Another year is ending; another holiday season is upon us! Every year, I try and keep track of all the cool fatlicious things that I see online so I can share and promote them with you at the end of the year. I enjoy supporting the work of fat creators especially.
This list doesn’t have any affiliate links; I do not get any kind of money or compensation from the items or companies on the list – it’s just fatlicious stuff you may want for yourself or someone you love. I also don’t promote stuff I cannot wear/use/etc for myself, so all of the clothes options will go up to at least 5x.
The second season of Insatiable is now available on Netflix, and I, for one, will not be watching. I have better things to do than watch a show that promotes fat shaming, crash dieting, and revenge fantasies. I could encourage a goose to cause mischief. Teach my dog a new trick. Listen to yet another white man explain why free speech is a more important value than the heath and safety of vulnerable people.
As a super fat person, I avoid media that subscribes to one dimensional fat characters that belly into fat stereotypes and tropes. I skip stuff with fatsuits. I avoid media that reinforces fat stigma and oppression; as you can imagine, my options are limited. Sometimes it cannot be helped, and I love something that is incredibly problematic (looking at my 20yr old self who LOVED and could not get enough of Friends). Other times, I have no idea the fat hating material is coming my way (see my piece on fat hate in the Avengers from earlier this year). So the second season of Insatiable, like the first season, gets a “NO” from me.
One reason I can easily look away is because I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to say no to media that will be hurtful for me. I can look away from The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, New Girl and whatever Tyler Perry’s Madea is doing next; I can take a pass on This Is Us, whose fat actor was required to include a weight loss clause in her employment contract. This took a lot of work, and there are still slips. But another reason it has become easier is because the choices of seeing fat people on screen have expanded beyond sad fatty stereotypes. We’ve always had singular fat performers who have often been in roles that allowed them to be more than one dimensional (think Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls or Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Orange is the New Black). But for everyone one of those, there were a dozen Dudley’s from Harry Potter and Eddie Murphy-wears-a-fat-suit again. With more providers of content, we are starting to see even more fat positive media representations.
If you are looking for a teenage story for this weekend, why not try Dumplin from Netflix instead? Dumplin’ a delightful film based on the YA story of the same name from Julie Murphy. Spend two hours with Willowdean “Will” Dickson, her mother, her BFF, their friends, a cast of drag queens, and a bunch of girls vying for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet crown. Will’s Mom, a former Miss Teen Bluebonnet herself, now runs the pageant and the only thing she’d rather have than that crown for forever would be a daughter who is not fat. It’s a familiar coming of age story, but with a fat protagonist at the heart. One who is not miserable about her size; who is not desperate to lose weight and be someone else. The film avoids many of the overplayed tropes of teen stories (she doesn’t take off her glasses and becomes hot; there is not a makeover in the film, nor is it all about catty female friendships or pining over boys). The story of Will and her misfit friends is full of heart, and relatable to people who felt they were often on the outside looking in during their adolescent years. In addition, all of the fat characters are played by fat actors (HELLO Kathy Najimy!), and have more than one dimension. Did I mention that Dolly Parton is the soundtrack? It’s not to be missed.
If YA isn’t quite your bag, why not try Shrill on Hulu? Shrill is a six episode series on Hulu, staring Aidy Bryant as Annie, the protagonist of the story. We meet Annie as a young adult, and see all the ways that her life is shaped and molded by fat shaming and oppression. We are along for the ride as emerging writer Annie begins to shrug off the self-doubt and internalized fatphobia. Like Dumplin’, Shrill is based on a book (this time by author Lindy West) by a fat woman; the book was West’s memoir. West is a young American writer whose sharp observations of sexism, misogyny being a woman writing online, earned her bylines on the weekly The Stranger (Seattle) and magazines such as Jezebel and GQ. In 2011, she published a piece titled, “Hello, I am Fat” in which she came out as fat. And the rest, as they say, is herstory (and can be found in her memoir and the show, Shrill). The show captures some of the book’s best moments, including West’s first experience with a fat positive pool party.
These two stories of fat women living their life with minimal shame are groundbreaking. Fat people rarely get to be included in the story, much less as the center of the story. And even fewer fat people (no matter their positon) get to escape the sad fatty trope. Fat characters are usually presented as cautionary tales; if we’re lucky, we are spunky and hypersexual best friend. It’s important to note that usually the stories of fat people onscreen have been written by non-fat people and often played by non-fat people as well (see the aforementioned fat suits). These stories are different. They are stories about fat people written and performed by fat people. When all you see is the same tropes in the media about fat people, it’s easy to remember that fat people are much more than those representations. And that fat people are a monolith; we may share similar experiences related to stigma, discrimination, and oppression, but we are all individuals living our lives.
