Fatsronauts 101 is a series in which I address assumptions and stereotypes about fat people that treat us as a monolith and are used to dehumanize and marginalize us. If there is a stereotype you'd like me to address, email me.
[Content Note: Fat bias; body policing; eliminationism.]
#9: Fat people don't know how they look.
As preface, I want to acknowledge that there are people with body dysmorphic disorders who are genuinely unaware of how their bodies actually look to other people, and many of us, to one degree or another, have some dissonance about some aspect our appearance when we, for example, see a picture of ourselves. This post is not about that. This post is about the concept of thin people (and sometimes other fat people) reflexively concluding a fat person is unaware of how zie looks if zie does not present hirself in a way that conforms to cultural expectations about fat people's performance.
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Not only are most fat people aware of "how we look," and the precise ways in which "how we look" deviates from the kyriarchal norm and fails to conform to what is considered acceptable for people of our size, we are also keenly aware of the negative commentary being delivered on "how we look" via the unsubtle judgmental gazes of body policers.
Internal judgment and external judgment conspire to ensure that we generally have a heightened awareness of both "how we look" and "how we are perceived"—which are often two different things.
But both of them are about deviating from the expectation that fat people should be seen as making some sort of demonstrable effort to be ashamed of their fat and hide it from view, which is second best to not existing at all.
In the comments of the last entry in the series, I observed: "One of the key things to understand about systemic fat hatred is that fat people are asked to be invisible. Once you understand that we are asked to keep ourselves from view, to take up less space, to be less noticeable, all the rest of it makes perfect sense. We are not even meant to visible, no less flashy about it."
We are meant to abide The Rules that prescribe not calling attention to ourselves, folding ourselves up to take up as little room as possible, and, crucially, seeking maximum coverage of our fat bodies by loose garments that mask our shapes.
In practical terms, this means that we are not supposed to wear anything that clings to and thus outlines fat; we are supposed to cover as much of our flesh as possible; we are supposed to strap our fat bodies into "shaping" garments that prevent unseemly jiggling; we are not supposed to wear anything that flatters our figure or suggests that we might be attractive and/or sexy; we are supposed to avoid anything that calls attention to ourselves at all.
The perfect outfit for a fat person is something black and shapeless. The justification is that it's "slimming." The reality is because it helps blend us into the background. Just another shapeless shadow.
(Fashion designers are happy to oblige in the shame department, routinely designing clothes for fat people—if they have plus-size lines at all—with the evident expectation that we are ashamed of our bodies.)
Thus, when a fat person—especially a fat woman, who has no purpose in life since she is axiomatically deemed unfuckable and hence worthless as a woman/sex object—refuses to be unseen, and instead demands to be seen, and/or refuses to live a life of discomfort, and instead wears what makes hir feel good, when zie lets hir fat body hang out of hir clothes, when she wears sleeveless shirts or short shorts, when hir belly meets the breeze, when zie dons bold colors and patterns and (gasp!) horizontal stripes, when zie shows off fat flesh bedecked with brilliant tattoos, when zie wears short hair (or long hair, depending on The Rules according to fat policers around hir), when zie insists on being a visible participant in life, zie is thought to have no concept of what zie looks like.
How could zie go out of the house all openly fat like that? Doesn't zie know people can see hir body?! Doesn't zie know people are judging hir?! If zie had any idea what people are thinking, zie would cover hirself up and have the decency to be ashamed of hir self.
Because it is incomprehensible that anyone could be fat and content (or even happy!), it is inconceivable that a fat person who is unabashedly fat in public, who isn't remorsefully covering hirself in eight yards of unflattering fabric to conceal hirself in deference to the delicate gazes of body policers offended by hir very existence, knows what zie looks like and made the deliberate choice to look that way.
It is a radical notion that some of us are visibly fat ON PURPOSE.
Fat people who aren't conforming to The Rules on how we must exhibit remorse for failing to be invisible are not unaware of our transgressive appearance. We've made the conscious choice to reject the obligation to take up less space, physical and psychological, than we need.
We know "how we look" to you. We don't care. (At least not insomuch as we're going to let your opinion dictate how we present ourselves to the world.) What is important, the only thing that should matter, is how we look to ourselves.
Disagreement with that notion comes in many forms, the most frequent of which is the ubiquitous criticism that is some variation on, "Zie shouldn't be wearing that." Shouldn't be. As if it's a moral act.
The implication is that zie should be, instead, wearing something more appropriate for a fat person; that is, something that better communicates zie acknowledges hir body is hideous and ought to be hidden. Something that renders hir invisible.
That's straight-up eliminationism, and yet we give it a pass because of the profound cruelty of asking fat people to do it to themselves.
Fewer things more pointedly than that underscore that fat hatred is not about "health," but about aesthetics.
Which is why I'm slowly but determinedly giving up every last trace of any urge to hide myself for other people's pleasure and comfort. My once almost exclusively black-and-grey wardrobe is now filled with color. And the clothes are in the right size—not a size bigger to conceal my shape. I have cut off my hair, despite my roundy face and double chin that was supposed to make me look terrible with short hair. I have worn sleeveless shirts all summer—Flabby Arms Meet World! I will soon get my first tattoo.
There are and will be people who wonder, sometimes loud enough that I can hear, if I don't know what I look like. I do. I look like someone who refuses to agree with the idea that I shouldn't exist.