Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A "Sweet" Read?

I could see that FatLand: A Novel might get called a few things by the supercritical:  not specific at times, elitist in a way, overoptimistic, overpessimistic.

But "sweet"?

Okay, okay, the first language of the reader who said this was not English, true. But even so..

Something tells me that she is not fat and does not have fat friends. Otherwise..

Every day I and my fat colleagues and friends encounter some kind of anti-fatism, whether in person or online. Sometimes it is personal, sometimes it is directed at someone else. Sometimes it is framed as concern for fat people (this is called "concern trolling"), sometimes it is an out-and-out expression of hatred ("Stop sitting on the couch all day, you fat asshole" - no, not said to me personally, but who knows when it might be?)

FatLand is a place in which fat people do not encounter hate, stigma or harassment, and are instead welcome. I have learned from this that a whole lot of people have no clue about the lives fat people live or what they go through.

Then I had another thought. The reader is from Amsterdam. Are fat people treated better in the Netherlands?

Hmm..doesn't sound like it. From a new fan of Fat Heffalump's blog in the Netherlands:

Just discovered your wonderful blog! Here (in the Netherlands) fat acceptance is still in its infancy  

And so the question is:  If Fat Acceptance is not exactly a household word in the Netherlands as yet, how can someone from the Netherlands not understand that a place like FatLand would be a lifeline to many and perhaps even most of us fat people? And that our managing to create  such a place and live there would be the result of an enormous, ongoing effort?

Answer: Easily. Very few people talk about or know of our struggles. Others may or may not have fat friends, but they probably have no clue as to what our days are like, or what we face and experience.

How do we get across to the non-fat that in some key ways, our lives are very very different than theirs?

I remember when I was taking a class in Yiddish at the University of Wisconsin/Madison, kind of cobbled together by Professor Donald Becker of the German Department. He said of the writer of the textbook we were using, "Why did he assume that the people interested in speaking Yiddish would only be Jewish?"

At the time, I thought of many replies, most of them to do with the fact that the writer of the textbook was probably thinking of the 4 million Yiddish speakers killed in World War II - all of them Jewish. He probably thought the legacy was that of their children, survivors and friends to carry on.

But now I have started to understand Dr. Becker's question. Why did I assume that the only people interested in FatLand -both the novel/s and the place- would be only fat people?

It is my duty to figure out how to communicate -hopefully in FatLand III-  to people of all sizes why fat people need a place like FatLand, or at least why the lives of fat people often consist of a series of courageous acts in shouldering aside all the hate, blame and stigma, and living each day to the fullest they can.

Fat Activists cannot spend their lives only preaching to the choir, as affirming as that might be. We also have to reach out somehow to those who are not fat, but who might end up understanding more about us and about fat acceptance if we explain and demonstrate to them.

No man is an island, John Donne wrote. No woman is an island, and no fat person is an island.


  1. Oh, and how amazing to take a Yiddish class. I'd love to do so, although I have to admit, I would worry about this Gentile trying to co-opt the language of an oppressed group.

  2. Elle, my dear, there is no way you would"co-opt" it. It is probably waiting for you.