Will and Annie are both white fat women, which means they experience their fatness with white privilege. They are also abled bodied, cis, straight; they have a lot of privilege impacting how they experience their fatness and the world. They are also two of the few size affirming fat lead characters; see if you can count the number of size affirming fat people you’ve seen in television and film. I doubt you can get past a single hand. I want more size affirming stories in our media. I want stories of fat people of colour. Fat people with disabilities. Fat people who are neuro-divergent. I want us to get to place where size affirming fat people on screen are completely ordinary; where our stories can be told in mediocre ways and it not be seen as a blow to the fat liberation movement.
Positive stories of fat people are only a drop in the bucket of the fatpocalypse media we are drenched in, but I am glad to see more fat positive stories being a chance to be told. Especially by fat storytellers. Especially to more mainstream audiences. Fat positive stories are revolutionary; watching and enjoying them is an act of rebellion and an act of alliance. And fat people need that alliance; we are too often left on the sidelines in social justice. Individuals who are committed to liberation and justice for people based on gender, sexuality, ability, race, class, and more, are often ignorant or purposively evasive on the fight for fat liberation and justice (see this great piece by Ijeoma Oluo, and this one by D’Shaun Harrison, for more on this). If you believe that none of us are free until we ALL are free, that includes the fat community. Yes, even the fattest of the fat community.
The British Psychological Society is calling for changes for how we talk about fatness, suggesting we should no longer use the phrase “obese people”, but instead, “people with obesity” or “people living with obesity”.
These changes are being proposed to recognise that fatness is not about personal choice and that fat shaming and fat stigma are harmful.
But this suggested language change is based on the idea obesity is a disease to be cured and fat people are not a natural part of the world. This serves to reinforce stigma, rather than prevent it.
How does stigma and shame affect fat people?
Fat stigma can harm people’s physical health, mental health, and relationships.
Fat stigma erodes self-esteem and isolates people.
People around the world, and of allages, hold negative attitudes about fatness and fat people. In a study in the United States, for example, more than one-third of the participants reported, “one of the worst things that could happen to a person would be for [them] to become obese”.
How terminology reinforces stigma
While many people are uncomfortable with the term fat, fat activists prefer the term. They see it as both as an act of rebellion – to adopt a word that has been wielded against them – but also because they argue it’s the most appropriate word to describe their bodies.
To be overweight implies there is a natural weight to be; that within human diversity, we should all be the same proportion of height and weight.
Obesity is a medical term that has pathologised the fat body. The British Psychological Society’s acknowledgement that rather than saying “obese people”, we should call them “people with obesity” reinforces that obesity is a disease; a chronic illness people suffer from.
The British Psychological Society’s desire to shift to person-first language is understandable. Person-first, or people-first, language is an attempt to not define people primarily by their disease, or disability, or other deviating factor.
Person-first language recognises people as individuals with rights to dignity and care, and puts the person, rather than their “condition”, first.
But others have argued person-first language attempts to erase, deny, or ignore the aspect of the person that isn’t “normal”, and reinforces that there is something shameful or dehumanising about their disability or disease.
They promote identity-first language, which allows people to take pride in who they are, rather than separating a person from that aspect of themself.
The problem with person-first language, they argue, is that those identities are stigmatised. But without the stigma, there would be no concern with calling someone a disabled person, for instance, rather than a person with disabilities.
So what should we do?
Ask people what they want to be called.
The best approach, especially for health-care professionals, is to ask people what they prefer their designation to be.
And for the rest of us, to acknowledge that what an individual wants to be called or how they want to talk about their experiences is up to them, not us. If a fat person wants to call themselves fat, it is not up to non-fat people to correct them.
Shifting the language we use to talk about fatness and fat people can reduce fat stigma. But continuing to frame fatness as a disease is not a helpful contribution.
I love movies. I enjoy going to the cinema; the entire production. The frozen coke and popcorn and fabric seats and big screen and surround sound. I love movies. Recently, I went to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Putting aside how problematic he is, and the problematic things with the film not related to the topic of this blog, what struck me while I was watching was how Cass Elliot was represented. I had heard she was depicted in the film, and I was nervous. Film is rarely kind to fat people, and I felt protective of the woman who played an important role in my childhood and adolescence.
