Fatphobia means fat people’s bodies—and even our weight loss—are never just our own
The reality is that fat women are uniquely deprived of access to bodily autonomy because of their fatness.
In the final weeks of 2019, pop culture analysts (and regular enthusiasts like myself) have taken to the variety of digital mediums available, and some even to the rooftops of their homes, to tell anyone who will listen that 2019 was the year of Lizzo.
After the infamous “HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BITCH PLAY FLUTE THEN HIT THE SHOOT?” went viral in October of 2018, Lizzo experienced an influx of exposure, which culminated in the rediscovery of “Truth Hurts”—a single released way back in September 2017—and its climb to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of September 3. Further, Lizzo is the leading nominee at the 2020 Grammy Awards after her third studio album and major label debut Cuz I Love You was released this past April.
Lizzo’s star status is not limited to the corners of the Twitterverse, where her tweets about body positivity, her journey in self-love, and the political landscape of the U.S. have been embraced by her fans, her peers and even former President of the United States Barack Obama.
TIME Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year is a force to be reckoned with, even when facing allegations of plagiarism on “Truth Hurts” and a prospective lawsuit after Lizzo fans threatened and harassed a Postmates employee the singer accused of stealing her food in a tweet from September 2019.
Though Lizzo has never once claimed to be an activist, witnessing the love she has for herself because of how she looks rather than in spite of how she looks has proven to be so powerful that even Dr. Boyce Watkins, an anti-fat social commentator, has tried to tear her down and attributed her rise to some twisted American love affair with “obesity.”
Captivating audiences with her first live performance of ‘Juice’ on The Ellen Show and her unforgettable performance of ‘Truth Hurts’ at the BET Awards this year, Lizzo has brought a spotlight to loud, talented, fat, Black women and women-adjacent people.
Unfortunately, because it still is a day that ends in y, the carnivorous beast that is anti-fatness is not discouraged by everything Lizzo has brought into our lives and contributed to the pop culture landscape. Anti-fatness is in a perpetual state of reacclimating itself within what is considered to be “the mainstream.” While Lizzo may be a symptom of a body positive, pro-fat moment happening within our culture right now, anti-fatness is as strategically reactionary as it always has been.
The recent stir of adoration for English singer-songwriter Adele may be the most predictable collective display of anti-fat misogyny in recent memory. And it feels like a direct response to Lizzo and to all unassuming, fat, Black women and women-adjacent people who shined unapologetically in 2019.
On Christmas Eve, the 31-year-old entertainer uploaded to Instagram a series of what should have been nothing more than festive photos to ring in the holiday season. While no one with 30 million Instagram followers and close to 150 music awards under their belt anticipates a “post and go” moment, Adele is uniquely deprived of such a moment for no other reason than the fact that she was fat at the time of her rise to fame in 2008.
As a fat woman, every time her body is captured on photo or video, there are always people prepared to shake their heads at how inherently unflattering that photo or video will be. This is even more intense given Adele’s star status.
Fat people cannot post a handful of cute Christmas Eve photos featuring the Grinch or Santa Clause and return to their IRL festivities, especially not when these photos debut a now “formerly fat woman.” While a newfound proximity to thinness may free you from individualized anti-fat attacks, you’re not free from the shackles of fatphobia—you’re only repurposed by it.
After ending her relationship with her husband of eight years and the father to her seven year-old son earlier this year, Adele chose to do what many recently-divorced women have done and improve her physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Over the last six months, Adele has reportedly worked with several at-home personal trainers and made other significant lifestyle changes. She’s also working on a new musical project!
Many people, including myself, are happy for Adele and applaud the brave journey she’s been on for the last six months. Unfortunately, others are not at all concerned with the glow and confidence on full display in Adele’s holiday photos. Rather, they’re fixating on what they’ve construed as Adele’s “revenge body”, “post-divorce weight loss”, and a “glow up” so stunning that people are still jokingly commenting on the photos she posted asking if Adele has actually been kidnapped.
Hundreds of stories have run featuring Adele’s Christmas Eve photos, construing Adele’s posting of them as “showing off dramatic weight loss” or as Adele “turning up the heat”—y’know, since the only reason a fat woman would lose weight is to be thrust into the hypersexualization courtesy of the public gaze.
Like clockwork, our favorite “feminist-in-progress” Jameela Jamil tweeted, “Adele was beautiful before. Is beautiful now. Will be beautiful WHATEVERTHEF**K weight she will be in the future. The weight of a global icon trending is a sign there is still work to do in how we value women in 2020. Being thinner doesn’t add to her value. She was born ?”
