Neoliberal capitalism is obsessed with choice: the illusion of it, anyway. Same with patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, settler colonialism—they all sustain themselves in part by making our oppression our job. We internalize the rules so we can flog ourselves for breaking them, over and over again. We proclaim, loudly, that we deserve what we get, that we are oppressed because we choose it, and we must only wish away or ignore structural burdens in order to experience freedom. We fight other oppressed folks who dare to name our oppressors as entities outside ourselves. The ways our oppressions internalize themselves are often so insidious that the ideas our brains produce in their thrall can appear revolutionary, at least to us, at our current level of awareness. (See Kanye thinking a white supremacist chestnut is the key to black liberation.)

I’ve been thinking about why I’m fat, lately.

In the past, I declared that I was fat by choice. It was important to me, then, to grasp at what few shreds of individual agency I could. I needed to feel like my existence as a fat person was a rebellion in the sense that I could quit any time, and not doing so was a middle finger to society. At any point, if I just paid a little more attention to my body, if I was just a little less frivolous with my food groups, I could leave the abundance of fatness behind. I just choose not to, right?

(I see them, now. Ghostly relics of internalized fatmisia: my insistent proclamations that I had a choice in the matter of being fat. Relics adorned in the garb of an illusory agency, a complicity in my own destruction that was difficult to resist when I was deep in my feelings about having had little say over the trajectory of my life.)

For some oppressions I live with, the origin lines are relatively linear to me. Ask me why I’m Black and I will tell you a story of chattel slavery, a colonial project undertaken as the greatest wealth redistribution project in human history, and a category created to distinguish humanity from property; ask me why I’m femme and I will tell you of babies carelessly assigned a gender based on a glance at external sex organs, a patriarchal society’s desperate efforts to contain femininity, and my own journey reconciling my internal experience of womanhood with my apparent gender.

My fatness, though, reaches from all directions. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about patriarchy, his tyrant son, rape culture, and the wrath their mortal instruments inflicted on my young psyche. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about ableism and the forced drugging of psychodivergent adolescents. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you about capitalism, its capricious devastation of our food environments, and its sorting of humanity into useful and useless. Ask me why I’m fat and I will tell you, again, about the razing of a continent through enslavement and colonialism. There are so many reasons, and I realize, now, that all of them are outside my control.

###

I had a 23andMe health and ancestry test gifted to me a while back by a friend. Last week, I got the results, and part of my health analysis stated that I was likely to be average weight. After I stopped grumbling about Whose average?, I started thinking about the course of events that tipped the scales of probability in favor of fatness. Not in a wistful, if-only-this-hadn’t-happened way, honestly. Just musing on the fact that my body, as reviled as it is, is basically a monument to the success of capitalism (and white supremacy, and settler colonialism). Like, look what having food accessible abundantly (to a few) and insisting we prioritize productivity over well-being to increase wealth (for a few) can do for a body. Or, look what tormenting brown folks whose bodies crave taking up just a little more space than your narrow white selves are comfortable with into yo-yo dieting in order to fit a white supremacist ideal can do for a body.

(Basically, y’all should be worshipping fat folks as gods of the fucking free market, patron saints of capitalism. Something other than pretending we don’t exist, or actively working to ensure we can’t.)

I know that genes aren’t destiny. I also know that I am what society made me. It is vital, then, to me, to find and name origin lines, because I do not believe in a fat liberation that does not also seek the dismantling of the structures that created my fatness.

But. But.

I’m not looking for reasons why I’m fat so that I can make it so less fat people exist. Despite my belief that our current food environments are designed to maximize profit rather than human happiness, and despite my belief that our ever-diminishing access to guaranteed shelter, abundant leisure time, and safe outdoor space is making our bodies and minds sick, I also believe that humanity contains a diverse array of naturally-occurring, joyfully normal body types, sizes, and shapes. I also believe that good health looks different for everyone, and is not a moral obligation.

(Especially when we’re in no danger of extinction from any “obesity epidemic”, but we are damn sure in danger of extinction from capitalism and white supremacist imperialism.)

###

I read a HuffPost article that really resonated with this desire I’ve been cultivating, to have the origin lines of my fatness identified (“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”, September 19, 2018). In it, the author, Michael Hobbes, prints the words of actual fat people, their stories of medical discrimination, inaccessibility, and wage theft. He also touches on the impossibility of losing weight and the paradox of individual choice in a society that works against you. I felt seen, affirmed: we know it’s not your fault, in article form. And I felt angry, because in that article are so many injustices. So many of my fellow fat folk pouring out their experiences, maybe hoping for understanding from their oppressors, maybe hoping to inspire their kin.

