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Fat Should Be Neutral! A Common Hour Talk by Kimberly Dark

Image courtesy of Deb Grove from Franklin & Marshall College

Kimberly Dark passed through a fat woman at the aisle seat and took her window seat. The fat woman laughed and consulted with Dark to request a flight attendant a different seat for the one in the middle. Sitting between two fat women would not be comfortable for the middle guy; this way, they two, of course, got a larger space!

It was an epiphany for Dark. Despite being an advocate herself, Dark had not talked about fatness. That moment, Dark realized that there are two kinds of advocates: advocates who simply accept fatness and advocates who speak about it. Dark had been the former until she met this woman, with whom she became friends. Now, Dark herself has learned to be “kind, pragmatic, and (a bit) manipulative.” Through humor, irony and evocative personal stories, Dark called attention to fatness—a generally unspoken topic. Dark pinpointed that fatness was stigmatized in this culture; nonetheless, “fat” indeed should be neutral.

Ranging from swimming to relationships, fatness is a barrier, especially for women. Dark mentioned about a fat woman sitting by the beach the whole day but did not go into water, and claimed that she did not like doing so. Yet, when Dark went down to the water and encouraged this woman to come, she finally came: this woman seemed comfortable that she was not the only fat woman; Dark was her comrade. The woman’s real problem was not water but fatness—more accurately, her discomfort for being seen.

“Hot, sexy, and desirable” seem incompatible with fatness. If a fat woman is pretty, she is seen as “graceful for a fat woman.” In relationships, people want their partners to “be the kind of people [they] are happy to introduce to [their] friends.” And fat partners impose a challenge—not because they are fat but because they carry stigmatized identity. Dark defied the taboo and reclaimed her right to be desired: “I am not interested in being ignored; I’m into being adored.”

People want to be seen as nice. They agree that talent matters more than beauty—since the idea sounds nice. Yet, when Dark, determined to be visible, asked for a seatbelt extender, the flight attendant handed the seatbelt secretively as if it was an illegal drug. Fat people are also seen as bothering other passengers; they should be charged more since they take up more space.

On one flight, across the aisle from Dark sat a man who was about six foot five. He clearly did not fit in his seat. Dark wondered if his height bothered his seatmate. She observed nothing but admiration in the eyes of the old lady, his seatmate. The flight attendant with trays of drinks and food passed by him, telling him: “mind yourself, sir!”. Their tones and manners praised him for his privileged tall man body.

Dark stated that diversity of human body is a combination of biology and personal choice, and the same human beings deserve the same dose of respect. Yet, fat people are perceived to be “weak, inconsiderate, and lazy” although some active ones are pardoned the blame. Does one chooses not to be active, do they become less worthy of comfort? Less valuable? Less respectful? To Dark, human beings deserve the same dose of respect.

Dark declared that “fat” is largely a social problem. We live in “looking at each other” kind of culture. Looking is fine; judging whether some people are as worthy of human dignity as others is concerning. Dark called for a paradigm shift: “you can change you.” We can practice different ways of responding to common narratives. And we can rewrite the script we are given—the script that really serves none of us.

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