Fat girls speak out

In an effort to combat fat oppression and fatphobia, people of varying shapes and sizes gathered at the Hollywood Theater last Saturday, May 3, to attend the size-positive event FatGirl Speaks.

Organized by Stacy Bias, owner of technodyke.com, the event showcased original music, spoken word, burlesque and the cheerleading squad Fat Action Team Allstar Spirit Squad, better known as F.A.T.A.S.S. PDX, in a celebration of size and sexuality.

“It’s about looking at fat differently,” said Liv McClelland, Portland State University student, event organizer and F.A.T.A.S.S. cheerleader. “Everyone always says, ‘I have a problem with weight,’ but it’s not about weight, it’s about being happy with yourself. We’re fat, we know it, and now we’re gonna show it. We’re not going to hide behind long sleeves and muumuus. Damn it, I’m hot!”

Though estimates of attendance before the event were tentatively placed at approximately 200 people, FatGirl Speaks sold out before the night was half over, forcing organizers to turn countless people away at the door, McClelland said. In the end, nearly 530 tickets were sold, sending the clear message that there is a place for size pride in the Portland community.

“Next year, we’re moving to a larger venue,” McClelland said. “There is definitely a need for this kind of event. The energy in the room was amazing, it was so positive.”

In addition to the evening event, participants had the option of attending both body-positivity and burlesque workshops before the later performances.

In one such workshop, Queen Size Revolution, a Portland based activist group, led attendees in a discussion about fat-acceptance, self-acceptance, fatphobia, as well as misinformation in American society about obesity.

“The most important thing for us to do is to outwardly say, proudly, I’m fat,” said Chelsea Lincoln, co-founder of the group. “If other people hear you say, ‘I’m fat,’ and not in a negative context, then hopefully they’ll realize, ‘They’re fat, that’s okay.'”

Though most people don’t realize it, much of the medical information surrounding obesity is questionable at best, Lincoln explained. Many studies focus on correlative, not causal research, and rarely take lifestyle, diet or environment into account, she said.

“Do your research,” she said. “It’s important to know where this information is coming from.”

Lincoln also explained that when patients are overweight, many doctors blame symptoms on their obesity without actually looking into whatever other health problems they might be experiencing. Misdiagnosis also occurs when doctors are unable to accommodate larger patients; if a patient’s blood pressure is taken with a cuff that is too small, they will be diagnosed with high blood pressure whether they have it or not, she said.

Due to such misinformation, members of Queen Size Revolution question the validity of many recent studies, and instead suggest the need to examine the link between obesity and stress within American society, Lincoln said.

“Living day after day under such intense societal pressure, stress has horrible effects on the body,” she said. “It causes heart problems, hypertension. Doctors say health problems are due to obesity, but it could be stress. They’re said to cause the same diseases, same conditions.”

At this point, it is important for all size-positive people to combat fat-oppression and fatphobia whenever they can, said Shilo George, co-founder of Queen Size Revolution.

“Our thinner counterparts are key to the Queen Size Revolution, and quite frankly, we need them,” she said. “If we can all start calling people on their crap, they’ll get the message and know, hey, this isn’t okay anymore.”

Other performers shared a similar message with the audience as the night wore on.

F.A.T.A.S.S. PDX shared many political and self-affirming cheers throughout the night because, as they were quoted in the evening’s program, “nothing says ‘Screw you, Jenny Craig” like FatGirls with pom-poms!”

With shouts of “Be progressive! Be, be, progressive!” and “Love your body R-I-G-H-T N-O-W!,” F.A.T.A.S.S. PDX was warmly received, and have already 10 invitations to perform at future events around Portland, McClelland said.

Bias, as well as Ashley Shram of Vancouver, B.C., performed music, and spoken word performers from various locations shared their experiences of living in a fatphobic society.

“We had outstanding musicians,” McClelland said. “It was amazing to hear the common shared experience. They were the voice for every woman in the theater. Every person there could identify with what was being said.”

McClelland explained the goal of the evening was “for every person who walks in that door to walk out feeling better, and knowing that they have a community who sees them. We want people to have a good time, and to spread the message that they can be fat and fit. Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean that you can’t participate in society.”

Organizers are optimistic about the future of FatGirl Speaks, and, after recovering from last Saturday, will start planning next year’s event, she said.

“We pulled this one together in four months, imagine what we can do in a whole year,” she said. “We’re nicely settled between San Francisco, Seattle and British Columbia, we hope to draw to people up from all over.”

With plans to continue FatGirl Speaks as an annual affair, McClelland explained that the most important message the event can relay is the need for people to have self-acceptance.

As the event program stated, “The most progressive radical feminist thing any woman can do in this day and age is to love herself and her body.”

For more information on FatGirl Speaks, go to www.fatgirlspeaks.com.

Taylor Barnes

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