As a fat child who wanted nothing more than to sing on Broadway, I had very few role models. One I discovered in my late childhood, and came to embrace as a teenager, was Cass Elliot (also known as Mama Cass, but we will get to that fatphobic nonsense in a bit) of The Mamas and the Papas. Cass Elliot was fat, fabulous, and had a voice that could make you cry.
Cass was initially kept out of the band she would make famous, The Mamas and the Papas (then the New Journeymen), because of the antifat attitudes of John Phillips. She brought about the band’s name change and her vocals helped the group rise to fame during the time of Haight Ashbury; the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
After leaving the group, Cass had a successful solo career that included two TV specials and international touring. She guest hosted on The Tonight Show and was a regular on talk and variety shows.
Unfortunately, she was unable to shake the moniker of Mama Cass. Unlike other members of the group, her designation as “Mama” followed her, even after death. Why don’t we call Michelle Phillips, Mama Phillips or John Phillips, Papa Phillips? Why were they able to leave that behind once they moved on to other projects? One reason is fatphobia. Positioning fat women as mothers – maternal – caretakers – is one of the few ways that society can palate fatness. It’s almost laughable to think of “sexy” Michelle or John Phillips as Mama or Papa. But for Cass Elliot, it was unescapable. Even after a TV special named, “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore”.
“I never created the Big Mama image,” she said. ”The public does it for you. But I’ve always been different. I’ve been fat since I was seven. Being fat sets you apart, but luckily I was bright with it”.
The fatphobic urban legend that follows the memory of Cass’s death to this day is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Cass died of a heart attack, most likely caused by crash dieting and substance abuse. However, many people still believe that she choked on a sandwich. Unfortunately, Cass is not the only fat celebrity to deal with such an indignity after death (see, for example, Elvis).
Only recently I learned that a group from the Fat Underground (a fat activist group in LA in the 70s) stormed the stage at a local festival and accused the medical community of killing Cass; they cried out against the genocide masquerading as the promotion of weight loss. I can imagine how powerful it would have been to be on that stage, or even in the audience, as a fat woman. Sharing their grief, sharing their anger (If you’d like to learn more about this, pls see the great excerpt on Charlotte Cooper’s Obesity Timebob).
Even after her death, Cass continues to influence. In the opening of S2 of ABC’s TV show Lost, viewers found themselves with a new character and the soundtrack of one of Cass Elliot’s greatest solo hits. The same song has been used in Showtime’s TV show, Dexter, among others.
And among other representations in TV and film, she is portrayed by Rachel Redleaf in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. I LOVED how she represented by Tarantino. She is fashionable, she is having fun, she is definitely the largest body at the party.
We don’t get much of her; seconds of her walking into the party, a few seconds later as she dances with friends – but those seconds are joyful. And playful. And devoid of any fatphobic nonsense. And for that, I’m grateful. For Cass’s memory, and those who knew and loved her; but also for me and the many fat people around the world who hold her to their hearts.
I was excited to receive an invitation to speak at the Renal Society of Australasia conference this year. A member of the organizing committee was familiar with my work, and convinced the cmte that I should be an invited plenary speaker (meaning I spoke to the entire conference). I was given a thirty minute slot to speak about fat stigma and its role in healthcare settings.
This is a topic I know a great deal about, as a super fat woman, a fat activist, and a Fat Studies scholar. I have published scholarly pieces on the topic, written about it before on my blog, talked about it on my fat positive radio show, Friend of Marilyn. The challenge, then, was how to deliver a short talk on the topic that would be meaningful for those in the audience. I wanted it to be informative, persuasive; I wanted them to walk out with frameworks for thinking about fatness differently and with tools for bringing a fat ethic into their own practice.
I opened my session with the story of Ellen Maud Bennett, a Canadian woman who recently died. In her obituary, Ellen shared that her dying wish was for fat women to advocate for their own health, especially in healthcare settings.
I continued with a story from the The Evening Standard in the UK about a fat man whose tumor went undiagnosed for a decade because of antifat attitudes. When it was finally removed, it weighed 55lbs. And I shared that these are only two stories of thousands – that fat people around the world received poorer care than non-fat people because of fat stigma, discrimination, and bias. These stories, which once we only shared in whispers among fat people, or loudly by the rare activist, are now shared en masse in online spaces; Web 2.0 tools have provided a medium for fat people to share their individual stories with the larger collective. To see they are not alone; to support one another; to share strategies for next time.
