Well, there it is: my big, fat body. I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico, in the middle of a luxurious vacation with a group of my closest friends, enjoying my life and my world and having a wonderful time with people who love me, but I can see as how this would gross you out. What with me existing and everything.
On Monday, Marie Claire published an blog in their online Year of Living Flirtatiously column called “Should “Fatties” Get A Room? (Even on TV?)” by Maura Kelly. I’m not going to link to that article because (in my opinion) Marie Claire is currently loving all the page views and publicity. But I first read about it on Jezebel, where there’s plenty of excerpts from the article and a link you can follow to it, if you’d like.
Anyhow, the article went viral, Kelly issued a completely awesome non-apology and it started a really good conversation about about if fat people, like, have a right to exist even if they make people like Maura Kelly upset “simply by walking across the room.” Well, OK, there’s actually been much more conversation, commentary, and insight written about it and I’ve appreciated it, really, and I’ve appreciated that so many people spoke up and said, “This is offensive, this hurts me, this isn’t OK.” That part is awesome.
But at the same time? What in the holy hell? There is no both sides. There is no “let’s talk about Maura Kelly’s points!” She doesn’t have any points. She does not have an argument. She wrote an offensive, hateful piece that isn’t well written or edited and isn’t really coherent. This doesn’t mean “why bother responding?” as most of you know, I *always* think it’s worth responding. But … wow. That this is what we’re responding to? It’s almost shocking.
Almost, I say, because on the other hand, it’s not shocking at all. It’s barely a surprise, I guess, to me as a fat person. That’s what it means to be fat, after all, that people can “seriously” write things like this for a major national publication and get away with phrasing it like a question. Should fat people be allowed to make out?
I wasn’t always aware of fat activism, part of it, you know. I didn’t just spring into being this way. Wading out in the Gulf of Mexico, the sand under my toes and the water deliciously cool on a hot day, I think that was maybe the first time in my adult life I was in a swimsuit without some sort of cover-up trying to hide my body.
It felt so good.
Understanding my body was not my enemy, understanding that people do not have an unalienable right to comment on and judge my body, that my body is not part of their conversation – that changed everything. Maura Kelly, Marie Claire, that ridiculous blog, they deserve a response. And that response is: shut the fuck up.
OK, fine, that’s simplifying it a bit. What I mean to say is: my body is not yours for public discussion. How I walk across a room, how I kiss a man, how I eat a pretzel, how I look in a swimsuit with clear blue water washing over my skin – that is not yours to feel repulsed by, to wonder about, to comment on at all.
This is how my fat activism started: the awareness that my body was mine. It grew from there, spurred on by conversations with a very smart person who knew about body politics and encouraged me to think about it, by my development as a feminist, and, oh yeah, by my reading.
In reading others stories, I saw my life and my struggles reflected back, and I knew that I wasn’t alone. It is this connection that has always made reading so powerful, so important to me.
Over a year ago, I started planning a program for the 2010 YALSA YA Literature Symposium. The idea? To look at the many books published for young adults (in the last five years) dealing with fat issues, fat characters, and even fat acceptance. These books (some good, some bad, some trying) that had characters that were learning to make peace with their bodies, to stand up for themselves, to figure out who they were – these books I thought could be a connection for so many teenagers.
One week from today, what began, over a year ago, as an idea for an author panel program will now be a half-day pre-conference.
I hope that this is just the beginning of the conversation, the first step in getting word out to librarians (and teens!) that there are books being published now that reflect a world full of different bodies and different sizes and these voices can help teenagers (can help anyone!) learn to stop apologizing for their bodies and start telling people like Maura Kelly that they’ll walk across the room without any shame and she doesn’t get the slightest bit say in it.
I hope you’ll join the conversation and spread the message. It’s the most important thing we, as a community of librarians, reviewers, and writers, could ever say to Marie Claire or Maura Kelly.
It’s the best response we can give.
(additionally: if you’re coming to the symposium, please let me know, I’m super-excited about getting to meet up with as many people as possible!)