I was invited to speak at a panel yesterday at the third Plus London event. This is a fatshion-based blogger community event. I hadn't been to the others, I'm not a fatshion blogger, but I am interested in what fat activism looks like in the UK, so I wanted to see what it was all about.
Our panel was chaired by Isha Reid and consisted of Dr Caroline Walters, who has been around the Fat Studies scene for a while and who specialises in sex, kink and porn; and Gina Warren, who works as Equality and Diversity consultant at Cambridge University. Isha wanted us to talk about confidence, and also about stereotyping and media. We presented a variety of views and there was a lively q&a afterwards. I won't speak for the others here, but I'll explain a little of what I said.
I mentioned that I see two parts of the work that I do as a therapist with fat clients in terms of confidence. Firstly it's about understanding and untangling what is going on for the client in terms of their feelings, experiences and beliefs; the internal stuff. But it's also about recognising the bigger picture and thinking about what can be done to disrupt a social context in which fat people are often positioned as less than human. I wanted to acknowledge that confidence isn't a free-floating thing that some people just happen to have and others don't, that it's rooted in social factors.
It was a real pleasure to talk about making your own media, and becoming a critical consumer of media. I don't think that there is good and bad media in relation to fat; the things that I like are often the things that are supposedly bad for me, and the things that people think are good usually get on my nerves! I said that it's important to understand how and why media happens (hint: it's usually about money and power).
I wish I'd remembered to say something about how fat people I know are sometimes afraid of looking at the 'bad' stuff. But the bad stuff is quite compelling to me, and looking at it gives you some insight about how fat hatred functions, which is useful if you want to avoid it. I don't know why but I don't take it personally, maybe I have enough of a robust sense of my fat self to cope with it. I wish I could transmit that feeling to other people who want it.
Plus London Three was well-attended and lasted two days. It's produced by a team of volunteers, and also receives sponsorship. It was good to see many people I don't know who are interested in developing discussions about fat, there were quite a few young people there, and many with social media expertise. It made me think of how diverse the movement is in the UK, and the spaces that act as entry points for people, the kinds of activist skills that are being developed. There are certainly many more opportunities to become active within the movement now than in 1989, when I first encountered fat activism.
It's funny, people sometimes get in touch with me because they want to know about fat activist groups, because they want to 'get involved'. But the movement doesn't really look like that here. There are performers engaged with fat, and a Fat Studies community, and occasional meet-ups, a fatshion blogosphere, a more conservative academic community, a Health At Every Size community, one-off events, organisations that include some fat stuff but aren't primarily devoted to fat activism, and so it goes. These happen at different times, they're not permanent or regular fixtures. It's not a unified movement, and some sections are antagonistic towards others, or not very connected, for example Bear culture is pretty active in the UK, but somewhat disconnected from fat culture that has feminist or academic roots.
Fat activism in the UK is kind of nebulous, and although it can be hard to refer people to specific places, it's also exciting to me that it exists in these hard-to-pin-down ways. They pop up from time to time when there's a need for them and a critical mass of people prepared to get them going. Finding this stuff might not be easy at first, but once you know where to look there are many opportunities for making things happen. Plus London is one such event and hopefully it will continue and grow, and respond to community voices, and become a great addition to the movement.