It is the antifat attitudes and beliefs of doctors that are responsible for fat people receiving unethical care. Numerousstudies find that doctors believe their fat patients to be gross, undisciplined, non-compliant. Doctors do not want to palpate a fat abdomen (if they even know how); they spend less time with their fat patients. Part of the responsibility falls to their lack of education in providing care for fat people. A growing literature is dedicated to documenting that healthcare providers do not know how to appropriately administer anesthesia to fat patients; how to locate veins and administer appropriate levels of drugs to fat patients; how to appropriately perform CPR on fat patients.
All of it creates a hostile environment for fat people. And so many fat people avoid it.
Jan Fraser died of cancer after her symptoms were ignored by doctors and her weight loss was celebrated by all, even her family. As shared by her sister, Lara, “the hospital’s gynecologic oncologist removed the largest endometrial tumor he said he’d ever seen, the size of a volleyball. It had peppered her pelvis with cancer, infiltrating her bladder and other organs.”
In the final part of my talk, I suggested there were three things that those in the audience could do to improve the care they provided to their fat patients. First, make sure your physical spaces are fat friendly. Are there chairs without arms? If gowns or BP cuffs or other materials are needed, do you have ones large enough for fat bodies? Second, recognise your own bias. I pointed them to the Harvard Implicit Attitudes Test, which is free online and has a range of bias tests, including for weight. Lastly, I urged them to treat people’s symptoms, not their body size. And I recommended that they check out NAAFA’s Guidelines for healthcare providers for more information; I also invited them to check out the writings of fat people online about their healthcare experiences.
I ended up speaking for half my time, and then it was opened to questions. There were a lot of them – people were willing to stand up and approach the mic and ask what was on their mind. Some were predictable, “But what about their health?” – yeah, what about it? How can promote the health and well-being of fat people if they receive shitty care and shitty attitudes? Others were insightful, asking questions about intersectional experiences of fat people. It was a nice reminder that fat people are not a monolith (and a point for me to acknowledge that the three examples I used were all of white fat people). Overall, the response from the audience was positive and I left the podium feeling that I made a real difference in this space.
When similar opportunities arise for me, I’ll take them. Because speaking in their spaces is important, and one of the ways we can enact change for the fat community. If only a handful of people in that room have changed the way they treat fat people, that’s a win. If only a handful more left thinking about fat people differently, and sharing that new perspective with others, that’s a win. If the ones who left pissed at me went and shared their anger and frustrations with others, who may then hear some of my main points during their rant, that’s a win.
I will keep speaking about fat people – for fat people – in the spaces I have access to. And whenever possible, I’ll pass that mic along to other fat people who do not have accessibility to those same spaces. We need more fat voices in the fray, not fewer.
In October of 2017, I travelled to Iceland. Iceland is a Nordic island nation that feels like it is the top of the world. It has a population around 350k, and most of the people live in the capital city of Reykjavik. Seeing Iceland was one of the goals I had when I planned my European Sabbatical. I travelled to Iceland at the invitation of the Icelandic Association for Body Respect and Gyða Pétursdóttir at the University of Iceland.
At the University of Iceland, I gave a session during their “Equality Days”. My session, called What’s size got to do with it? Bodies, Fatness, and Fairness, explored fat politics and the oppression experienced by fat people. It followed a session by a member of the Association for Body Respect, Sólrún Larusdóttir; she spoke about the association and work they were doing in Iceland. Both sessions were great, and the audience was very enthusiastic. Afterwards, we met up with many of them (including some other Americans!) and decided to grab drinks.
I was honoured to join the Icelandic Association for Body Respect for a dinner while I was in Iceland. It was a lovely meal, and we discussed common issues in the fight for fat rights, including the tensions between the body positive movement and fat liberation. A few nights later, the Association held a cocktail party for me, where I experienced other Icelandic treats like eðlan/lizzard (cream cheese, salsa, and melted shredded cheese) and ALL of the liquorice. They are serious about their liquorice here!
One member, Tara, spent a great deal of time with me while I was in country.
She was an excellent tour guide, driving me around the Golden Circle, and making sure I experienced proper Icelandic things like ice cream at Ísbuð Huppu (kinda like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen).
