I want to say a special thank you to Sarah Robertson who not only organized this shoot, but organizes shoots that are unique and fun regularly. She also models and is an amazing friend. I also want to say thanks to Constance Medrano who was my makeup artist for this shoot. Photographers are credited under each photo.
Last week was Bi-Visibility week and Weight Stigma Awareness week. It seems like the perfect time to post my talk from last year's Fat Activism Conference on the intersection of fat and queer issues- specifically fat and bi issues. This is a rather lengthy post. My time for the conference was about 12 minutes and I took up every minute of it for this important issues.
My topic today is rather specific. I want to address the oversexualization of bisexual and fat women combined with the desexualization of fat women and how this creates a perfect storm for objectification and how that objectification affects fat bisexual women. I’ve chosen to specifically speak about this issue because, as a fat bisexual woman myself, I feel like I can speak to my own experiences.
First of all I want to throw out a trigger warning for those who need it because I’m talking to be talking a little bit about rape culture and statistics as it pertains to the objectification of women and bisexual women in particular.
I want to talk about this trend that I see where there is this mash up of oversexualization and desexualization. Oversexualization can apply to a lot of people but right now I’m going to talk about the topic as it pertains to bisexual women. As a bisexual woman I get to hear a lot of the stereotypes and then some. Bisexuals are sluts, they cheat, they’re dirty, they carry STD’s, they’ll sleep with anyone, they’re always up for a threesome. While there’s a hearty dose of slut shaming in biphobia I want to focus particularly on the stereotypes that bisexuals have a lot of sex and that that sex is somehow what defines them.
If you’ll notice, most stereotypes about bisexuals involve sex. While monosexuals have alternative names for their sexuality (gay, lesbian, straight) bisexuals are stuck with “sex” in the title. This may be both caused by and contribute to the problematic ways bi people are viewed.
Bisexuals are rarely seen as people and often seen as oversexed and always willing. It is, perhaps, for this reason that bisexual women face rape more often than monosexual women. In fact, they’re about three times more likely to experience it. According to the CDC, 61% of bisexual women have been raped, stalked, or assaulted by an intimate partner compared to 41% of lesbian women and 35% of straight women. The segment of these women facing rape is even scarier. 13% of lesbians, 17% of straight women, and a whopping 46% of bisexual women have experienced rape.
So imagine what that means for bisexual women. Imagine how terrifying that is. Women in general have to constantly be on their guard even in the midst of friends. Remember that most rapes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. So 46%, almost half, that’s a big number, that’s a scary number. It means never being sure if you’re safe.
It’s pretty obvious that oversexualization leads to objectification. Objectification is the point at which a living being becomes an object, a commodity.In media we often see women literally turned into objects. One recent example is a coca cola bottle with a human-eque shape and a fat belly used to talk about the “obesity epidemic”. This is a clear example of the objectification of fat people, but let’s get back to women in general for a moment. A study by Princeton psychologists showed that some men (specifically men that they identified as sexist) had less brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps identify humanity, when shown photos of scantily clad women, indicating that they were not seen as human, but rather as objects. This means that men who show other signs of sexism, that is, a prejudice against women, are more likely to see women like they’re less than human. And it’s so much easier to commit violence against someone that you barely see as human.
Objectification is possibly the only logical outcome to oversexualiztion.
To oversexualize simply means to make a person’s core being into a sexual one. To define them by their sexuality and their use for sex while denying them their own agency or being in control of their own sexual being. I deal with this fairly often as I run an art project called The Fat Naked Art Project. Fat naked bodies which are meant neither to be sexualized nor objectified, but this is often the case. Inappropriate comments have needed to be moderated time and time again. My fat models, very specifically the women, are seen as nothing more than sexual objects, specifically fat objects. Their entire identity and being often reduced to the type of belly they have or the size of their thighs.
So then, I’ll beg the question, why are fat women so oversexualized? One reason may be that fat women often have larger breasts, which are downright fetishized in our culture. But another reason may be that fat women are othered, made to feel different, to exist in a separate societal box. This makes them into a forbidden fruit dangling just out of reach. Fat women have their own set of sexual stereotypes as well. They’re always easy, they’re desperate, they’ll sleep with anyone who pays attention to them. These stereotypes that over sexualize fat women also lead to many people seeing them as objects which leads us back to rape culture.
Several months ago I wrote a post on my blog about fat girls and rape culture which was inspired by a cafepress T-shirt which read “fat girls can’t say no and when they do it means yes”. Fat girls and women who are sexually assaulted are often told a myriad of horrible things to try and delegitimize their experiences. “You should be grateful” is the one I hear most often. Yes, grateful, because who would want to touch a fat chick?
