Image description: Three fat women stand back to back with hands entwined in a grassy park.
In a fat-folks-only Zoom call last night, a friend looked around and said, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever been in a space with only fat folks in it before. It’s wonderful.”
It’s necessary and vital for marginalized groups to have their own spaces, safe places where we can gather out from under the eyes of oppressors and discuss our own lives, concerns and needs. But since fat people often aren’t considered to be really oppressed, and even in progressive circles fatphobia and weight stigma aren’t considered to be real oppression, thin folks often don’t allow us to have our own spaces.
Diet culture also teaches people in thin and average-sized bodies that all that’s required to be fat is to “feel fat,” so almost every attempt by fat people to create a space for fat people immediately explodes in convulsions as dozens of average-sized and thin people center themselves and their need to be part of a space that isn’t actually for them. “Am I fat enough? What is fat, anyway? Does wearing straight sizes count? Why are you gatekeeping fatness? Why are you so mean?”
That means most online spaces, even those that are purportedly fat-centered, will include thin and average-sized people and will gradually become centered on the people with the most body privilege in the room unless someone is willing to constantly ride herd on the space (and take the slings and arrows that come with that duty). It means that, like how women are seen as dominating a room when there are more than just a few, fat people are seen as dominating spaces when we try to center any discussions at all on fatness or fat people — even when there are only a few of us in the space, or when we only ask for a small percentage of discussions to be fat-focused.
And it means that we lack safe places to share our stories and the very real and different needs of caring for a very large body. It’s hard to be vulnerable enough to talk about caring for a rash between fat rolls (which is a thing that happens to some, but not all, fat folks) when you’re sharing space with people who aren’t yet ready not to wrinkle their noses at the very thought of fat rolls at all. It’s hard to ask for clothing resources in a size 34 when you know you’ll be bombarded with dozens of suggestions for stores that don’t even carry that size (and will be scorned if you’re not appropriately grateful for the useless replies). It’s hard to talk about the constant abuse from and neglect by healthcare providers with people who are genuinely shocked when they themselves rarely encounter the tiniest edge of the treatment fat folks experience on the regular.
If you’re in a fat body and you’re able, start a fat-only space in your community. These spaces are vital. Don’t ever apologize.