She even took me to the hot pools near her family’s home; it was a smaller (and less touristy!) place than the Blue Lagoon. One thing that I knew to expect (thanks to Google!) was that you had to shower naked in a communal shower area before putting on your suit and going out to the pool. I was a bit nervous about that part; I had never showered naked in public beforehand. I found, though, that the casualness of the rest of the Icelanders, helped me relax quite quickly. By the time we exited the pool and had to do it again, I had no anxiety about my super fat body being nude and on display.
On my free days, I wandered around the town, exploring the sites. I enjoyed the large flea market, Kolaportið and had a hot dog at the famous Bæjarins Beztu. I found a lovely Icelandic nutcracker to add to my collection. One surprise for me was all the American things to be found in Iceland (including brands, stores – even a Taco Bell!), but I learned while I was there that the US had a base in Iceland during the Cold War. I also spent a day on the Hop On/Hop Off bus (I LOVE those).
My final night, I did a Northern Lights tour. I had been lucky to see them my very first night; about two hours after I checked into my AirBnB, my host Arthur sent me a text to let me know they were out. I peeked from the window, and they were fantastic. Having already been in bed, and just exhausted from the day of travel, I went back to bed and promised myself I’d look more closely (and try to get pictures) on another night. Of course, they did not come out again before I left!
The Northern Lights tour was okay; it was useful to have something to keep me up until my 4am bus ride back to the airport (the airport is about an hour away from the city). The bus made many stops to look for the lights, including a stop with a café for refreshments and restrooms. If you wanted, though, you could stay on the bus the entire time. Since it was pitch black, I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and playing on my phone during the tour.
Getting there and getting around
I flew Icelandair and found the seat was an okay fit; I had no issues with getting checked in or during the boarding or flight. I did not use public transport while I was there, but I did find that most places were accessible (much more than Europe, to be sure). Most of the eateries I visited had appropriate seating, and room to move around the space. I did not feel that I was under a great deal of scrutiny while I was in Iceland, and the Association were very welcoming.
I stayed in an AirBnB run by Arthur and his wife. Arthur was a gem, picking me up from the bus station the night I arrived and offering to drop me in town on any day I’d like. The AirBnB itself is a nice studio apartment above the garage (so there were a few stairs to climb, but they were gentle stairs and I did okay, even with my luggage). It had a comfy bed, a sitting area, dining table, kitchenette, wardrobe, and bathroom. Very fat friendly on all counts. It was right down the road from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral of Iceland, and Stop #4 on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus, so I was able to hop right on the bus. It was not too much further to walk into town, but I hopped the city bus instead.
The things to see and do
I found most of the main attractions, such as Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area, Gullfoss waterfall, the Perlan museum, Hallgrímskirkja, etc, to be accessible for super fat people. Many of them require walking, if you want to see most of the attraction, but the walkways/ground are relatively even and would probably not cause any issues for mobility aids. Much of them, especially the National Park, can be enjoyed from within the car while driving. The Perlan Museum has a “walk through a glacier” exhibit, for which they provide large parkas to keep you warm while you walk through the ice. I was delighted to find that the largest parka they had did fit my super fat body.
Overall, I would say that Iceland is a good place for fat people to visit, and if you do go, make sure to share your own experiences with the rest of the fat community!
Like many, I was excited to see Avengers: Endgame.I bought my tickets months ago and took satisfaction knowing I’d get to see it before most people as it opened here in NZ a day before the States (yay International Date Line!). I was thrilled that my local cinema put on a late night showing of Infinity War the night before, which I attended.
While far from perfect, I liked Infinity War and this was the fourth or fifth time I’d seen it. And because I’d seen it before, I knew when to zone out to avoid the fat jokes about Pratt’s character, Quill. I remember, though, having the wind knocked out of me when I watched it the first time. It was completely unexpected, and it took me quite awhile to shake it off the first time I saw the film.
*spoiler alert for Endgame*
In Endgame, the fat jokes aren’t for Quill, but Thor. When they go looking for Thor to bring him back into the fold (post finger snap), they find him drinking himself into a stupor, with lots of messy hair and a substantial beer gut. The intention is clear: Thor has “let himself go”. The obvious fat jokes (both non-verbal and not) are made, including a reference to The Dude (who Thor now closely resembles).
The idea that fat people are fat because they “let themselves go” is canon. We believe that fat people are fat because they made bad decisions, failed to exercise appropriate self-control, and were undisciplined with their bodies. Fat people are cautionary tales. We look at them and think, “I never want that to be me”; “I never want to look like that”.We lament when someone previously non-fat becomes fat; we see it as a waste, a shame, a reason for sorrow and grieving.
