When a reporter/blog/ngo/charity/community organization approaches you to talk/present/lecture about fatness, does it ever cross your mind to think about why you are being contacted and not say, a hundred other people who may as well be just as qualified as you (if not more) to speak on fatness? Do you ever think about how the spotlight being given to you pushes other, less visible voices even farther into the margins? In other words, why is it that the same tired voices keep getting amplified while those who challenge more than just society's perception of fatness (how it intersects with race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.) rarely get any media or community attention? Is this just a coincidence? Is your voice really that idiosyncratic and fabulous? Or is it more likely that you are benefitting from white privilege and other structural systems of oppression?
I get that celebrity-ism is a self-perpetuating machine: one automatically receives more acclaim, more attention, more access to power simply by being "known" as the person who's an expert on such and such issue. And there's no doubt that the mainstream press only cares about the most superficial representations when it comes to challenging fatphobia (read: pretty, white and white-passing women with curves in all the right places). But this isn't just about mainstream media — this is a pattern that keeps recurring *especially* within alternative, progressive, radical, community spaces and publications. Sometimes it feels like we are more invested in celebrity culture than TMZ.
To be quite frank, I am incredibly exhausted by the low bar that is set for what counts as a Good White Ally and a Good Fat Activist. Declarations of your privilege and acknowledgments of your social visibility are all super great and everything, but what do they actually do? Beyond expiating your guilt so you can continue to reap the benefits of your privilege and social visibility without feeling bad about it, seriously what do such acknowledgments actually *do*? Not much, frankly, when it comes to the material redistribution of power and wealth. This is why it is so important that all of us, myself included, think more critically about the power we hold as socially visible fatties and what being a "good ally" actually looks like in practice. If we are genuinely invested in practicing “good allyship,” a good place to start is by actually giving up some of the social and material benefits of privilege and passing them on to those with less power and less visibility. I say this knowing full well how complicated that can be, especially if you are poor or feel invisible. But sometimes, saying "No" (or “Yes, but also”) when asked to speak/present/lecture/model etc., and using your voice and visibility to give access to such opportunities to those who are less visible and more marginalized, is the most radical thing we can do.
Photo by Sara Mir
Asam Ahmad is a writer and a co-founder of the It Gets Fatter Project, a body positivity collective by and for fat people of color. He Lives in Toronto.