Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lesbian Burlesque and Calling Fat People Fat

2 or 3 years ago, I ended up in Ray-Ray's Boom Boom room on Frenchmen street in New Orleans, Abita in hand watching a lesbian burlesque show. It wasn't the most finely polished show I'd ever seen; more than one number ended with something akin to a Can-Can line with a Karaoke element. There was this one girl that was amazing though. She came out in this long red sequined evening gown, white gloves, fishnet stockings, a floor length fur coat---and a ape mask. Damn, she was sexy. Slow and careful, working her pearls and playing with this mirror as if she was the daintiest little thing you'd ever seen. When she finally took the mask off the crowd went crazy. I remember thinking how beautiful she was.

Here's the kicker though: this lady was fat. Not obese or anything, but bigger than average. Certainly bigger than me, and I had never even seen anyone my size displayed as a sex symbol before. I'm hardly fat myself, at 5'4'' and 140 pounds, but no one would call me skinny either. Because of this, like almost every other girl I know my size or bigger, I have wasted hours and hours of my life concerned about my size. I spend entire afternoons just comparing my thighs to other girl's thighs, my mood following accordingly. Any one whose thighs are smaller than mine induce self hatred, same size, a sense of relief, larger? Victory.

I am not sure how best to support the effort of increasing the number of positive images in the media for women of all sizes. But, I have stopped so harshly judging myself and others based on size. I do this by, as you may have noticed above, attempting to use fat and chubby as if their meaning has no intrinsic value. I think instead that the words fat and chubby should be neutral modifiers.

I do this in two ways. First, I have to change the concepts in my own mind. When I judge someone to be fat, I try to take the time to remember this is the same thing as recognizing that they are wearing a pink shirt, and doesn't automatically exclude them from the judgment that they are beautiful. This doesn't always work, but I find it helps when I let myself use the term fat in my own mind. When I look at someone and think, "Ooo, that girl is fat!" instead of just avoiding the thought, as it sometimes seems easier to do, I feel like a bitch. This guilt usually motivates me to rethink things, and remind myself of what I actually think. Using the word increases my mindfulness and helps me tame the beast.

The second way I try to reclaim the words is using them neutrally in speech. This is a lot harder, but it can work, in sentences like "she was so gorgeous, bright blue eyes, fat legs, toned arms, curly blonde hair...". Usually when I pull this, though, people still call me out for being mean. But describing a person as fat should be just as mean as saying they have blue eyes. The term 'fat' only means larger than average--any part of it that is 'mean' is your mind adding a value judgment that has been forced upon you by society. This is a value judgment I think people should actively fight against, not passively accept. There are too many women suffering from this concept in the world--thousands literally starving, millions wasting precious hours because they are convinced being fat means something!

I understand that this idea hasn't really caught on, and I admit that I have yet to go around to fat people and tell them "Hey you're fat, but don't worry it's no big deal to me, it's just neutral". But I am convinced that using euphemisms for being fat just gives in to the idea that being fat is something intrinsically bad, instead of something that some people just are, the same way some people just are skinny. In my ideal world, and hopefully someday, saying your fat will be as mean as saying you are a brunette. And I don't know how else to make that ideal a reality besides doing it myself and encouraging others to do the same.