And here we come to the desexualization of fat women. Isn’t it interesting that we can be both hypersexualized and desexualized at the same time? Our sexuality is often denied to us. In the movie, The Lorax, the fat aunt of the main character is being rather mean and the lorax himself threatens to hit her. Our main character steps in, asking, “you wouldn’t hit a woman would you?” to which the lorax replies “that’s a woman?!”. It’s all for good laughs, right? Fat women are rarely allowed to be sexual beings in the media and when they are it’s as a twist, a surprise, or a joke.
I’m a huge doctor who fan. Even with all of it’s problems I can’t stop watching it. But I couldn’t help but notice that Donna, the one character who is, although not fat, a little thicker, the only companion who is never ever shown as a sexual being. In fact, her lack of sexuality is joked about in “The Doctor’s Daughter” episode where she offers to use her “womanly wiles” to get past some guards. The butt of the joke yet again. When Rebel Wilson becomes sexual in Bridesmaids it is a garish display that involves, you guessed it, food. Her sexuality is meant to be laughed at in that way that she’s not really sexual at all.
Both oversexualization and desexualization share a common aspect in the removal of our agency. While men, straight women, and lesbians often take control of and ownership of their sexualities, both oversexualization and desexualization involve having those decisions taken away. Women are oversexualized through the assumptions and assertions that they want any sex with any person, and do not need to consent to that. These women are given a default of “yes”. Women are desexualized when the agency over sex is taken away from them and given to someone else. Sex is not something fat women are seen as having a choice in, but something the generous will gift upon them and they can only respond by being grateful.
It’s interesting to note that fat people are often hypervisible while being completely invisible at the same time. By Hypervisible I mean that fat is on everyone’s lips, we’re in the news, all over the media, even on the radio and ads and billboards, but we’re talked about as dehumanized objects. The classic headless fatty is a good example. We’re invisible in the sense that we’re rarely seen as human and, indeed, our humanity flies under the radar.
In a very similar way bisexual women are hypervisible, in that women are almost expected to be bisexual, to experiment, to have a more fluid sexuality, but we’re sexualized to the point of dehumanization. Actual bisexual issues including biphobia and discrimination are overlooked, made invisible. While bisexual women are oversexualized and not desexualized it’s a problem in and of itself that bisexual women are seen as being constant sexual beings and sexual objects.
Living as a fat bisexual woman means being oversexualized and desexualized in various ways. Specifically I believe that the combination of oversexualization and desexualization inherently lead to objectification because it dehumanizes it’s target.
What does this dehumanization and objectification mean for every day fat bisexual women though? What it means is constant stigmatization, discrimination, oppression, and violence. We’re objects that aren’t important enough to treat with respect or equality. It can very often mean violence (from verbal to physical) from partners who have something to prove, it can mean being othered, , it can mean rape culture is a daily reality for you, it can mean being bullied and abused and it can mean a constant state of anxiety in a culture that refuses to recognize your basic humanity.
Being fat is it’s own challenge, but being fat and queer is it’s own experience. While being queer isn’t usually outwardly visible and being fat is, they can carry different consequences that, when combined, can become overwhelming. As a bisexual you can become automatically closeted because people assume your sexuality based on your current relationship. As a fat woman your sexuality can be automatically invalidated. And as a fat bisexual woman you can be fetishized and dehumanized.
I believe the solution to these issues is the destigmatization of both fat bodies and queer identities. Though the oppression of both of these groups is deeply ingrained in our society, it’s not a lost cause. As queer rights and fat rights pick up steam via social media, literature, protests, and demonstrations, we also pick up more supporters. While I fear that internalized fatphobia and biphobia may be a large hurdle, I have seen this overcome in so many people through my activism and the activism of others that it gives me great hope. I’m so inspired by many other activists and I see the progress we’ve made even since I found fat acceptance in 2010. While it almost seems like the “war on obesity” efforts have doubled, fat acceptance is spreading quickly.
Perhaps the key to destigmatization is not only getting others to accept us, but to get people to accept themselves. In a society where we often deal with internalized bigotry, self acceptance is a core part of our activism and goals. When you convince one person to change their bigotry and lack of acceptance for others, you make a small but meaningful impact towards the change we need to see.
I literally woke up like this. These photos are taken in my home, after waking up, hair messy and any makeup just left over from the night before. I originally took these photos for a friend who wanted to paint me. I especially hated the last one... the cellulite! Of course, I sent them anyway and I'm happy to say that the painting is coming along beautifully.
Today, a social media friend, said that she felt like sharing her cellulite after listening to a very thin woman complain about her own and being applauded for being so brave from other thin women. I don't think I've ever been applauded for loving my cellulite because fat people, generally, don't have that option, that privilege. When we complain about our bodies we hear "then lose weight! fix it!" (by generally I mean outside of the fat acceptance community).
