On the fat mom bat signal, Martha Stewart's swimsuit cover, and impractical plants.
I’d like to give a shout out for the idea that IRL fat community can mean people that you don’t spend time with in the same room. For disabled and immunocompromised people like me, there’s only one person and some medical providers I do that with. Everyone else is a virtual connection whether they live a few miles away or hundreds of miles away. Phone calls and video chats are real to me and really important. My fat liberation book club, which is just a group of people that met online and has an every other week discussion and online community for creating fat-centered support has been a great source of support and encouragement in feeling less alone especially as a fat activist and educator. It’s pretty easy to join or start one so I think that’s a great thing for people to try who don’t have local in person options.
I'm so pumped that this is the topic for today because last night I hosted an inaugural "Diet Culture Dropout Club" in my small town in Northern Michigan. I rented space from a local, inclusive/queer coffee shop for the evening and I was exhilarated that nine people came - three of whom I hadn't met and weren't even friends I had badgered into attendance! We're starting with an email list and a few meet-ups scheduled but there was so much good talk about have a safe and social space for this work AND play! We decided we wanted to hit a vibe somewhere much more fun that a support group but slightly more structured than a meet-up, so we can revel in Body Liberation community and also support one another on our individual journeys. Some ideas folks came up with:
- Body Liberation Dance Parties
- Open mic nites
- Beach days
- river/kayaking trips
One of the conversations starters we had was our Body Liberation "inspirations"/heroes and Burnt Toast came up a lot. You've inspired this work, blazed a trail for us, and planted a lot of seeds and they are taking root. Thank you
Such a good question! I’ve always been bigger than was acceptable for upper middle class white ladies, at every age. Also? Pretty much a small fat person. So privilege as well as awareness of the deep biases.
My IRL communities are pretty varied, but I work in tech and for a long time I felt like professional success was dependent on having a normative body. (Data suggests that it is, which is ridiculous.) After having my third kid (also a deterrent to success in tech for women!) I worked like a demon to lose weight and OMG the kudos when I showed up at a trade show much smaller!! Naturally, I regained the weight and returned to my baseline. Whatever.
My journey to a healthy relationship with all of this started when I took a new job 8 years ago. Company culture back then dictated that you dress creatively wearing orange. As a fat person, shopping is an exercise in humiliation. As an artist (mostly in remission given the kids and a full time job) my impulse is to make things. So I learned to sew clothes, and in the process discovered the Curvy Sewing Collective (website, active FB group). That led me to a plethora of hastags on Instagram, any much delight.
The reigning mantra in online sewing world is that if something doesn’t fit, the clothes are the issue—not your body. And whatever your body shape and size, you deserve to have clothes that fit well that you love. Wowza!! All true.
Turns out that if you are a person who likes the process of making things, sewing is super easy to learn. And there is an incredible community of people actively working to be inclusive on all the levels. I could go on and on!! (And Virginia, I think this is a cool vein to mine—happy to talk! I know you have talked with Leila—Jenny Rushmore is another great resource.)
I now have a great wardrobe that is fun, suits me, and fits beautifully—and has made me utterly unselfconscious about my body. Plus, the only stores I’ve had to visit are fabric emporiums full of daydreams. I’m happy to point y’all to good starting references if this appeals. I know it’s not for everyone, but it has opened my eyes and made me more empathetic on so many levels. All while providing a relaxing zone for destressing.
Not for nothing, but I'm starting a "Diet-Culture Dropout Club" IRL in NJ in the next few weeks. Not sure yet whether the format will be just open forum discussion/processing vs. a book club, but the thought of being in a space full of people who are learning "we can spend our energy focusing on shrinking and obsessing about our bodies, or we can use our energy on creating magic and change in the world"* is like, the most exciting thing I can even imagine right now.