(I channeled that anger into wearing a crop top to pick up my parking permit at school, hoping my belly fat would disgust someone so much they’d say something and I might bring the full force of my rage to bear upon them.)

Of course Hobbes is saying things that fat acceptance activists have been saying for ages; diets don’t work, fat stigma kills. He’s just acting as a thin interpreter. And as Margitte points out in her incisive rebuttal (Everything you know about ‘obesity’ is still wrong, September 24, 2018), he’s still approaching fatness as a problem that needs to be eliminated. He is still linking fatness with health. Margitte, in response, implores us to stop searching for the cause of fatness and instead work towards liberation via building a society designed for all body sizes and shapes.

But when I read her words, I felt myself chafing against the idea. Why? I had to think about it, sit with it, make sure it wasn’t another relic of internalized fatmisia. And then I discerned my problem. It wasn’t the idea of working towards liberation, but the idea that I had to stop being concerned with the cause of my fatness. Because, like I said, I can’t see a true fat liberation existing in a framework where fatness is not a choice, and as long as patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism are still standing, my fatness will never, can never, truly be my choice.

Even my current level of health is not my choice. I think one reason Hobbes’ article resonated with me is that I have a deep longing to be healthier than I am, but I’m up against structural obstacles that make obtaining the health I want difficult. It sounds like liberation to my ears for society to remodel itself so that eating foods that don’t trigger my IBS or fibromyalgia flares is easier, so that I can get the free time and access to exercise I need to soothe my crazy mind and achy body.

But Margitte is right in the sense that a society remodeled in this way would be remodeling itself in a fatmisic image. It would be remodeling itself to achieve the erasure of fatness under the guise of improving health, because we have not accounted for the root of our hatred of fatness. And when the remodeling project did not succeed, society would again turn its wrath towards us and demand we account for why we’re still fat unhealthy, because in a fatmisic society fatness can never be healthy. And our subjugation is not dictated solely by our socially constructed health status.

(Fat folks are expansive, billowing. It takes many tethers to tie us down.)

###

Is it paradoxical that I still feel some sense of choice to my fatness now, having firmly outlined my lack of such? Let’s see: I choose to love myself even when I don’t. I choose to rage against my creators. I choose to exist in this body, every day, even if that choice is only made by inertia. But no, I don’t choose to be fat any more than I choose to be Black, queer, femme, or crazy. These are all categories created to divide humanity into those who hold power and those who do not. I find joy in the family I’ve discovered through the sharing and celebration of these identities, but I can’t deny their nature, their intended, oppressive purpose. And my fatness strikes at the core of all of them, connecting them, nourishing them with its decadence. I could not exist as any one of these things without my fat.

(Like so many beautiful things in life, fatness is multifaceted.)

I want us to create a fat liberation movement that strikes at the core of our intersecting identities and nourishes other liberation movements. I want us to acknowledge and honor where we came from, acknowledge that we share the same root system with others who are oppressed by white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. We all have different origin stories for our fatness. We have all been shaped round in part by the societies we live in. Our bountiful, glorious abundance deserves an acknowledgement of receipt, a tracing of origin points. Not so we can follow them back to their heart to destroy the adipose beast that birthed our kind, but so we can dismantle the structures that prevent our fatness from truly being a choice.

[CW: suicide, r*pe, internalized fatmisia]

I come to this page with absolutely no idea how to say what I want to say. But I’m here, and I’m gonna try.

First: let me stop assuming that everyone who comes across my work is familiar with my backstory. I’ve realized of late that I write as if the reader has been on this journey with me; I make vague allusions to events but never really flesh them out except in my own head. To describe the journey I’ve been on for the past 9 years will require a lot more context than I’ve been inclined to provide in the past. This will be long, but maybe, satisfying. And aren’t those the best?

Second: let me stop being flip like I was right there. This is silt churning, catharsis. It needs a delicate hand and mind.


I’ve been “political” since I was a young femme. I first got into environmentalism when I was about six. I was heavy into whales and other sea life, and I loved plants and nature and nonhuman animals in general. (I loved human animals too, but I’m trying to highlight that humans are also just animals!) The ozone layer crisis (this was the early-to-mid 1980s) worried the hell out of me and I made my mom buy non-CFC hair spray that she hated because it took so long to wind up. I also put a brick in our toilet tank that I’m pretty sure was still there when we left that apartment.

