Pretty white fat girls, and other musings on activism & Tumblr
Today I got this question in my ask box:
I just saw this while searching ‘fat acceptance’ on tumblr…thoughts? I find some of it problematic but it’s interesting.
Here is the post Anon is referring to in its entirety:
I’m doing this anonymously because I’ve seen how people can get attacked for having opinions about the Fat Acceptance movement.
I love fat acceptance. I love that people are accepting their bodies and not buying into society’s expectations of their bodies. But I can’t help but notice that (and this is specifically addressed towards Tumblr because that is where most of my fat acceptance experience takes place) the majority of fat women who are major figures in the movement (on tumblr) are white, conventionally beautiful (obviously society rejects their bodies but they’re the kind of girls that people condescendingly say “oh but you have such a pretty face” etc), have large breasts and smaller arms and calves. There just seems to be an implication of since you’re well dressed, beautiful and have a great rack and legs then it’s okay that you’re fat. Where are the girls with large calves and huge flabby arms who aren’t “pretty?” How hard is it to say I’m fat and proud if you are conventionally beautiful in other ways?
And when I talk to friends who are fat about fat acceptance and show them pictures on tumblr, they all always say something along the lines of “well, I’d be fine with being fat too if I was beautiful, had smaller arms, had bigger breasts, or smaller calves, etc.” Nobody talks about beauty and fat. Everyone’s saying fuck society’s definitions of beauty, we’re all beautiful…but the majority of these people do conform to some of society’s expectations of beauty. Some of us aren’t beautiful. That’s not to say we aren’t wonderful human beings, intelligent, funny, great friends, etc but we’re not pretty. Some of us just aren’t attractive and nothing will change that. I can accept that I don’t have a beautiful face, I just wish that I saw more of these kinds of faces.
Most of the pictures I see being reblogged of fat fashion are of girls on the smaller end of fat, pretty girls, girls with smaller arms and legs, girls with huge breasts, naked fat girls (with or without their heads showing). Rarely do I see any pictures of fat women who aren’t “pretty.” While I can’t speak for any of these pretty fat girls and their life experiences (for all I know, people on the street tell them they’re ugly everyday) but they are revered on tumblr. It’s not just fat girls, it’s anyone in the body acceptance movement…again, how hard is it to say you love your body when you’re beautiful?
I want to address this, because I think it’s important. I’ll try to do it point-by-point.
Fat-related things around Tumblr have been pretty contentious lately. To a certain degree, this is to be expected. Just because many of us have similar experiences re: being fat in a fat-hating world, that doesn’t mean we have the same opinions or agree on every point re: what to do about it. Some of us are more social justice-oriented. Some of us want to show our tits. Some of us want to build community or ‘safe’ spaces where being fat isn’t such a crime. Some of us want to be told we’re pretty, too. Some of us don’t give a flying fuck about being pretty (even if we are, according to societal standards, ‘conventionally attractive’). Some of us (many of us? most of us?) use Tumblr as a sort of validation. The point is this: all of this is perfectly okay—it just means that sometimes we’re going to disagree on some pretty important things… and if the talk is productive rather than destructive, some really great things can come out of discussing the issues on which we differ.
Anyway, the point of my saying this is that I wish we could all kind of acknowledge this and stop attacking each other. On the opposite end, if you are being called out, try not to automatically get defensive and see if there is a possibility for constructive dialogue to be had. If we all assume the best in each other (rather than the worst), we can get a lot more accomplished as a movement, and there can be space for those who are more activist-oriented and those who are not.
- I can’t help but notice that (and this is specifically addressed towards Tumblr because that is where most of my fat acceptance experience takes place) the majority of fat women who are major figures in the movement (on tumblr) are white, conventionally beautiful (obviously society rejects their bodies but they’re the kind of girls that people condescendingly say “oh but you have such a pretty face” etc), have large breasts and smaller arms and calves.
1. Tumblr is not the pinnacle of fat acceptance activism. I really want to encourage people who are interested in being apart of FA as a movement to do some research and find out more about the history of fat activism. It’s been goin’ down at least since 1967, y’all—WAAAY before the internet and way way WAY before Tumblr. It makes me a little sad when I think of all the fantastic people on Tumblr who are getting involved who don’t know, for example, who Lesley Kinzel is. Or Marianne Kirby. Or Kate Harding. Or Charlotte Cooper. Or Marilyn Wann. Or Judy Freespirit. (And this list is necessarily truncated and not at all representative of the immense amount of fat activism that has occurred and is occurring today). So please—if you’re feeling like Tumblr isn’t doing it for you, just know that there is a LOT out there. Just because you might not like the way people are ~doing~ FA on Tumblr, that doesn’t mean it’s not for you.
