My experience of Fat Activism. By an ex-Fat Activist.

I went to a talk last night about ‘Fat Performance’. As a Fat Performer myself I was hoping to come away inspired, motivated, and with new friends having networked my arse off. I packed everything I needed – a book and pen for notes, a wallet-popping amount of business cards, and exclaimed my excitement for it on all my social networking platforms. As a founder of a Size Acceptance club night and performer of a 5 star show, those are not insubstantial plugging platforms.

However, as I walked out at the end, I felt more alone, depressed and utterly despondent about the Size Acceptance movement – and what it was to be a part of it – than I had felt about anything I had achieved over the past few years. I went so far as to send a text to a friend saying it felt exactly like school – all the cool kids not wanting to let anyone in. How was it I was made to feel like this by the very people who were supposed to be on my side? With a subject that should have left me feeling breathless with hope for the future, rather than drowning in sorrow that I ever thought I could – or should – be part of this movement?

At the bottom of their press release was the tag line ‘What Weight Watchers and Slimming World don’t want you to hear!’ and the promise they would be flyering outside local groups. The ironic thing is that I’ve been made to feel much more welcome at slimming groups, and have left feeling more motivated by them than I ever have at any Fat Activist meet that I’ve gone to. And as for flyering outside groups? ‘Christ,’ I thought. ‘They just don’t get it.’

In order to promote Fat Activism and the Body Positivity movement, we cannot keep belittling and berating diet groups and those who go to them. The movement should be about loving our bodies, and accepting what a person chooses to do, or not do, to the skin they’re in. Fat Activism has to keep up with the changing attitudes of groups like these and see they are promoting a healthy mind and a healthy lifestyle, just like we are.

Let me explain a bit about myself – I’m an 18 stone stand-up comedian, wit a 5 star show that’s all about my 7 years as a plus size sex worker – we’ll come on to why that’s important in a bit.

I also run a Size Acceptance club night where we welcome anyone of any size to drink, dance and dress up. It’s fair to say that right now, at age 32 and a half, I am having the most fun I’ve ever had, and I am trying desperately to get as many people as I can in on the action!

My size is something that I have let define me. I couldn’t help it. Up until a few years ago, I would have been upset by that, but I’ve turned it to my advantage. I’ve travelled and seen the Size Acceptance movement grow throughout America, and I’ve tried to get more involved in it over here by starting Club Indulge.

I put off becoming a comedian for a long time as all I had was fat girl jokes. I didn’t want to go on a stage and just say what everyone was pretending they were thinking. (I say pretending, I am of course referring to the guys who blow out fat girl jokes to their mates, then rush home to spuff themselves silly over BBW porn) Brecht said ‘Theatre should seek to change the world, not to show it’, and in my 5 minutes of stage time, that was what I hoped to do.

I – and indeed many of the people who know me and have seen my work in action – would have said that these themes of changing societies view on weight in my comedy and my club night have made me something of a Fat Activist. But then I tried joining ‘the gang’ and it was obvious there was no room at the banquet. In fact, it seemed on more than one occasion that they turned the lights off and hid under the table in the hopes I’d go away. See, this wasn’t the first time I’d tried..

A few months ago there was a similar talk on Fat Sexuality. (See, this is where the Sex Work bit is important). Among the discussion table was a Sex Worker rights activist, a Porn site founder, and a blogger. All of them classed themselves as Queer women. Now, I have absolutely nothing against this. But I would have liked to have seen some variety. A straight man or woman might have been nice. I’d written to them a few months in advance so see if they would like anyone else on the panel – I think 7 years as a 25 stone escort would have sealed the deal. But they said they were full. But still, I was excited by the event and wondered what they had to say. I also wondered why they had chosen the speakers they had.

When one of them started speaking, she opened with ‘So..I’m not really sure why I’m here. But most of you in here know me. In fact, I think I’ve slept with half of you’

And a cheer went up.

My eyes rolled. I was hoping for a real discussion, I wanted a bit of a grilling. I wanted passion and argument and defense for the right to have a Fat Acceptance Movement. Instead, it felt like this was just going to be some people holding court in the pub with their mates.

It’s easy to preach to the converted. Sure, I’d love to get up in front of ex-lovers and tell them Fat is Sexy. But instead, I have to get up in front of Bob’s stag party, Dave and Janine from Slough, Debbie and her mates who’ve had a few, George and Javier who saw it in Time Out and thought it might be a talking point at their dinner party…none of these people know me. None of these people have slept with me. None of these people even like me. I’ve got 60 minutes to persuade them that fat girls are sexy, and that Sex Work needs to be decriminalised for the show to work. If I can change one mind, then I’ve won.

