The Fat Mind, Speaking from the Trash Heap

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Debbie and Laurie say:

Carmen Marie Machado’s essay, “The Trash Heap Has Spoken,” from Guernica Magazine, is one of the finest pieces of writing about fat women in our extensive experience. The article’s opening, “My grandmother was a mountain” tells us that we’re going someplace interesting and powerful … and we do.

She wore leopard-print nightgowns and smelled like White Diamonds and overflowed from the bones of her chair.

Her body was a marvel to me, a form unbound and soothing as a Buddha. Sometimes, I would sit in her lap and peek down her shirt, to see her mysteries. She was the biggest woman I knew.

Machado moves from her grandmother to Margery the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock:

After sharing the delights of Margery (and Ursula from The Little Mermaid), Machado moves on to her own story, which is all too familiar.

I kept getting bigger. I didn’t absorb Marjory and Ursula’s object lessons on existing audaciously, but instead landed squarely where culture wanted me: hating my body, participating in my own oppression in grotesque ways. I clipped out advertisements for weight-loss products—despite the fact that my cousin was hospitalized with heart problems after taking the prescription diet pill Fen-Phen—and watched infomercials for electrical muscle stimulation machines; all that kept me from joining these late-nineties/early-aughts weight-loss crazes was my lack of a credit card. I became convinced that I could break down my fatness with violence, punching my abdomen with my fists like I was trying to induce an abortion. I drank so much water my pee was nearly clear. I tried to stop eating, but the hunger was so terrible I broke my fast by eating all I could find in my parents’ kitchen: half a bag of jumbo marshmallows. Unable to change, I became Centralia, settling into a low-grade loathing that smoldered for years. …

Almost every person I’ve dated or slept with, man or woman, has observed unprompted that I am the fattest woman they’ve ever been with. I never know what that means. Are they marveling? Struggling for answers? After a series of these confessions I found myself watching lovers more closely, not because they have reminded me that I am fat, but because they have pointed out that it is unusual for them to be in such intimate, pleasurable proximity to a fat body. I think about it as I unhook my bra, straddle my boyfriend, kiss a date in her car.

And then Machado turns from the pain, confusion, and just plain observation to a rich, fresh framing:

I have an intermittent daydream in which I’m a queen straight out of an epic fantasy novel. I am draped in red silk and sit in a large baroque throne, crowned with a grandiose headdress dripping gemstones that tick tick tick like Yahtzee dice when I turn my head. My feet rest on snoozing bears. I am so fat I can only leave the throne on a palanquin borne aloft by twenty men. I am so fat it takes the air out of the room. I am so fat no advisor tells me no. I am so fat would-be conquerors flee the room in fear. I am so fat the members of the court do their best to look like me by eating onions cooked in lard, but none can match my sweeping vista, my strength, my power. I am so fat I can take as many lovers as I please….

The unapologetic fat body is dangerous because, like so many other dangerous things, it suggests that there’s another way—and that there has always been another way. I know what’s happening, the unapologetic fat body says, taking your hand and pulling you away from the crowd. Come with me and I’ll show you ….

Queen T’hisha from Women En Large

So the fat mind, too, is dangerous. It, too, suggests another path.

The fat mind? A phrase we have never heard, in decades of doing this work.

Unapologetic fat women embrace the philosophy of displacement. They manifest the audacity of space-taking. They cleave the very air. This is not just fatness of the body, it is fatness of the mind. If you have a fat body, you take up room by default. If you have a fat mind, you choose to take up room.

Whenever I see a fat woman with a fat mind who is excellent in that fat way that I love, I want to be her handmaiden. I want to kiss her feet and the hem of her dress. To rub her aching shoulders. To follow after her on my knees with a dish of milk in my unworthy hands.

I take second helpings, thirds. I order appetizers and desserts. I get excited about homemade pasta and pork belly and chocolate cake and dirty martinis and bowls of pickled things. Sometimes when I talk about food, people around me laugh with surprise. Subconsciously, I think, they’re not expecting it; they’re expecting restraint, apology. I refuse to give it to them.

Fat activists talk about unapologetic fatness. We talk about eating what we want in public, about taking up space. But most often, we talk about these things as ways to appreciate and love our own bodies. The radical aspects of fatness are usually framed as being about self-appreciation, comfort, and confidence. Even from there, it’s a radical step to being the most beautiful, most attractive, most interesting person in the room, to embracing fatness as a way of centering yourself in a world that is trained to despise you, and rejecting that training outright. When this kind of rejection (not easy, not for everyone, not a goal) happens, the whole space shifts. It’s not just about a fat person loving herself any more: it’s about a fat person framing her size, her body, so powerfully that the people around her stop remaking her into a culturally acceptable image. They imagine her with her feet on snoozing bears.

 

 

Sue Hodges: Powerful Disability Activist

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Sue Hodges (1942-2017) was a powerful disability activist. It was an honor to have her as one of the models for Women en Large. She died in March.

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The East Bay Times says:

As a child, she contracted polio and although she survived the initial paralyzing effects of the disease, later in life, that illness came back to inflict much pain and disability on her. Susan was active in the Berkeley Free Clinic and devoted much of her life to social causes. For 5 years, she worked as a classroom assistant at Language Associates, a school for special needs children. Her most notable contribution was in the field of disability rights — especially for people in wheelchairs. The effect of her childhood polio and a bad car accident forced her into a wheelchair when she was in her early 40’s. From that time on, Susan worked tirelessly for the cause of the disabled, with emphasis on securing adequate pay for their caregivers. Susan was a co-author of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, for which she was personally honored by President Clinton at the White House in 1994. She earned Woman of the Year for the State of California in 1999 and also for the City of Oakland in 1999. Gradually, her physical condition declined to the point where she spent much of her time in a hospital bed at her home…

I remember vividly photographing her in her home.  She was one of the people whose thoughts really contributed to the book. (Many of the women in the book have made important contributions to groundbreaking social justice work.)

Her work helped give millions of people access that was desperately needed and deserved. And her work for decent pay for care givers was profoundly important to people who important service is usually ignored.