Happy Fat People Should be Shouting From the Rooftops
Poet, essayist, and activist Audre Lorde famously wrote, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
I didn’t see The Whale, for which Brendan Fraser won an Oscar earlier this month. Nor will I ever watch it, for the same reason I don’t watch videos of police murders; one must know when to turn away, one must recognize when the cost of viewing outweighs any benefit. So take what I have to say with a grain of salt (make it Maldon, please). Still, I’ve read a stack of articles about The Whale — Lindy West’s being particularly incisive — and I’ve lived a lifetime of fatness in a fatphobic culture. This qualifies me to speak, and here’s what I want to say:
Fat people must define ourselves for ourselves. So too must women, must trans people, must people living with illness and disabilities, must old people, must anyone existing day in and day out in the maw of society’s marginalization machine, lest that machine grind us to bits, mere grist for the mill.
If some aspect of your deepest identity is marginalized, loathed, or bullied — as it is for fat people — then you are in definitional danger. Which is to say, you are almost certainly being destructively defined by others.
That’s what The Whale does. It destructively defines fatness, first and foremost, by being a story about a superfat/infinifat person…without superfat/infinifat people at the creative helm. This alone should caution anyone against embracing it. To borrow from the disability justice movement, no conversations about us without us.
Strapping Brendan Fraser into a fat suit perpetuates the categorically false and harmful myth that fat people are thin people for whom something went wrong, and that there is a thin person in every fat person who wants (“deserves”) to get out. (His binge scenes also perpetuates the false and silly myth that fat people eat too much.) It treats fatness as an abhorrent and aberrant state, and perhaps one that need not last, if fat people could just get their shit together — like an actor at the end of the day, you, too, can shed this suit of shame if you really want to.
(Note that I’m borrowing this last bit of analytical structure from the terrific…