On the fringe: Fat countercultures and a BBW club

(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

This is a follow-up post to my other post about BBW culture, and Jessica’s latest about our experience at a San Diego BBW night club.  For those with no time to re-read, here’s the long story short: Jessica and I wrote about our negative experience at what ended up being a recruitment event for BBW porn.  The women involved in “The Community” (as it is called by them) ended up reading both of our blog posts, and there were some hurt feelings.  Nevertheless, we were invited out to one of their club nights in San Diego (I know, I know, cue the pig’s blood, right?)—with some reservations, I went with Jessica, and… we ended up having a fantastic time.

Previously, I wrote that:

[…] most of the women [at the porn site recruitment event] seemed to be of the BBW persuasion—there was even a BBW night club doing some promotional raffling, along with the aforementioned photographer and her BBW porn site.  Although I’m all about fat people having “safe” spaces, as a fat activist I am not inclined to find these spaces helpful if they 1) don’t allow/accept the word “fat”, 2) reinforce an “us vs. them” mentality between fat people and non-fat people, and/or 3) cater to a group of people (typically heterosexual men) who fetishize fat and thus objectify (however unconsciously) the very people they purport to love.

After being invited to the BBW club and experiencing a super fun night of dancing with a bunch of beautiful fat chicks, my stance remains relatively unchanged. After talking to a few of the women there on Sunday night, I deduced the following:

  1. While the word “fat” is not totally unacceptable, it is certainly not embraced.  It still holds a lot of negative power over people here, which is why they prefer being called “big” (as in Big Beautiful Women) to fat.  Marianne Kirby recently wrote an amazeballs post about the importance of using fat over other euphemisms, which sums up my opinion on the matter perfectly.
  2. If there is an “us vs. them” mentality here, it’s most likely unintentional.  I didn’t hear anyone dissing on skinny chicks, nor did I hear any weird platitudes about “real women”… but this doesn’t change the fact that this kind of language is used on their flyers (“where skinny jeans aren’t allowed”).  I’m not inclined to say that JUST because a safe space exists for fat people and fat people alone (give or take a few thin “fat admirers”) it MUST be divisive.  Again, “safe” spaces are super important, especially when someone lives in a culture that constantly devalues their existence.  Many other oppressed groups turn to similar kinds of “safe” or private spaces for support and community building.  I get that.  I just don’t think the process of turning to these spaces for support should reinforce an “us against the world” mentality—THAT does not help anything, does not foster understanding between groups, does not lead to a world where we can coexist happily and peacefully.
  3. While the BBW porn site certainly caters to those who fetishize and objectify fatness, the club itself DEFINITELY caters to fat women who just want to have a good, sexy time.  That’s awesome.  YES there are some self-described “fat admirers” there, but that doesn’t take away from the amazingness that is walking into a room full of fat bodies having a great time and loving life.  THAT was overwhelming (in a good way), and I’d give my left tit to have something like that available to me that isn’t associated with the BBW “lifestyle”.
  4. Some people are really, really mad at us for expressing our opinions and criticisms about the website and BBW culture at large.  Many people’s feelings were hurt.  It was kinda like being back in high school—you know all those scenes in the movies where the girl that everyone hates (for whatever reason) shows up at the big dance anyway and people look at her like “WHAT IS SHE DOING HERE, OMG”?  It was like that.

Despite all of this, I had fun.  Jess and I danced, drank super cheap drinks, and *someone* (not naming names) may have walked away with a phone number or two.  Some of the women there (including the owner of the club) were super nice, and even seemed to agree with some of our criticisms.  But they were all super protective of the porn site, perhaps because many of them modeled for it.

People accused us of “looking down” on them, for trying to force body acceptance on them.  Dude, it’s totally true that a woman of any size can do porn and still hate herself, for whatever reason.  It happens often.  I don’t “look down” on women who are made to feel bad about themselves, I feel sad.  Not pity, just sadness.  Because I’ve been that girl before.  I haven’t done porn, but I’ve done stupid shit to get people to like me (to get guys to like me).  I’ve projected a self-confident facade when inside all I wanted was to be someone else.  What bothers me about a lot of BBW porn is that it actively plays on the insecurities of fat women, often portraying (and playing into) the worst stereotypes about what it means to be fat.  As Jessica pointed out, this particular site and its sister sites have videos you can pay to watch like “BBW attempting to walk upstairs”—this video (at least what is insinuated by the title) is intended to titillate the type of person who gets off on a fat person’s inability to perform what is considered a “normal” task.  If that is not dehumanizing, I don’t know what it.

I am not mad at the woman in the video.  I am mad at a culture that fosters this kind of attitude toward fat bodies.  I am mad at whatever societal forces pushed these women toward this kind of fat performance.  A response from one of the models to these objections?  “But that’s what the viewers want to see.”  Not “but I LIKE doing this” or “doing this gets me off”—the excuse was “but that’s what people want me to do”.  And that makes me SO SAD.  AND MAD.

~

Recently I read an article by communication scholar Catherine Squires titled “Rethinking the Black Public Sphere: An Alternative Vocabulary for Multiple Public Spheres”.  In it, Squires uses examples from the African-American public sphere(s) to explore the various forms oppressed groups’ spaces take and the various conditions under which these specific types of groups form.  The three types of groups she names—the enclave, the counter-public, and the satellite—perfectly map onto what is happening today in fat-positive counterculture.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll include the helpful diagrams from the text and say this: FA (what I do: fat activism, body acceptance for all, fat rights work, etc.) is sometimes an enclave, and sometimes a counter-public.  BBW culture (much like the Amish, or Black Separatists in Liberia) is much closer to a satellite group.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this in theory, it’s just not for me.  And, just like religious extremists can give well-meaning religious folks a bad name, BBW culture can (but certainly does not always) negatively affect FA’s fight to be taken seriously, to be considered equals, to be treated fairly.

Enclave Publics (Squires, 2002, p. 458):

Counterpublics (Squires, 2002, p. 460):

Satellite Publics (Squires, 2002, p. 464):

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