* Chrissy King is teaching me all the things right now - thanks so much for introducing me to her work! (The Body Liberation Project, page 277)
I'm straight sized and work from home so I don't interact in person with many people these days. When I do go to the office, my colleagues, fat and straight sized, are deeply in diet culture so I avoid the topic completely with them. I'm just getting to the part of your book where you offer suggestions about how to have the fat talk with various people in your life so perhaps I'll have better luck when I finish that! I'm really struggling with finding anyone I can talk to about any of this. Part of my problem is that I engaged in negative body talk so frequently with my closest friends in the past, I don't know how to talk to them about bodies at all anymore and so I avoid the discussion completely and if they bring it up I say nothing on the subject and quickly turn to something else. I appreciated the podcast this week because I also live in Phoenix and hearing that Tigress lives here too made my day. Thanks for all your work on this issue, and I'm glad that even after hearing from all of those terrible trolls, you keep on keeping on!
I'm fat and know a handful of fat people here in Tucson, AZ (like Shannon, I was absolutely delighted to hear that Tigress is in Arizona!) ... but NO ONE in my offline life is not restricting their intake in some way. Most of my friends are mom friends from my now-grown daughters' elementary school, which is a Waldorf school (IYKYK). I love my weird community, but what I wouldn't give for just one fat friend who eats freely.
For ages, so much of my body liberation community was online. I'm a sewist who makes most of my own clothes, largely because I'm small- to mid-fat and I can get the style and fit I want so much more easily when I make it myself. And there's a HUGE body liberation community on Instagram of people who sew and who advocate for size inclusion by pattern makers, body neutral approaches to fitting and tailoring, treating body measurements as just data points, etc. So I've been grateful to be part of that community alongside following and learning from all of the amazing fat liberationists who do such important work on Insta.
One of the great people in the online sewing community is Leila Kelleher, who Corinne featured in her underwear deep dive the other week. Leila designs patterns specifically tailored to fat bodies as one half of Muna & Broad, and she's also a professor who teaches about fashion and size inclusion at Parsons.
My in-person fat liberation community has grown significantly with the launch of the Toronto chapter of the Body Liberation Hiking Club (shout out to our founder Avery, who I know is also a big ol' Burnt Toast fan). We've hiked together all spring, and I think the plan is to do a bunch more in the fall. BLHC hikes are AWESOME for cultivating in-person fat community. We go slow, we stop for tons of snacks, all diet talk etc. is banned, we show off our fat bodies in all their hiking glory on social media, and it's generally just fantastic.
I'm straight sized and am newly part of the body liberation community. Very newly part! I am focussing on reading and listening to everything I can to educate myself and cultivate more self awareness about weight, BMI, scale dependency, etc.
At the same time, I'm endeavoring to push back on the mainstream narrative regarding obesity. I was gobsmacked by a recent Axios poll asking people about public health concerns - the "obesity epidemic" ranked right up there with GUNS and opioid addiction. Good heavens.
My close and extended family includes fat loved ones. I have not yet talked to my son about his experiences. My other child is trans and battles body dysmorphia continually. So I'm deeply adjacent even if I'm not fat myself.
I want to continue to learn and speak out to counter the misinformation. Thanks so much for your books and podcast. I'm finishing "The Eating Instinct" and will get a copy of "Fat Talk" after that. They are so helpful.
I have one straight sized friend who went through having colon cancer and when she started putting the weight back on that she lost during chemo her doctor told her to be careful or she’d need to go on a diet!! That was really the turning point I think for us to talk about how f’d up weight stigma is in the healthcare system, and she’s been my primary friend to start to share a lot of of my separation from diet culture with. I have two other close friends I’ve tried to bring along with me, but I don’t think they’re there yet, which is hard sometimes because I went on diets with both in the past, and we’ve all talked negatively about our bodies together for years and I’d love to change that! But you really can’t go on this journey until you’re ready. I really have no other fat friends to share with, but luckily my husband and kids are all in it with me! I too am in the upper middle-class white lady space where “being healthy” and your daily workouts are huge topics of conversation, and boy does that ramp up in midlife!
