A person that simply refuses to subscribe to the dominant narrative about how I should move through the world in this body of mine. And I’m not alone. I am part of an international community of people who choose to, rather than passively accepting that our bodies are and probably always will be big, we actively choose to flourish in these bodies as they are today; people who honor our strength and work with not against our perceived limitations; people who value health as something much more holistic than a number on an outdated BMI chart.
Instead, we value mental health, self-worth, and how we feel in our bodies as vital aspects to our overall well-being; people who refuse to believe that living in these fat bodies is a barrier to anything, really. There are doctors, academics, and bloggers who have written countless volumes on the many facets of this complex subject.
There are “fatshionistas” who reclaimed their bodies and their beauty by wearing “fat-kinis” and crop-tops exposing the flesh that we’re all taught to hide. There are fat athletes who run marathons, teach yoga, or do kickboxing, all done with the middle finger firmly held up to the status quo. These people have taught me that radical body politics is the antidote to our body-shaming culture.
But to be clear, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t change their bodies if that’s what they want to do. Reclaiming yourself can be one of the most gorgeous acts of self-love and can look like a million different things: from hairstyles, to tattoos, to body contouring, to hormones, to surgery, and yes, even weight loss.
It’s simple: it’s your body, and you decide what’s best to do with it. My way of engaging in activism is by doing all the things that we fatties aren’t supposed to do, and there’s a lot of them; inviting other people to join me and then making art about it. The common thread through most of this work has been reclaiming spaces that are often prohibitive to bigger bodies from the catwalk to club shows from public swimming pools to prominent dance stages. Reclaiming spaces en masse is not only a powerful artistic statement but a radical community building approach. This was so true of Aquaporko, the fat femme synchronized swim team I started with a group of friends in Sydney.
The impact of seeing a bunch of defiant, fat women in flowery swimming caps and bathers throwing their legs in the air without a care should not be underestimated. Throughout my career, I have learned that fat bodies are inherently political, and unapologetic fat bodies can blow people’s minds. When director Kate Champion of acclaimed dance theater company Force Majeure asked me to be the artistic associate on a work featuring all fat dancers, I literally jumped at the opportunity. And I mean, literally. Nothing to Lose is a work made in collaboration with performers of size who drew from their lived experiences to create a work as varied and authentic as we all are.
It was as far from ballet as you could imagine. The very idea of a fat dance work by such a prestigious company was, to put it mildly, controversial because nothing like it had ever been done on mainstream dance stages before anywhere in the world. People were skeptical “What do you mean ‘fat dancers’?” “Like size-10, size-12 kind of fat?” “Where did they do their dance training?” “Are they going to have the stamina for a full-length production?”
But despite the skepticism, Nothing to Lose became a sellout hit of Sydney Festival. We received rave reviews, toured, won awards, and were written about in over 27 languages.
These incredible images of our cast were seen worldwide. I’ve lost count of how many times people of all sizes have told me that the show has changed their lives, how it helped them shift their relationship to their own and other people’s bodies, and how it made them confront their own bias.
But of course, work that pushes people’s buttons is not without its detractors. I have been told that I’m glorifying obesity; I have received violent death threats and abuse for daring to make work that centers fat people’s bodies and lives and treats us as worthwhile human beings with valuable stories to tell. I’ve even been called, “The ISIS of the obesity epidemic” a comment so absurd that it is funny but it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror that the fear of fat can evoke.
It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with their own bodies, for waiting to be the after photo before we truly start to live our lives. Because the real elephant in the room here is fatphobia. Fat activism refuses to indulge this fear by advocating for self-determination and respect for all of us. We can shift society’s reluctance to embrace diversity and start to celebrate the myriad of ways there are to have a body.