I ended up starting an environmental club at school, and we brainstormed on what we could do to save the planet with our elementary selves. There was a bad drought here in California at the time and my mom’s bank was giving away these envelopes filled with stuff like water-storing crystals for plant soil and pink food coloring tablets to drop in your toilet so you’d know if it was running and wasting water. I took a TON of them (because no one was taking them anyway) and we handed them out on the street.

My awakening to other issues that impacted my identity took place in popcorn fashion: staggered, bursting into view. At eleven I read about riot grrrl through the Prodigy message boards, and I became a feminist. At thirteen I began learning about Black liberation struggle and our African heritage; and at fifteen I admitted to myself (and my mother) that I was queer. I had been fat, to various degrees, since I was six or so, but didn’t connect the way I was treated because of it to any larger oppression until I was around fifteen as well, because it was around this time that I circled back around to riot grrrl and feminism. Riot grrrl led me to punk, which exposed me to anticapitalist ideas (but it wasn’t until this year that I actually read Marx).

(It should be noted here, that troubling these upper layers of ideology was a dark undercurrent of “pathology”. When I was eight I was raped by an older classmate, and became a survivor. When I was fourteen I attempted suicide for the first time, and became a survivor of a different type. I found feminism for the first time because of my experience with rape, and I found it again because of my experience with craziness.)

Riot grrrl and punk were kind of tarnished for me in the late 90s and early 2000s, around the time I was awakened to trans folks’ struggles. I made a really precious friendship during that period with a white trans woman who had some questions on race and who offered to answer my questions about gender in exchange. I’m still friends with her and I am so appreciative for that experiential skill-share. She and other queer and trans friends of mine were involved in the Camp Trans protests of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival because of their “womyn-born-womyn” policy. They would go around to different artists’ shows who played MWMF and draw attention to the issue. I was still recovering from my second suicide attempt and in some intensive therapy to process a second rape that was inflicted on me in 1999, so I was never able to participate in the protests (and I still feel shitty about it). But I stopped buying the music of all the bands that supported MichFest, which included one of my favorite bands at the time: Le Tigre. Hence my disillusionment with riot grrrl; Kathleen Hanna was a real idol of mine when I was a teenager and seeing her support a space that deemed my friends unwelcome hit me hard.

By the time I was twenty-five (2005) I had finished intensive trauma processing and was looking ready to enter the workforce (again, after a brief stint from nineteen to twenty). Once I entered the workforce again, my politics started to slowly bleed out the window. The more it looked like I was going to be able to be a productive member of society, maybe be able to have a career and an investment portfolio or whatever, the less I cared about radical shit. I never became a conservative or anything, but I definitely was trying to be normative. I was trying to fit in with the folks at my office, who were all obsessed with the milestones of life, with meeting societal expectations, but they didn’t know it. And neither did I, because my political awareness never actually ran that deep. I hadn’t made all the connections. I hadn’t rooted my understanding of these systems and their impact inside myself. I still thought that if I just tried hard enough, I could overcome. Because I was exceptional. Or at least, I could be, if I got my shit together.

I lived in this way for about four years, striving, considering myself middle class, considering myself on my way to something: acceptability, or respectability, or maybe even prosperity. But my body began to protest again, straining under the pressure of normality, a reminder. In 2008 I had a reproductive health scare and a lot of associated pain; in March of 2009 a doctor’s negligence in not treating my hypothyroidism led to my gallbladder needing to be removed. To top it off, I was laid off from my job a few months later.

And then, because disruption loves to cluster, my marriage unraveled. I was left alone with myself and what I had accepted as my life. That pain catalyzed me to really begin the work of decolonizing my mind. In response to years of repression, I spent a few summers on unemployment being queer and fat and Black and loving it. I also started to reconsider a lot of things about myself, starting with the origin story of my crazy. I still wasn’t making the deep connections yet, though. I acted as if I loved myself, as if I had begun to fully embrace all of my being, but that was just the confidence of others flaking off onto me. Once I was still and alone, I didn’t really know who I was.

(A year or so after my ex left is also when I started withdrawing from all the psych meds I had been on. Having been unemployed for a couple years, and coming into a full realization of how fucked the health insurance system in the U.S. is, I was really worried about being so dependent on it. Meds aren’t cheap, and the doctor visits to refill the meds are even more expensive. Plus, I disputed that I actually needed them, to be honest. Part of my newly reborn radical consciousness thought my craziness was a product of the meds, and that I didn’t have any debilitating problems before that. That’s not the case, but I’ve already talked about that elsewhere.)

