly (for the record, I’m still figuring it out and I always will be. Expect more mistakes.) without fully understanding the impact of my words. But as my views on this have never been any different than they are now, I’m going to assume that the wires were crossed in relation to the requirement to acknowledge specific levels of privilege within activism.
For SuperFat folks (this is a self-defined term, and most likely to be chosen when an individual faces specific access challenges in relation to clothing, transit, seating, medical equipment, etc.) moving about in the world is a significantly more complicated endeavor than it is for someone who is a size 22. For someone who is a size 22, moving about in the world is significantly more complicated than it is for someone who is a size 12. And there are all manner of variations therein. Add to this additional intersections of oppression (e.g. those based on ethnicity, class, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation) and each person wanders around the world with a unique concoction of privileges in some areas, lack of privileges in others and, accordingly, an obligation to work toward awareness in relation to the ways in which their movements impact and are impacted by others.
So while no one is too thin for fat activism, and while no one is immune to ‘feeling fat’, to claim fatness as an identity is to claim that your real-world experience is impacted daily by certain kinds of punitive and oppressive behavior on the part of society and/or institutions. A ‘normatively’ sized woman who is having a ‘fat day’, e.g. feeling bloated and/or even having a dysmorphic episode where she truly believes that she is larger than she is, is not necessarily experiencing the same kind of oppression and/or stigma that a physically larger person faces. Another example: One might not be comfortable flying economy on an airplane at a size 12 because flying economy sucks for everyone, but someone at a size 12 does not have to face the fear of being asked to buy a second seat at the last minute, or the pain of bruising from a too-tight fit, or the potential embarrassment of asking for a seatbelt extender. Another example: Someone at a size 3x might be frustrated with the limited selection of clothing at their local plus-size store, but someone at a size 6x may have no option but to order more expensive and less fashionable clothing online, and someone at a size 12x may have to hire someone to make clothing for them especially at an even greater cost.
Of note: This is not meant to minimize the impact of a body-obsessed culture on the mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of people of all sizes. This is not meant to disavow the suffering of those who struggle to feel at home in their bodies, independent of size. That suffering is real and valid and rooted in many of the same kinds of ideologies and processes which ultimately oppress fat people.
Having said all that, feeling fat and being fat are not the same thing and this truth requires acknowledgment for all the reasons outlined above. There is no size restriction on who can and can’t be a fat activist. Fat activists, like feminists, come in all shapes and sizes. There is, however, a kind of logic by which one could gauge whether or not one should identify as fat themselves, and if fat, where one might be situated in relation to thin-privilege. And if one believes they are benefitting significantly from thin privilege, this knowledge might guide them in certain situations. For example, in the context of a mixed-size conversation about how difficult it is to be fat in the world, one might offer more conversational space to those experiencing the larger impact of oppression. And if one has and acknowledges some level of thin-privilege, then one could use it to benefit others as well — interrupting fat jokes, challenging stereotypes, etc.
I absolutely don’t draw a line at where identification as a fat person starts. Ok, maybe that’s not entirely true. If someone at a size 2 takes on fat as an identity, I might give them a sideways glance. But within reasonable parameters, the line where someone starts feeling impacted by fat oppression is really individual and really subjective. I’m absolutely not interested in challenging people on their identifications. I am, however, more comfortable around those who acknowledge that their experiences may be less challenging than mine, just as I try to do the same for those who face greater stigma and oppression than myself. It’s not easy to do — in fact it is really challenging and consuming work. I fail regularly. I acknowledge that others will do the same. I hope that we are able to remind each other when that happens.
And to whomever walked away from me feeling as though their suffering didn’t matter, however that happened, I apologize. And I hope that something in here helps to explain it and that you find a place in fat activism that feels more like home to you.
I’m gonna go ahead and be a feminist killjoy on this one. Dove’s at it again with their Real Beauty campaign. This time they’ve asked 4 women to meet with an FBI sketch artist and describe themselves. Then they’ve asked 4 others to briefly meet the women and then describe them to the same sketch artist. Without seeing the women, the artist draws both sketches and then the women view the difference. It’s heartwarming if you watch it without your killjoy glasses on, but unfortunately, feminist media analysis once again ruins EVERYTHING.
1) These experiences are so plainly curated. They chose pretty, well-dressed women of a certain class and they chose people of a similar attractiveness-scale and social class to describe them. Politeness in this scenario dictates a courteous description. This whole set-up is skewed from the start to give exactly the result intended.
