I Hope My Fat Body Isn’t Grossing You Out, World.

Well, there it is: my big, fat body.  I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of a luxurious vacation with a group of my closest friends, enjoying my life and my world and having a wonderful time with people who love me, but I can see as how this would gross you out.  What with me existing and everything.

On Monday, Marie Claire published an blog in their online Year of Living Flirtatiously column called “Should “Fatties” Get A Room?  (Even on TV?)” by Maura Kelly.  I’m not going to link to that article because (in my opinion) Marie Claire is currently loving all the page views and publicity.  But I first read about it on Jezebel, where there’s plenty of excerpts from the article and a link you can follow to it, if you’d like.

Anyhow, the article went viral, Kelly issued a completely awesome non-apology and it started a really good conversation about about if fat people, like, have a right to exist even if they make people like Maura Kelly upset “simply by walking across the room.”  Well, OK, there’s actually been much more conversation, commentary, and insight written about it and I’ve appreciated it, really, and I’ve appreciated that so many people spoke up and said, “This is offensive, this hurts me, this isn’t OK.”  That part is awesome.

But at the same time?  What in the holy hell?  There is no both sides.  There is no “let’s talk about Maura Kelly’s points!”  She doesn’t have any points.  She does not have an argument.  She wrote an offensive, hateful piece that isn’t well written or edited and isn’t really coherent.  This doesn’t mean “why bother responding?”  as most of you know, I *always* think it’s worth responding.  But … wow.  That this is what we’re responding to?  It’s almost shocking.

Almost, I say, because on the other hand, it’s not shocking at all.  It’s barely a surprise, I guess, to me as a fat person.  That’s what it means to be fat, after all, that people can “seriously” write things like this for a major national publication and get away with phrasing it like a question.  Should fat people be allowed to make out?

I wasn’t always aware of fat activism, part of it, you know.  I didn’t just spring into being this way.  Wading out in the Gulf of Mexico, the sand under my toes and the water deliciously cool on a hot day, I think that was maybe the first time in my adult life I was in a swimsuit without some sort of cover-up trying to hide my body.

It felt so good.

Understanding my body was not my enemy, understanding that people do not have an unalienable right to comment on and judge my body, that my body is not part of their conversation – that changed everything.   Maura Kelly, Marie Claire, that ridiculous blog, they deserve a response.  And that response is: shut the fuck up.

OK, fine, that’s simplifying it a bit.  What I mean to say is: my body is not yours for public discussion.  How I walk across a room, how I kiss a man, how I eat a pretzel, how I look in a swimsuit with clear blue water washing over my skin – that is not yours to feel repulsed by, to wonder about, to comment on at all.

That’s mine.

This is how my fat activism started: the awareness that my body was mine.  It grew from there, spurred on by conversations with a very smart person who knew about body politics and encouraged me to think about it, by my development as a feminist, and, oh yeah, by my reading.

In reading others stories, I saw my life and my struggles reflected back, and I knew that I wasn’t alone.  It is this connection that has always made reading so powerful, so important to me.

Over a year ago, I started planning a program for the 2010 YALSA YA Literature Symposium.  The idea?  To look at the many books published for young adults (in the last five years) dealing with fat issues, fat characters, and even fat acceptance.  These books (some good, some bad, some trying) that had characters that were learning to make peace with their bodies, to stand up for themselves, to figure out who they were – these books I thought could be a connection for so many teenagers.

One week from today, what began, over a year ago, as an idea for an author panel program will now be a half-day pre-conference.

I hope that this is just the beginning of the conversation, the first step in getting word out to librarians (and teens!) that there are books being published now that reflect a world full of different bodies and different sizes and these voices can help teenagers (can help anyone!) learn to stop apologizing for their bodies and start telling people like Maura Kelly that they’ll walk across the room without any shame and she doesn’t get the slightest bit say in it.

I hope you’ll join the conversation and spread the message.  It’s the most important thing we, as a community of librarians, reviewers, and writers, could ever say to Marie Claire or Maura Kelly.

