Trump successfully leveraged white fragility to become the Pied Piper of bigots, leading the members of the Republican Party, who are so inclined, away from the clutches of the establishment and into a brighter future, where white supremacy is secure and the dream of American exceptionalism hasn’t been tarnished by the reality of American imperialism. Since scrutiny of the policies put in place by Republican politicians reveals their ineffectiveness at relieving the burden on white working-class and poor Americans, as well as their ineffectiveness at eliminating the “minority threat,” rank-and-file Republicans were easily convinced that their party has failed them. Indeed, it has. The GOP has been playing a shell game with its base, attempting to distract their base with the shiny toy that is white supremacy. Now, it is no longer effective—and not for reasons that are likely to be beneficial to the rest of us.[Read more at Bitch Magazine.]
Y’all, my article on Black women activists and police brutality from the Law and Order issue of Bitch Magazine has been posted online. You can read the full essay @ BitchMedia.com, and hear me reading an abridged version of the essay on Bitch’s “A Protest is Not a Riot” podcast here.
Here’s a snippet of the full essay:
This past year, we’ve learned the names of men we should have never had to know. Eric Garner, a 43-year-old man who died in an NYPD chokehold while repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot and killed two seconds after police officer Timothy Loehmann arrived at a Cleveland, Ohio, park in response to a 911 call about a child waving a toy gun. Their names have become synonymous with police brutality against Black Americans, and their recent deaths have highlighted the pervasive racism within American law enforcement. A new Black liberation movement is in the process of formation, spurred by collective outrage over anti-Black police brutality.
Last month, I had an abortion.
I’ve been a strident advocate for a woman’s right to choose since I was a pre-teen, and it’s still difficult for me to say those words. So many assumptions about my life can be made on the basis of that admission, and the shame is real. For White women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior reflects on Black folks as a whole, specifically other Black women—so the scope of the shame is much wider. An unintended pregnancy can call your responsibility into question, and regardless of your age, the specter of the stereotypical Black teenage mother casts a long shadow.
The idea of Black women being called on to impart their essence into a white woman in order for her to become empowered is laughable, when you consider the fact that actual Black women are systematically disempowered in American society. Yet when viewed in the context of the social construction of an essential Black culture, and white folks’ subsequent appropriation of said culture, it makes total sense. Why not pick and choose the most desirable aspects of what you’ve created and incorporate them into your own identity? Why not then shame the people whose culture you stole, reconstructed, and marketed back to them for engaging in those same activities? Why worry about the historical significance of your actions when nothing other than the protests of those occupying a lesser social status compel you to do so?[read more at Bitch Magazine.]
Representations of nudity in Western popular culture are rarely inclusive of “physically disabled” or “non-normative” bodies. If nude disabled bodies are represented at all, it’s usually in a medicalized, Othered context–case studies of the “disfigured” or collections of outrageous pictures of “freakish” bodies. Our cultural relationship with physical disability is contradictory; we’re trained to look the other way when clothed non-normative bodies enter our field of view, but we’re encouraged to gawk at nude disabled bodies on display for our entertainment and wonder. Exposure to positive portrayals of disabled bodies in the nude isn’t something that most people in Western culture experience without seeking it out. So it’s no surprise that our attitude towards nude disabled bodies as a society is generally a negative one, since of course, our culture’s attitude towards disability itself is rarely positive. Institutionalized ableism serves to marginalize non-normative bodies and keep empowering representations of them, nude or not, from becoming part of mainstream visual consciousness.
Because our Western society values the concepts of “strength” and “self-sufficiency” so highly, a disabled body is judged by its perceived lack of either. Disability is seen as weakness, and is not only socially undesirable but undesirable sexually, and in a sex-saturated culture desirability is a large part of a body’s worth. For men, from whom society demands unwavering strength, this is a harsh blow to their ability to express themselves sexually or to be seen as a sexual being. Inferred weakness or helplessness in a man shifts the gaze of desire onwards for a great many. Women are given more license to be viewed as helpless or weak, however, if any disabled body is shaped in a way that is radically different than what we’re taught to see as normal, it’s deemed “disfigured” and any value it has is primarily based in its usefulness as a specimen or as an object for fetishization. Rarely are we treated to the bodies society calls “disfigured” being presented as desirable in a non-exploitative manner. Thus for many people, seeing a nude disabled body can bring up negative emotions, feelings of disgust, fear, pity, etc. Disgust because we’re so trained to view bodies through a narrow lens of normalcy, we can’t imagine a body that looks radically different than the bodies we’re told are “normal” could be anything but “disgusting”. Fear because our response to anything unfamiliar or that we don’t understand tends to be a level of fear, and pity because our culture drums it into us that living in a body that isn’t “normal” and is harder to operate couldn’t possibly be worth it. The concept of “normal” is, of course, incredibly flawed. Western values dictating that worth lies in productivity lead us to devalue bodies that don’t live up to our idea of how a body must function in order to be productive. All of this cultural training skews the lens through which we view a nude disabled body.