2) I’m struck that, after seeing the difference between the portraits, one of the first vocalized responses (and indeed the underlying current to all responses) is “I have a lot of work to do on myself.” This project succeeded in a) giving these women something else to be ashamed of and b) further encouraging the whole ‘self as project’ mentality that keeps people focused inward on their own failings, beavering away at loving themselves alongside (but not necessarily *with*) everyone else rather than attacking, say, Dove Beauty and its ilk for fashioning beauty as a worthwhile measure of worth in the first place.
3) “Do you think you’re more beautiful than you believe?” Is that really the end goal? Is the pinnacle of success always beauty? Believing that others see us as beautiful? Believing that we are beautiful? I want people to question their negative self-perceptions, sure. But I would love for that to happen in a context where beauty doesn’t always end up valorized. This is a mindfuck — ‘everyone is beautiful, so you are beautiful, too!’ still reinforces beauty as an aspirational value. And those who believe this, or believe they should believe it, yet also recognize that the social/economic hierarchies favor a specific kind of beauty, end up feeling doubly bad for failing to love themselves through injustice.
4) They focused a LOT on the other people describing women as not as fat as they thought they were. Fuck you for that, Dove. I don’t even have to explain that one.
My daily commute to and from classes involves several sets of formidable stairs, the vast majority of which aren’t necessarily optional. Most of them I’m lucky enough to be able to handle with ease but there is one set that I consider my concrete nemesis. They’re the last set of the day and they are brutal on tired legs and sore feet; three tiers, none of them gentle. Most of the days I push through, champ that I am — but over the last few weeks with a cold and dust from major construction work wreaking havoc on my new Big City Asthma, I’ve taken one look at that looming stairwell and headed straight for the lift. (That’s ‘elevator’ for us yanks.)
Choosing the lift is never easy. No matter how much walking/stair climbing/other ‘virtuous’ activity I’ve undertaken in a day, no matter how ‘legitimate’ my reasons for not taking the stairs, some part of me hates embodying the stereotype of the fat girl who takes the lift. In my head the people behind me are saying “That’s why you’re fat!” And then my own activist brain is telling me “Stop being so ableist/healthist, just *wanting* to take the lift is reason enough, you’re not obligated to take the stairs!” And it goes on and on like that in circles until I hit the street and start thinking about something else. Good times.
Today I was having the same talk with myself as I pressed the button to call the lift. As the door opened and I stepped through, I heard a voice call “wait for me!” I stepped back to catch the door before it closed and in walked an older, fat, non-gender normative woman — possibly queer, possibly not. I smiled. She smiled. The lift started up and we were silent for a moment.
Then she leaned over conspiratorially and said “My knees can’t take it” referring to the stairs. “Mine, either!” said I. Then she paused. She said “People say I should lose weight, but I’m not gonna do it just to please ‘em.” My eyes got big. I smiled wider. “That’s exactly right.” I said. Encouraged she said “I like the way I am!” I grinned. I said “Good for you! I love that!” The doors opened and she walked out ahead of me. I stood there kind of stunned – feeling so grateful for that moment but unsure of how to express it. I wasn’t going to let it pass, though, so I called out after her “That was the best exchange I’ve had all day. Thank you.”
Looking back over her shoulder she said “That’s a great smile. Glad I could give it to you.” I smiled wider and said “This is so going on facebook.” She laughed and we kept walking – her a pace or two ahead, me just reveling in the moment. She looked back after a few steps. “That smile’s not going anywhere is it?” I caught up with her. “You don’t even know.” I nodded. “I’m a fat activist. I think about this stuff all day long. You’ve really just made my week.” She gave me a thumbs up — the kind that said ‘i have no idea what that means but it sounds great’ and we walked out together. “I’m 50.” she said in summation. “Took me a long time to accept myself, not gonna stop now!” I braved up and asked for her email address so I could interview her at some point about her experience. She gave it effortlessly. As we parted ways she congratulated herself on my smile again – and I kept it, all the way home.
Today is the anniversary of Heather MacAllister aka Reva Lucian’s passing. There is grief – and – this year I’d like to do something a little different with it.
I’ve been thinking about Heather a lot over the last year. It’s a conversation with her I had on a lunch date in 2005 which started me thinking about going back to school again, which reminds me how powerful a force she was for change and revolution — both in a big way and in small, personal ways in the lives of her friends. And, selfishly, there are specific conundrums I’ve faced as someone with a ‘big personality’ over the years (and lately as someone with a ‘big personality’ who is feeling quite timid and tempted to hide herself away) which I’ve wished that I could talk over with her. In a broader sense, I’ve also been quite sad that a new generation of rad fatties are coming up in the world without her voice. I’ve wondered what changes/shifts she’d have gone through, what epiphanies she’d have had that she might have shared with others. What her leadership would look like. What critiques she’d have added, what growth she’d have fostered. I feel her as a great loss, not just personally as a friend and confidant, but as an activist and a future elder.
