I spent a lot of my life trying to be a “good fatty.” It wasn’t really a conscious choice, and I didn’t have a cutesy little term for it. I just knew that I was fat, so society would never totally value me in the way they might if I was thin or average sized.
Fighting the entirely bogus idea didn’t occur to me for most of my years. Instead, I looked for ways to justify my body to the world. I realized early on that if I was going to be fat, I needed to be full of surprises. People would still like me if I was sassy, healthy, likable, smart, pretty, good at things… I just needed a hook. I needed that One Thing to make people want to overlook my (worthless) fat body and see my value.
That One Thing has changed a lot of times over the years, but the feeling that I need to prove myself because of my body still lingers no matter how hard I fight it.
I became acquainted with the term “good fatty” a year or two ago.
My favorite explanation of the concept comes from fat activist, artist, and animator Stacy Bias. Bias created a really informative cartoon series that digs deep into society’s view of fatness. The series explores the concept of the good fatty through the use of twelve archetypes.
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THREAD! (Multiple Threads! Will release one archetype every day for the next 12 days.) The 12 Good Fatty Archetypes – Instagram Version! Full text posted in Comments below. I’m bringing this project to Instagram ‘cuz it’s time. That said, I wrote and drew this in 2014 so some of the thinking and the references are a bit outdated (as are my drawing skills!) We’ve come a ways since then but there are still lots of these problematic bids for social and societal inclusions happening in “Body Positivity” so it’s time to have another look! #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #12goodfattyarchetypes #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets #fatbabe #fatshion #honormycurves #happyfatty #takeupspace #womenwhodraw #fatstudies #fatphobia
It goes so far beyond the “work in progress” fatty that I already knew about. It demonstrates many other ways fat people seek acceptance in society. There are lots of ways a fat person can “get a pass” on some of the judgment that usually comes with life in a fat body. Sometimes, we choose to emulate one of these archetypes in a bid for approval. Sometimes, they are thrust on us by other people looking for ways to excuse our bodies (like fatness needs an excuse).
Here are a few of the “good fatty archetypes” that fat people might embody which allow us to to be seen as acceptable in a fat-hating society:
1. The Work-In-Progress
I mentioned this one already because it’s the most common type of good fatty.
Works in progress avoid judgment because they are in the process of losing weight. If they aren’t actively dieting, they at least feel that they “should be” working on their weight.
This kind of good fatty acknowledges that they value thinness, even if they don’t have it. I have fallen into a few good fatty traps over the years, but the most common one was “work in progress fatty.”
I have done a lot of work to love my body, but I still struggle with falling into this good fatty trap even now.
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THREAD! (Part of Multiple Threads!) #12goodfattyarchetypes – Excerpt from comic blog post previously published in 2014 // Archetype THREE: The Work-In-Progress Fatty! // This is the fatty in the process of becoming not-a-fatty (however successfully)! // The fad dieter, the "lifestyle changer", the gym-goer, the post-operative. This is the body under vigil: strictly disciplined and in perfect (or imperfect) accordance with moral ideas about moderation and labour. // This fatty doesn't get the same kind of "pass" on their fatness that the Unicorn and the (f)Athlete does but they are considered at "good fatty" by the mainstream because they are, in some fashion, (even if it's done with a critical political perspective) embodying social the mandates of aspirational thinness. Questions to ask the Work-In-Progress Fatty: 1) In what ways does open engagement with the practice of dieting temporarily render existing fatness more acceptable than fatness which is fixed/stationary? 2) When we take on the identity of the work-in-progress fatty, what kind of privilege comes with it? 3) What does it mean to be NOT in progress? // Are YOU a Work-In-Progress Fatty? This one's complex! Diet Culture is real and harmful to all of us. That said, bodily autonomy is important and everyone, based on their different experiences of oppression, will have different struggles and face different pressures and challenges. Only we know our lives and our bodies. If we feel the need to pursue intentional weight loss, that's entirely our decision to make. But, if in doing so we say things like "I may be fat, but at least I'm trying not to be." we are making ourselves complicit in spreading and crystallizing ideologies of fat hatred that designate fat bodies as less valuable and lovable. #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets #fatbabe #fatshion #honormycurves #happyfatty #takeupspace #womenwhodraw #fatstudies #fatphobia
2. The Mama Hen
This kind of good fatty is valuable because of her maternal contribution to the world. She might be an actual mom or just “the mom” of the group, but either way, she finds value in accepting that the role of a sexless being, made to nurture. I fell into this role in high school, and I still find people shoving me into it at every turn.
