Desirability: Do You Really Love Fat People When You Can’t Even See Us Beyond The Political?
The reality is that our bodies take up more space than the world ever makes for us, yet somehow desirability finds a way to keep us out.
I am fat. I have been fat my entire life. And for most of my life, I have also been a fairly popular person. Befriending and being surrounded by people of different sizes is something I’ve done unconsciously for as long as I can remember.
But one of my fat friends, who also happens to be my queer parent, shed light on something that has been resting in the dark: before them, I have never had a friend who I am around consistently that openly, unapologetically, fervently, and earnestly desired, sought after, or expressed attraction for fat people in a way that was not fetishizing.
I have friends who date and love fat people. There is something different about my queer parent’s words, though. The way they talk about fat people and our bodies is affirming in ways I have never known. When they speak about us, it becomes almost poetic. There is a love there that is unmatched; that can never be replaced; that, I imagine, took less work to arrive at than it would for others. I never have to question what their love for fat people is rooted in, and that is so valuable for me.
They are one of the first friends I have ever known to prefer fat people that also talks about us and our bodies in such a way. This, for me, was a revolutionary revelation because it made clear to me that I can be affirmed in valued in ways I have always wanted to be, but never thought possible. This forced me to do introspective work—not only about my own self, but about the friends I have surrounded myself with as well.
Almost all of my friends are organizers, thinkers, or otherwise committed to the destruction of all structural domination and all violence that comes with it. Despite this truth, however, none of them before my queer parent have ever dated, had sex with, or shown any interest in anyone fat. I have even seen some organizers and thinkers—my friends and others—who have feigned interest in fat people as to appear as though they have a fat politic while actually having no real interest in fat people at all.
What my parent unconsciously forced me to do was to reckon with the fact that my friends have yet to befriend my body and thin people, generally, are not befriending fat people’s bodies. They have known our minds, they have loved our humor, and they have benefited from our capacity to show up for them emotionally—as we have been socialized our entire lives to do, for a friend or otherwise. But their disinterest in fat people keeps them from ever really knowing, loving, and befriending our bodies.
I am the smart, funny, organizer who happens to be fat; not the person whose fatness they saw as something valuable outside of how it performed. That isn’t to say that they have to take a romantic or sexual interest in me, or even that they don’t love me, but rather that their lack of sexual and/or romantic interest in people with bodies like mine is a striking narration of what they think and feel about my own body.
How deep can your love for fat people be when you don’t see us beyond the political? How committed to liberation is any thin person who, beyond regurgitating the words of fat thinkers and activists, see fat people as less than? When organizing around freedom and theorizing around desirability is done, how much does your praxis match your words?
I define desirability politics as the methodology through which the sovereignty of those deemed (conventionally) attractive/beautiful/arousing is determined. Put another way, the politics of desire labels that which determine who gains and holds both social and structural power through the affairs of sensuality often predicated on anti-Blackness, anti-fatness, (trans)misogyny, cissexism, queer-antagonism, and all other structural violence.
This is what Lyotard is pointing to in Libidinal Economy, as well as Strings in Fearing the Black Body, a historical account of the racial origins of fatphobia, where she writes clearly that this is the very origin of fatphobia in america. In the book, she writes:
“Racial scientific rhetoric about slavery linked fatness to ‘greedy’ Africans. And religious discourse suggested that overeating was ungodly … Not until the early nineteenth century in the United States, in the context of slavery, religious revivals, and the massive immigration of persons deemed ‘part-Africanoid,’ did these notions come together under a coherent ideology.”
As it relates to desire/ability, my fatness in tandem with my Africanness—my Blackness—is what leads others to determine that I am unattractive. Similarly, it is those two things which keep thin folks, and sometimes fat folks, from locating desire in fat Black people. Even for people who exist in spaces committed to destroying oppressive power structures. It is easy to learn about these things in theory.
We can read the statistics that show us that fat people are less likely to be hired for a job; that fat people in america can legally be fired from a job in 49 states for being fat; that fat people are more likely to be homeless; that fat women are more likely to be sexually assaulted; that fat people often die from having our illnesses undiagnosed. Those things clearly point to the discrimination that fat people experience and they are very easy to conceptualize. At least for those who do not want to be in denial.
However, it is not as easy to apply this knowledge to our own personal lives. It is hard to actually commit to unlearning years of being taught that “fat is disgusting,” “fat is bad,” “fat is ugly.” So many of us—even fat people who have internalized the fat hate often wielded at us—never do the unlearning required of us. We allow ourselves to believe that our personal interactions and interest (or lack thereof) with/in fatness doesn’t affect or effect the structural violence of anti-fatness. But that’s not the reality.
The reality is that our bodies take up more space than the world ever makes for us, yet somehow desirability finds a way to keep us out. Those of us who fight for and believe in liberation, in some shape or form, understand binaries as dangerous until it’s time to see fat people as beings worth more than the options to only know “love” through fetishtization or to never be loved at all. This should not be.
Make no mistake: fuckability as desirability does not mean that all bodies deemed fuckable are humanized, or that every person who has sex with a fat person sees us as human. What it means is that desirability is part of the human experience, and being seen as undesirable, specifically for fat Black people, is at the crux of what continues to cast us into the sea of the subhuman.
This is an indictment of thin people—which includes people with gym bodies, people with “athletic” bodies, people who are slender, slim, or otherwise non-fat. This is an indictment of people who claim to care about liberation, who claim to organize around marginalized identities, who even go as far as to claim they care for fat people who otherwise show no real interest in fat people.
To state this more plainly: anyone who is allosexual or alloromantic—or someone who experiences sexual or romantic attraction—that also claims to be committed to fat people’s liberation, but is uninterested in being with fat people are, in fact, anti-fat.
Wanting to alter your partner’s body because it is “too fat” is anti-fat. Wanting to alter your own body because it is “too fat,” or out of the desire to not ever be fat, is fatphobic. Using the plight of fat people as talking points for your viral Twitter thread, the article you should not have written, or in your organizing space(s) while never actually locating desire in our bodies is anti-fat. “Preferring” to be with people who are not fat is anti-fat.
Call-in your friends who show no interest in fat people. Cut off your fatphobic partner(s) unwilling to see through their own anti-fat biases. Do the introspective work necessary to always be pushing beyond your own biases. This is necessary work, too, and it must be done. This is no plea to be fucked; this is an attempt to point out the harm in thin people’s hypocrisy and how necessary it is to move away from such insincerity if liberation truly is the goal.
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