It seems like I have always been too fat, too loud, too opinionated – or “judgey,” a word my older daughter, Emily, uses to describe me at times. I have too many feelings and express them in too many ways that make too many people feel too uncomfortable or too put upon. I am “extra,” another term for me in Emily’s lexicon. And while Emily generally uses these terms affectionately (after all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), the truth is I have spent far too much of my life trying to change these things about myself to make someone else happy. I’ve spent far too much of my life trying to make myself smaller in so many tired and cliché ways so that somebody else wouldn’t feel quite so threatened or intimidated. Even today, as a grown ass forty-five-year old womxn with a PhD after my name, I still spend more time than I am comfortable admitting watching what I say and how I say it, critiquing myself after a thing, going back through it in my head, asking myself, "Could I have said that differently?" "Did I use the right tone?" "Was I too assertive?" "Did I take up too much space?...Again."
In the midst of this global pandemic, I am making a dent in my reading list in between trying to figure out how to teach classes online that I didn’t design to be taken online. The books I am reading span several different genres, but a common theme has serendipitously emerged across almost all of them: the theme of too muchness – or as I often talk about it in my own work, taking up too much space. Womxn are not supposed to take up space period, so fat womxn by their very existence take up way too much space. Fat womxn who are unapologetically fat, especially if they belong to other historically marginalized groups, take up all the damn space in the room.
Let’s be clear about something: when womxn choose to not play small, when we choose to take up space, when we embrace our too muchness, there is always a price to be paid, and this price is further exacted from womxn with intersecting marginalized identities. I cannot, nor would I ever attempt, to speak authoritatively about the resistance that every womxn experiences when they give the middle finger to conventions that perpetuate the status quo. But I can speak about the pushback I receive as a fat womxn for using my voice and my platform to call out fatphobia and diet culture. Let me give you just one example.
As a public sociologist, it’s always been important for me to build bridges between the academy and the community. In January 2019, Dr. Darci and I launched Two Fat Professors in an effort to do just that. The two of us, individually and collectively, had been doing research on fatphobia and fat activism for a while and wanted to have a public interface that would allow us to connect with people outside the academy who were interested in this work as well. The mission statement on our homepage captured our passions and our personalities: “fighting fatphobia with education, community-building, and A LOT of sass.”
When we decided to launch Two Fat Professors and the accompanying blog, Darci and I knew we could be opening ourselves up in ways that would make us vulnerable. We took solace in the fact that we could take some risks with our professional and personal work at this point in our careers. We are aware this is not the case for graduate students, contingent faculty, and professors just starting out on the tenure track who do work in fat studies or critical weight-related fields. We do not take this privilege lightly, nor other privileges that we hold while doing this work, especially our whiteness. This is why we have made our own identities intentionally visible from the beginning, both in our academic work in fat studies and in our personal writings on our blog. So many of you have received our work with love and kindness. Your support has provided us with the encouragement and validation to continue moving Two Fat Professors forward.
Yet, from the very beginning, my work and the work I do with Darci has also been the target of conservative and alt-right sites, both well known and more obscure, as well as neo-Nazi chatrooms hiding on the dark web. As I wrote in a blogpost last year, "The resistance to fat people loving themselves is real, y’all. The resistance to fat people even just accepting or respecting themselves is real." To be clear, Darci and I are targeted not just because we are womxn or even just because we are fat womxn, but because we are fat, womxn PROFESSORS (a trifecta!) who engage in social justice-related research, teaching, and activism, and who do so in a number of public ways. Two, fat, womxn professors who unapologetically speak out against injustice = TOO MUCH!
Being academics that have had to subject our work to peer review throughout our entire careers, we have developed fairly thick skins. So, for us, having men that we don’t know (it is almost without exception men) write to tell us we’re stupid, ugly, fat (as a pejorative), lazy, wastes of space, and that they wish we were dead, we can take with a grain of salt (a sad commentary on academia, huh?). If anything, our initial reaction is always how terrible must this guy’s life be that he took time out of his day to craft a piece of hate mail and send it out into the universe to two womxn he doesn’t even know just to let us know we’ve crossed a line. Just to let us know we forgot our place. Just to let us know he knows more than we do about a subject in which we have some degree of expertise, academic credentials, and, oh yeah, empirical evidence. Just to let us know that we should be ashamed of who we are and work to make ourselves smaller, quieter, more acceptable for the fatphobic, diet culture - in other words, normative world - in which we live. Yeah, file that unsolicited hate under ‘I’ll Get Right On That…Never.’
I decided many years ago, and it was further solidified while working on my graduate concentration in women's and gender studies, that I did not want to contribute to a cultural climate that seeks to cut womxn down to size, a cultural climate that seeks to punish womxn for taking up space, for being "too much." As Roxanne Gay writes in the book, “Hunger”:
This is what most girls are taught-that we should be slender and small. We should not take
up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to
men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to
disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we
can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.
So let me say this loudly and over and over again: it’s past time to change policies, laws, and practices in our society to ensure equity and inclusivity for all. It’s past time to reject fatphobia and diet culture, and embrace the reality of body size diversity and body liberation. And it is most definitely past time to stop playing small. Own your space! Use it to empower and validate others. Use it to dismantle systems of oppression like patriarchy, white supremacy, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and fatphobia! Because here’s the thing: insecure people, haters, and Internet trolls are always going to cry, “Too much!” To which I say to all of you, “No, not enough.”