Fatsronauts 101: The Inspirational Fatty

[Content Note: Fat hatred.]

So, one of the many reasons I do public fat advocacy is because visibility is important. It's been important to me to connect with other fat women and their individual experiences; to listen to them share their stories; to see images of them living their lives.

I have been validated by them, and I have been inspired by them.

Being a fat person who publicly discusses her own lived experiences, who tells her story and shares images from her big fat life, is my way of paying that forward. My hope is to validate other fat people's experiences, if mine resonates with their own—and if I happen to inspire another fat person in some way, that's humbling and happy-making.

I also hope to encourage thin people to reject the fat-hating narratives with which we're all indoctrinated, and to invite them to see fat people as fully human.

Occasionally, thin people will tell me that I've inspired them. And, in rare instances, what they mean is something like: You've really encouraged and helped me deconstruct my thin privilege and become more sensitive to the issues that fat people face. Which is great.

But much more frequently, they mean something like: I've stopped hating my body because I figure if a fat mess like you can love her grotesque body, then I can, too!

Of course, that's not what they think they mean. They think they mean (which I know, because they tell me, when I try to politely reject being used as The Inspirational Fatty) that we both have flaws and, sure, our flaws aren't equal, not because mine are worse, that's not what they meant, but because society treats me so much worse for my flaws, because god society is so unfair, and if I can overcome all the terrible things that fat people have to deal with, like being fat, but not because fat is so much worse, just because fat people are treated so much worse, then they can overcome their issues with their bodies, because we're all expected to be perfect, you know, and none of us are, and I'm just a good example of someone who loves their body despite that, and yeah I'm fat but that doesn't have anything to do with it, I mean IT DOES but it's not the main thing, well, maybe it's the main thing for me, geez they're just not articulating this very well sorry.

My fat is irrelevant, except for how it's totally the whole point. This is the fundamental conundrum of The Inspirational Fatty. There's really no way for a thin person to tell me how inspirational I am without invisibilizing the central piece of my body advocacy, or alternately by conflating their thin-bodied flaws with my fat body full-stop.

Now, I understand why it is that, in a profoundly fat-hating culture, there are thin people who might actually think and feel, with no malicious intent, that they can learn to love their bodies, far less deviant from the Beauty Standard than is mine, if I can love mine. Cool. But I don't need to hear about it.

image of me looking at the camera with my cheek in my hand, which I've captioned: 'Not your inspirational fatty.'

When a fellow fat traveler tells me that they finally threw caution to the breeze and went sleeveless after years of hiding their fat arms (just like my fat arms), I am thrilled in a way I can only describe as feeling like every part of my insides to the furthest recesses of my gut are glimmering with luminescent joy.

When a thin woman tells me: "I'm not fat, but I've always hated my arms, and you inspired me to go sleeveless," I don't feel thrilled. I feel exploited. And I further feel gaslighted when I'm accused of reading something that isn't there, when I say that this "compliment" is rooted in a comparison with my less than body. As if the "compliment" doesn't start with a differentiation: I'm not fat.

This is not, in case it isn't clear, an invitation for thin people to splain at me about all the good intentions that allegedly underwrite The Inspirational Fatty.

This is my request to thin people to please reconsider how your words may be received.

This is my informing you of a context of which you might not be aware, given that you aren't a fat woman who lives a public life.

Maybe you haven't seen eleventy-seven incidents of a fat woman posting a picture of herself in a bikini, only to be "complimented" by thin women who tell her: "If you can do it, I can do it, too!"; of a fat woman sharing a story of falling in love and being loved, despite aggressive cultural narratives about how we will never be and don't deserve love, only to be "complimented" by thin women who tell her: "You go girl! You've convinced me there's someone out there who will love me despite my flaws, too!"; of a fat woman telling any anecdote, anywhere, about struggling to extricate some pernicious bit of internalized fat hatred in order to hate herself a little bit less, only to be "complimented" by thin women who tell her, point fucking blank: "If you can learn to love your body, I should be able to learn to love mine!"

And maybe you aren't aware of what it's like to be a fat woman who once upon a time made friendships with thin women, maybe even back when they were thin girls, long before that fat woman loved herself at all, only to discover that loving herself makes her longtime thin friends regard her with resentment, if she has anything they don't have, if she is perceived to have a cooler job, a kinder husband, a happier home, more stylish clothes, or anything viewed as "better" than what her thin friends deserve, because they deserve that more than she does, before she does. That there is just a world of thin women doing comparing, comparing, comparing.

Maybe you're not aware that, for many fat women, navigating friendships with lots and lots of thin women means either being The Inspirational Fatty or The Resented Fatty, because lots and lots of thin women are incapable of building connections with fat women outside of a construct of competition. Which is pretty damn typical of friendships on either side of any privileged/marginalized divide.

Maybe you've never considered that a thin person treating a fat person like The Inspirational Fatty is just as fucking gross as able-bodied people treating people with disabilities as inspirational, even if you're able to articulate the abject fuckery that is some able-bodied person being awarded an Oscar for playing a person with a disability in some Tale of Triumph nearly every damn year.

And maybe that's because fat people aren't even allowed our own marginalization, because, despite a metric fuckton of fat hatred we are obliged to navigate, we're constantly admonished to center the experiences of thin women, because we all have body image issues geez.

And maybe if you can understand how colossally shitty it is that fat people's oppression is flattened and silenced and appropriated by thin people who want to ignore the unique hatred, the life and death hatred, that fat people face, then you can try to understand why it is that I don't want to be your Inspirational Fatty.

The thing that I've noticed about other fat women who tell me that I've inspired them is that they are inspired by me because of my humanity. And the thing that I've noticed about thin women who tell me that I've inspired them is that they are inspired by me because I am fat.

That isn't incidental.

And if you're thinking, hey, I'm a thin woman who has been inspired by you because of your humanity, then I'll say once more: Cool. If the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it. And please don't oblige me to make you feel better about your privilege.

Of course, if you really see me in my full humanity, rather than a Fat Person Here to Make You Feel Better About Yourself, you already knew that.

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