The fat jokes about Quill in Infinity War didn’t stay with me the entire film. I’m not particularly fond of the character, or of the actor who plays him. And I (rightly) assumed that the jokes about his size (oh no! He’s one cheeseburger away from being a fatty!), while hurtful & gross in the moment, wouldn’t continue past the scene.
But with Thor, one of the original six, I knew – just KNEW – that his size would continue to draw feedback through the film, especially as others see him and his new body for the first time. So from that first moment (which was met with hearty laughs in my screening; Thor! The Thunder God! Fat! HAHAHA), I was holding my breath waiting for the rest of the hits. And sure enough, they kept coming through much of the film. It was an unnecessary distraction, and a hurtful one as well.
Did the writers fall into the lazy narrative of fatness as shorthand for depression or unhappiness? Did they assume that they key market for the film would enjoy laughing at Chris Helmsworth in a fatsuit? Will Thor 4 explore this further; maybe Thor goes to fat camp on a planet adjacent to Ragnarok?
(I will say that Thor’s new size didn’t impact on his ability to be a badass Thunder God at all in the battles, which I appreciated)
I get that most people don’t care about this. They don’t care about fat people at all, and couldn’t care less about whether we are harmed by fat hate in our TV and movies. They definitely don’t care if fat hating material makes these spaces unsafe for us, and they won’t apologize for laughing at the jokes as the filmmakers intended. But they will be mad with me for calling it out as not okay. I’ve already seen them on Twitter, imploring me to get the fuck over it and just enjoy the movie.
But I care about this. I care that an actor I admired agreed to wear a fatsuit and make fun of a vulnerable population for laughs. I care that this bit will make the Tentpole movie of 2019 (the culmination of 22 movies across 11 years!!!) difficult to watch and enjoy for a lot of fat people. I care that the fat hate in the film will reinforce the fears that oppress a lot of people everyday.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t see the movie. Or that you aren’t allowed to enjoy it. I am asking that you be aware of the fat hate that exists in the film; and encouraging you to reflect on whether you feel it was needed. I am asking that you consider what it means when the biggest movie of the year (of forever?), weaponsises fat hate for laughs.
And if you imagine yourself a fat ally – or interested in social justice – you’ll speak up about it when you have opportunities to talk about what you liked and didn’t like about the film. I hope you include the fatsuit & fat jokes in the latter.
I also hope that you’ll support size affirming, and especially fat positive, media. New shows like Shrill on Hulu and Dumplin’ on Netflix are refreshing alternatives to the usual anti-fat bullshit we consume.
Support the creators making positive stories about fat characters. Support the creators allowing far characters to be more than just cautionary tales. Support the fat people in your life by making sure you’re seeing more than just fatsuits.
I was lucky to treat myself and a friend to see a travelling performance of the Broadway musical, “Aladdin”, in Auckland earlier this year. I was super excited to attend; while I recognise how problematic Disney films are, I love them all the same and Aladdin was my favourite movie as a teenager.
I loved the sets and costumes (never have I see so much bling on stage! One review claimed the show had 337 glittering costumes including over 500,000 Swarovski crystals); the “Friend Like Me” number was the most outlandish and fantastical thing I have ever seen. Ever. The old songs were great, the new songs okay, and the call-backs to other classic Disney films of that era were fantastic (including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan).
I expected to be awed, and I was – especially during the flying carpet scene of “Whole New World”. It is truly magical. And as expected, I had to remind myself to keep my mouth shut during the show; the desire to sing along with the songs was strong.
What I did not expect, though, was the amount of fat shaming material in the show. Now, as a super fat woman who studies fat stigma, I’m aware that fat hate is all around me. In every movie I watch, television programme I view, and magazine I flip through, I’m prepared to be confronted by fat hatred. I even have a sense for it; I can almost feel it coming, like a Spidey-sense. I often hold my breath to see how bad it’s going to be. But I was not expecting as much as there was in Aladdin, and the first bit came in the opening number (“Arabian Nights”). During the opening, as the Genie extolls all the wonders about the land, he includes, “’Welcome to Agrabah – land of one percent body fat!’”
