I used to hate the backs of my knees. Like, even as I worked proactively to accept my body and come to terms with it and not spend all my time hating myself, I still hated the backs of my knees. I wore a lot of tights, not just to avoid chaffing and not just because omg tights but because they disguised the back of my knees from view.

After a certain point, though, I just didn’t have the energy to despise that part of my body anymore. I moved on to another – the backs of my elbows. I hate that for a while and then I moved on to a slightly broader hatred of my back.

And then I realized that every body part I had trouble with was a part I never saw. OF COURSE the backs of my elbows looked weird to me – I’d never actually looked at them before so when I saw them, they seemed strange and unknown. Since part of my body hatred involved staring at the part that I hated (I don’t know, maybe I thought confronting it like that would make the unruly parts behave), I kind of accidentally fell into seeing those parts more – they were visible to me, finally.

Visibility aids normalization.

(And I don’t mean that in a conforming sense but a broadening of the accepted standard for visual representation – it happened with body mods over the last two decades: what once was shocking is now the absolute norm. It’s why any subculture that gets attention is thrust into the mainstream for a little while and then ceases to be shocking.)

It was my Intro to Lit Theory class, I think, where I first read American Knees. Shawn Wong writes about interracial dating and identity in this book (it’s not very long, maybe you should read it *grin*) and one of the discussions that grew out of it was that for many protestors of interracial relationships, it seems to come down to visual dissonance. They’ve never SEEN this pairing before – and they expect people to be with other people who look like them.

This is, of course, insanely limiting. And in more areas than just dating! But there is also a lot of truth there – many, many people are more comfortable with things they are already used to seeing – things that do not look unfamiliar.

I think this is why fat people who do not play by the enforced cultural rules of shamed behavior take a lot of flak – this is not what people are used to seeing.

People are used to seeing fatties who are properly dressed in slimming colors like brown or black. Fatties who avoid bold accessories that draw attention. Fatties who pick miserably at a small salad while their thinner dinner companions feast. (Though, if you ask, I’m sure you’d hear that most people only remember the fatty who eats whatever the hell zie wants to eat with no regard for diet!)

And that’s why visibility is, in almost any struggle against systemic oppression, one of the most important tactics. It’s not glamorous or particularly flashy and there generally isn’t a lot of immediate feedback (at least not in any sort of positive way). But consistent visibility ensures that people can’t just write us off and forget about us. Our bodies stop registering as visual dissonance – to ourselves and to others.

If you search Flickr for “fat” there are very few results (you’ll find some of my pictures but I’m bad at tagging) – though there are some great images if you search for 300 pounds (hi, Lesley!) – and most of them are taken by people gawping at a person they consider a spectacle of obesity. It’s ridiculous. I started tagging my photos as fat in direct response to that – someone searching for that tag should see representations of actual fat people. They should be able to see people removed from any false frame of spectacle or voyeurism.

We need to be visible. All of us. Whether it is through clothes or speaking up at the office when one of those awful Biggest Loser competitions gets started in the name of health. Whether it is through being the fattest person at the gym or one in a group of fatties out for a day of shopping.

It’s not always easy to be visible – it opens you up to commentary. Some people will respond to your challenge by hurling insults (or even milkshakes) or catcalling or mockery. But I tend to view these instances as confirmation that I am seen. I possibly watched Pollyana the movie and read the book way too much as a child. *grin* I would rather be seen than be invisible. I would rather exist as a vocal and visual body than as a silent and hiding one, occupied mostly with minimizing myself.

Be seen. It’s way more radical an act than you might think. It’s subversive and powerful and actually useful. Be seen.

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  1. Sara A.
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this, it comes at a juncture when I need to read it. I’m having my senior recital tonight and part of what I’m scared about is getting up in front of 100 of my friends and family and being seen from most angles. I admit that this is really stupid to be scared of and that these are people I see everyday, but standing up there in an evening gown adds another level to it. To add another layer of stupid I sing classically so fat ladies singing on stage in pretty dresses is perfectly normal! I don’t know what my problem is.

    BTW I was reading Craft Magazine, with Amy Sedaris on the cover, was that your button table? If it is, it’s really cool!

  2. Posted April 10, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “visibility aids normalization”

    So freaking true. I tried for years to see myself as okay-but-fat and it wasn’t until I got out and about in the fatosphere and especially reading fatshionista on LJ that my body started seeming more normal to me-that fat bodies started seeming normal to me, that fatties started seeming awesome to me, and ultimately, that I started seeming awesome to me.

    It’s a process.

    I keep looking at my leg that swells up and has scars on it trying to normalize it but it’s hard. I’m wearing a dress today that comes to just below my knees and I feel very self-conscious. This post helps, thank you for writing it. Your timing could not be better as far as I’m concerned. :)

  3. Posted April 10, 2009 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I love wearing bright colors, I also love wearing dark colors. I love mixing them up :D Currently I am wearing blue slacks, a black shirt with a big colorful dragonfly and flower in pink, purple and teal and over the whole thing is a dusky lavender fleece vest (I am quite cold).

    I also label all my personal photos with the words “fat” and “chick. My pics usually come up right away on searches of Flickr, usually the ones titled “Fat Chick with a big gun” hehehehehehe

    I used to be one of those fat chicks who believed she should only wear dark clothes and clothes that make me look thin. Not anymore :)

  4. JupiterPluvius
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m in! Great post.

  5. Erin
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    I like the knees/people analogy! That’s a nice way to think about visibility.

  6. Posted April 10, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    So my plump & juicy self will continue helping you rock the loud eyeshadow that gets us looked at.

    You know, I’ve got a pic on Flickr titled “Fat Girl in a Bathing Suit” (it’s me in my favorite retro-looking suit), and it never fails to trend really high.

  7. Posted April 12, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    It’s a dirty job alright, but some of us just gotta do it :-D

  8. stitchtowhere
    Posted April 12, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    are we in a brain-share i’m unaware of? i’ve actually been taking backviews of myself for this PRECISE reason with an eye to writing something. great post!

  9. Posted April 13, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    yes yes! The backs of the knees thing is precisely where the idea for Love My Parts came from (http://www.flickr.com/groups/lovemyparts/)

    Also, if anyone’s feeling like challenging their invisibility, Dare to Show Your Face could always use some more videos (http://www.youtube.com/groups_videos?name=fatrights)…just sayin’…:D

  10. MichellaBella
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a great post. I think it basically sums up what fat acceptance is all about. We’ve gotta be the people we want others to see. Collectively, we can do small things to change the way people think fat people should act by challenging the stale old stereotypes. Be brave and the beautiful person you are. Show your style and taste, be confident, bold and refuse to apologize for YOUR body. Make them think twice!

  11. Posted April 26, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I love your post. I’m in the process of getting my yoga book to press, (Big Yoga: A Simple guide for Bigger Bodies) and once it’s out, I will be the fat person in the pictures doing yoga poses. My belly, boobs and butt will be squished this way and that, for all to see! Because mostly what we see in the media are skinny gumby girls doing yoga, I feel it’s so important so offer a different model. You don’t have to be thin to enjoy the benefits of yoga!

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