People are most offended by fat people who dare to declare that we are sexy and desirable. If we can admit that we are neither, people are happier to have us around. It’s common knowledge that the world is kinder to fat people when we hate our bodies. It’s our audacity to exhibit self-love that pisses people off. Mother Hens are non-offensive because they hide their sexuality and their edge in favor of a soft, maternal persona.
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THREAD! (7 of 14) #12goodfattyarchetypes – Excerpt from comic blog post previously published in 2014 // Archetype SIX: The Mama Hen // The Maternal Fat Body // The stereotype of maternality places women’s fat bodies outside (or past) the process of reproduction, and outside of the male gaze. Non-sexualized and non-threatening, the maternal fat body exists as a metaphor for compassion and comfort. Also, the maternal figure is the one who cares for the workers — past sexual prime or robbed of sexuality altogether, she becomes another kind of laborer. // The maternal fat body needn’t be an aging body at all. This stereotype works to dismantle the natural sexuality of many fat women of all ages. It can be thought of as the working assumption that, in tandem with the ‘fatlebrity’ archetype, sets up the ‘joke’ so often used in mainstream films wherein a fat woman’s desire or sexuality is presented as comedic, shocking, or grotesque. (Think Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids.) // Questions to Ask the Mama Hen 1) – How does sexuality and gender intersect with fatness and fat stigma? 2) – What creates the non-sexualized fat body as more acceptable than the fat body which owns its sexual nature? How is that further complicated by misogyny? // Are YOU a Mama Hen? Do you naturally take more joy from nurturing and caretaking in relationships (both romantic and non) than you do in expressing desire and attraction physically? That's cool! Sexuality is a vast spectrum and however you experience and choose to show love, affection, desire or attraction is entirely OK. There's no right or wrong as long as it's consensual! The only time it gets sticky is when we perform the Mama Hen by denying ourselves expression of our desires because we've internalised the narrative that fat bodies are not allowed desire, are not viable as sexual partners, or are only ever emotional labourers because we see our bodies as sexless, genderless or undesirable. All bodies deserve sex and sensuality if they want it! #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets
3. The Fat Unicorn/The Fathlete
These are two sides of a similar coin. These kinds of fat people either have an extraordinarily clean bill of health (Fat Unicorn) or they have extraordinary physical ability (Fathlete). Their bodies more or less perform the way we have been conditioned to expect only a thin body to perform. They can dance or lift or run in a way we don’t expect from a fat body.
Fat bodies who don’t have health problems are somehow worthy of respect. Thin bodies with health issues are also worthy of respect. Health is only a requirement for respect for those of us who dare to live in a larger body. Fat Unicorns and Fathletes have health, so they get a seat at the acceptable table.
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THREAD! (Part of Multiple Threads!) #12goodfattyarchetypes // OK! First up, Archetype One: The Fat Unicorn! The "Exceptional" Fatty! // The Fat Unicorn is the most often cited "exceptional fatty". They're fat but they engage in none of the stereotypical behaviours assigned to fat people. They mostly only eat healthy foods, are often fitness-focused and comfortable in their bodies, which are often strong and able by society's standards. Even their blood tests are perfect! These are basically the poster fatties for the "Health at Every Size" movement because they hold up under scrutiny. These are the folks we're talking about when we say "fitness and fatness are not mutually exclusive." They are moral, productive citizens, exactly what society demands. Strong, healthy, hearty fatties — and if they exist then the next logical assumption is that fatness can't be universally declared a 'bad thing', right? Except… Questions to Ask the Fat Unicorn: 1) What does it mean to seek legitimacy for the fat body on the basis of its capacity for health? 2) Who gets excluded or silenced when we do so? 3) What makes health the primary measure of social value? Who or what systems do these beliefs benefit? // Are YOU a Fat Unicorn? That's great! There's nothing wrong with that! It's only when folks say things like "Well, I'm fat and my doctor says I'm in perfect health!" that it starts to get dicey. By arguing for value through proving conformance with ableist and capitalist mandates, we are also quietly agreeing with the idea that people who aren't healthy or able-bodied are somehow less valuable. And we all know that's just not true! #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets #fatbabe #fatshion #honormycurves #happyfatty #takeupspace #womenwhodraw #fatstudies #fatphobia
4. The Fatshionista
Instagram is chock full of Fatshionistas. Most of the time, these girls are either on the smaller end of the plus-size range, or they have a very specific body shape that has already won society’s respect. They have “curves” and they wear daring, sexy clothes. In some people’s estimation, these women prove that fat women aren’t the sloppy, frumpy messes people think we are.