I thought I’d share the major lesson(s) I learned from Heather over the years in celebration of her:
First and foremost, I’d be remiss not to point you to her own words. Her keynote from NOLOSE offers some brilliant insight into who she was. Re-reading it today, I see foreshadowing of some major shifts in NOLOSE itself since her passing. Always, she was ahead of her time. Most importantly, I want to challenge you to take the advice she so vehemently offers here and GET TO THE GYN. Go to the doctor for regular check-ups. Don’t let your fear of discrimination stop you from getting the healthcare you deserve. As Heather said: “They would rather see us dead so don’t let them win!”
Now, from my own observations, here is the most important lesson I learned from Heather:
To be a powerful woman is to be polarizing. There’s no way around this. To know what you want, why you want it, and to chase it with fierce determination is to be ripe for the projection of others. Surviving, especially thriving, amidst this takes a thick skin and a certainty of self that few are able to master. However, the flip side of this surety is that, while it may present outwardly as self-focus and while it may get you labeled a Diva, in actuality what this surety does is make room for an intense external focus.
By this I mean: if one isn’t constantly worried about how the self appears to others, or if one isn’t so concerned with what others think about the self that one is constantly on the defensive, the self can relax and *focus* on others instead. The self can weather critique (both productive and unproductive), even abuse, in a largely unruffled fashion, understanding that often the slings and arrows we throw at one another come from a place of our own wounding and not in reaction to some inherent, unfixable flaw inside the other. From this position, all we say and do become clues to the states of our own being and an other who is able to perceive this with compassion rather than defensiveness offers us the gift of loving insight. Heather had an ability to perceive others in a powerful way – such that she could spend an hour chatting with someone and then deliver a simple sentence that had the power to transform their lives in some small but memorable way. In the case of many, that transforming power was much larger. That is what her Diva-ness did for her, and for others. She not only took up space without apology, but she created space with warmth and a stern-but-loving maternality that required of others a challenge and critique of our own internalized oppression and an accountability for the way our movements in the world impacted others. She held space for flaw and imperfection, she let others be broken and loved. She had a passion for community and activism that, in some ways, transcended the individual (in ways that the individual sometimes found uncomfortable) in favor of the vision. It was not at all a comfortable role she held and the weight of it sometimes sunk her shoulders — but it never lasted long.
She was by no means perfect, but I’ve never known anyone like her and likely never will again. She was a one-off and I miss her all the time. And as the years go by and I grow and change, I come to appreciate what I learned from her all the more. Thinking of everyone who loved Heather today.
Pretty much every female on my Mother’s side of the family either has Sjogren’s Syndrome or some other related auto-immune problem and I’m showing some telltale signs of following suit. It’s something that kicks in a bit later in life and my Mom and Aunt are struggling. A few weeks ago my Aunt went to see a specialist who advised her (along with every other woman in our family) to give up Gluten, Dairy and Eggs as a part of treatment and prevention.
So let it be said that I basically LIVE for cheese. And bread. And a little bit eggs. So giving these things up? Totally not my favorite. And guess what — I found out by substituting Soy for basically everything that I’m allergic to Soy as well! Ok, so that’s Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, and Soy. Oh, and Cigarettes ‘cuz I quit smoking 4 months ago, too. My last remaining vice was my lifelong Diet Coke addiction, which I held on to for dear life — until this week. ‘Cuz apparently, if you give up all your major coping mechanisms at once in the middle of a time of great stress, your physiology goes totally berserk and you have mild anxiety attacks on double decker busses after jostling your way through hoards of not-so-jolly Xmas Market shoppers and having ONE — count ‘em, ONE — caffeinated beverage. Le sigh.
So that’s caffeine, cigarettes, gluten, dairy, eggs, soy and, heck, let’s throw in ginger ‘cuz I’m already allergic to that. And at this point, I’m having to get reaaaaaal creative about finding foods that satisfy my working-class comfort food appetites — which brings us to the recipe below for a Gluten Free, Dairy free, Soy Free, and *EGG FREE* ‘Egg’ Salad Sandwich.
The other day my girl and I were having a salad with fresh raw mushrooms on top and we both noted that the mushrooms tasted a bit like boiled egg. A-Hah!
For one sandwich:
- 5 large white mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon vegan* mayonnaise (not heaping)
- yellow mustard to taste
- pinch salt & pepper
- a few green onions
- bit of chopped red pepper
* – note, not all vegan mayo is soy-free, so if you can’t find soy-free vegannaise, there’s a recipe here to make your own.