It’s the best response we can give.

(additionally: if you’re coming to the symposium, please let me know, I’m super-excited about getting to meet up with as many people as possible!)

11 Responses to “I Hope My Fat Body Isn’t Grossing You Out, World.”

  1. Blythe

    First, thank you for calling Kelly out on being what she is, a bully. A smug bully. Second, and way more important, thank you for being a voice and making certain that other voices get heard. Good on you. (And boy that water looks delightful.)

  2. ditzy gal

    as a comment I wanted to post a picture of my huge, fat, glorious and sexy ass… but I could not figure out how.

    we are beautiful, as is. so are the skinny girls and everyone in between.

  3. Megan Honig

    I’ll be there! My preconference (Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door) conflicts with your preconference, alas, but I love that you’re doing this work and hope I’ll get a chance to say hi during the Symposium.

  4. Angie

    Blythe — Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I’m extra happy you liked it because this post bumped the original post scheduled for this week … a review of The Freak Observer! 🙂 Next week, I promise!

    Mindy – Yeah, the part about skinny girls is important too. That’s what fat acceptance is for me: owning my body and not letting the world comment on it, and that goes for all body sizes and shapes.

    Megan — Argh, there were so many good preconferences happening I was sad I had to miss them! I’ll be on the lookout for you during the author happy hour 🙂 and the rest of the symposium!

  5. Gina

    What fucking kills me about this idiotic Kelly and her ridiculous article, is that if you substitute the words “blacks” or “women” or “transsexuals” (or as she’d probably say, “coloreds”, “girls”, “trannys” or worse) for “fat” or “overweight” or god help us, “obese! Morbidly obese!” in her article? THERE WOULD BE AN OUTRAGE! She’d be shunned, no one would take her seriously as a writer, her little non-apology would be even more laughable than it is, and people would be talking more about it than they already are! I believe it’d be much more mainstream, you know?

    Fat discrimination is still alive and kicking, and we know that overweight employees get hired less frequently and make less money than thin people (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/thin_gals_fat_pay_ZPaeUmCHBcbbrCmEoqPjfI). “Plus-sized” clothing costs more than the smaller sizes. (http://womensrights.change.org/blog/view/the_supposed_difficulty_of_making_plus-size_clothing) They kick fat people off airplanes because we take up too much space (http://www.popeater.com/2010/02/14/kevin-smith-southwest-twitter/)

    I remember Mom and Dad preaching this to us since we were little. And we come from a family of big people, so it’s no surprise that everyone in our family is big. I struggle with body acceptance in a way that you don’t, which is one of the things I admire in you. You have such a better way with words than me, and I’m glad you’re speaking out… all I really want to do is punch people and cuss at them. Good blog, dude. Good blog.
    Love, your sister

  6. Angela Cerrito

    Wow! I LOVE your four word response, but found these words just beautiful: “How I walk across a room, how I kiss a man, how I eat a pretzel, how I look in a swimsuit with clear blue water washing over my skin – that is not yours…”

    I agree with Gina…her post was soooo wrong!

  7. Sarah

    Great post! I’m actually attending your preconference this coming Thursday and I cannot wait. It seems sadly more timely than ever. I’m so excited for the YALSA Symposium now even more so. As someone who still has body images issues to the extreme, who still looks in the mirror and well, yes, at times I do hate myself, this has been a much more productive post for me to read.

    As for Marie Claire, I didn’t even give them a second thought. Honestly, that was a totally hateful post that should never have been published. But you know, because it’s about fat people, the world is allowed to get away with it. Hate that.

    Fab bathing suit by the way! It’s a great blue.

  8. Gretchen

    Not only am I going to the Symposium, I’ll be at your preconference! I’ve been looking forward to it most of anything else I’m planning for this weekend. I hope we can meet up and say hello!

  9. Shellie

    Fabulous post, Angie. I read the Marie Claire post…..it truly bothered me.

  10. Thayla

    Angie, I love that photo, you look so happy! The only thing I have to say it. . .too bad you can’t wear it to work.