Posted July 13, 2009
In these days of incessant scare mongering around ‘the obesity epidemic’, I have been wanting to write about how I experience fat activism. Like my earlier involvement with nonmonogamy, it has been a little hard for me to figure out how to integrate my lived experience as a socialist with my very embodied experience of being a fat woman.
It took me even longer to become conscious of fat acceptance and fat activism and fat politics as liberatory than it did for me to figure out how feminism and socialism jibed, or could jibe. In some ways, being fat, a woman, and a revolutionary socialist (and viewing each and all of those experiences as political positions) feels slightly easier than trying to articulate how sleeping with more than one person at a time worked with being a socialist. I am still not entirely sure why that is the case, since gender identity(ies) and being genderqueer, and sexuality all seem highly political lived experiences.
Somehow, I was never convinced for myself (and CERTAINLY never managed to convince anyone else, or at least anyone socialist) that nonmonogamy (which I prefer to the term polyamory) was in and of itself a political stance. I can think of people who DO live it that way, consciously and politically, and I admire them. But I can’t feel it that way for myself.
Being fat, though, and trying to love myself that way and vigorously assert myself, and refuse to accept limitations that society or popular culture seems to endlessly want to impose on me… that does feel political, in the way that resisting oppression based on any group identification that imposes negative stereotypes and cruelties feels political. There is a lot of overlap, also, with the disability (or differently-abled) rights movement.
So. One way that I work at expanding the cultural space I feel I can take up is by finding art and music that celebrates different sizes. Um, and porn, too. Fat burlesque. Bellydancing. Fat pin-up girls. Musically, I have a playlist that at this point, has twenty songs on it. Until last week, it only had 18 songs, but then a comrade sent me two more, and I was hella happy. I am going to write about those two songs, and maybe some of the other songs from the list, and then I want to solicit a) discussion on this topic, and b) CONTRIBUTIONS to this playlist! Come on, collectivize your musical knowledge about songs that celebrate difference in beauty, attraction, desire, and size.
Now, obviously none of these songs exists in some pure socialist-feminist utopia — many of their lyrics are problematic, but I don’t give a good goddamn; the celebration is rare enough that I will happily accept some objectification in the enjoyment.
Okay — any list of big girl appreciation music probably has to either begin with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” or with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. Like many songs of this type, they do both glorify the hourglass shape — in fact, I cannot think of one of these songs (that has been popular at any rate) that does not celebrate the supersized, outsized, exaggerated hourglass figure. I am not blind to those attractions, myself, I assure you. But okay, it’s a bit limiting. Still, particularly Sir Mix-a-Lot’s lyrics have a lot of enjoyable imagery in them: “gimme a sister, I can’t resist her, red beans and rice didn’t miss her” and ” When it comes to females, Cosmo ain’t got a thing to do with my selection”.
One song — the one that started my playlist, in fact, moves me mostly because of its accompanying video is “Skinny” by Lo-rider. The sexiness of that video was, by itself, a revelation to me. The tongue-in-cheek presentation of these gloriously large women enacting HOUSEHOLD CHORES while dressed in revealing and very confining lingerie, with sly ad copy from the domestic products — all of it made me forgive the techno beat, and even like it. It would be fun to dance to this. The women are so clearly reveling in their hotness, and enjoying the ridiculousness of the vignettes that it is impossible not to adore this song and the images.
A different pair of songs appeal to me because they’re *by* women — “Big Boned Gal” by k. d. lang, and “Big Fat Mamas are Back in Style” by Candye Kane, a burlesque dancer and blues singer. In the former, the very frequent trope of “the club” is introduced. Many of these songs feature appreciation of a larger woman dancing enthusiastically. Candye Kane’s lyrics are actually from the point of view of a self-identified fat and sexy mama, who is confidently proclaiming her own attractions.
And finally there are the pair of songs my comrade sent me this week: “Rockin’ the Beer Gut”, by some country group I’ve never heard of, the Trailer Choir, and “Beautiful” by Akon (an “associate of T-Pain”), which is fascinating to me because of the disputed lyrics… and also because it sounds very like a synth band from Madrid in the 1980s, Mecano. Strange, that. I don’t think he’s sampling… The country entry is kind of fucking adorable. The singer — again in the context of watching a woman in a club — raves about “a five-foot something cherry bomb, she had everythin’ goin’ on; the first thing that caught my eye — she was rockin’ the beer gut, and I love the way she’s not ashamed, rockin’ the beer gut, well, it’s just some extra love around her waist… with her blue jeans a little tight around her butt, rockin’ the beer gut…” Okay, I forgive the fact that at the beginning of the song, she was sippin’ a Bud, which is surely the wretchedest beer possible.
As for Akon’s “Beautiful,” this lyric is audible in there, though no one who writes out the lyrics appears to admit that: “You’re so beautiful/where’d you come from/you’re out of this world to me/you’re a symbol of what a big beautiful woman should be…” Guess which word disappears in all the written versions I’ve seen? It’s not like he emphasizes it; if anything, it is a little swallowed. But I swear to god it’s there. Certainly he is not singing “every” as many of the fan-transcribed lyrics would have it.
Akon’s song is also set in a club, and he tries to skirt an interesting line between admiration of a woman who is “independent”, at whom guys are trying to holla, and whom, for that reason, he doesn’t want to “bother” — but then, he can’t resist her after all, and goes on crooning how beautiful she is. (I also have to say, one of Akon’s collaborators — either Colby O’Donis or Kardinal Offishall — gives the madonna/whore dichotomy a somewhat hilarious workout, with the line, about an imagined future where this beautiful woman comes home with him from the club, and he promises to spend thousands of dollars on her, once she undresses “not like a hooker, but like a priestess”).
Okay. Those are the songs that make me feel strong, and happy, and sexy, and active. If Emma Goldman really said that she wasn’t interested in a revolution that didn’t involve dancing, then I think she’d support my position. If people have suggestions of other songs, I really hope they’ll post them. I may, in the comments, post my playlist as it exists so far.