I’m in the process of moving out of the city to an island though, and I’m hoping I might be able cultivate more fat community and mix things up a bit there! 🤞
My closest friends are still people
I’ve know since high school. They have a great attitude around general acceptance and support of all body types. But I am the fat friend and I wish I had more IRL fat friends. There is a newly formed body liberation hiking group near me but the schedule just hasn’t worked out yet. Hopefully soon 🤞🏻
I stopped removing my body hair (but do shave my head lol) and I find that being very hairy is a great way to ID other people I want to be friends with. For Mother’s Day I went to the beach with other fat and hairy parent friends and it was so great to wear swimsuits and lounge around in hammocks with no shame!
And our kids were just there, doing kid stuff, watching us eat snacks and not care about what we looked like. It was grand.
Tbh the best advice for finding more cool people - be more queer lol. We are fun and we stopped caring so much about what other people think of us many moons ago (because we had to, to survive).
I'm straight-sized and anorexic, and it took YEARS (and many many fellow QUEERS) to find a community with which I could be frank about my experiences without eliciting calls for institutionalization ("abolitionists" turn into cops real quick when you're talking about psychiatric disability) *AND* who were enthusiastically supportive of fat liberation. Since 2016 (the year I started undergrad), I've been slowly building (and sometimes, unfortunately, unbuilding) a trustworthy community of politically queer, trans, disabled, fat, Mad, neurodivergent people, irl, online, and in-between. This is never a "completed" project, but what I have now, in 2023, is so special and so vital, especially in the way it encourages me to do better as an activist/scholar/person, while also refusing to punish me for behaving "unhealthily" or "dangerously" toward myself.
The first part of finding this community, for me, was totally detaching myself from cis/straight people. I think that this is pretty universally healing for queer/trans people who grew up trapped in violently oppressive areas, whose fixation on reproducing cisheterosexuality is indistinguishable with their fixation on thinness/ ("reproductive") fitness. Being around other trans dykes made me realize that I was desirable. That there existed entire social frameworks in which fat people, gender nonconforming people, disabled people, and all intersections therein were not only worthy of respect and liberation, but were also oozing sex appeal. Sex appeal is by no means required to be worthy of anything, but it was freeing to know that it was possible to be desired regardless of how my body happened to look now or in the future.
Since coming to grad school in 2020 and becoming more open about my ED (and the stakes of my abolitionist politics, as a survivor of forced institutionalization), I think I've finally found it. It takes work and vulnerability. It also took and takes discomfort on my part, continuously confronting anti-fat rhetorics I've internalized. I think that that kind of openness is critical to finding a genuinely liberatory community –– engaging in a different kind of restriction (this time, a narrative one) can be protective in hostile environments like the clinic or therapist's office, but really forecloses the possibility of sustainable and transformative relationships. For me, another component of finding this community was connecting over a shared passion for words, for knowing, for writing, and for research: most of the people closest to me are other scholars, and our shared research interests provided inroads for more visceral connection (or, like, the continuous acknowledgement that the academic and the visceral are a möbius strip!!!).
So, yes. Making friends (usually in classes, via messaging people about their work, going to local queer events and using my spidey-senses to find like-minded people; making friends through other friends who are more extroverted than me...) who embraced gender-and-bodymind-fuckery, abolition, and rigorous engagement with all of the above, really changed my life. It gave me a community. I also learned, through these pathways, that there were actually a lot of people for whom normative narratives of "ed recovery" were laughably useless, and for whom recovery, as it is demanded of us, could not and would not ever be achieved –– many of whom were fat, and many of whom have become fat(ter) through their embrace of bodymind self-determination, regardless of what doctors have to say.
Sorry for writing an essay in your comments, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately. One of my closest friends (and the token somehow-still-cis, somehow-has-a-bizarrely-good-relationship-with-food, person in my life, who is my perpetual hiking buddy because she eats a ton, all the time, and makes sure I do too!) just enlisted me to help her girlfriend get rid of all the clothes they outgrew and be a primary support as they deal with body image / dysphoria in the summer. This is a perfect crystalization of everything we've worked for together. I hope to participate in many more iterations of it, forever and ever.