And I am winning. Like I said, 5 star reviews.

None of the Fat Activists have seen my show.

At the same discussion, someone asked the question of how to get involved in the Fat Activism movement. It’s really not that hard – support plus size designers, write about Plus Size things on your blog if you have one, or just come to a Plus Size Event.

My hand shoots up. I begin talking about Indulge. But I see eyes rolling. Interest faded. Is that a shuffle of embarrassment?

See, they have a problem with Indulge, mainly because of my predecessors within the ‘Plus Size Club’ circle.

Yes, there’s more than one. Unfortunately, they don’t have the best reputation. Seen as a cattle market by the girls, and an ‘easy place to pull’ by the boys, these nights consist of girls arriving in groups for solidarity, and men leaning against the bar, hawk-like in their determination to spot a fatty that’s come out from the herd. They prey on the weak, the young, or the desperately drunk. Eyes lift no higher than cleavage level, and when they spot one they like, they swoop in and cling onto their victim, only to discard them if something better comes along. Worsened by the anonymity of the internet, and the assumed desperation of the women, I have known men who have arrived with ‘girlfriends’ only to meet another ‘girlfriend’ there.

That is not my club.

My club is where men in three piece suits hand out homemade bunt cake, where living dead cheerleaders prowl at halloween. Great dresses and fab hair are rewarded, fancy dress and glam encouraged. My club is where I will drag single men away from the bar and force them to talk, and anyone with an attitude is left outside. This isn’t a club for single men, it’s a club to be Fat & Fabulous in. I don’t market it as a straight club, I don’t market it as LGBTQ, but I do have to market it as something, and that’s where it feels like I’ve been shunned as the Red-Headed Stepchild of the Fat Activism Community. What they seemed to have assumed is that I would want to make a facsimile of what I’ve experienced, and not think for myself and act out on plans to make something new and different.

Someone asked me what ‘the right term’ was the other day. It was an averaged sized journalist, and she said she felt weird about using the word fat. I asked her that if she ever finds the term we’re all agreed on using to let me know. I have to use all of them. Imagine marketing my club (for market I must. As much as I’d love to spend all the money I do on throwing a party, some cash has to be made somewhere) is like a game of three cups, one ball. Imagine each cup as a google term, and the ball is a potential customer. I have to use all three cups to make sure I’ve covered that one ball. Difference is that at the end, even I don’t know where the balls landed…

Are you ready? Round, and round, and round they go…

Cup 1 – The F word

So, in my experience, people over 40 don’t like the word Fat, because Fat was always used with a negative connotation. ‘Fat Cow’ ‘Fat Fuck’ etc. Still is, as you can imagine. So most people I know over 40 prefer the term BBW (Big Beautiful Women). In their (and my) lifetime, BBW was the one phrase, the one light at the end of the Fat tunnel. Let me tell you from my own personal experience that when I found out I wasn’t just fat, I was a BBW, it was like a whole world opened up! That term saved me, and it’s saved friends of mine, from thinking we’re alone.
However, Fat is now the word most people under 30 are trying to reclaim. But, much like the N word, is still something that ‘outsiders’ feel uncomfortable using. God bless them, it can be confusing. My heart went out to Wayne Sleep on ‘Big Ballet’ when he said ‘Well, we’re using fat girls – they won’t mind me using the word ‘fat’ – …’ Uh-oh…what happened the next day? Yep, they rallied against him. I sat agape as the whole saga unfolded.
I don’t know why I was so surprised though. I walk the same tight rope.

Cup 2 – BBW

Girls under 21 do not like the term BBW. It has been appropriated by the porn industry and as such they feel it has objectified fat girls and encouraged seeing us as a fetish. I was once accused of being a pimp because I had described it as a BBW club. Without ever stepping foot inside, they had become convinced it was full of leery old men who – when not stalking BBW clubs – did nothing but pleasure themselves over pictures of fat girls on the internet.
Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that pleasuring oneself over pictures of any girl on the internet is a major hobby for 99.9% of the straight men out there, so I thought it a bit unfair to hold that against them. Not only that, but it takes a lot of guts for these guys to turn up, often alone, and try and talk to ladies.
If they really were just fetishists, then surely they wouldn’t come to the club at all? It seems like a major effort, as well as a waste of money, to just come and stare when you could be doing that from the safety and anonymity of your computer?
I couldn’t help but think that by proclaiming clubs like this to be full of fetishists, she was doing her, and her fat sisters, a genuine disservice. Is it too much to think that for the guys in there that it’s a genuine preference, not a fetish?
I couldn’t help but think sweeping generalised statements like this only help to propel the stereotype that a fat girl is a fetish. If you don’t want to be a fetish, stop thinking the men who fancy you are fetishists!

