I started this blog about a year ago, when I was asked to be a speaker for the Fat Activist Teleconference which is happening again on October 2015 The majority of the speakers had a web presence via blogs and other social media or book publishings they could link to. When I was asked to provide such a resource realized I’d best get crackin’. Sesspool manifested. At the time I did a one hour solo presentation on Invisible Intersectionality (which is too long to craft as a blog) and I was a panelist on Intersectionality – People of Color and Fat Activism.
Below is my presenter bio & contribution to the panel (sans the Q&A portion).
I was born in a burst of glitter on a radical burlesque stage. A fierce advocate of manifesting inclusive, interactive, diverse and accessible safe(r) environments with personal connections to Social Justice, Fat Acceptance, Latin@/Latinx/Latina/o/multicultural & POC, Queer, pagan and Alternative Communities spaces. Juana Tango’s new blog https://sesspool.wordpress.com/ was recently created as a place to pen all things relevant to Socio-Economic Stockholm Syndrome. So, you know, pretty much everything.
Most folks are familiar with the Phoenix – its symbolic representation of rising from its ashes and being reborn or regenerated. In a way the introductory description of my glittery radical burlesque stage birth of my stage name (and nom de plume) represents a key moment in my life when there was a renewal of myself and an awakening of my becoming.
By the way I just want to acknowledge that I’m not a multi-degreed academic and my presentation will be from the personal.
Before I get into the meat of my presentation (can I use the word meat as a vegetarian? Before I get into the – green chile cheese tamales of my presentation) I want to briefly talk about my muggle background. I was born in Mexico to parents of mixed heritages that involved some of my grandparents fleeing genocides to survive and other ancestors surviving persecutions that were brought upon them. Despite being raised by activist atheist parents whose survival and ideology resulted in them feeling “El Picket Sign” was an appropriate lullaby, I still have ingrained family memories of my early childhood in Mexico, where Shabbat dinners were shared with a rabbi family friend, juxtaposed against flashbacks of wearing frilly dresses that would put any ballerina tutu to shame while sitting through baptisms and eternally long Catholic mass on stained glass church Sundays surrounded by images of the Virgin de Guadalupe and candles in front of patron saints.
Alongside of those memories, are the ones of my Mami being on a constant diet. I’d sneak sips of the saccharin nescafe crushed ice shakes that her ladies’ diet club drank each week. And in case you are wondering, yes, Weight Watchers exists in Mexico. There were times when my mom was more gordita than others, but there was never a moment when she didn’t strive to manipulate her bigger body into the tiny one she wanted to manifest. And this perspective also influenced what I was and wasn’t allowed to do or eat. Meals were nutritious and balanced not only to raise healthy kids by following the pyramid, but also to raise slender ones. There were no Bimbo wonderbread sandwiches in our lunchbox. My sister’s body seemed to take after my slender Papi’s and she was allowed desserts and trinket rewards more often than I. I who possessed a body desiring to be its glorious abundant self. And others outside mi familia would chime in their opinions as well. Chulita Gordita – cute chubby girl – delivered with a smile followed by their brand of dietary advice. I was not oblivious to the unfairness of it – of different treatment based on body type, which I internalized to mean I was of less value.
The summer I was 8 we emigrated to California, where I’ve now lived the majority of my life. I was a slightly pudgy Spanish Speaking Jewish-Mexicana immigrant who learned to speak heavily accented proficient English by the start of the school term. This was because my younger sister and I were welcomed into our new neighborhood in the first few weeks by the following experience. The friendly kid who lived next door invited us to go with him and swim at the community pool. His mother overheard my sister and I speaking in Spanish. And looking at us – as if our Mexicaness was contagious (as if our cooties would rub off in the water and infect the other children) she said “sorry dears you can’t swim here with us.”
When my puzzled 6 year old sister asked why, I responded (en español) equally perplexed, “I think it’s because we speak Spanish.” Turning to face me the neighbor followed her previous statement with, “besides your people might not mind if you’re a little chubby, but you really shouldn’t be in a swimsuit.” My 8 year old face flaming with shame put a protective and humiliated arm around my sister as we walked down the road back home. As we made a pact to never speak in Spanish again. Córtalas, córtalas, para siempre.
When I talk about my personal connections to being fat and when I talk about my cultural experiences – I cannot choose to ignore one for the other, for they are intertwined. I cannot escape the intersectional experience of being me.
After having spent my teenage years trying to fit in to social norms and peer acceptance through a combination of dieting, wearing dickies and ratting my hair I stumbled into my early 20s discovering BBW events and size activism/fat activism movements. Simultaneously I became involved in non-profit feminist organizations, and in social justice movements focused on eradicating racism. What I experienced was that each movement seemed compartmentalized. That they were not safe havens for me – or for anyone else manifesting a multi-layered identity.
Here are two examples that demonstrate my personal experience.
At my feminist non-profit job I was chatting at lunch with a petite coworker, also Mexicana. In Spanish we were discussing the frustrating behavior of a government official. I felt my body tense in response to my compañera’s words “Ay, ella me cae gorda.” An expression that means “I dislike her” but literally translates to she falls fat on me. When I expressed my distaste for the expression, I was met with the dismissive justification, “oh, it’s just a harmless saying.” Harmless? In self protection – my fat body cringed as I resisted internalizing fat equals bad. Can a concept ingrained so deeply into the fabric of a society that it results in a common expression truly be free from repercussions to individuals living that description daily?
During this same week a white fat activist told me I was lucky to be born into a culture that desired fat women, because she was tired of dealing with oppressive body size attitudes. Really? Because growing up in a culture that idealizes a woman’s body as a size 10-14 rather than a size 4-6 is going to result in a significantly different experience for my then size 22 thighs? Is the inherent sexism in a woman’s worth being equated to her body size any less oppressive simply because the number on the scale of acceptability through the (cis)male gaze is 20lbs more? With one sentence my lived experiences were invalidated and rendered invisible.
What I believe from never ending similar experiences is that a movement that condemns one oppression while perpetuating another is never going to be one that manifests a better world. That an intersectional approach to fat activism isn’t a choice – it’s a necessity. That as long as there are some fat folks whose humanity is still being denied – it has an impact on every fat person’s right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. And that’s not a movement for me – or for you.