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September 7, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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Fatphobia

Recently, I came across the “Gay Shame” movement, a radical queer movement aiming to protest “queer assimilation” and raise awareness of oppressions reproduced by the queer community. This movement criticised queer academics for not including class and race analysis, criticized mainstream gays who were happy to leave behind more marginalised queers in their quest for ‘acceptance’, and generally aimed to rip some shit up within queer communities. This is pretty cool, but also kinda unrelated to what I’m gonna write this article about. What I really wanna talk about is fatphobia within our queer community, and my tenuous link to gay shame is that.. um.. fatphobia within our community makes me really ashamed.

“Wait a second”, I hear you say, “just what is this fatphobia bidness?” Well, literally, fatphobia is fear of fat. In a wider social sense, however, fatphobia is heavily based on the idea that slim bodies are good bodies, and fat people must be lazy, unmotivated, unattractive, greedy, and unhappy.

We are taught by society that ‘obesity’ is an epidemic, and the dominant representations of sexuality almost all depict people with very little body fat. We are also generally taught that being fat is a result of poor diet or little exercise, not due to genetics, but due rather to a lack of self-control, and that anyone can stop being fat if they just try hard enough.

Fatphobia is hard to fight because of how programmed we are to accept it as a given. Society just assumes that everyone will know being fat is bad, though research into health and fitness keeps producing conflicting evidence on the effects of body fat, and with many illnesses generally associated with being ‘overweight’ actually likely to have genetic or lifestyle causes. In this way, we can compare fatphobia to heterosexism, just as people are expected to believe fat=bad, people are expected to assume that straight=normal.

Fatphobia can be compared to more forms of oppression, however. It assists in media reinforcements of what the perfect body should look like, white, toned, and without disability. It supports capitalism, helping companies sell slimming products (often damaging people’s health). It especially supports sexism, putting pressure particularly on women’s lives and bodies. It supports racism, discrimination against people with disabilities, sex-negativity and all sorts of other nasties. Particularly significant to the queer community, it places pressure on queer men and boiz, with studies consistently showing that queer males are more likely than their ‘straight’ counterparts to experience much more pressure on their body image, manifesting in higher rates of eating ‘disorders’.

If we take a look at queer culture around this, it’s not hard to see where this pressure is reproduced and reinforced. Looking at The L Word, Queer As Folk, But I’m A Cheerleader, Express Magazine, GayNz, Will and Grace. Even in the feminist queer movie Itty Bitty Titty Committee, the queer characters are rarely plus-sized. It’s hard to find positive plus-sized role models in society in general, but it seems to be harder still to find positive plus-sized role models in the queer community—specially in media aimed at queer males. I speak from my own situated perspective—having no experience living as a queer male, but it sure seems to me that having all of these images of tiny twinks or big buff gym-babes can’t be much help to queer boys trying to enter the queer community and work out what it means to ‘be’ queer in society today. Similar to the role magazines aimed at young girls which undoubtedly play a part in shaping self-image and holding up unrealistic beauty goals, don’t unreachable goals of queer ‘beauty’ in our media perpetuate self-doubt and self-loathing in people in our community attempting to come out, and realising they can’t find role models who look like them?

It is not my goal in this rant to ignore and overlook the amazing and inspiring queer role models we have around us. Beth Ditto, Margaret Cho, innumerable queer activists and MPs, Bill Logan, Dr Alison Laurie, John Waters, Alberto Ferrara: these are all people who celebrate sexuality in many forms and are positive role models for queers everywhere. However, these folk aren’t always easy to find out about, and there’s so much more change to be made!

Our queer communities need to raise awareness of these issues, to aim to provide spaces where ALL are free from oppression, and cultural/physical/religious differences are respected. First and foremost, you have to make the difference yourself. Realising how you yourself are affected by fatphobia, how it affects who you are attracted to and who you make friends with, who you welcome into your community, and the messages you give by the things you say and do. Bitching about how you’ve gone up to a size 14 might help you feel better in the short term, but it might make the size 16 person overhearing your conversation feel really bad about themselves. Call me idealistic, but the change starts with you, and it’s only by challenging “fat is bad” that we can create healthier places for us all!

Big fat gay hugs.

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