Friday, June 15

Transformation Narratives

There have been a few fat positive books released over the last couple of years, which is awesome. I’ve read some, but not all (though I want to), so this post is not targeted specifically at any particular book, more generally at the way publishers and editors seem to appropriate the movement.

I’m interested in the ways in which body acceptance narratives are presented in a more mainstream setting. Generally speaking, fat activists are introduced into mainstream discourses through history – I experienced this myself when I was filmed to be on Cherry’s Body Dilemmas last year. It’s necessary to justify our position as fat activists through the reiteration of suffering that we’re experienced before getting to that point. I am NOT interested in denying that we all face abuse on different levels, but it’s interesting that our acceptance is always framed around it. How would I have been portrayed if I’d always been happy, and never dieted, rather than having gone through eating problems, fad diets and lots of abuse in various settings? Would my acceptance have been presented as more or less valid? Would I have had different reactions?

My interest in fat narratives has developed recently as more books have been published with a “how to love your body” slant – self help, but from a fat positive, more radical angle. I get that books need to offer something unique, powerful and individual that makes a reader pick it from a bookshelf (rather than the many alternatives), but I find these prescribed narratives frustrating for a whole bunch of reasons, which I’m going to try and explain here:

-          The process of “transforming” is often used when talking about fat people – i.e. the before/after process of dieting, the abjection of fat bodies etc. The presentation of us as inadequate subjects/humans means that we have to undergo a process to become an acceptable member of society – normally dieting, but I wonder how these narratives fit in here too? Yes, they’re subversive in some ways, but they’re also still reliant in this transformation in order to become acceptable.
-          I get frustrated with the before/after presentation (i.e. before I hated myself, dressed in just black and now I am really happy and wear bright, tight things) because it makes it impossible to complicate the process – you’re either just happy or not happy at all. The truth is that body acceptance is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight, and neither is it easy to completely shake off self hate. Everyone has ups and downs, whether you’re super body confident or negative – the levels just change. I cannot stress how hard it is to completely shut out fat negativity and hate when it’s around you constantly – however, what’s important is learning to decode these messages, how to compensate and deal with feeling upset by them, and how to support your body in spaces which don’t do the same. It’s okay to be upset and angry – but try and find ways to channel that upset and anger at the source, rather than at you or those close to you.
-          Focusing on an end point (when you completely love yourself and EVERYTHING IS HUNKY DORY) is kind of unproductive – like I’ve already said, that end point is tough, and you might not ever get there entirely. However, if you’ve made any progress at all, that’s fine, because you’re still resisting at some level.
-          Body acceptance is different for everyone!! I can tell you how I started to accept myself, and I can see commonalities between my methods of acceptance and self-care and others’, but our own methods and backgrounds are incredibly different. Fat acceptance is incredibly diverse, and to me, is built on difference – some of us got into it through academia, some clothes, some exercise, some community activism, some sex positivity, and the list goes on! Also, I find these “how to” narratives frustrating because they exclude people without certain resources, and always seem to be written from a privileged position in society, and targeted at a similar group.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the contribution to publishing that fat activists have made (I wouldn’t be here without having read some of these books!), but I’d like to see more people queering and actively questioning these transformation narratives and the structure behind them.

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