When Fat Ladies Sing


Fatphobia is still permissible in almost every aspect of society, tho some specific manifestations of it fall under sexual harassment laws.  If a doctor doesn’t treat you because you’re fat (“Broken rib?  You’ll feel better when you lose weight.  Next!”), that’s close to completely legal.  All the medical discriminator needs is a tiny sliver of plausible deniability about the specific diagnosis (“How could I feel ribs through all that fat?  Fat people should die tho.”) and their malpractice insurance rates don’t even go up.

So it’ll be a long time before fatphobia is addressed as a conversation at the level of society the way transphobia is now.  As bad as it is for trans folks now, it’s these kind of crucibles that lead to improvement in awareness, and real progress – eventually.  That conversation has barely cleared the ground, in how we treat fat people.

It’s annoying how all the prejudices of the world echo each other, though they have their own flavors.  Like black people in most of the 20th century, fat people are stereotyped as a joke, as funny, and not as someone you’d ever imagine in a romantic situation.  I’m thinking of the archetypes in black depictions by white people, like the picaninny and sambo.  No coincidence one of those stereotypes, the mammy, was also fat.  Intersectional oppression, oh boy.

The last one crosses my mind more, lately.  Fat people not allowed to be seen as romantic, beautiful, desirable.  There are a few depictions that get close, that show them as humans who deserve respect, who have needs, and can find relationships.  But even within those depictions, the characters are usually seen as funny, earth-bound, immune to lofty experiences and deep passions.  Nobody who would ever be desired in a deeply romantic way.

There’s some back and forth in activist discussion about how important that is, with some people saying it should be perfect and great for everybody to be allowed to be considered ugly and still get treated with full and proper respect.  Ugliness itself, from whatever source, shouldn’t lead to prejudice.  That’s not exactly my position, though I see a lot of merit in it, and I may be getting the particulars wrong.  I do disagree with the first part for a few reasons.

It feels like giving up on the possibility of fat people being seen as beautiful, which is ceding ground to fatphobes before the fight’s even really started.  It’s natural this exists as a counter to fat activism that focuses excessively on beauty, I’m cool with that, but I just don’t want to see the possibility of beauty in fat people casually chucked out the window.  Cultural archetypes influence us profoundly.  There has never been a movie where the hot girl that everybody wants is also fat.  That hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever happened.

And I, as a person who has always found fat people attractive, had my imagination warped by that.  (The following has less than nothing to do with sex work or sex workers.)  The madonna/whore complex, drawn broadly, is that there’s a dichotomy between those one finds romantically beautiful and those one finds sexually appealing.  Early in my life, this lack of romantic depiction of fat ladies shunted them all into the “whore” category.  I’m sure the way black people are treated by white lovers is also fucked up by this.  (Actually, for people raised in compulsory cisheterosexuality, they can often view their own assigned sex in the same way.)

That problem in my imagination hasn’t had any impact on most of my life, that I’ve noticed, but it annoys me.  I want to hold up the fat people I’m attracted to as beautiful in every way, but in the ancient core of my psychology, there’s a dissonant note in that.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to shut that shit off completely.  My stake in this is emotional, not practical.  I don’t want to fix my heart because it will help me treat people better, since I’m already doing that well enough.  I want to fix that aspect of my heart because of the way it feels.  (Per my last aside in the previous paragraph, I’d also like to see men more romantically as well, but that’s a little easier to find cultural reinforcement for.)

Anyway, for fat ladies being romantic, a good source is singers.  When an unskinny lady sings a love song, she’s the star of a romance.  I’m thinking of Ella Fitzgerald and Ann Wilson at the moment, but for a song specifically about romantic desire, observe Sólveig Matthildur.  She’s not very big, but bigger than most are allowed to be on the top 40, and that makes this song hit different for me.  Also she looks hella like a nose ring girl I crushed on in high school.  You’ll always be a star in my sky, Stephanie.


PS – This may also be on my mind as I’ve been playing at being feminine more often, and the reality that I’ve been fat for a long time finally begins to sink in.  My sense of self-worth was formed when I was skinny, and so has not been saddled with that burden of oppression.  As a usually masc-looking AMAB person, this doesn’t come up often, but I was fatphobia’d recently at an office party.  So here I am: a fat lady singing, in my own way.

Comments

  1. says

    in the ludicrously unlikely event of stephanie reading this post and recognizing herself within it, in the madonna-whore/slim-fat scenario, you were the comparatively slim one i romanticized. not calling you fat, tho if you are now fat like me, i hope you love yourself like you deserve, right?

  2. says

    Yes, within certain restrictions. Cishet white men being seen as default means a very wide range of characters happen within that demographic. Cishet white women being slightly closer to the default – and being the 100% default or media aimed at women – means there’s more variety there than less privileged demos, but still more constrained than white men. The ratchet clamps down tighter the less privileged your demographic.

    Fat people face a similar problem to nonwhite people in the past, in that our representation in media is far lower than in real life. Almost any place in the world, chubby to fat people are far more numerous and visible IRL than on the TV screen. You can say, oh, main characters have to be sellable, but even extras and background people are less fat than the general population. This isn’t just an America thing, whatever people say.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Altthough the romance genre has traditionally been awful about fat (and any other kind of not white, not slim, not blonde or raven or flame haired) people, in recent years there has been a huge increase in all sorts of kinds of representation, including fat heroines and heroes. Which is interesting, especially in the context of it being the romance imprints of the large publishing houses that are consistently profitable, and along with other genre fiction support the literary imprints. Who knew that giving more people what they want could be profitable? /s

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