Also a quick shoutout to my therapist, Jennie Wang-Hall, who is leading scholar-activism in ED treatment/psychiatric incarceration abolition. I love you Jennie!!
I'm mid-fat, have been mid- or small fat for all of my life and it is only in the last few years that I've started to seek out fat community. It's not that I didn't have people in my life of various shapes and sizes, it's just that I didn't specifically seek out other fat folks, mostly because of my own internalized fatphobia and wanting to be the "good fatty" who is always working to try to not be fat. But, having broken up with diet culture, working on my own relationship to my body and to food, and reconnecting with the post-COVID world, I'm gradually building up some fat community both virtually and IRL. Virtually I'm part of the Body Liberation Playground, a group that a fitness coach I've worked with off and on for years has started (https://www.hannahhusband.com/body-liberation-playground).
In person, in the last few months I've started attending weekly fat swims with Making Waves Fat Swim here in the bay area. https://www.instagram.com/makingwavesfatswim/ Meeting some very cool people there and enjoying time in the water most weeks!
Through that and other local folks, I'm starting to build awareness of other fat groups / communities in the area; it's just a matter of prioritizing it with a full time job, weekly volunteering, and other life maintenance!
There are plenty of fat people in my community. And a large portion of my friends are fat. Unfortunately, I’m often the only one talking about fat liberation. I frequently interrupt my fat friends when they talk about their bodies being their own “fault” and other such talk. I hope I’m opening doors to them feeling better about themselves. It’s interesting because they are all very progressive people and we talk a lot about other social oppressions but they can’t seem to apply those same beliefs and frameworks to fatness. So I keep plugging along at it. I have two friends who can make the mental leap to fat liberation from their other progressive ideals, one fat and one thin, but it’s not been a top issue for either of them so I’m still the one with the most knowledge.
The greater Sacramento area tends to be socially behind more liberal places like the Bay Area and the specific suburb that I live in is even more socially behind. People here behave like they did in the suburb I grew up in in the Bay Area 30 years ago. Socially, Elk Grove is just like Dublin in the 90s down to the denial of racism and the over abundance of SAHMs doing way too much labor and shaming the rest of us who don’t. And most especially wholeheartedly throwing themselves behind that ridiculous thin ideal - just with juice cleanses and over exercise instead of Jenny Craig. The only difference is that the majority of these SAHMs are not white. We have a huge AAPI community, largely Vietnamese, Hmong, and Philippino. But the discussion of the politics of suburbia, regardless of racial makeup, is not one for this post.
Prior to pandemic my IRL friends were quite size diverse though there was a lot of subtle & not so subtle orthorexia seeing as I’m on the west coast- weird diets/cleanses one finds rampant in the yoga world. Now my circle has shrunk and it’s all mostly petite and skinny people w/ few larger sized but still straight sized people. I have 1 friend who is very pro-fat who I rarely see. Some of what’s I’ve learned from the BT space is HAES, not to pathologize food, and to speak up when I see diet culture and fat hate coming in. Now that I understand it better I see it everywhere! I just had a conversation w/ my chubby mom re MS’s cover b/c my mom made a negative comment about Martha’s body and my jaw just dropped so we had a good but tricky conversation that illuminated how much self hatred and anti-fat my mom still is, which made me really sad for her. However, w/out this space I don’t think I would have caught that moment as quickly as I do and engage in conversation around it.
Such interesting questions and I love this dialogue. As a work-from-home mom my IRL community of school moms is fairly body diverse, even if my wider creative/friend community is less so. But I was a fat tween in very willowy ballet girl world. I did ballet, ran track, and swam every summer on the swim team and there was almost zero body diversity. Almost every girl (especially) around me including all my best friends ate 5 popsicles/novelty bars a day and still slither into the tiniest swimsuits/leotards and prance delicately across the stage. On the flip side though, I learned very early to take care of my body, my needs, and my feelings about myself. And my moms body positivity dialogue with me (ahead of her time) was very inspiring.