Just in case you’re confused, fatkini is just branding. Well, not branding – no one is selling a fatkini. They’re selling bikinis that fit plus-size women. It’s still a bikini. It’s just a bikini on a fat woman. And that’s just fine. Brazil even broke the first wave of 2012 this year with its bikinis for fat women business.
Perhaps because I’ve lived within the fat acceptance movement for five years, I’m not as shocked as, say, the producers of the Today Show that OMG, there are fat women wearing bikinis out where we can see them!!!! But then I thought about how I would have reacted to the XOJane Fatkini spread five years ago – and boy howdy, I’ve changed.
Five years ago, I would have never even considered supporting a fat woman in wearing a bikini. Bikinis belonged to that other body class. In the name of preserving dignity, avoiding being the punch line in yet another unfunny fat joke, in order to step outside the man-pleasing self-injury cycle and into the self-pleasing sanity cycle, a two piece was just NOT going to happen.
But this is now. I’ve long since realized that just saying something about the quality and design of clothing offered to fat women is a political act. That refusing to sew bags for myself to wear is a political act. That making this blog successful is a political act. When I walk out in public as a fat woman, and I accept the attention I feel is my due – or reject attention I find disrespectful – I am engaging in a political act. Because I am reacting and acting in a way that society disagrees with, and I am consequently changing society by doing so.
Now, I’ve got my eye out for more two pieces like the one from Lulu West that I loved. So the furor this week over the fat women in bikinis interests me – because it’s such a confrontational concept to everyone but me. Even the accusations of promoting obesity are strange and hilarious to me. No one really wants to get fat – it makes life more difficult. Choosing to live with it and in it by pursuing health while fat instead of “getting skinny” and then becoming healthy (or assuming getting skinny will do it, because it really won’t) is radical to many because as a culture, most people in the Western world have completely forgotten how to think through their assumptions or even recognize them AS assumptions.
Here’s the thing – friends and associates that know what I do are still pretty shocked by the appearance of the fatkini. It’s maybe not a household word, but it’s jarring enough to the consciousness of a lot of people who still see the body positive movement as a fringe, health-threatening, society-defying entity. (But only from people that think society doesn’t need to be defied. I sure do think it does.) I’ve gotten a lot of “OMG, did you see this?” posts via social media from those that know what I do but haven’t quite had the in-depth conversation necessary to really understand what I do.
To me the story isn’t fat women in bikinis. The story is how people are reacting to fat women in bikinis.
And also how some media outlets are reacting to the reactions of the fat women in bikinis.
Here’s what I’m seeing:
mainstream culture: But you’re fat? Don’t you feel bad?
fatkini woman: Nope.
mainstream culture: But you’re gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!
fatkini woman: are you a crystal ball with a medical degree or something? Didn’t think so.
Dr. Oz: But I have a medical degree. You’re gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie – and nobody wants to have sex with you?
fatkini woman: have you checked my chart and blood tests, asshole? Have you seen that piece of person-candy I’m sleeping with, by the way?
Dr. Oz: That would really piss off my advertisers. And that person candy is a fetishist!
fatkini woman: Dude, if you fetishize me, that’s your business. Don’t be a jerk and make it my business. And the only way you’d think of that whole fetish thing is is you were on one of those sites anyway.
Dr. Oz: [explodes in a burst of shame.]
fatkini woman: Gross, no dry cleaner will get that off. Oh well, guess it’s time for more fatkini shopping!
I almost want to make a chart – body shame, sexual shame, political shame. You could fill the box with either a checkmark – or a middle finger.
|Body Shame||Sexual Shame||Health Shame|
|Body Shame||Sexual Shame||Health Shame|
|Bite me||Bite Me||Bite me|
But really, it’s just a damn bikini. If you care, it’s because you love your bikini, or because you are directing inappropriate control issues at people you don’t know.
Overculture has to date endorsed such invasive thinking – and left (ahem) certain people thinking that everything they look upon should please them or be punished (a mindset in itself that should be punished.) Reminding those people that we are here for our own experience and not for the aesthetic pleasure of others is all too often taken as a personal affront.
I can think of two occasions in high school where it was made clear something was wrong in how boys in my hometown were raised. Once, I wore a “U Can’t Touch This” t-shirt. I liked MC Hammer, and it went over these lavender capris my mother made me wear. A boy a grade above me started screaming at me for wearing the T-shirt. “How dare you assume I even WANT to touch you!” It was bizarre, and yet the teachers who witnessed this behaved as though he had every right to scream at me for a T-shirt with a generic pop-culture slogan on it. He had a right to get angry at something he read as a signal of my sexual unavailability – because to his mind and the minds of the teacher that witnessed his crazy, it was my job to let him assume I was available whether or not it was my intent.1 On another occasion, a friend in band asked me why I wasn’t wearing makeup. It had been giving me blackheads, so I’d stopped. She then tried telling me that the “boys wouldn’t be interested in me.” I shrugged and said, “There’s no one here I need to impress.” None of the boys present were interested in me and I knew this. A boy who overheard me from the trumpet section started screaming at me. He was not interested in me – but he was mortally offended that I had decided not to pursue his approval. He genuinely thought he was entitled to my efforts to get that approval, even though he was verbally abusive and party to it when some of the boys in band got physical with me. These boys are adults now – and one can only guess how they might react to a girl in a fatkini. It’s worth noting that these extreme behaviors happened at a time when I would have been classed as “normal weight.”
Fatkinis are causing a rattled reaction because the women that are posting their pictures aren’t doing it to please anyone. Women refusing to please is a shocking act. Most of the pictures viewed via Tumblr are by other women, often women shopping for their own fatkinis. It’s not about the men (or women.) It’s not about approval of any kind.
It’s about women who want to feel comfortable on the beach or by the pool. Given that the new two-piece looks don’t involve floss in the butt cheeks, I can see it actually being about comfort.
If you want to go deeper than this, I’ve pulled a few quotes from the articles that have garnered the most interest.
From Gabi Gregg herself, on the XOJane bikini slideshow:
Vogue Curvy has pointed out that this is very much a political act on the part of the fatkini bare-ers:
“Going against the grain of the beauty ideal in such a brazen, public way puts people at risk of bullying, which automatically makes it a political act akin, in a lot of ways, to a coming out. Just like gay people are more or less implicitly asked to be discreet about their sexual orientation, fat people – particularly women – are expected to cover up as much as possible and not show skin. ”
And as Gabi Gregg herself stated to a questioner on Twitter:
- Fat Politics, Fatkinis, & Body Image Lessons (recoverybites.org)
- Real girls post their ‘fatkini’ pictures in protest of society’s obsession with ‘beach-ready bodies’ (dailymail.co.uk)
- Fatkini Blogger Gabi Gregg Looked Fierce On This Morning’s Today Show [Video] (jezebel.com)
- Crown Point, Indiana, where the majority of the students, staff, faculty and administration have a special place in hell awaiting them. [↩]