Gruesome Bodies and Wasted Desires – Liz Brockest

I have had the very lucky opportunity to be one half of the Fat Femme Mafia for about six years now. My feelings and politics about fat activism have continued to morph and change substantially throughout this time. However, FFM continues to be a political outlet that allows me not just to survive, but to thrive in a body that exists outside of what is deemed normatively desirable. Fat bodies are continually represented in popular media as garbage receptacles. Large vessels that represent wasted opportunities, a lack of control, and undesirability. Stereotypes attributed to the fat body continue to harm us all, and have created a culture where we fear FAT. We are living in a time of FAT panic. How do we change this? What are we so afraid of, anyway?

I move through the queer world often being identified as a Fat Femme. While this is not how I would self identify, I recognize this is often how the world fits me into the queer identity matrix. I have been thinking a lot recently about desire, both generally in relation to fat and non-normative bodies. I have been considering how fear dictates our desires and causes us to waste opportunities to flirt/touch/fuck ‘othered’ bodies. I have been thinking about what desire means within the context of queerness: who holds it, and the power it gives them. I have also been evaluating my own desires, what they mean, who they include and why.

I had an amazing conversation about desire recently with a really great friend of mine, who is also identified as a fat femme. We talked about what our own desires represent and are informed by and how they might be complicit in perpetuating systems of racism, ableism, classism, and patriarchy, as well as super unhealthy patterns in relationships. When I look at my own dating history, I can note a few experiences where I have had ‘situationships’ with people who in many ways typify a kind of glorified hip queerness. These individuals were white, well-dressed, skinny, and androgonous/masculine presenting. The queer community with which I’m most familiar (though not all of us by any means) might identify these individuals as stereotypically/or normatively desirable. Within the hierarchy of desire in this particular Toronto queer scene, these bodies, or embodiments of queer identity, hold a lot of body privilege and power.  Both my friend and I could name experiences where the normality of our dates’/partners’/lovers’/situationships’ bodies made us feel at once less visible and more ‘okay’ as fat femmes. It soothed our own feelings of body shame, as we were being desired by those whom people deem ‘normal’. I wanted to hide my body within my lover’s normality. I felt like the privilege that my ‘situationship’s’ body held allowed me to assimilate more easily in the matrix of dominant queer desirability. We also talked about how we both felt like it was necessary to hang on way too tight to these relationships, even though we were not always getting what we wanted or needed, as we felt anxious that nothing else may ever come along.

When the Fat Femme Mafia started working together, we took a very limited, linear approach to challenging fat hate and making space for our bodies. We wanted to prove our desirability by demonstrating that our bodies could do everything that skinny bodies could, despite our size. We strapped on bikinis and paraded around public parks; we choreographed dances that we performed at various queer events. Our approach to fat politics was assimilationist. As our politics changed and grew, we began to adopt a more gruesome approach, by which I mean an approach to fat politics that attempts to adopt and embody all of the gross, gluttonous, out of control stereotypes attributed to the fat.

We abandoned our bikinis for belly tops adorned with the words “I fuck Fat People.” We wrote and performed songs about fucking “Fat Bitches”, spouting lyrics that expressed our desire for all of the negative attributes often attributed to fat.  We mimicked having sex with ice cream sundaes during performances, and let our bodies hang out in more visible, less contained, unapologetic ways.

We created spaces where we became all of the negative stereotypes attributed to fat. We did this in an effort to challenge these stereotypes, but also to push our audiences to find desire in the ugly, in the gross and grotesque. We wanted to confront and challenge the monstrosity often attributed to the fat body by mimicking and becoming monsters. In an effort to reclaim space for our bodies, we played with and became gross stereotypes. When we reclaimed and adopted these negative attributes as our own, they began to hurt less. Playing with the gruesome allowed us to carve out opportunities to embrace the ugly, to have fun with it, and hopefully to encourage others to do so as well.

Adopting and embracing the gruesome has challenged me on a very personal level. It has pushed me to interrogate the numerous ways that I limit myself in my own desires. It has allowed me to question body normativity and body ‘abnormality’ in new and discursive ways. What it has also illuminated for me is how afraid we are of bodies to which we don’t have enough access. Representation in popular media is a very important medium for us to learn about bodies. When media fails to represent bodies, or only represents them in limited, linear ways, the scope of our desire is confined. A gruesome approach to fat politics disrupts harmful images attached to fat bodies by creating new and challenging representations.

My thoughts on fat politics, desire, and the gruesome are evolving. However, I am aware that fear dictates many of the choices I make around my own body, and other people’s bodies, in relation to desire. I am wasting my time being afraid. My hope is that we can all begin to embrace the ugly written on our bodies and in turn create space for enjoying and playing with gluttony, and things that are often deemed gross.

Photo by: Brianna Greaves

Liz Brockest is one half of the Fat Femme Mafia, a Toronto-based performance and activist duo on a mission to spread the message that every BODY is a GOOD body. She is also a college professor, student (in Critical Disability Studies) musician, crafter and artist. She is currently working on recording an album with her band The Cry Break, and is looking forward to moving to Toronto Island for the month of June.