Friday, February 17, 2012

Release Day: "Fat Girl in a Strange Land" and Fat Activism

Today is a proud day for me, as I am celebrating the release of the "Fat Girl In a Strange Land"  anthology  (Crossed Genres Publications, available in ebook and paperback form), which includes my story "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes". The theme of FGIASL is a very simple one, but at the same time a very difficult concept for some people to grasp: positive depictions of fat women.

FGIASL is a science fiction and fantasy anthology, but it would be wonderful if respect for fat people wasn't a fantasy. There are many people in this world who would like to turn my pride for my accomplishment and belief in the autonomy of fat people around into something insidious, but I refuse to let them.

It's a very simple question: why hate someone and deny them their rights because of a physical attribute? 

Of course, "hate" is a very strong word in a world that uses the term "political correctness" as a pejorative instead of a catch cry for equality.  People couch their hate and distress at questioning thin privilege and arbitrary cultural beauty norms in "concern".

This concern is actually disgust - outer projection and self - and entitlement. It comes from from living in a society soaked in media depictions of arbitrary beauty and heterosexual norms, being bombarded by the multi-billion dollar beauty, cosmetic surgery, diet and fitness industries which would collapse if we stopped hating our bodies, and a modern cultural history that equates thinness with beauty and health. Overly, sizeism is an insidious way to keep women preoccupied mentally and physically so that they're unable to participate politically, culturally and economically, and realize their full sexual autonomy. A hungry woman is a weakened woman.

Fat is a physical description, not a personality trait. Recently I received a troll comment right here on PT. Prove my point more, I Swift:
in real life every fat person i've encountered was either extremely selfish, ignorant, in denial to the point of toxicity, or lazy. cliche's are cliche's because they are rooted in truth.
instead of writing insipid blog posts that detail your personal neuroses, why don't you become an accomplished writer (like the ones you're deriding) and invent a wonderful fictional fat character that is an archetype who we all strive to be? you know, the person who treats everyone kindly, effortlessly gets all the members of the opposite sex, and never takes more than their fair share (of food, money, etc.). or you can continue posting these blog posts, they're taking you places.
Setting aside the insinuation that I must be a shocking (and, ahem, mentally deficient) writer if I chose to focus on such terrible subjects and not write in culturally sanctioned cliches (Joanna Russ says hi, by the way), our good troll manages to hit every FA bingo point, as if they didn't just read my deconstruction of said cliches. You've encountered angry fat people who won't listen to your incredible thin wisdom, informed by myth and counter-science? Gosh, it's almost like they've had enough of being treated like a sub-human and are lashing back against the hate!  Come on, if you create a hostile environment, why the heck are you surprised and offended when the targets of your ire react in a hostile way? Why, hello Tone Argument.

A fat person requires nourishment to power and health care to maintain their body. These are basic human rights. Fat people "should not take more than their fair share"? What, do you get turned away from the supermarket with apologies from the manager that fat people have cleaned it right out? Do you go to a restaurant and get told there's no more food because a fat person ate it all? Does a fat person run up to you and snatch food right out of your hand? Put that way, it seems quite ridiculous.

Food distribution has nothing to do with perceived notions of gluttony - it's more about class and economic privilege, population and distribution channels, race and global trade. Look up what it means to live in an inner city food desert, and compare the prices and time value of fresh food versus prepared.

A fat person can be healthy and fit/a sports person. Denying this is to deny the many genetic, metabolism and strength factors that make up the myriad body types of human beings. There are some people that diet and exercise and the weight barely or never comes off. It has nothing to do with effort or input.

Fat people contribute in every sector of society. To deny this is to deny what they do for us on a daily basis with their amazing minds and bodies, from running countries to providing essential everyday services.

Fat people are not "crazy" to want bodily autonomy. Telling them that their self respect, and access to love, jobs and happiness is bound up in their appearance is the unnatural part of the equation. Any mental health issues they may deal with may or may not be related to their relationship with food - no one has a right to judge on that either.

Fat people can be good, bad and shades of grey. Their life experience, education, upbringing and culture make them this way, not their body tissue.

Fat people can and do have sex. No one gets to police how and when and why and with whom, or to express disgust at the mental image. Someone else's comfort levels at these sexual activities is not the fat person's problem.

There are also the complicated but no less vital intersections of race, disability, class, and queer issues with sizeism.  Most of all - MOST OF ALL - fat is not a defining attribute. Fat just is.

I'm so proud of "Fat Girl In A Strange Land", where these issues get discussed and shared in a positive manner. The conversation may not be perfect, but it is a conversation that needs traction and gets better all the time.

I say it better in a fictional setting. I say it because I care about fat people being seen and respected as human beings.

Further reading on FA and HAES if you're so inclined:


  1. You go, girl. =)

    And, in addition to having the best title in the whole anthology, "Cartography and the Death of Shoes" is a terrific story.

  2. This is exactly the post I wanted to see today. Well put.

  3. I'm shocked you've had to deal with such small mindedness on your blog and am saddened at how just misguided and wrongheaded iswift's comments were. It just underscores the importance of this anthology and making the invisible more visible, not only in spec fic but RL.