A while back there was that Louis C.K episode with the fat girl that goes on a diatribe about life as a fat girl. Did you see it? You can watch it here:
When it aired there was a lot of noise about how amazing and groundbreaking this scene was and as a fat activist, I find that anytime popular culture takes up the voice of the fat person and allows that fat personal to express the injustice fat people face, it’s a win – even if that scene doesn’t even come close to portraying the reality of the fat experience – because right now very few representations are even acknowledging that a fat person has a right to feel angry or upset about the discrimination that he or she faces. So, conversation starters are good.
That said, when you break it down, the moment is problematic. I was interviewed by RH Reality Check about this scene and I had this to say:
I see a lot of good. For example, it is amazing to see someone on television acknowledge the fact that the way we lie about the reality of a person’s body size is insulting and demeaning. Regularly – I refer to my body as fat and people try to tell me it’s not. Obviously, they are lying to me because they believe that being fat is something to be ashamed of, something ugly, something awful. Of course, in reality being fat is just a fact. It doesn’t have to have moral or aesthetic resonance – and the attempt to “hide” me from my fat points out that they believe that if I know I’m fat then I can’t possibly like myself. So, I think the fact that this character, Vanessa, is on television pointing out the ugliness that is intrinsic in dismissing the reality of a person’s body size is amazing and I also really unheard of in the mainstream media.
That said, while Vanessa’s speech has great moments, it also relies on popular cultural lies – like the idea that fat women are not desired or that men are “ashamed” to be seen with fat women – and the speech makes some really limited assumptions about the issues that fat women struggle with and in turn obscures the systemic reality of fat discrimination. For example, I would argue that most fat women – who have dug their way out from under the bullshit that says they are not attractive enough to warrant love – have found that there are many people who find them attractive and who are desirous of their bodies. So, just strolling in public with a man willing to hold their hand isn’t the issue they are facing. I think the conversation about fat discrimination is more concerned with the reality that fat people make less money than their thin counter parts, that they the often receive sub-par medical care and that they are assumed to be lazy or stupid.
Arguably, I also think this scene gives fat men an edge over fat women – which is debatable. It’s true that historic understandings of femininity have relegated women to the role of object and therefore “beauty,” and in this context long-term relationships are understood as defining and significant factors in a woman’s life and not a man’s. This, of course, is an archaic idea and yet popular culture still perpetuates these stereotypical gender concepts. That said, ultimately fat men and fat women suffer. We can’t sit around comparing oppressions. Instead we need to work on eliminating the causes of discrimination.
I still think all this is true but the more I think about it – the more I am certain that this moment on Louis C.K. is emblematic of a the larger issues I see in when people are conceptualizing fat acceptance and body acceptance. Media that promotes body acceptance maintain the status quo when it comes to other social justice issues and questions.
Basically, I feel like (watch out ‘cause I’m getting all academic up in here) – the message of body acceptance that is being packaged by the media is not considering intersectional realities and injustices. In less academic-y speak, the fat acceptance movement and the body acceptance movement aren’t about one voice – a chubby white woman who wants to love her curves and have a straight thin man love them too. The body acceptance movement should be about “all” voices and all kinds of bodies. It should be about empowering people to be comfortable in their own skin and giving them a space at the table to voice their needs and desires. It should be about the fundamental feminist notion – “my body, my business” – No matter what that body entails.
By the way, I’m having the same issue with “All About that Bass” Did you see this:
(Honestly, this ditty has a few issues like the whole “skinny bitches” bit), But really – “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Really? Why do we so often envision fat female empowerment as accepting that marginally fat women are pretty and desired by men? I’m not looking to be pretty. I’m looking to be valued and respected.
(Side note: That shit is catchy though, isn’t it? If you see me later, I’ll be humming “All About that Bass,” but that doesn’t mean I agree with all the lyrics, okay?)