Wash the mushrooms. Break out your food processor and chop them down to ‘egg salad’ proportions. You can obviously use a knife but it’s tedious. Mix in the mayo and mustard and any other optional ingredients you’d like and serve it on the gluten free bread of your choice with lettuce. If you’re not into GF breads, it’d work just as well wrapped in the lettuce leaves alone.
I’d post a picture, but I ate it too fast. I’ll add one in next time I make it.
It’s been an intense year for me. My move to a new country has been a bumpy ride. In some ways, it’s been so much less traumatic than I feared it would be. I’ve made connections with some really amazing people and transitioning my long-distance relationship into real-time, daily life has been downright idyllic. In other ways, however, it’s been unexpectedly difficult.
Living in a city of 8 MILLION vs. a city of 600,000 is humbling. No one who hasn’t made a move like this in their life can really grasp the magnitude of the difference. The only city in the States that’s London’s size is New York. The next most populated city is less than half the size and the drop-off is steeper still from there. No matter how empowered and fierce I thought I was coming in here, life in London is DIFFERENT, and life as a *FAT GIRL* in London is TOUGH.
If Fat Hate were zombies, Portland would be the occasional half-witted, slow-moving, comic zombie that you can take out with a golf club and London would be screaming hoards of sharp-toothed, fleet-footed, superzombies in SWAT Team helmets that JUST. KEEP. COMING. It’s a relentless daily barrage of death glares, shitty comments, unrepentant staring and physical jostling. I gotta tell you, it’s been kicking my ass.
For people who have lived here all their lives and who have developed an emotional toolset to deal with it, I probably seem like a big babyhead because they can’t imagine what it’s like to live somewhere where your daily experience isn’t peppered with asshole after asshole. And for people who haven’t lived anywhere where your daily experience *is* peppered with asshole after asshole, I probably seem like I’m blowing it out of proportion. And, well, I’m not — not a babyhead and not exaggerating. This totally blows.
So that’s my long preamble. But what I really want to say is this:
I opened up my heart to friends on Facebook this week, telling them I was getting my ass kicked by daily harassment/abuse and asking for suggestions on how to cope. The stories that came out of that thread were nothing short of EPIC TALES of human strength and resilience. Not to mention crazy amounts of compassion, warmth and support. As each new person added to the thread today with their stories, being raw and vulnerable, talking about digging deep to find the strength to speak up in defense of themselves, or feeling ashamed when they couldn’t, or finding warmth and humor instead of rage, or grappling with themselves not to internalize shame, or finding little ways to resist that were purely for their own benefit, self-sufficient rebellion — I was just completely overcome with this HUGE FEELING. It was so big it took me a second to parse it out. And it turns out it was just plain old love.
But it was this wellspring. It was profound. It was this imagining of this Fat Fucking Army, where every second spent in the public eye is a battle on the front lines. And it was this deep pride at the sheer magnitude of strength it takes every single one of us to navigate this world on a daily basis. And it was this awe at the ability of so many of us to maintain enough idealism to be activists. And enough compassion to be loving human beings. It’s the middle fingers hidden in pockets, and the ‘crazy fat lady’ losing her shit in the food court when one jerk too many said the wrong thing, and the beautiful spirit that leans down and tells a staring child how exciting the world is because there are so many different kinds of people, and the tender heart that holds it in until the door is closed and then weeps, and the balled fist that just punched the bully on the playground because enough was enough, and the closed hand around the love note that someone wrote to their body so they can remember how beautiful they are when others try to tell them different. All these ways of fighting. All these ways of surviving. And it fucking SUCKS that you have to, that I have to, that WE have to. But we do. And oh, my lovely beings, my brave and beautiful comrades – you are amazing. My heart was full to bursting with you today. I just want you to know that. I see you. And all the ways that your struggles are unique. And all the ways that no one can know what you’re going through. And all the ways, still, that we are in this together. And I love you. I really, really do.
