“One woman’s pornographer is another woman’s spiritual leader” Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City 
Based on conversations with other activists, from academics to “fatshionistas,” it’s clear that sexuality can be empowering. Although old issues of objectification arise, being big and beautiful, hot and heavy, sexy and fat seems to be its own mode of activism: it places fat women in a cultural and aesthetic space previously denied them. Finding oneself in this space can be a truly enlightening experience. A fat, female friend of mine put it this way: “Fat women in particular learn early to be invisible and are not encouraged to be sensual, so to come to a place where specifically that’s the point is an amazing experience!”
Regarding the issue of self-objectification, many look at the role of sex in fat acceptance and activism through a third-wave feminist lens, a lens that, according to Shelly Budgeon in Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Gender in Late Modernity, “advocates working with the particular differences that constitute women’s positions at the local level, inviting the expression of hybrid identities, while developing strategies for working productively across differences based on a coalitional politics of affinity rather than equivalence” . Although the label “third-wave” is not without controversy, Budgeon’s definition focuses this form of feminism on hybrid identities in particular situations. Regarding sex, issues of appropriateness and inappropriateness are contextual and contingent upon individual purpose. So, there may be situations in which apparent objectification is meant to be a display of female empowerment.
Although the aforementioned Carrie Bradshaw quote is meant to show the sometimes relative nature of sexual “perversion,” the quote brings up another issue: the holistic experience. For example, no fat activist is just a fat activist. She fills many roles, and the whole person steps foot into the Fat Acceptance Movement. Pretending otherwise is to deny one’s humanity, sexuality and all. Fat people, like most people, are sexual beings. Embracing sexuality beyond concern for fat activism can be beneficial for its own sake; it can enhance self-esteem, spirituality and overall well-being. Below is a case in point.
Yema Rose was a virgin into her early twenties. She never considered herself a sexual being. Having a fat body all her life, she had convinced herself that no one would want to be with her in a physically intimate way. So, when a man did express interest, she was floored, perplexed, and eager. Although the relationship did not work out - he turned out to be more of a fetishist than a fat admirer - Yema discovered her sexuality in full force. The energy and power that comes with a newfound embrace of sexuality has merged with her spirituality as well. Now, at the age of twenty-four, Yema has reawakened as a sexual/spiritual being . . . who happens to be fat.
Yema’s newfound embrace of her sexuality/spirituality can be seen in her personal blog, in which she and her partner share their visions of spirituality through personally meaningful images. She, alone, posts photos of herself exemplifying the nature of sexual/spiritual livelihood. Clothing is optional.
When asked if she’d always been so confident in herself, she laughed at my assumption that she is currently confident. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard it of course!” she admitted. “But I still have trouble believing it, which tells you right there that I am still climbing that mountain of self-love.” Yema’s admission that she is not as confident as she seems speaks to the nature of her activism, as well. Her quest is initially about sexual liberation and everything that comes with it, especially her spirituality: “When you ask me about my body acceptance. It has an unbreakable bond to sex. . . . Fully accepting your body is such a liberating thing,” she explains. “And that is spiritual in itself, just that taste of liberation.” This attitude seems to come before her activism. This attitude feeds her activism. She is definitely a spiritual and sexual being first and foremost, but, according to Yema, this makes for better fat activism.
Yema even cites Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” in which sexual intimacy and liberation is a necessary prerequisite to acceptance and activism. “So, yes, you must be happy with your body even to reach self-actualization on a personality level,” she explained. “It’s just a step you take in order to reach the next step.”
Yema’s blog is an invitation of sorts. The site, which she calls her “safe place” is an attempt to build a community of like-minded peers: people who want to celebrate their bodies and the connection between sexuality and spirituality. The “Shakti” link on the blog’s landing page displays Yema in all her secure, exhibitionist glory. She hopes that people in the Fat Acceptance Movement will begin to consider the benefits embracing sex and spirituality within the movement.
Yema proves that we must accept ourselves fully before we can benefit the movement. Also, embracing and displaying one of the main things denied fat people, i.e. feeling sexually attractive, is a major step on both a deeply personal and socially active level. Of course, people in the Fat Acceptance Movement may take issue with Yema’s style of activism. She is fine with that, however. Her attitude about her potential to agitate and rustle feathers can be gleaned from the advice she gives about self-acceptance, self-love and activism: “Be yourself. Believe what you believe. It does not have to fit in a perfect little [Fat Acceptance] box. You can disagree with the people in your community. That is one way people learn from each other. . . . Nothing is more radical than being true to yourself.”
Bicks, Jenny, “Sex and Another City,” Sex and the City, Said by the character of Carrie Bradshaw, compact disc.
Budgeon, Shelley. Third Wave Feminism and the Political of Gender in Late Modernity. (Hampshire, UK: Palgrave McMillan Press, 2011), 5.
Erec Smith holds a Ph.D. in English, with a concentration in language, literacy and rhetoric, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of the novel Creamy Nougat and currently teaches at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. His interests revolve around diversity and rhetorics of marginalization regarding race, gender, weight, or their potential confluences.
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