This worldview on disability leaves little room for productive discussions of disability and nudity with everyday people. When portrayals of nude disabled bodies are relegated to the Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Bodies” or TLC’s “The Woman With Giant Legs”, there’s no opportunity to discuss how disability justice must include sex and body-positivity. There’s no back-and-forth about why society presents disabled bodies this way. But disability activists and artists are and have been working to create positive representations of nude disabled bodies in both a sexual and a non-sexual context that actively challenge the societal construction of disability and open a dialogue on how we determine a body’s “worth”. Tanya Raabe, a disabled British artist, has painted a series of portraits, many nude, of disabled people’s bodies in a collection entitled “Revealing Culture: Head On”. Holly Norris’ “American Able” series of photographs spoofs American Apparel’s use of nudity in their ads and challenges their lack of inclusiveness of non-normative or disabled bodies. And Jim Ferris’ “Uncovery to Recovery: Reclaiming One Man’s Body on a Nude Photo Shoot” requests a discourse on disability and the performative nature of gender via the presentation of a queer disabled man’s nude body.
Although our sex/body-positive work surrounding disability should not necessarily be aimed at having nude disabled bodies be validated by mainstream society as desirable, the body-positive principles of affirmation and celebration of all bodies dictates that we must work towards having disabled bodies represented equally in mainstream media and accepted as natural variations of body type. A “disabled” body, as any other body, can be used to express sexuality and personality, can give affection, can lay damp and naked on the bed letting the cool fan breeze dry it off. Disabled bodies can dance, can skinny dip, can feel stress deliciously melt away when a lover lays their hand upon it. All that, just maybe differently than yours can. And differently than another disabled person’s might. Our work, as always, should be focused on highlighting the commonalities between bodies and lovingly appreciating the differences–functionally and aesthetically.[This piece originally appeared in Corset Magazine.]
There is a widespread belief in Western culture that it is necessary to police the health of every fat person. Judgments are made about the state of the inside of fat bodies based on the appearance of the outside of their bodies. Most people don’t see that as a negative thing, or an inappropriate thing. We’re used to diagnosing illnesses from afar. We call drug-fueled, out-of-control celebs “crazy” without having a clue as to their actual mental health status. We cattily tell people whose bodies we feel are too thin to “eat a hamburger,” assuming they have an eating disorder. But with fat people, there is a hate and a system of oppression behind our culture’s so-called “concern” for their health. It’s beyond simple comments and offhand remarks. There is a concerted effort by the diet industry, government, media, and our culture to use the guise of concern for health to shame fat people into dieting or continuing to diet, regardless of the health problems the dieting may bring. Urged on by the media and the current “obesity epidemic” hype, ostensibly well-meaning people nag family members and friends to lose the “unhealthy” weight. Yet more and more studies are showing that it’s completely possible to be fat and healthy. What can be deadly is the stigma associated with being fat. The question is, why are we so stuck on fat equaling poor health, and why do we feel that based on their assumed poor health, it’s okay to treat fat people as second class citizens?[read the rest of the article on Clutch Magazine…]
This column has come to an end! I hope what we discussed helped you learn to love yourself a bit more. And, of course, I hope it made you think a bit and challenge assumptions about fat sexuality and societal beauty standards. My goal is to enlighten and deconstruct, to help fat women empower themselves and take their body image and sexuality into their own hands. So if anyone started on the road to self-acceptance because of this column, I’m happy.
I feel like talking loudly about fat sexuality is important, and I hope you’re interested in keeping this dialogue going, whether with other fat women or just with yourself. I want to work towards changing societal beauty standards and then eliminate them. I want society, or at the very least the FA community, to recognize that choosing to be fat is as valid as the claims of innocence. I want fat women everywhere to enjoy their bodies and learn what pleasure they can bring. I want to untangle fat from health. And I want you to do it with me.
It’s doubtful that this column alone will be revolutionary, of course. It’s just one voice. But if all fat people, not just women, start singing the same song, I think we can move mountains. And not just mountains of flesh. With time and persistence, eventually the revolution will come, whether or not it’s in my lifetime. But I hope I get to see the day when being fat is just as valid as being thin, when fat sex is not met with “eww, keep it indoors,” and when our paragons of beauty come in all shapes and sizes.
Keep in touch, and thank you for supporting this column. Much love.
I had the pleasure of attending the April 30 performance of Erica Watson’s “Fat Bitch!” The show incisively cut through the societal baggage attached to being a fat woman using humor (hilariously!) and personal anecdotes. The finale video is something I hope everyone eventually gets to see because it is a work of comedy art. I got the chance to meet Ms. Watson after the show and she graciously agreed to answer some questions for me about her performance via e-mail.
Tasha Fierce: Your show uses humor (very deftly) in addressing issues like the media’s constant attack on fat women’s self-esteem. Have you found that dealing with the pain of society’s treatment of you as a fat woman in a humorous way has been effective in your personal journey towards body acceptance?
