Fabulously Fat Fridays: Fat & Feminism, or Why Intersectionality Matters

Right from the start, beginning with the title of this blog, I identify myself as a fat feminist.  Mostly, this blog is about fat, so some of you might be wondering: why is fat a feminist issue? I was going to tackle the issue of why fat fashion blogging is activism, but in honor of International Women’s Day, you get this instead! (Next week, though, we’ll talk about fatshion’s place in fat acceptance activism.)

One huge part of the answer lies in the theory of intersectionality, which, according to Wikipedia, is “the study of intersections between different groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination. […] Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and religion- or belief-based bigotry, do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.”

Now, I’m no expert, but to explain in simple terms what this means to me, nobody is just one thing. Feminists fight against oppression of women, but that can’t be all we’re fighting against. If we’re truly fighting against the oppression of all women (as we should be), we are also fighting against the oppression of all people. Why? Because many women aren’t white, so we have to fight against racism in order to fight for them. Because many women are disabled, so we have to fight against ableism in order to fight for them. Because many women are poor, queer, trans*, or fat, and in order to fight for them, we have to fight against all of their oppressions (and by extension, as said oppressions apply to everyone, including men and people outside the gender binary, of course). When people say they aren’t feminists because they believe in equality for everyone, I just figure they have a different definition of feminism than I do. By my definition, a real feminist has to fight for equality for everyone.

So guess what, fat-hating feminists? You suck. You are failing at being a feminist. If you aren’t helping me to fight against thin privilege and oppression of fat people, you aren’t fighting for me.

The other part of the answer, at least for me? That’s this idea that we, as women, have to look a certain way in order to be valuable. And fat discrimination is all about looks, if you’re going to play the health card now, go educate yourself and get back to me when you’ve been disabused of that seriously faulty notion. (Also, my health is none of your business, and go screw yourself for good measure.) So if we’re all on the same page now, women are discriminated against for being fat in many ways, but one of those ways is the same way that women are discriminated against for not meeting traditional beauty standards, be it in voluntary (not wearing makeup, not shaving body hair) or involuntary (simply not looking traditionally beautiful) ways, and that’s fucked up.  People (mostly women, in my opinion, though this does effect men to a lesser extent) who aren’t “pretty” are passed over for promotions or job offers. They are thought of as sloppy and lazy and bad people. How often is ugliness or fatness used as a shortcut for evil in fiction? Very often is the answer. Women are taught that we “owe” the world some kind of beauty, and we don’t. We don’t owe anyone anything. I want to look pretty, but I recognize that it’s a desire that is tied up in a lot of screwed-up patriarchal ideas, and I’m trying to reclaim it by looking “pretty” but in a traditionally un-pretty (fat) body. If you want to fight against traditional expectations for women to look pretty, you have to realize that fat bodies are a big (no pun intended) part of that fight. As a fat woman, I am supposed to try harder. What’s “low maintenance” on a thin, traditionally beautiful woman is seen as “sloppy” or “lazy” on a fat woman. That’s not okay, and it’s yet another way in which the ideals and expectations of the patriarchy leave women fighting and judging each other instead of the system that oppresses us all.

So, in conclusion: good feminists fight fat discrimination, too! (And ableism and racism and homophobia and all the other things I’m forgetting right now because there are too many to list.) We fight for people, for humanity, against oppressive systems that hurt us all. Even though there are a lot of people out there who call themselves feminists and don’t agree with this, I don’t identify myself with them. There are a lot of good feminists out there, though, and that’s who I’m aligning myself with.