There’s a lot going on here. The idea that some fat bodies are “good” because they are similar to thin bodies in every way except diameter is not helping the rest of us.
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THREAD! (13 of 14) #12goodfattyarchetypes – Excerpt from comic blog post previously published in 2014 // Archetype TWELVE: The Fatshionista! // AKA the the Fashionable Fatty! // Those within a specific size range (and I'd argue body shape), with financial resources, sewing skills, and/or on-trend clothing available in their size, are able to adopt practices and identities along the fringe of mainstream fashion, even gaining mainstream acceptability in certain cases. // Defying the stereotype of the ‘dumpy’ fatty, fatshionistas celebrate their bodies with form-fitting and rule-breaking clothing and function within both Fat Activism and the mainstream as an embodied argument against ideas of poor hygiene, slovenliness and undesirability. // #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets #fatbabe #fatshion #honormycurves #happyfatty #takeupspace #womenwhodraw #fatstudies #fatpho
5. The Big Man
No list about fat bodies would be complete if we didn’t include the way a man can obtain a “get out of jail free” card for something a woman just can’t.
The Big Man is associated with power and strength and protection. He might be the gentle giant. Either way, if a man will lean into his size as a “big guy,” he will face way less size discrimination. He can see himself portrayed in TV and movies with conventionally attractive, average size partners.
As someone who has embraced my size and stopped apologizing, I can assure you it doesn’t work like that for a girl. Of course, every fat man can’t, won’t, or doesn’t want to embody this archetype. It’s often not a choice. But the fact remains that for those men who take on the Big Man role, it’s basically a free pass. The Big Man is a good fatty mostly because he’s not a woman.
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THREAD! (8 of 14) #12goodfattyarchetypes – Excerpt from comic blog post previously published in 2014 // Archetype SEVEN: The Big Man // The powerful man, metaphorically and physically. // The protector, The bear, the beast, the strong man, the clown. Related to the (f)Athlete but more relevant to the family. The Big Man is sometimes the unlikely hero (Paul Blart), and sometimes the sweet and vulnerable 'good guy' (Dan Conner, Homer Simpson), but only ever momentarily disassociated from power. The Big Man is often associated with class — and has a life at both ends of the class spectrum, either as the poverty or working class ‘head of the family’ or as the comically indulgent figurehead of affluence. // Questions to ask the Big Man – 1) – What creates the differences between masculine fatness and feminine fatness as negative or positive? 2) – How has masculine fatness come to be associated with power where feminine fatness has not? 3) – How does the fat male body maintain its socially sanctioned sexual desirability where the fat female body is often robbed of it? // #fatlib #fatliberation #fatactivism #haes #bodypositivity #bodypositive #instacomics #bopo #inclusion #allbodiesaregoodbodies #effyourbeautystandards #plussize #makeitfat #riotsnotdiets #fatbabe #fatshion #honormycurves #happyfatty #takeupspace #womenwhodraw #fatstudies #fatphobia
I could go on all day. There are a lot more identities to unpack. The Hapless Fatty. The Dead-Early Fatty. The Natural Fatty. The Fatlebrity. And it’s so much more complicated than I ever considered
There are a lot of ways fat people can seek legitimacy in a thin-obsessed world, and not all of them are roles we have chosen to play. For the Rad Fatty, for instance, even genuine confidence and a commitment to fat activism can be enough for some people to respect the person in a fat body.
But you know what should be enough?
The fact that a human being inhabits the body. Whatever size it is.
It’s difficult to fully explain how it feels to live in a large body. Judgment and assumptions are literally everywhere we turn. Negativity surrounds the entire concept of fatness, and every negative word has the potential to cut like a knife right through a fat person if we are feeling vulnerable that day. It’s okay if you need to play a good fatty role now and then to protect yourself. I have done it. I still do it.
If you’re in a fat body and you’ve been trying to find respect in this cruel world, please know that you are already good. You always have been. You’re allowed to rest.