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Monday, April 13, 2015

What happens when you write about fat people positively

Last week, my DAME column was titled "Yes, Fat Women Are Sexy".


Not my most imaginative title, but I never said I was good at coming up with them (I'm better with short story titles, like "Secret Service," about an oral sex restaurant). It's certainly not the first time I've written about fatness. I wrote "My Boyfriend's Fat" in my essay collection Sex & Cupcakes and also wrote about that same topic in a YouBeauty essay, along with "Why I'm Hot for Fat Guys" for Nerve. An old column about my own body image issues was reprinted at Jezebel.

So I'm not unfamiliar with what happens when you write about fat people, but I'm still appalled at the go-to reaction, which is basically one giant word used to obscure prejudice: HEALTH. In a public Feminism on Facebook group I'm part of, I shared the DAME link with these words: "My latest column DAME Magazine is on fat women, sexuality and body image." The very first comment left on it was: "Hi Rachel, I hope you included a list of the health risks that come with being overweight xx Including those you could pass on to your children xx"

Needless to say, this caused a lot of responses, accusations of trolling and debates about what exactly is appropriate when talking about fatness. I think it's interesting just how predictable some variation of this argument is, as if fat people, or even "not fat" but "not skinny" people don't have it drummed into their/our heads exactly what the health consequences may or may not be about our body size.

My response on that thread reads: "Reece, I'm pretty sure any fat person has been told more than enough that they are not only going against our restrictive society's beauty standards but also by their health care providers what they need to do to be healthy. I write a sex column so that isn't my job. I was talking about society's expectations of what's sexy and what's not and how these women are reclaiming fatness as part of sex appeal for themselves and the broader culture. Also, see"

I think that sums up my position, but I encourage you, especially if your first reaction to "fat" is negative, to think about why, exactly, that is. I somewhat hate the title I gave my DAME column not only because it's obvious, but because why should that need to be said? Why can't we recognize that "sexy" comes in as infinite variety as people do? Yet I'm proud of it and glad it's fostering discussions like the one on Facebook, because we need to start thinking more critically when we talk about "fat." And be "we," I of course also mean me. I'm in the process of getting rid of a lot of my clothes that no longer fit due to the weight I've gained since moving to New Jersey, while also trying to live and eat healthier and, if I get the one thing I truly want in this world, trying to get pregnant. It's a lot to ponder when it comes to "fat" and weight and who the hell to look good on a daily basis, when I do venture outside of my home, or even when I just don't want to sit around wearing sweatpants day in and day out. I'm not suggesting it's easy to suddenly switch our thinking from one that tells us "fat is bad" to a more nuanced view that takes in true health and genetics and so many other factors. But in the last three plus years of dating and loving a fat man and seeing how he is often treated by the world at large and in person, I have come to care very much about this topic. And do I also care about his health? Of course! How could I not, especially if I want to have children with him? But I care for his physical health along with his mental and emotional health, and those of other fat people. That's why someone like April Flores inspires me so much, and why I was thrilled she let me interview her and use her photo with my column. She's been "fat" and "thin" and has come to a place of peace and happiness with her body, which is something I wish for everyone. Including me.

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