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The Conflict Between Thick and Fat

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Written by: Da’Shaun Harrison

 

In the last year or so, there has been a (re)emergence of the term “thicc.” On social media, it has been almost impossible to scroll through your timeline without someone being referred to as “thicc,” “thick,” or some other variation of the word. As celebrities like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and others began to gain weight, headlines began to circulate where writers were celebrating the celebrities’ “thickness” and not their fatness. It is for this reason that I have grown a strong disdain for the term “thicc/k” and am adamant about being clear in the fact that using the term “thicc/k” as a compliment while still actively denying fat people our humanity, our right to love, and proper medical care, housing, and jobs is anti-fat.

Mainstream—whereby I mean hegemonic—powers have created a dichotomy between “thicc/k” and “fat.” Anti-fat domination determines who gets to be the former and who is always understood as the latter. This is how desirability/beauty politics show up in our language. The reality is that these two terms are the same; thicc/k is fat, fat is thicc/k. How one defines and understands beauty is what informs their language around other people’s weight and appearance. Said again, how someone’s fatness sits on their body determines whether they are read as “thicc/k” or “fat,” and I posit that this plays a major role in anti-fat discrimination/oppression.

thicc/k is fat, fat is thicc/k

When discussing anti-fatness, people oftentimes reduce this form of oppression to discriminatory, brutal language—most notably referred to as “fat shaming.” Language does, in fact, play a role in anti-fat oppression. It is why, for the most part, fat people prefer terms like “thicc/k,” “big,” “big-boned” because “fat” has always been weaponized against us. Many fat people have anecdotal tales about the times we’ve experienced anti-fatness in the workplace, in school, in the medical field. However, anti-fatness does not begin and end with anecdote. In fact, anti-fatness’s reach extends far beyond the language that reinforces its existence. It is systemic. According to North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO), in 1999, a 14-year-old girl by the name of Gina Score died due to anti-fat biases and prejudices. It is said that Gina, who had been part of a camp run and operated by military veterans, had been tasked with a 2.7-mile run. She fell on the ground, gasping for air. After four hours of her instructors laughing, drinking soda, and accusing Gina of faking, a doctor came and called for an ambulance immediately. Gina’s organs had failed. She had died. Just a few years prior, Canadian doctor and columnist, Kenneth Walker, wrote in a popular and well-cited newspaper column that “For their own good and for the good of the country, fat people should be locked up in prison camps.”

In a study performed by Steven L. Gortmaker and other scientists, it was proven that fat men were eleven percent (11%) less likely to marry and fat women were twenty percent (20%) less likely to marry. In 49 out of the 50 US states, it is legal to fire someone for no other reason than their fatness. In other words, unless a fat person is fired for being fat in Michigan—the only state with a law which protects people who are overweight—they can be fired and nothing can be done about it. Fat people—women and queer folks, specifically—are so often not given the space to discuss their histories with sexual abuse away from desire. We are met with “why would anyone want to rape you?” People read our bodies, be it consciously or not, as undesirable and, thus, do not understand what would compel someone to violate us sexually—even though rape is generally about engaging sex as an avenue through which one can maintain power over a person/place/thing. Herein is why we do not hear fat people’s #MeToo stories.

When Black Panther was released earlier this year, many people celebrated the casting of a “thicc/k” Winston Duke, who played leader of the Jabari Tribe, M’Baku. Folks wrote on the barriers someone of his stature would break in a film of Black Panther’s magnitude; many lusted after Duke on social media, noting his height and “massive thighs” as something they looked forward to seeing in the film. At one point, Winston Duke even went on record to thank Black women for helping him “heal” from the scars associated with his size. While I recognize that a Black man who towers at 6’4” with 250 pounds resting on his body likely does have a lot to heal from, I am more thoughtful of the many people whose weight does not rest so easily on their bodies. I am forced to think about the darkskin Black man who also towers at over 6’, but weighs 600 pounds, and how that leads to him being antagonized, and not celebrated, on social media. I am forced to think about Black women like Roxane Gay, who stands at 6’3” with over 400 pounds on her body. I am mindful of my own nonbinary body; a body that is 6’ and well over 250 pounds.

With our bodies in mind, I am unable to give as much thought to bodies like Winston Duke’s; the rest of the world will already do that. I am all-too-aware of the fact that this room which Winston Duke is given to discuss his insecurities with his size happens at the expense of fat people without his money, fame, or frame. It is this reality—a reality that dehumanizes and otherizes poor, darkskin, fat people—that would play a role in the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. For darkskin Black people with fat bodies that are undesirable, we live knowing that we are at a higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of the state.

To assign language like “thicc/k” to what can otherwise be understood as fat is to manipulate the pleasure-economy under capitalism—by which I mean the actualizing of new structures in which we find pleasure. Click To Tweet

There is a particular currency in thickness that is not found in fatness. To assign language like “thicc/k” to what can otherwise be understood as fat is to manipulate the pleasure-economy under capitalism—by which I mean the actualizing of new structures in which we find pleasure. This is, as it stands, a way to specifically remove any ability to locate desire in a body that is outright fat and place it solely in bodies with weight that is “proportionate.” For those of us who will never be seen as anything other than fat, we are being told through this use of “thicc/k” that our cages, as Roxane Gay calls the body, are not desirable; that only a particular type of fatness is capable of being beautiful/desired/whole. Not just desirable in the sense of beauty, love, and sex, but desirable as it affects and pertains to our health, our education, our livelihoods.

So, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and others assigned “thicc/k” as a label get to have others celebrate their weight gain—albeit, not void of misogynoir—while women and femmes like Roxane Gay, Jamal Lewis, and Ashleigh Shackelford continue to fight for bodies like theirs to be seen as valid. Winston Duke gets access to money and healing while boys and men like Mike Brown and Eric Garner meet death. This dichotomy is anti-fat. This is anti-fat violence, and it is this that makes the use of “thicc/k” anti-fat.

I am aware that, even after reading this, many people will not stop using the word “thicc/k.” Nevertheless, it is my hope that through this it is made clear that whatever desire someone locates in a body they deem “thicc/k,” what they find attractive really is fatness. We need to be honest about that to destigmatize fatness and fat people’s bodies. This is truly the difference between life and death.

To continue dissecting anti-fatness, both on a personal and structural basis, I suggest following these beautiful fat people with beautiful fat politics on Twitter:

[email protected]hoesculture
@yrfatfriend
@tommysantelli
@ashleighthelion
@Ic0n_2
@fatfemme
@KivaBay
@THATFATTYBITCH

 

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