The generosity of the government started to run out, so I folded myself back into acceptability and went back to work. I was eating well because I was trying to support my body through the withdrawal, and my mom had gotten breast cancer so we both went vegan together. As a result of these changes (and my increased activity level because I took a lot of walks to quell boredom at work), I lost a bunch of weight from 2012-2013. I also met my current partner. In spring of 2014, I went back to college for computer science. Again, I was sure I was on my way to something. It wasn’t as much about respectability this time, but it was definitely about prosperity. I really thought I was going to be financially stable, wealthy even.

Nah. I just got laid off again. And I got pregnant, and got awful all-day morning sickness that made me drop another twenty pounds. By the time I got an abortion, I weighed as much as last I did when I was ten years old. So that was wild.

(I think, though, that getting laid off that time was the last boot out of respectability I’m gonna take. I’m really not trying to go back.)

I ended up going back to school full time after that and that’s where I’ve been since. I now live with my partner in an apartment, because the big house my mom and I got went into foreclosure and we had to split. Having to actually manage a two person household, make sure rent and lights are paid, etc. has definitely radicalized me. There’s so much I probably knew was bullshit, but didn’t have to navigate until the last 3 years. Going back to school also helped me make more connections and understand how oppressions are related and perpetuated in a much more native way. And, honestly, this motherfucker who is currently President of the U.S. made me realize a few things about how useless civility and conflict avoidance are, and how norms are kind of bullshit. (I wanna write about that, but later.)

What brought all this up for me was that recently I started wearing sleeveless stuff again. Before this summer, I hadn’t worn anything sleeveless since 2011 or so. Back then I was writing about fat a lot, which led to me hanging out with a lot of amazing fat femmes. I felt bolstered by their beauty, and like I said before, their confidence was contagious. If you asked me in 2011 why I was wearing sleeveless shirts I’m sure I would have answered with something that was proudly body-positive, something quotable. It was a veneer, because I didn’t really know in my soul why. I’ve worked so long and hard to subjugate this body and contort it into proportions that society deems appropriate. I’ve done it as a punishment for my perceived fault in being raped, I’ve done it as a form of self-harm in order to soothe, and I’ve done it under the guise of health. Why would I not consent to hiding the evidence of my failure?

I told myself it was because my the skin on my arms is all wrinkly and crepey and hanging now since losing and regaining so much weight. I told myself I should have learned to love myself earlier so I wouldn’t have fucked up my skin with dieting. I told myself all the things that would convince me that this was my problem, that it was my fault, and I should take the L and wrap up my arms and probably my whole body and also just drop off the face of the planet because I was never meant to survive anyway.

But this summer is so fucking hot. And THAT is not totally my fault. In fact, I have spent my whole goddamned life ringing the alarm bell about environmental shit. That’s one thing I’ve never lost sight of. And the heat finally drove me to connect the dots and uncover my body again. I realized that if these capitalist motherfuckers are going to burn down the planet in their own quest for prosperity, I’m not going to consent to covering up my fat in this blinding heat, sweating it out in penance for not meeting a standard of beauty. That realization opened the literal floodgates. I’d already been spending the last year or so thinking about all the fuckshit I do to myself that makes my life worse in exchange for upholding the status quo. But my body hate and shame is deep rooted, entwined with shame about being a survivor of multiple rapes and assaults and as a result being sexually dysfunctional for the majority of my life, placing others’ pleasure and comfort ahead of my own. It took being off the meds for an extended time, I think, to catalyze this for me. Being able to think a bit more clearly, and also the benefit of age, has seared the connections between the way I treat myself and systems of oppression/social control into my mind. I can never go back.

Y’all, can I just say that I hope the rest of the world wakes up faster than I did? How I be around this stuff, writing about this stuff, but not actually knowing this stuff in the core of my being? I still, still don’t feel like I have this wholehearted embrace of every part of my body, but I am resolute in my intention to sit with my discomfort. I have a reason, now. I know why I’m doing this. I’m a child of god and I deserve to live my life without the fetters that humanity has laid on me. I am glorious, even if I can’t see it through the blinders of socialization into white supremacist capitalist imperialist cisheteropatriarchy.


I invite you to join me as I work through this process of self-reflection & transformation. Next up: breaking down my attitudes about my disabilities & divesting from a cure/control/contain model.