In response to the media’s interpretation of Adele’s Instagram post, Rachel McGrath tweeted, “PSA: Adele isn’t ‘flaunting her weight loss’, she’s just going to a party, k thanks”
Several pro-fat, body positive activists and influencers joined in and echoed many of the sentiments shared by those in the entertainment industry regarding the body shaming and anti-fatness on display.
Many were swept up in re-affirming that someone’s weight is not to be spoken about or acknowledged—that Adele’s fatness is akin to a skeleton in her closet—rather than honing in on the large-scale policing of fatness and related weight loss of non-men.
When we dismiss the Internet’s fatphobic boner for Adele with “Mind your business”, or “Well, she was beautiful then and is now!” or “This isn’t worth talking about,” we’re not showing the unified front in a “rah rah girl power rah” pop culture moment that many of us think we are.
We’re merely validating a more fashionable packaging of anti-fatness. We’re validating the idea that as long as fat people move in silence, they are entitled to an equally silent integration into life as the default (read: thin). We’re culpable for the repackaging of formerly “good” fat people—those who hide their fatness in the clothes they wear, by inhibiting their range of motion, and in declining to outwardly express their sexuality—as sources of affirmation for the social order.
Some more culpable than others.
The reality is that fat women are uniquely deprived of access to bodily autonomy because of their fatness. Womanhood has narrow hips. Womanhood has visible collarbones. Womanhood has a thigh gap. Womanhood’s rib cage pokes out while it stretches in the morning. And there is an implied *white* preceding womanhood because its concept is carved out of whiteness.
For white women like Adele, fatness is merely a roadblock to the full benefits of white womanhood. Without Adele’s consent (hell, maybe even without her awareness), she and other previously fat white women are repurposed to reaffirm anti-fatness in exchange for full recognition of their womanhood.
To the extent that they comply with maintaining anti-fatness as socially appropriate, their whiteness becomes fully accessible. To the extent that they can keep us all busy with empty “She’s beautiful no matter what she weighs” body positivity, previously fat women may navigate as though they were never once fat.
If 2019 was the year of Lizzo and if Lizzo is some sort of stand-in for a progressive, pro-fat politic that centers fat Black bodies, then I believe 2020 may bring anti-fatness with a bite. Weight Watchers is probably preparing to run a “lose 20 in 2020” promotion as I type, but I believe this bite will be meaner than that.
I predict that this bite will be predicated on the concession that, while being fat is not the end of the world, those who are actively fat and not on a journey comparable to Adele stubbornly remain at a “starting point.” But thinness is not a destination. Fatness is now arguably on the brink of a normalcy comparable to that of thinness, but I don’t believe fatness will ever be so normal that it stops being apart of a journey to “self-improvement.” It will never so normal that the Internet will stop having love affairs with what they label celebrity “revenge bodies.”
So, even though it appears that a fat Black woman is at the top of the world at the start of 2020, and that anti-fatness conceded some ground at the end of the last decade, those concessions will not bring us comfort in the long game.
As I embark on a health-related weight loss journey of my own, I find myself wrestling with the themes of this piece in a much realer way than just celebrity gossip. I find myself discouraged by the fact that, in the end, my weight loss will never be my own. Weight loss remains a tool to rationalize the abuse of primarily fat, Black non-men under the guise of restoring our humanity—as it has done for white women.
For example, another Black songwriter and rapper, Cupcakke, debuted the results of a month-long water fast under medical supervision. While there were predictably plenty of “okay BAWDY” comments, there was also a resounding condemnation of Cupcakke’s weight loss strategy and her decision to publicly wrestle with pressures to lose weight and to address health concerns.
When it was Cupcakke, Jameela Jamil tweeted about how appalling it was for the rapper to share her results with the world through social media, going on to tweet, “The dangers are immense, and it will harm your metabolism.”
When it was Cupcakke, someone whose been proximate to fatness during her rise to fame and, much like Lizzo, still outwardly expressed her sexuality, wore skimpy outfits, and never hid away, there were finger-waggings and shaken heads. Some may chalk it up to the fact that Cupcakke water fasted while it is *assumed* and *reported* that Adele used a personal trainer. I think it has everything to do with who Cupcakke and her weight loss stand to serve and empower versus Adele and her weight loss.
I find myself wondering: What if Adele had written a follow-up post about her weight loss, resisting her role as a normalizing factor in fatphobia? Would she be allowed to quietly assume normalcy (read: thinness)? Would she be allowed to suddenly be a sought after beauty?
Or, would the world beat her into submission by whipping out the classic mean girl line “You used to be fat, too”? I wonder if the world would crush Adele by reminding her that she is only “thin” as long as they say so—that mere proximity isn’t enough if she does not fully commit to upholding anti-fatness.
Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.