Jes Baker and her crew of badass feminists took over San Francisco’s The Booksmith bookstore last week for Baker’s anticipated book release “Things No One Tells Fat Girls,” a brilliant body positive anthology composed of many different tales and perspectives on self-acceptance and unlearning patriarchal beauty standards. Accompanied by Sonya Renee Taylor, Virgie Tovar, Sam Dylan Finch, Chrystal Bougon, and Kim Peace, the group shared personal stories of unbreaking internalized self hate in order to begin the process of self reconciliation.
Baker creates a brilliantly funny read with her combination of wit and vulnerability. She likes to frequently remind folks that fat women enjoy intimacy with ‘hot guys’ all of the time (which I am particularly fond of since I am one of those fat women), while reminding us that ones’ self-worth isn’t based on that fact. Baker says to remember it’s OK to celebrate our body and existence, to take up space and not let anyone tell us it’s not okay. She speaks of “the beauty myth” still existing under the guise of the health industry – juicing, fitting perfectly into yoga pants, dieting (not to be thin but to be HEALTHY) and all of the body negativity that comes with that. Chronically ill people are alienated and treated horribly by those buying into the hype. Yes, it is wonderful to be healthy, but why should you lose value in the face of society because you have a disability or weak immune system? Jes will remind you that it is alright to fall in love with yourself, one roll or dimple at a time.
Kim Peace brought up some incredibly important points about internalized oppression. When you hear something for so long, you begin believing it regardless of its validity. Fat folks often perpetuate the hate we are taught by society and project it onto others because we have begun to believe it over time. Criticizing others for wearing clothes that show their body has nothing to do with that person and their relationship to their body, but everything to do with our own and what we have been taught by the media and patriarchal beauty standards. Before you badmouth your body, stop for a moment. Think about whether or not you actually hate it, or if you’re upset with it because of how others treat you and your body. Peace suggests a method of combating self-loathing by gathering a group of five women you trust, like a Body Positive Board. When you’re having days where you are doubtful of your worth and start feeding into body negativity, reach out to them for support.
Virgie Tovar discussed how she finally allowed herself to be fully engaged with her life, no longer waiting for the day she would be thin enough to wear a two-piece or eat a full piece of cake. Tovar teaches us to say “fuck you” to beauty standards, to not waste another day waiting to be “good enough,” and for the love of god…. eat the damn cake.
One of the most important, eye-opening experiences for me was hearing Sonya Renee Taylor discuss the importance of intersectionality. Sitting at the intersection of fat, black, and queer, Taylor must fight all forms of oppression. If one of the three is permitted in society, she’s still the other two. Therefore, all forms of oppression must be eradicated for Taylor to live life with the same freedoms as a white, thin/athletic cis male. Taylor reminds us that everyone has some form of privilege, including herself, as an attractive, college educated woman. To truly create a safe place for ourselves and others, we must consciously fight against all forms of oppression.
Sam Dylan Finch highlighted the pressures of patriarchal beauty standards in the queer, androgynous community. Sam, a feminist and trans activist who identifies as androgynous, has been told by other androgynous people that Finch shouldn’t be considered androgynous because of their curvy body. The ideal androgynous body is thin, narrow-hipped, and small breasted. Not everyone who personally identifies as such has that body, yet they continue to be marginalized and oppressed even some within the community. Finch candidly spoke of dressing in layers to cover their body and binding so tight they couldn’t breathe just to fit the ideal.
Plus size lingerie entrepreneur Chrystal Bougon closed the event, taking the opportunity to speak about fat sex. Chrystal is one of the only owners of a plus sized, brick-and-mortar lingerie shop, Curvy Girl Lingerie, Inc., and busy creating a fat-positive television show that bans diet talk, Plus Life TV. Bougon constantly encounters women of all sizes who confide in her their body shame and bedroom insecurities. Bougon says if a person is already in bed with you, they already like you and your body. All bodies can have sex and enjoy their sensuality as well as their sexuality. If you can let them go and embrace your body, you can have great sex, too.
“Things No One Tells Fat Girls” is available from Seal Press. You can support The Booksmith in hosting future events like this by buying the book through them here.