Plus Size Revolution?

After a lot of soul-searching and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that being welcomed into the fashion industrial complex is not entirely the kind of progress I want to see in the fat acceptance movement.

Now, I love clothes. I mean, I LOVE clothes. But I’m also personally invested in intersectionality and the idea that all liberation movements are entwined. So when I see us desiring to buy into the mindless capitalism and consumption of clothing that’s marketed to thin folks, I get frustrated. Insisting that fat folks’ money is just as good as thin folks’ money, so therefore we should have equal access to the same sweatshop-produced clothing lines offered by multinational corporations who use their profits to subjugate marginalized folks around the world? I don’t want that kind of revolution. We’re fighting to starve the multi-billion dollar diet industry of its ill-gotten profits, but falling all over ourselves to hand cash over to these companies? Naw. I don’t feel like we’ve made any type of substantive advance in the treatment of fat folks when H&M comes out with plus-size dresses for us to conspicuously consume. I haven’t yet heard of Southwest Airlines making a fat person buy two seats but later refunding one because they found out the fat person was wearing a shirt from ASOS on the flight. And surprisingly, when a dude yelled “fatass” out his car window at me the other day, my cute Forever 21+ skirt didn’t cause him to follow that statement up with “nice skirt, though–really validates your existence!”. Or maybe I just didn’t hear that last part, what with the Doppler effect and all.

With most fashion being made by underpaid, abused workers in “developing” countries, it’s not actually that great overall when companies decide to make more of it, just in bigger sizes. Like most people, I don’t always buy sustainable, ethically-produced clothing, so I can’t get too high on my horse about it. And it’s not like I’m going to be able to only buy clothes from Etsy sellers who make custom sizes or start making my own clothes. I just feel like when you’re in a movement fighting for revolution you have to be more discriminating about what you consider progress, what you consider revolutionary. I don’t consider more of the same oppressive business practices revolutionary. I want part of this movement to be us fighting to dismantle the fashion industrial complex. I want “fatshion” to mean fashion we create as a fat community, or fashion based on inclusive, ethical business practices brought about by activists effecting change. Of course I’m excited when there are new clothing options for fat folks, and I’m not faulting anyone else who is too. Everyone likes looking “good”. But we know “good” is entirely subjective. Our society is centered on aesthetics, which is another thing we need to be working to change–because marginalization by lack of “attractiveness” or even “stylishness” is one aspect of many, many types of discrimination against underprivileged groups. If we didn’t have the cultural push to appear normative, we wouldn’t be willing to accept this kind of “progress” with a smile.

I have complained about the lack of fashionable options for plus-sized folks. But at this point, I’m done buying into corporate pacification of the fat acceptance movement via throwing us a size 20 Rachel Pally bone. And I’m not going to spend any more time and energy on “activism” to demand inclusion within an industry that continues to thrive on exclusion. Exclusion based on class, based on location, based on able-bodied-ness–and still based on size, because most “fashionable” plus size lines stop at size 24. There’s a whole lot of people above size 24. High-end designers trade on unobtainability, so I’m not really holding my breath for say, size 22 Chanel, either. It’s kind of another way to divide us, really, especially across class lines. When you can’t afford jack, it can make you feel crappy when you see your fellow activists wearing the cute new dress from ASOS that cost what your weekly food budget is. It’s hard to focus on the prize (like being treated with respect and dignity, or not being discriminated against in hiring) when you see the immediate spoils going to those with class privilege. So you take your eyes off that prize and start spending time fighting to get cheaper fashionable clothes. Meanwhile, society is fighting a war against your existence.

This is a really complicated issue; I’m not going to pretend it’s not. I’m just at a point in my activism where I have to start reconciling all the things I know to be wrong with how the world operates, all the ways I contribute to others’ oppression, and how my actions square with my internal radical politics. I want us to think about these kinds of things as a movement, just as we need to think about intersectionality, and as we need to think about rejecting the politic of desirability. When it comes to consumption, we may not need to eat less, but we definitely need to focus on buying less. At the least, we need to think about why we feel assimilation into the fashion industrial complex is a goal we’re fighting to achieve, and how that goal can end up hurting us in the long run–because by making assimilation our goal, we are implicitly accepting society’s power to enforce normative beauty standards, which is one of the main things we’ve been attempting to subvert.

[This was written in 2012 for my blog Sex and the Fat Girl, but never published for reasons.]