As the show moves forward, the fat shaming continues, both from the beloved Genie and all his many issues and shame around food, and from others about one of Aladdin’s friends, Babkak. Babkak is fat and food obsessed; his fatness and food obsession is frequent fodder for laughs from the audience. Aladdin is not the first musical theatre foray into fat shaming and fat jokes. And I’m not the first to lament the presence of fat hating material in any otherwise delightful trip to the theatre. Others have written about this, including a harrowing story from CeCe Olisa on her blog, and a reflective piece by Maggie Rogers in American Theatre. Maggie asks,
Fatness crosses every race, creed, and culture, and you want to tell me the only people that are worth seeing onstage are thin? Please. You can get on board with helicopters landing onstage, witches flying through the air, and puppets,but not a size 22 playing a lead?
I remember speaking with my friend Sofie Hagan (of Made of Human and Secret Dino Cult fame) about our mutual love of Hamilton. She shared that when she first heard the soundtrack, she assumed that the youngest Skylar sister, Peggy, was fat. As soon as she said it, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the same connection. Peggy, with her largely muted role and introduction of a single heavily delivered line, “And Peggy”.
Like an afterthought. Which is the common place for fat people. Both Sofie and I were relieved, in a strange way, to find the suspicion wrong. Peggy isn’t fat (of course she isn’t; she plays the love interest in the second half!), and we were glad for that. But also, a bit bummed, because how great would be to have a fat character in the new hot musical.
Because if fat performers are not allowed to play the straight sized roles (which are ALL roles unless otherwise specified, of course), then how many fat character roles are available in their fat glory in musical canon. Mama Morton in Chicago, Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, um. I’m sure there are more. Right?
Many academics write end of year reviews. It is a chance to reflect on goals met, accomplishments, surprises, and failures. I’ve never written one before, but felt that I should start as I enter the middle phase of my academic career. I am no longer an early career academic, but I am nowhere near retirement, either. I have big plans for myself and the scholarship I intend to complete. I have big plans for my activism and the country I now call home.
Reflecting on where I have been in the past year can only help me on my journey. Plus, it has the added benefit of letting others peak into the basic stats of my life as well. It isn’t meant to be a humblebrag, but I am very proud of the work I accomplished last year.
When I completed my sabbatical in Europe, one of the loudest questions I heard from graduate students and early career academics was, “I can make an academic career out of Fat Studies?” “Yeah”, I told them, “you can. And I am.” I understand where the confusion comes from. You cannot get a qualification in Fat Studies. There aren’t many Fat Studies conferences, and a single Fat Studies journal (it’s Q1, ya know!). Fat Studies scholars are spread across the world with little more than the Internet to hold us together. In addition to being a reflective exercise for me, I hope my review may show others that Fat Studies scholarship is thriving (I’ve stuck to scholarship in this review for that purpose).
Parker, G. & Pausé, C. J. (2018). “The elephant in the room”: Naming fatphobia in maternity care. In J. Verseghy & S. Abel (Eds.), Heavy burdens: Stories of motherhood and fatness (pp. 19-32). Bradford, ON: Demeter Press.
Pausé, C. J. (2018). New Zealand. In S. M. Shaw, N. S. Barbour, P. D. Duncan, K. Freehling-Burton, & J. Nichols (Eds). Women’s lives around the world: A global encyclopaedia (Vol 3, pp. 214-226). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO
Pausé, C. J. (2018). Review of Fat talk nation: The human costs of America’s war on fat, Susan Greenhalgh. Sociology of Health and Illness, 40(1), 234-235.
Journal of Social and Political Psychology
Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight & Society
Women & Therapy
The Project. (2018, 11 October). Fat shaming. TV3.
Pausé, C. J. (2011-). Friend of Marilyn. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from iTunes. Produced weekly as a radio show on Manawatu People’s Radio 999AM, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2018, 5 January). Does my fat ass make my Instagram look fat? Bad fatties in (cyber)spaaaaaaaace. Invited keynote at Politics of Volume, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Pausé, C. J. & Grey, S. (2018, 6 December). Throwing our weight around: Fat girls, protest, and civil unrest. Paper presented at Sociological Association of Aotearoa, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
Me drinking from a mug that says, “Without fat girls, there would be no protests”
Proctor-Thompson, S., Pausé, C. J., & Grey, S. (2018, 23 September). The gendered impact of the neoliberal project in tertiary education. Workshop presented at Women’s Studies Association New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.
Parker, G., Pausé, C. J., & LeGrice, J. (2018, 22 February). Fatness, Race & Reproduction in the 21st Century. Paper presented at Thickening Fat, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
Pausé, C. J. (2018, May 30). Losing the love of movement: Fat kids and physical education. In R. Tinning (Chair), Critical health education and the affect of physical education. Symposium conducted at the Critical Health Education Studies Conference, Queenstown, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J (2018, 12 April). Fat stigma, discrimination, and bias in health. 2018 BMI Seminar Series, Transforming Research into Practice and Innovation, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand.