I feel like a lot of people are really hanging on to the bit of Obama’s speech where he says everyone can make it if they’re ‘willing to try.’ And I just want to point out that this is a myth, this is a story we’re being sold about what it means to be American, and what it effectively does is put the onus for failure to ‘thrive’ back on the individuals who are most endangered by systematic and institutionalized oppression. Obama’s rad and all, but he’s a politician and i’ma join you in celebrating, but please don’t lose track of the fact that this bootstrapping shit is a way to shift the blame from the HAVES back to the HAVE NOTS. It’s like saying everyone can be thin if they just work hard enough. It’s like saying that everyone can get into college despite any access issues. It’s like saying that everyone who is struggling is just not doing their best. I hate to break it to you, but working hard is NOT the measure of success in this world. PRIVILEGE determines access. And with that, back to your regularly scheduled kermit arms.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with two great people, Vikki Chalklin and Bill Savage, to create a collection of sock puppet vignettes that take some of the most ridiculous myths surrounding fatness within society and then pushing them to their even more ridiculous logical ends. The project was framed by Vikki as related to ‘potential.’ I’ll let her words speak for themselves:
“This dialogue project will explore the problematics and limitations posed by ‘potential’ through the lens of body size and fat activism. Within the global context of the “Obesity Epidemic? fat bodies are not only despised, pathologised and ridiculed, but also imbued with the redemptive potential to become thin. This promise of shedding shameful fat in favour of a happier, healthier, slender self contains within it assumptions and impositions that are the focus of this dialogue project. Potential is often bestowed upon us by institutions or individuals bearing supposedly superior knowledge or expertise, be they teachers, parents or health professionals. In such hierarchical encounters, potential becomes a vehicle for a disciplinary command tied up with norms, value judgements and the mentor’s own conception of success. But what knowledges, experience and frameworks of achievement does this obscure?” – quoted from: http://www.thisisperformancematters.co.uk/words-and-images.post123.html
We each wrote two scripts and then set to work creating the puppets and filming them on one long and hilarious afternoon. I don’t have anything to show you here as there’s some talk of submitting the film to festivals, either a revised version or the quick n’ dirty we have now. But I wanted to talk a bit about the experience as it’s the first bit of activism I’ve had a chance to do here in the UK and it’s a very different style than anything I’ve done before.
First – it wasn’t my idea! There was a lot of relief and quite a bit of joy in that. It was fun to be a part of a collaborative effort that gathered itself around someone else’s vision. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that and I’d forgotten how different (and good!) it feels. I like seeing the light in someone else’s eyes when they know they’re on to something. I like having something to contribute to help make it possible. It’s kind of like an energetic ‘kickstarter’ campaign. Someone has a good thought, everyone does what they can to bring it to fruition. Vikki and Bill were an excellent team, super supportive of ideas and welcoming, no weird ego stuff, dedicated to fun and good politics. Definitely doing it right.
Second – it involved the actual production of something performative. I’ve facilitated other people’s performance before. I’ve performed a bit as well (singing at the first Fat Girl Speaks, and my band playing at the last). But that was never the point for me. The point came resoundingly to center when I stood at the back of the venue, hands clutched over my heart, watching the interaction of the audience and the performers and feeling so full-up of joy that I could barely stand it. My point felt quiet, kinda secret – just me in the back of the room after all the contracts were signed and the venues booked and the social media monopolized. When I got to gauge if it worked. (It being the point of the whole thing: to make people feel better. Whether it was something someone said on stage that shifted their perspectives forever, or whether it was just for that moment.)
Conversely, in the context of this project, the performance itself *was* the central element. All that planning went into a different kind of end result. A thing. Not a time or place or event. It’s a different kind of creation. Like writing a book instead of editing an anthology. I feel I’m circling my point here and lack of sleep/caffeine means I’m likely not to find it. But this felt different in a fun way. More creative. Less administrative.
Third – this wasn’t created for a politically aware fat audience. I’m sure politically aware fat people would find it entertaining if not altogether educational – like being ‘in’ on the joke. But this wasn’t for them. It was for a specific kind of audience — an educated collection of performers who were there to think about performance itself. I’d wager 95% of our audience had never heard the phrase “fat activist” or, if they had, had never bothered to give it further thought. I felt quite nervous as the video started to play and that nervousness was different than my usual pre-event jitters. I felt much more vulnerable *personally*. It’s the difference between preaching on a corner soapbox or standing up in front of your own congregation. There’s an expectation of agreement in the latter that is definitely not there in the former. Anything could have happened in the discussion afterwards. Although, of course, our own fat bodies being present in the room and the radical position of the film itself likely shifted the possibility of people asking questions they might have asked were no fatties actually present. There was a sense that quite a few questions went unasked which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Though perhaps some inner dialogue was triggered by the realization that they had questions which would have been inappropriate to ask.
So — the experience was really wonderful and it definitely has me thinking. As Vikki and Bill are both well advanced of myself in terms of education (both PhD, both actively teaching) I did feel a bit in over my head intellectually. But I also felt valuable. And excited to be learning new ways of being in the world as a political and creative person! Fat Activism in the UK! My first dabble was a wonderful experience.
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