So here are three very honest photos of my body. Cellulite and all.
I weigh almost 300lbs and I have anorexia. Technically it's designated as atypical anorexia because I, obviously, don't meet the weight requirements for the more commonly known form of anorexia which requires a low body weight. I have fat anorexia, or, the type of anorexia that you have when you either don't lose weight or don't lose as much weight as it would take to gain an anorexia diagnosis.
I want to talk for a moment about resources for fat patients with eating disorders.
Well, that was short.
In other words, aside from a facebook group which I created for fat people with eating disorders (Body Love Through Struggle), there aren't really any resources specifically for fat people. So why not visit regular ED resource groups and be a part of the rest of the recovery community? Because ED resources are typically designed in a way that's incredibly fatphobic. Fat acceptance isn't a common or welcome philosophy and, let's face it, our fat bodies? They're the worst nightmare for most recovering eating disorder patients.
Eating disorders are entrenched in fatphobia. In fact, fat people, specifically young girls, are more at risk for eating disorders than their thin counterparts. That's because fatphobia drives eating disorders for most people. To get a little personal, my eating disorder started with stealing ephedra diet pills from my mom's purse because of her own internalized fatphobia. When my bipolar symptoms began, I gained weight. A lot of weight. About 100lbs in just three years. What that taught me was that fat was the worst thing a person can be. That you have zero worth as a fat person. I was popular as a thin girl and the punchline and punching bag as the fat girl. This is what drove me to restrictive eating which, soon after, turned into anorexia.
Everyday Feminism published THIS article on fatphobia in eating disorder communities. I saw it posted on facebook and made the mistake of reading the comments. What I saw was a lot of thin people getting really defensive about their own fatphobia. "You can't tell me how to recover!" was an overwhelming current in the thread. To this I replied, "fuck that".
Let's be honest, you don't get to recover on my back, on my life. Fat people are excluded from every eating disorder conversation, recovery program, and resource for ED patients. We're almost always excluded from ED recovery blogs or posts or tumblr memes. Even the picture that I found for my own facebook ED group for fat people doesn't have any body that looks like mine, is as fat or rolly as mine. Being able to get treatment and help and find resources for your eating disorder is a part of thin privilege because when I talked about my eating disorder I was congratulated! Thin privilege is having people recognize and be horrified at the way you're harming yourself instead of wondering what you did so they can do it too. Thin privilege is surviving an eating disorder because fat people end up dead before anyone says something was wrong and, even then, admitting that what fat people do in the name of thinness is fucked up is rarely recognized.
Let me tell you something, you aren't entitled to your recovery when it costs me my life. When you're stepping me and people like me to climb that mountain isn't recovery, it's oppression. You aren't entitled to the resources that we're not allowed to have. If you think you're allowed to hang on to your bigotry because it soothes you then fuck you.
I wanted to include a list of resources that were specifically fat friendly ED resources at the end of this post. Unfortunately, other than the facebook group mentioned at the beginning of this post, I couldn't find anything. If you have a resource, please post it in the comments!
I feel like I've been doing too many photo posts and not nearly enough text posts. That's because I've been extremely busy between bouts of being very tired and very sick. As most of you know, I am gluten intolerant due to thyroid disease and a simple sandwich gifted me a two week migraine, two trips to the ER, one to an urgent care, and many many medications. This is on top of a lot of hectic things happening in my personal life.
As many of you know, I'm recovered from an eating disorder which took up a decade of my life. I occasionally still have triggering thoughts and bad body days and I realized that there were little to no resources for fat people with eating disorders, especially not ones that focused on fat acceptance and body acceptance as a path to recovery and healing.
I've joined and unjoined an awful lot of eating disorder support groups because many were constantly fatphobic, which is understandable given the nature of eating disorders- yet they refused to acknowledge fatphobia in general, let alone internalized or even externalized issues. Many refused to believe that a fat person could even have an eating disorder beyond Binge Eating Disorder, or believed that being fat was an eating disorder itself (again, related to BED). Most advocated "healthy weight gain" which often meant gaining enough weight to still be thin, just not too thin. All in all, many ED communities are very problematic.
On this new group I hope to not only be a resource for people struggling with eating disorders, but also to be able to find and post other good resources for people to follow in order to get the help and support they (we) need.
So, if you feel the desire, please come and join our group or, at the very least, spread the word.
Who knew wood nymphs came in plus size? (Hint: I did!). Thanks to the wonderful ICU Photography for this set. It was really fun putting the costume together (by which I mean burning my fingers while hot gluing things to other things).