2. You’re right. A LOT of the most popular FA Tumblr-ers are pretty white fat girls. And that’s a problem. Or rather, a symptom of a problem. The imperative for women to be beautiful (and, at least where I come from, this typically means white, as well) is so all-pervasive that it’s hard to escape even in Tumblr-land. I think these women become more popular because we (the viewers) see someone who is pretty and we like that so we hit that little red heart button and voila—the conventionally attractive girls end up getting more notes, etc. I think this happens more on Tumblr because, again, Tumblr has a lot of people who are new to fat acceptance and who are still heavily influenced by societal standards of beauty. And early on, it CAN be a revolutionary thing for a fat person to realize that they can be pretty, too. But that is NOT the point of fat activism (at least, for me), and it ends up leaving a lot of people feeling pretty alienated.
I would like to think that other corners of the fat-o-sphere (and IRL fat activism) do better with this (check out these awesome posts by Lesley here and here), but it is still true that FA is, by and large, dominated by fat white women. This is in part because FA doesn’t do a great job at privilege-checking and because we haven’t always focused on issues of intersectionality. This is hard work that requires a lot of self-education—as well as teaching each other—about racism, ableism, classism, etc. Many people DON’T want to do this work. That sucks, and I don’t know how to make them want to learn. I try to do my part by being invested in these things personally and talking about them as much as possible. But it’s going to take a lot more work before women of color and disabled women, etc. feel fully comfortable and ‘at home’ in fat acceptance.
Unless the Tumblr fat-o-sphere as a whole agrees to get a little bit more political, many of the Tumblrs you read will continue to champion the pretty, white (and big-breasted, and small-calved, etc.) fat girl. For what it’s worth, it IS possible to cultivate a more social justice-minded Tumblr experience for yourself by carefully picking and choosing who you follow. AND creating spaces for those who you feel are underrepresented. I highly suggest doing this, if you have the time and emotional energy.
- Nobody talks about beauty and fat.
Not true. (But many people don’t.) Again, I think part of this feeling comes from the fact that you choose your own Tumblr experience based on who you follow. There are a lot of Tumblrs out there (especially the ones that are more aggregate Tumblrs, where lots of girls post pictures of themselves) that do not think about beauty standards (or other oppressive shit) in a critical way. Don’t follow them if this bothers you. It bothers me—which is why I don’t follow them.
- While I can’t speak for any of these pretty fat girls and their life experiences (for all I know, people on the street tell them they’re ugly everyday) but they are revered on tumblr. It’s not just fat girls, it’s anyone in the body acceptance movement…again, how hard is it to say you love your body when you’re beautiful?
These last two sentences are a little confusing to me. I gather that you (whoever you are) are upset that the prettiest girls are the ones who are popular, and that you acknowledge that you don’t know their life experiences, but you still find it hard to believe that body acceptance is hard for them.
First of all, I want to say that I mostly agree with you re: the pretty girls are popular and that is problematic. But if you’re upset with THEM for that, you’re not necessarily putting the blame where it belongs. You can be upset at pretty girls who don’t acknowledge their privilege and who aren’t interested in building a movement that is more inclusive and political and not into maintaining the status quo. And you can be upset that other people on Tumblr are giving the pretty girls more attention. That is valid. But you should also understand WHY that happens, and work instead to dismantle the system that creates the positive responses we have to conventional beauty in the first place. And—just to be clear—this is NOT just the job the of ‘unconventionally attractive’ folks. This is—HAS TO BE—the job of the pretty girls, as well. Privilege doesn’t go away unless those who have it acknowledge that it exists in the first place.
Still, it troubles me when you ask “how hard is it to say you love your body when you’re beautiful?”
Now, I don’t know WHO you are talking about exactly re: “the pretty white girls,” but I acknowledge that I could probably be lumped into this category. Growing up, I was one of those “such a pretty face, if only you’d lose weight” girls. Please please please believe me when I say that that didn’t make coming to terms with my body any easier. It’s incredibly unfair of you (and just plain wrong) to assume that someone might ‘have it easier’ because of their looks. They might have had it ‘differently’, but it doesn’t help for us to make blanket generalizations about the lived experience of others, especially with regard to comparing oppressions (which is almost always not helpful and pretty damn divisive).
All of that said, I want to revise a statement I made earlier in this incredibly long response (and now I’m getting really away from Anon’s post, so I’m sorry): “If we all assume the best in each other (rather than the worst), we can get a lot more accomplished as a movement, and there can be space for those who are more activist-oriented and those who are not.”
I’m just going to say it: I'm not really interested in building or participating in a movement with those who are not activist-oriented. I want to work with people who are willing to think critically about oppression and intersectionality and the problematics of identity politics. BUT that doesn’t mean that I think that people who aren’t doing those things can’t be “in” FA. We’re all here, and we can all contribute positively to FA. The most I can do is work to cultivate a version of FA that is self-reflexive and constantly thinking and talking about the aforementioned issues. I think that there will always be some sort of divide between those who use fat acceptance as a social tool and those who use it as a means of achieving social justice. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together where it is appropriate, and that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t be friends or appreciate the work we can all do to help people come to terms with their bodies.
Feel free to agree or disagree. Let’s talk about this.
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