Cup 3 – Plus Size.

I can’t say this without thinking of my nan.
Plus Size is Evans in the 90’s for me. The only place I could shop for clothes, and this was well before they had figured out that people under 55 need clothes bigger than a size 18 too. My family were also very poor, and the plus sizes were always a lot more expensive than normal ranges, as such most of the things I wore were hand-me-downs….yes, from my nan. My early teens were filled with a haze of pastels and polyester, my wide feet demanded nothing but sandals, with socks in the winter.

It would make a modern-day blogger cry.

(We didn’t have internet shopping. The high street was bereft of anything over a size 16. I resorted to clumsily making my own clothes when I hit college, becoming a goth because it was easier to hold things together with safety pins than actual hemming.)

What is plus size anyway? Size 18? 16? Christ, I’ve known people a size 12 convinced they’re plus size!
Plus size isn’t your body. Plus size is an intangible concept that changes from shop to shop. You might as well ask what time you are. I have clothes in my wardrobe that are size 14. I have clothes that are a size 24. Each fit just as comfortably. I see people who have lost a massive amount of weight – either through dieting or weight loss surgery – and rather saying how they feel about the amount of weight they’ve lost, they look disheartened because they’re not at the size they wanted to be.

However, plus-size seems to be the winning phrase…so far. But again, it will no doubt ignite hostility in someone out there because…well, why sit back and enjoy a good thing when you can have an argument about it on facebook?

This issue is my real bug-bear. It’s this inability to take something and make it ours, and make it work for the whole community that annoys me. There is a community there, we just have to work together and make compromises. Don’t shun something just because of the way it’s described. See it, experience it, read it…whatever it takes, but try and understand it before automatically assuming what it entails.
I raised this question of community at the Fat Performance talk (again, fully stocked with ‘Queer’ women. My services once more declined – even having had shows at the same festivals and on the same stages as one of the performers. And also as someone who spends each night in a car with a different selection of comics, discussing performing to a finite detail. I perform on a nightly basis. I am paying my dues) Someone had just finished speaking about it so it was hot on my mind and I blurted out a half phrased question before I was brusquely told ‘Let’s keep this to performance only questions.’

Ummm.. it is performance based. But it’s also community orientated. Because there is a community, I just don’t see Fat Activists trying to be part of it. I see Fat Activists being part of the Fat Activist Community, but not reaching out to the general Fat Community at large. Like I said – they’re preaching to the converted.

I was trying to find out if this performers’ experience of ‘the community’ was based on age range. I was genuinely interested to know if he had received backlash from using the term Fat, and I was hoping to find out if it held true with my theory – that it was a generational thing. He said his negative experience of Fat Community had more been based on jealousy. ‘Oh, I’m fatter than you’ was more the game. I tried to explain a bit more about my experience of ‘the community’ to get across more what I meant, but was shot down by the chair.

But at both of these talks, none of their experiences reflected mine, or my friends, or even my customers. I didn’t feel like they were connecting with the average Fat Girl On The Street. They were connecting with their audience of friends, but it feels distinctly counter-productive, and margionalising an already margionalised section of society. ‘Because that’s just what happens. In every ‘community’ there’s always groups’. I’d been told that twice now. Both time by Fat Activists. Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of saying ‘That’s just the way it is.’ they said ‘Hey, I’m sorry you feel like that, what can we do to help? How can we change this?’

Overall, when it came to fat performance, ‘Just Do It Yourself’ was the end message, topped with ‘Fuck everybody’ from one of the panel. I don’t think fucking everybody really is the key to being a fat performer, or even gaining confidence as a fat person. I think it’s small, positive steps. I think it’s reaching out. I think it’s talking to someone and starting a dialogue with somebody when they’re obviously trying to reach out to you.

As it is, ‘Just Do It Yourself’ has pretty much been what I’ve been doing these past few years. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to carry on like it though. I was hoping to build relationships with other performers, other activists, maybe collaborate on some of the big dreams I have when it comes to fat performance. But with cards still in my wallet, I walked out disheartened that it’s a motto I’ll have to keep living by. Such a shame. As one, I can only show the world. As many, we could have changed it.

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