Erica Watson: Life is funny! I can’t control the things that people do to me, but I can surely control my reaction! I have chosen to take it all in stride. By pointing out the absurdity of society’s obsession with weight it helps me cope because I can show that I am not the one with the problem! If you do not like a person because of their size then YOU have the issues…..not me![read the rest at Bitch Magazine…]
On Facebook today, Marilyn Wann shared an article on CNN.com about the health benefits of touch. She added “If being fat makes a person ‘untouchable,’ then that’s a powerful confounding variable for claims about weight and health.” I definitely agree, and of course media don’t present fat people as worthy of physical contact particularly of a sexual nature. However, I think we do need to recognize that sometimes we shield ourselves from anticipated rejection by shunning the desire for touch, which is in and of itself unhealthy. It’s not always that no one wants to feel the tactile pleasures of your body. We have to open ourselves up to receiving the sensory experience of intimate touch, which requires us to feel safe not only with a partner but with ourselves. Unfortunately, society doesn’t make this an easy job.
Reading the article, you can see that it’s not just sexual touch that’s beneficial, which to me offers hope that you can begin to appreciate how it feels to let that touching in without having to immediately immerse yourself in a situation that you find uncomfortable. When you’ve used the defense mechanism of bottling up the desire to be touched for so long, it takes time to reintroduce yourself to it. It doesn’t matter if you’re partnered or not, things like getting a neck rub from a friend, hugging family members or petting a dog can clearly be done without the need of a romantic relationship. Since this column focuses on sex, I want to point out that in the article, the author mentions that solo sex is beneficial as well, which is my number one way of connecting with my body.
I suggest that any fat girl get down with masturbation. Not only do you connect in a tactile way with the pleasure centers of your body, but the endorphins and other chemicals released make you feel so damn good, it’s impossible not to eventually come to find pleasure in your body automatically. It teaches you what you like and what you don’t, which is enormously beneficial when you have sex with a partner. You know exactly which spots do what, what fantasies enhance the experience, and you learn how to exist as a sexual being. Honestly, I was a lights-out only girl before I started regularly masturbating, and now I’m totally comfortable with the lights on because, basically, I’ve seen that shit before. And when you find pleasure in your own body you care less about what negative things the person you’re about to have sex with is thinking about your body.
Masturbation is not a cure-all for your body image issues. It’s part of a healthy self-esteem diet that includes other more cerebral aspects of fat acceptance. It’s important to note that the defense mechanism of avoiding touch isn’t an invalid coping method, but it’s one that ultimately harms us. It’s an insidious consequence of our fat-negative society, and when we recognize that, we can work toward changing our attitudes towards touch.
Many of the ways we’ve talked about to combat dominant societal beauty standards and, in the process, boost your self-esteem/self-image, are subjective in nature. They involve presenting in a certain way to elicit the desired results: a new way of looking at fat sexuality. There’s nothing particularly wrong with subjectivity in this sense, but when you take subjectivity to the personal level, the one-on-one level, it presents a problem. One commenter pointed this out in a roundabout way by complaining about women who say things like “Well, my boyfriend finds me attractive so that’s good enough for me.” Whether or not that attitude is annoying, it is certainly dangerous. Using perceived attractiveness (to a partner or potential partner) as a means to maintain your positive self-image is cheating on doing the work necessary to promote self-love.
I’m sure we all know a fat girl who feels like crap about her size until she receives some positive sexual attention from someone. Unfortunately, healthy self-esteem is not built on the slippery slope that is random affection from potential partners. If you only feel good about yourself when you’re with a partner to validate your attractiveness, once that partner has moved on (and they most certainly will when they figure out your feelings about yourself are inextricably tied to them), you’re back in the same, leaky, no-self-esteem boat. And by making statements like “I know I’m attractive because my partner finds me attractive,” you’re basically inferring that if you’re not partnered up, you need to take a seat and think about what’s wrong with you that YOU don’t have a partner to tell you you’re attractive. That’s not going to earn you many brownie points with people, honestly.
There’s nothing wrong with reveling in the desire of your partner for you. But I hear so many fat girls lament that they’re not sure if this person finds them attractive, that they worry about getting naked because a new sex partner may or may not be disgusted by them, that they are starting to feel good about themselves because they got a boyfriend, etc. The desire of a partner for you should be the icing on your self-image cake. (Mmm, cake.) Feeling good about yourself starts with feeling good about yourself, it doesn’t start when someone else starts feeling good about you. As I’ve said, self-love is a journey–and a solitary one at that. If you haven’t done any internal work (and I’m not saying that you have to be completely free of negative thoughts about yourself), starting a relationship may only serve as a distraction if you don’t recognize that your self-image is slowly being wound up in their feelings for you. Of course, this kind of thing happens to smaller girls as well, but for fat girls who are already so marginalized sexually, it’s especially important not to fall into that trap.
So in formulating your master plan for the journey towards self-love, just as you would ignore what society thinks about your attractiveness, you also have to ignore what individuals think about your attractiveness. Let a partner be a complement to your positive self-image, and not the key.