Invited Lectures (Fat Studies)
Pausé, C. J. (2018, 11 May). Fat politics, nutrition, and you. 214.131 Introduction to Food and Nutrition . Massey University, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2018, 21 March). Fattening up your feminism. 175.720 Advanced Psychology of Women . Massey University, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2018, 22 June). Fat like me. Hosted by the Women of the Manawatu Country Club, Clubroom, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Earlier this year, I did some reflecting on the year that was 2018 and what it meant for the fat community. 2018 had a lot of great fat contributions, and a fat soundtrack to boost (HELLO LIZZO!) We had the usual setbacks (*cough* looking at you Insatiable *cough*), and a viral piece that both gave and took away (“Everything you know about obesity is wrong”). There were lots of cool things that happened (on top of all the regular non cool shit we have to put up with), and I wanted to reflect on those and invite my readers to share with me what their favourite fat things of 2018 would have been!
#FatStudyGroup was started by Kivan Bay (@KivaBay) as a resource for individuals interested in building a Fat Studies community on Twitter. Regular contributors include @KivaBay, @_iAmRoyal, myself (you can find all my threads from here). I think this technically started in 2017, but it gained a lot of traction in 2018 and others started participating and contributing more to the hashtag. It’s been a great way for me, for example, to share what I’m reading in the Fat Studies literature. Plus, it’s an easy way for us to continue building our shared understanding of the discipline and the experiences of being fat.
Fat Studies MOOO
The Fat Studies MOOO is a newly launched massive online open offering hosted by me. The intention is to provide an accessible space for those interested to come together and learn and engage around a Fat Studies topic. The MOOO allows for global advancement of the Fat Studies discipline through an innovative methodology/technology to enhance scholars, researchers, and activists, working in this space. It also allows for increased public engagement with Fat Studies research and related societal issues for fat people. This will improve social welfare, and enhance the quality of life for fat people across the world. Each MOOO has a different guest scholar and topic, and up to ten people can participate in each event. In 2018, the MOOOs explored topics included weight and the law, fatness – race – and reproductive justice, and anti-racist fat politics. The 2019 MOOOs have explored disability, public health, and more – follow me (@FOMNZ, Friend of Marilyn on FB) to find out more.
Fat Positive Television
I’m almost 40, and I can count on one hand how many fat positive television movies/shows (or even fat positive episodes of other shows) I have ever seen on a single hand. I’m thrilled to say that number just about doubled in size like an excellent second stomach in 2018 with the introduction of Dietland and Dumplin. Both based on popular fat positive books, Dietland (on AMC) and Dumplin’ (on Netflix), give us unapologetic positive fat representation. Both have great stories – strong acting – and delightful soundtracks. If you haven’t watched them yet, treat yourself this weekend!
As a super fat person, t-shirts have long been a unicorn for me. While I would love to wear t-shirts that promote my favourite bands or show off my school spirit, they rarely (read: never) come in my size. But in 2018 that all started to change as Corissa (of Fat Girl Flow) introduced her Fat Girl Basics collection. The collection has your basic white and black t-shirts in a few styles. Plus, a few other cute fat positive shirts. I’ve gotten them in 6x and am optimistic that my t-shirt drought may be over!
The number of fat positive podcasts continues to grow, which is so amazing! I’m afraid I cannot comment on the quality of all of the ones listed below; I immediately subscribe to any new fat podcast I discover, but I haven’t yet figured out how to make time to listen to everything!
Fatty Boom Boom is a podcast about all things fat in Africa and the diaspora. A favourite of FOM, this show is produced and hosted by FOM friend of the pod Whitney from South Africa, with frequent guest (and also FOM friend of the pod) Cynthia from Namibia.
Heavy Conversations is a podcast that covers many issues related to everyday living as a fat person.
Matter of Fat is a podcast about fatness with Midwest sensibilities.
Many other long running fat podcasts are still going strong, including my own, Friend of Marilyn. In fact, in 2018 FOM celebrated its 250th episode! The world tour (that started in 2016) is still going strong, with shows continuing their way across Europe in 2019.
SO – those of are some of my favourite fat moments of 2018 – what about you? And what are you hoping for fatness in 2019?