24 February 2014

Report: Fat Positive Clothes Swap 2014

I'm sitting here in a pair of cowboy boots and some really comfortable jeans both scored at yesterday's Fat Positive Clothes Swap. Also in the haul: a skirt, a top, a couple of pairs of shoes and, er, a leather corset! If I'd hung around for a little longer I probably would have come home with more. Aside from the donation I gave towards the room hire, none of this cost me a bean.

There have been a few fat clothes swap type events in the UK over the past couple of years, and I hope that they continue and proliferate. The Big Bum Jumble, a fundraiser for the Fattylympics, is probably the most ambitious to date, with a fashion show and DJs, but there have been smaller gatherings too. That these events can take place is a testament to the thriving plus size blogger scene, there are a lot of fat women out there looking for stuff to wear. Plus size gatherings typically involve representatives from plus size clothing brands, niche marketing is the name of the game. But a fat clothing swap is a little different. No one is buying or selling, it doesn't matter if you don't have money, and no one's increasing their debt over anything here.

A fat clothes swap is a breath of fresh reality built on re-using, recycling and redistributing things that didn't work out for you. One of the things I enjoy most about a clothes swap, which was really present yesterday, is that getting things for yourself is a big part of the pleasure, but it's also really wonderful to see your own stuff transformed on other people. A fat clothes swap is an act of giving that gives back. Because of this ethos, there's a fantastic playful atmosphere of conviviality and sharing at a fat clothes swap. "Try this on," "That looks great!" "I saw something over there that would look good on you," and so on.

Yesterday's swap was held at The Common House, a community space in Bethnal Green. There are remnants of other groups that use the space on the walls and in the fabric of the building. I really like how this helps build coalitions between groups. It means, for example, that the sex worker rights groups that use the space also get to know about fat activism, and that the fat people at the clothes swap get to know a little more about sex worker activism (not that these groups are necessarily mutually exclusive). I think this a good mix, we need each other.

Anyway, I just wanted to offer a few words about why fat clothes swaps are so valuable. Many thanks to Kirsty Fife for organising yesterday's swap. She made it look effortless, even though putting on any event is hard work. Will there be more? That's up to you.

16 February 2014

Introducing Flabzilla

Kayleigh O'Keefe (@lady_in_fur) was my favourite entrant at last year's Hamburger Queen. I didn't realise that that event was the first time that she'd encountered fat politics, she was a natural with her Venus of Willendorf routine, which was as sophisticated a rendition of fat culture and embodiment as any I've ever seen over the years.

Since then, I've been following Kayleigh through the ups and downs of her Super 8/video project Flabzilla. You can read about this too via her blog. I know that this work has been a struggle to make at times, and now I'm so delighted to see it finished and released. It looks beautiful.

In her notes to the film, Kayleigh talks about subverting the idea of the monstrous fatty and for me this work plays beautifully with the idea that fat people are destroying the world, prompting climate change, heralding the end. She takes all those things that right-thinking normative people fear or scorn about fat people and she rubs their faces in it.

I see Flabzilla as part of a group of fat artists making work about fat that has embraced the monstrous. Rachel Herrick's tremendous Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies springs to mind, as does Allyson Mitchell's Ladies Sasquatch. Perhaps my own activity with Homosexual Death Drive performances is a part of this tradition. I see this work as a counterpoint to more assimilationist trends in fat activism, it's art that rejects normativity and represents the delightful yukky value of fat bodies, especially queer and feminist bodies. What Flabzilla contributes to this work is a good measure of malevolence and a lot more shameless fat nudity than I've seen before.

Anyway, that's all I want to say for now. I hope that Kayleigh is emboldened by the response to her work, and that she continues to create art and performance that develops these gorgeous and unruly ideas.

Go and watch Flabzilla.