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Navigating a Fat Hating/Profiting World

Navigating a Fat Hating/Profiting World

Fat folks have constantly been othered in how their bodies are seen as "excess" -- as extending the boundaries of the norms and spilling over to the extent of being called freaks and fetishes. Being fat in a medical industrial complex that uses the term obesity to resolve all health issues that stem from poor working conditions, changing climate, or anything but just "the weight", is also to be the easy target---fatness becomes a catchall issue that once removed can solve all our debilitating health concerns. Fat people are then seen as a moving breathing exemplification of the problems of a crisis prone system we live in. Even when there's no real science that directly connects obesity to health issues, attacking fat people has been the most successful way even diet and media industries have churned out profits. Indeed, many researchers have shown that anti-fatness has clear connections to anti-Blackness in America. This is precisely because the markers of crisis- be it crime, drugs, health issues are all seen as "caused by" racialised folks and their inherent traits, and not poverty, lack of basic amenities and institutionalized racism. Where I come from (India), fatness has been long associated with stereotypes of being  spoilt, lazy and for women: as being unmarriageable and thus a burden on the family. The Eurocentric standards of beauty and casteist notions of the "vulgar" body also attach themselves to fat people where fat as monstrosity is often talked about in racialised, casted and sexist terms. In a capitalist world, fat people are seen as either eating off others' work and having less value as labourers and are also used as marketable devices for some diversity points around acceptance and positivity. In this contradiction, one can ask: what is it to be fat and have intimate connections with others?

I can speak only for myself---as someone carrying some thyroid impediments, I have never been one standard weight throughout my life. However, I went through a phase where I really started enjoying exercising for exercising sake, especially when I was living in a place where I had a constant supply of nutritious food and great facilities to workout. Both these factors helped me eat on time and also take care of my body in other ways. However,  my weight started fluctuating and it came down so fast, that my doctors were concerned about my body becoming weak and I had to gain back some strength, which added to my weight yet again. In this process-- I could see the gaze towards me changing, and men becoming more sexually open with me. Some confessed how they were attracted to me when I was fat, some told me that they would love to have sex with me even if I put on weight. Some also went ahead and told me that they saw me just as a friend but now, with my reduced weight, they couldn't stop seeing me as a potential sexual partner. Suffice to say, not only people made my outward appearance about their sexual preferences, but also associated my fatness solely with its value of attraction. To some it was a fetish, to some it wasn't attractive at all and to some---it was okay as long as I wasn't too fat. I also agreed with many of these people given I was also taught to hate my body, I was taught that makeovers mean losing the weight and becoming more valuable to men and the market, and I was also taught that if I just lose all my body weight I will be successful, more job market friendly and indeed, have more friends.

None of it really is true--- when I realised the history behind anti fatness is really about the denial of crisis in an exploitative system, where its scarcity and excesses have other origins that aren't my body, I became more conscious of what my thoughts about my body were, and how to change them. Especially when forming sexual and intimate connections, what has been important to me ever since is to consciously disassociate my body's weight and its value in the attraction market. I do not talk about anyone's body nor do I myself try and see my attraction towards someone as solely connected to their physical appearance. Initially on dating apps, where your outward appearance is what sells, I felt forced to be more "authentic" than others so that I am not "catfishing". But now it is a litmus test for me to see if people associate my body's weight with their sexual preferences, without wanting to know my story. I can understand not feeling physically attracted to someone, but to associate physical attraction with the weight on someone's body calls for pausing and self reflecting: how even the rules of attraction are taught to us, how we learn to deny the possibilities people come with and make attraction feel like a fragile game that fluctuates like body weight. It has been tough but it has also been possible. We are all ridden with a host of insecurities and childhood trauma--- we all become better when we humanise one another and read each other against the grain of dominant social scripts. This includes unlearning what we have come to learn about bodies, body fat and our naturalised hatred towards unconventional bodies.

In this process, I have also consciously disallowed people to think (myself included) that I exercise to lose weight and which would lead me to be more attractive---I am still unlearning this, but when I teach myself that change of weight is a natural bodily mechanism and not a social status, I am more accepting of my weights fluctuation and do not allow it to control how I feel desired and desire others. This has also helped me in seeing myself in more accepting terms when it comes to my own sexuality. I used to even fear self pleasure when I felt that there was nothing to love about myself. Indeed, self pleasuring has been one way to connect back with who I am beyond the loud noises that distract me from myself. Self pleasuring, especially, has included changing how I talk to myself about my body (yes, literally talking to myself-- try it, be loud if you can and see how it feels to hear yourself!) and has also taken forms of finding online communities which are radically accepting of diverse bodies.

I also understand that all of this is easier said than done precisely when it isn't just an individual's prerogative to be radically self accepting. This is why it is important to surround yourself with people who understand that fat liberation is also liberation from exploitative systems which make you feel like a commodity, solely in terms of exchange value, from cistems that make you hate yourself while profiting from the ridicule. It is important for building anti oppressive communities to even change the small negative self-talk you indulge in. To radically accept fatness is thus to also build a world where fatness, fat people and fat presence isn't an anomaly to be solved or done away with.

About the writer

Prerna Subramanian

Prerna Subramanian (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate and labour activist at Queen's University where she studies politics of space and gender dissidence in Indian cinema. She loves cooking Indian food and unwinds with binging on her evolving collection of cringe.

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