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The Transgressive Power of Fat Happiness

In all of my years and repeated efforts to undermine systems of oppression it never occurred to me that the most powerful tool I owned was my own happiness. Since my early activist years as a teenager, my efforts to expose and subvert these systems have included: asking nicely, smiling, making myself smaller (physically and emotionally), writing strongly worded letters/emails/texts, shouting, protesting, writing speeches, gathering signatures, ignoring, crying, imploring, getting a Ph.D., getting published, attending talks, reading books by smart womxn, voting, making myself bigger and louder, standing up, sitting down, listening, being compassionate, and generally trying really, really hard. In all of these efforts and in all of these years, I didn’t realize that being happy while fat would be the thing that would challenge these systems the most.


A definition of happy might be useful before I continue to argue this point. What I mean by happy is not the all-day-long; never-depressed; never-angry; never-not-mad-at-your-body; everything-is-always-sunny-kind of Pollyanna happy. What I do mean is the kind of happiness that allows us to take up space in the world without feeling bad about it--the kind of happiness that supports our resistance to people and systems that tell us that we have no right to be happy or who try to strip us of our joy. And, perhaps for some readers happy will be the wrong word and I get this because happiness doesn’t fully capture what I’m trying to convey. At its root, what I’m advocating for is radical self-acceptance--there are other smart people in the world who are far better at exploring this concept than I am (at the very least everyone should read or watch a little Brené Brown). But, what I want to stress here is that there is something transgressive, something radical about being okay (or even happy!) with your fat body that really sets lots of folx off. Every time we decide that our self-worth is not dependent on what anyone else thinks of us, we are likely getting a little bit closer to our own happiness, whatever that means for you.


But, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that there are no consequences to being fat and happy--or to radically accepting ourselves exactly as we are. Honestly, this is when shit gets real. Don’t believe me? Let’s focus on Lizzo as an example of this theory in practice. Since her rise to fame, she has been attacked on multiple fronts from various “experts” about how dangerous her lack of self-hatred is. Jillian Michaels concern-trolled Lizzo with an “I’m just being honest” moment about her health. Dr. Boyce Watkins attempted (unsuccessfully) to dim Lizzo’s shine by claiming that “#Lizzo [sic] popular is because there is an obesity epidemic in America. Rather than encouraging people to do better, we are simply lying to them and telling them that they are just fine the way they are.” And the general public has had plenty to say about Lizzo showing up to an L.A. Lakers game in a thong, other sartorial choices she’s made, and generally just living her life exactly how she wants to. But, Lizzo is just one public example of the cracks in the foundation of fat shaming and anti-fat bias. According to her critics, you can be okay-ish with your body, but not too okay and not okay in public. A simple Google search, however, reveals that despite all of the outrage and all of the concern-trolling and virtue signaling, Lizzo’s happiness is a breath of fresh air. And, it’s not just Lizzo. There are burgeoning armies of fatties across the world who are--shockingly enough--happy with their bodies and unafraid to live in them joyfully.


A few months ago I discussed bringing the fat revolution to college, and I’m still all for it, but I also want to make sure that we’re keeping a piece of the revolution for ourselves. Fat happiness is delicious, it is transgressive, and it’s all ours. Refusing to participate in systems that are conspiring to take away our money, our power, and our happiness is incredibly powerful, liberating, and contagious. While there may be cracks in the foundation of these intersecting systems of oppression, we know that they’re also relentlessly persistent and rooted in cultural logics that often seem indestructible. I’m not saying that being happy and living your best life is the only tool in your fat activist toolbox or the only tool we need to dismantle these systems, but I am saying that happiness might be the only tool we own that will give more than it takes. I’m cautious, verging on cynical, about the ways in which conversations about self-care and body positivity are offered up as antidotes to living in a toxic world, but taking a piece of happiness for yourself feels different, more liberatory, more middle-finger-in-the-face than self-help guide. This is not a perfect process though and having days when you’re not happy is real and honest too. Being human is messy, but I’m inspired by one of my favorite fat drag queens, Latrice Royale, who reminds us "[I]t's OK to fall down. Get up, look sickening, and make them eat it!"


Photo featuring plus-size model by Michael Poley of Poley Creative for AllGo, publisher of free stock photos featuring plus-size people.

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