hefty lasses don’t need to apologise
I just read Suzanne Rofe’s piece on negotiating life as a “hefty lass”. I understand everything she had to say. But I am sad that I do.
I was once with a friend and we were indulging ourselves by watching the trite rom com about death, Moonlight and Valentino (featuring Jon Bon Jovi). A character says, ‘I don’t hate my body – I’m not in my body.’
‘That’s how I feel!’ I said to my friend, who immediately replied, ‘No you don’t. You’re in your body. You are an incredibly sexual person.’
Somewhere between what Rofe was talking about, what I felt when I heard those words and what my friend thought, is the truth. Sometimes, no matter how much I look at Tess Munster’s Instagram feed and try to force myself into body positivity, I don’t like the way I look. But it has taken me years to realise that I don’t actually hate my body. Sometimes I hate the way people react to it but my body, with its round belly and fleshy arms and boobs bigger than my head, but I don’t hate my body itself.
Before I go into this further I have to first say this: not everybody reacts badly. For some men, my overblown hourglass figure is indeed a turn on. Trust me when I say this. I have slept with better looking men than you are probably imagining. Fat equalling ugly is not a universal opinion.
But I understand why Suzanne Rofe feels a desire to express her need to change. While not everyone hates fat women, it’s hard to be fat sometimes. It’s really tough to negotiate between what you’re supposed to look like and what you do look like and still feel okay about it. It’s hard not to offer in that negotiation with yourself – and everyone else – a promise that you will change. I try not to do that.
Fat women are not immune to getting feedback on the streets from strangers, good and bad. They’re also not invulnerable to sexual assault. Honestly, I understand the relief in the feeling of being out of the action, of not participating in the meat market of sexual interactions between young heteros. I have indeed said that my fat is an arsehole detector. But we are not sexual non-beings, nor even just fetish objects.
I remember standing in line waiting to get in a club and a man turning around, looking me up and down and telling me what I needed to do to my body in order to get him to become my sexual partner, as if I had specifically asked him to bonk me. Then there’s the time I got yelled at while going for a run. ‘FAT BITCH!’ they yelled and I was like ‘DUH I KNOW!?!’ There’s lots more and I can’t even be bothered detailing them, because I don’t want your pity and I don’t want you thinking I feel like a victim.
It’s true that when I was younger I got more “positive” attention. In fact, due to maturing early I think I got it way too early. The first time I remember being made to feel uncomfortable by a male gaze I was 11. There’s a relief in not feeling pinned by someone’s inappropriate attentions. But I don’t want to give up my sexual self because I am fat. I don’t want to give up my sexual self because of aggressive male attention.
I am certainly not more or less of a victim than any other girl that has experienced street harassment in any of its forms (all of us). I do not see anything different in negative abuse to someone yelling sexual instructions or “compliments” at a more conventionally attractive female. It all comes from the same place. It’s all about being up for consumption by a culture that wants to control us, make us more manageable. If we accept that rape culture exists, then isn’t the idea that nobody – gay, fat, old, ugly – gets to nominate when they step out of it?
Fat girls might not often get pestered for sex but if you’re not getting abused, you’re often being concern trolled and losing one means gaining a lot of the other. Even women who would scream until hoarse on the street regarding women’s right to make decisions about their body in a reproductive sense will often not see the irony in telling you off about your body because they’re ‘concerned about health!’
We really do need more allies. Let me say this and get it out of the way before I have to argue it in the comments: you cannot tell anything about my health by looking at me. Even trained medical professionals have to perform tests to get an idea of someone’s health. You’d have to be psychic to be able to know how healthy I am by looking at me. I don’t believe in psychics. Have a think next time you’re offering an evaluation of someone’s body, unless you are a medical professional. But I think the first step to gaining more allies is to stop apologising and promising to change. Fat girls are allowed to be in the world, we’re allowed to exist and we’re even allowed to wear horizontal stripes.
The other day I was at the markets with my partner and we were waiting in line for coffee. I saw from the corner of my eye a chubby girl of about 15. She was examining me intently. I obviously have no idea what she was thinking. When I think of my 15 year old self I wish I had seen more fat women feeling sexy as they moved through crowded places. I wish I had seen more fat women dressed up and enjoying themselves and just allowing themselves to be without apology. I want to be in my body. I hope that’s what she saw when she looked at me.