Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fat and beautiful

I read an interesting post today on Teen Skepchick, called Modesty, Fat Shaming and Me in a Bikini. In it, Grimalkin, the author (who is very beautiful, which is an aside that isn't quite an aside, as you will shortly see) does a nice hatchet job on the prevailing cultural idea that Fat Wimminz Should Not Expose Teh Flesh, Because it's Just Gross For Everyone. As she so astringently puts it:
my body is not obscene. It is not obscene, particularly not by virtue of being fat... Displaying that body to people is not an attack upon their eyes.
The post is accompanied by a picture of Grimalkin in a very nice bikini, kneeling on a bed, hand on hip, head inclined at a downward angle, looking serious, a bit pissed off, and beautiful.

And fat. The two things - beauty / attractiveness and fat - being neither mutually exclusive nor mutually determinative.

It made me reflect on the cultural messaging around beauty and acceptability as it relates to body shape and size. Elizabeth at Spilt Milk  addressed an aspect of this with her customary wisdom and grace recently with regard to the peculiar pains associated with parenting a girlchild in an environment of panic about obesity. In that post, she affirmed, as a shout:
Yes, I am fat. I am fat and I am beautiful and loved and I have a good life.
Which leads me, meanderingly, into further observations.

I spent a large part of today, which was stinkingly hot here in Melbourne, whiling away time on YouTube. I am violently allergic to most forms of reality TV, but I do get an occasional yen to immerse myself in talent shows, the Got Talent and X Factor franchises being my usual poison of choice.

Watching a lot of clips in a row, it was driven home to me hard exactly how narrow (and I mean narrow in both its literal and metaphorical sense) the prevailing equation of size to beauty, or even acceptability, really is. Every time a contestant who was an in-betweenie or fat appeared, the judges made their ready-to-be-unimpressed faces, and the audience tittered. Every time the contestant turned out to be awesome - funny, a brilliant singer, possessed of a large personality, endearing - the OH MY GOD, WE ARE SO SURPRISED factor was milked so hard.

I get that confected shock is part of the construct of these shows, it's what they thrive on, but it works precisely because the audience - like all of us - is conditioned to accept that fatter people are less attractive, less appealing, and likely to be less good at anything performance oriented than thinner people. This is especially and perniciously true for people who present as female. For women who are not thin - and oh, what a small margin of error there is to be so considered - the cultural imperative to hide our bodies, to not expose other people to the horror of our cellulite and adipose tissue, our bellies that move and our arses that wobble, is immense.

I do believe that being fat is not as much of an impediment these days in professions where performance and visual presentation is not an inherent part of the role. But for jobs where part of the job is tied up with perception of appearance and attractiveness - and for the performing arts this really is the case - it's a huge hurdle to overcome, this notion that fat bodies are repulsive, that fatness equals incapacity, that fat people are not, by definition, beautiful.

God, it's bollocks.

For me, my fatness is the only part of my physical self that I have genuinely come to embrace as not a deficit, not a handicap to be overcome. I have a problematic relationship with my body generally, but it's not the case that I believe myself to be lesser because I am, physically, more than the prevailing ideal. I do not think being fat makes me less attractive. I do not think if I were less fat, I would be more beautiful. I do not think that my profound lack of performance ability is in any way connected to the fact of my weight.

So many fat people are beautiful. So many. Fat bodies are not ridiculous, or deficient, or revolting. Fat bodies are bodies, as intricate, as fearfully and wonderfully made, as any body on the earth.

It saddens me - not just as a fat woman, but as a human being - that this seems to be such a difficult truth to accept.

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