TOO FAT FOR SPACE
Disclaimer: I will use the term ‘fat’ freely throughout this post. I am reclaiming a word that for centuries has been used to degrade women, in an attempt to eradicate its negative connotations. It’s time we started being comfortable with fat.
1. a continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied.
I don’t know if you’ve realised, one look outside your window will show you, but men take up a lot of space. Taking up space means being assertive, dominating and territorial, all things listed in the Essential Handbook of Being a Man by one of the world’s most prominent authors, Mr. Patriarchy (not actually a real thing). The Essential Handbook of Being a Woman involves quite the opposite. Society tells us that women do not have the capacity to be assertive, dominating or territorial. Instead we must be docile, fragile and compliant. As Queen Chimamanda Adichie famously said “we treat girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller”. Fat women are therefore going against one of the fundamental patriarchal rules. We are not shrinking ourselves to fit (literally) into the male gaze. There are numerous reasons why society has a problem with fat women, and this is just one of them.
Taking up space as a woman is hard enough. Taking up space as a fat woman is even harder.
As a fat woman, navigating space can be extremely tough. Few places do we ‘fit in’, often sticking out like a sore thumb and desperately trying to not be seen too much. So much of how we view people comes from observing how they operate on a day to day, and a big part of this is how they occupy space. As a fat woman, almost every way we take up space is linked to our weight; from our experiences of travel, to our experiences of dating and everything in between. The way we occupy space is always viewed through the lens of our size. I am not just running. I am a fat girl running. I am not just eating. I am a fat girl eating. This can make existing pretty exhausting. I deserve to be both seen and heard for all matters of my being without being reduced to just my weight. As Jona Kottler once said “I cannot define value by the amount of space I take up in a given moment, I cannot speak to myself in that language anymore.” Space means the opportunity to be occupied, therefore it is important that women, especially fat women, are allowed to collectively occupy safe spaces. Because so much of our time is spent being demanded that we shrink into boxes that do not belong to us. But we are not here to accommodate you.
Institutionalised misogyny places value on women’s looks above anything else, and we are seen in terms of our convenience and how we can contribute to the benefit of men. When women fit a man’s conventions of beauty, they are usually allowed space, but only to kneel to their gaze. The patriarchy’s list of things that involve being an acceptable woman does not include being fat. When women are given space to fill, it is because they are deemed acceptable to unleash gently onto society. Always being defined by our convenience to men. Not too big, not too tall, not too heavy, not too loud. Not too much of anything. Still manageable. Easier to control and more likely to be tamed. Never overshadowing the man. Fat women pose a threat to this, so our use is ambiguous. Man’s biggest inconvenience. But we are not yours to be used, a disposable being that can be thrown away after one use. We are permanent, with infinite resource. Our resource extends beyond catering to your needs. You say space is free, so give me the freedom to occupy it however I desire.
Fat women are always too much but somehow simultaneously not enough. Not enough to be given the space we deserve. But still too much for occupying more than the allocated space assigned to us. You may tut as I squeeze past you, just trying to get from A to B. So hyperaware of my hypervisibility. The anger may rise inside you as I continue to demand more. Larger dress sizes, longer seatbelts, more room in the backseat. All of this catalysing an irrational anger in a way that it doesn’t when it involves a man. Being fat means being larger. Which means taking up more space. Which means being more visible. Which means competing with a man for the world’s attention. You may think I am too big and therefore too much to handle. But I am not yours to handle. I am mine and I will infiltrate every space I touch upon until I suffocate those trying to diminish my presence. Maybe then you will realise that I am worthy.
I am not too fat for space.
Written by Maria Christodoulou – @MaaazC28xo
Illustrations by Kat Muir – @km_illustrations