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50 Days

November 9, 2012

Last week, for the first time, I met one of our long-time readers, Theresa Dyer Bakker and her husband, Scott, who are winding their way across the United States, a la Lost in America (albeit, decidedly more prepared). We went to lunch at Pi, one of President Obama’s favorite pizza joints, and discussed family, politics, and, of course, Fat Acceptance. I mentioned that this week we would host two reviews of Virgie Tovar’s new book, and she immediately began to express her discomfort with the promo that led up to this week’s release party. I was intrigued, and a bit surprised, by her concerns, as they weren’t at all what I expected. But when I went back to see if she was right, I couldn’t help but agree with her take on things. So, I asked her to read the book, so she could be certain that it wasn’t a matter of incomplete perception, and offered to let her write a guest post on the subject. This is that post.

When I first saw the “50 Days” promo for Virgie Tovar’s book Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls On Life, Love & Fashion it gave me a sense of anticipation. As the days went by, however, the anticipation gradually gave way to trepidation, then sadness.

Day after day, with few exceptions, images of hyper-sexualized fat women — sculpted, made up, hair styled within an inch of its life, pinched in here and overflowing there — were presented as the very embodiment of ferocity, beauty and sexiness.

By the end of the project, it was as if I had been completely erased.

I’m a middle-aged, heterosexual cis woman. Normally, I wear my hair very short. My beauty regimen consists of soap, water, and the occasional dab of moisturizer. On a typical day, I wear jeans or khakis, a flannel shirt, and Crocs. In fact, the last time I had a dress on, I was getting married. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I can look in the mirror and accept my outward appearance as a legitimate expression of who I am; and to see myself as a full-fledged member of the female gender who is beautiful and sexy. (Here, I almost wrote “beautiful and sexy, too,” but that makes me feel like a footnote, and I am not a footnote.)

On the very day I was contemplating this idea and trying to find a way to articulate what I was feeling, a friend posted the following image on Facebook:

Could I ever relate.

Popular culture sees women who look like me as a stereotype, and as a joke. We’re called “butch,” “unfeminine,” “tomboy” — and certainly never “desirable” or “hot,” even though we are. A recent example is the character of Megan, played by Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids.” Yes, there is more to the character of Megan than her fat and social awkwardness. We ultimately find out that she is an amazing person, but not until the stereotype has been thoroughly milked for laughs, which ensures that her finer qualities are lost on most of the audience. Sorry, no. Not funny. But I digress.

I really wanted to love Hot & Heavy. I was hoping to find inspiring stories of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and I did. The book contains many stories of women who overcome the negativity of a culture that dismisses them, and even hates them, for daring to be themselves, and refusing to be quiet and invisible.

These women awaken to their own ferocity and learn to express themselves fully and unabashedly. Erin comes to love her fat body deeply and completely when it saves her life. Emily experiences a breakthrough of self-acceptance and fat pride at the gym. Deah turns the pain of the past into art that helps and inspires others. Virgie describes how she became “one of those whoopie-pie-in-one-hand-vibrator-in-the-other kind of fat girls,” which is just as awesome a journey as it sounds. Many of these women express themselves through fashion, and even though my taste in clothes is more Rachel Maddow than Beth Ditto, I could relate to these stories, because the way I dress also defies societal norms.

Still, there was an undercurrent that I couldn’t put my finger on, until Fashion Tip #9 (“Get things tailored!”), which includes the following:  “A large way we achieve validation is by other people finding us sexually attractive and wanting to fuck us.”

Just — no. Nononononono. You’ve lost me there.

Look, sex is awesome, and in my experience, when I feel good about the way I look, I wind up getting a lot more of it. But the idea that my fuckability is a valid index of anything (beyond the horniness of the person wishing to do the fucking) is deeply troubling.

Back in 2009, Marianne Kirby posted an epic rant that explains this much more eloquently than I possibly could. I highly recommend reading the entire post, but here is a brief excerpt that explains what I’m talking about:

You[r] acceptability and worth as a person is NOT determined by whether or not some random dude would tap that.

[I]t is not the job of women to be attractive. We have shit to do that does not include providing, for example, entertainment for construction workers as we walk down the road. We have things to accomplish that are more important than being eye/arm candy, than being fantasy objects, than being representations of what the dominant cultural paradigm tells us we should be even if that image is completely unrelated to the reality of our physical being.

And, you know, this is not to say that women need to reject ‘looking nice’, for whatever value of nice they prefer, out of hand!

But I also don’t NEED that stuff to make me acceptable. None of us do.

Whether you prefer sex with men, women or both; whether you like having one partner or a whole basketball team or none at all; whether you wear fishnets and heels or pink suits or faded jeans and a ripped t-shirt, you are beautiful and amazing because of who you are, not because someone else finds you fuckable (or not). To suggest otherwise does a disservice to the young women who are the presumed audience of this book.

We all have sexuality, just as we all have style, and we all express it differently. And that’s something to be celebrated. Judging ourselves by how others view us is unfair to us, and it’s unfair to our partners, because it keeps us from seeing each other clearly.

It is also, I would submit, the opposite of feminism.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2012 10:35 am

    A really interesting and thought provoking take. You’ve definitely made me want to read the book for myself to draw my own conclusions, and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing. And while I’ve lost every ounce of respect I ever had for Marianne Kirby when she turned into (or showed her colors as) a whitewashing, patronizing, ableist bitch, I do definitely agree with her there.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    November 9, 2012 10:54 am

    I totally agree. I’m also “just a girl” as that ecard says. I’m not into fashion, I’m not into doing my hair, wearing make-up, and the last time I wore a dress was over 10 years ago (I did NOT wear a dress when I got married, I wore the pantsuit I made to wear to my son’s wedding that same year). I wear comfortable clothes, usually slacks of some kind and a top of some sort (could be a tee shirt, could be some flowery or printed thing, depends on my mood). I wear tennis shoes or sandals, depending on the weather here in MN. And I keep my hair short because it’s easier to take care of, I like the way it looks, and it’s not so heavy that it gives me headaches. With all of that, men still found me sexy and my husband does as well. But it’s the whole package of who I am that he likes and finds sexy, not just my body or my clothes. But even so, my fuckability is not the main part of who I am, nor do I want that to be seen as the main reason I’m a worthwhile fat woman. I’m worthwhile for many other reasons, and being fuckable is just one tiny aspect of my life, not the be all, end all of it.

  3. November 9, 2012 10:56 am

    I am so glad you wrote this. :) I think Virgie’s book is a great thing, and I usually enjoy and admire her upbeat, sexy, fun, “It” girl persona. However, I have also found her focus on sex and sexiness a bit grating at times, and even annoying. We are a hell of a lot more than pussy and tits.

  4. lifeonfats permalink
    November 9, 2012 5:16 pm

    I’m not familiar with Virgie Tovar but Iike the OP, I keep my hair short, prefer jeans and comfy shoes to dresses and heels, and unless I’m going out to a place that involves dancing, my makeup is virtually non-existent.

    If men find me attractive, fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too. There’s a lot more to me than my fat and my fat lady parts. ;)

  5. November 10, 2012 5:00 pm

    Theresa, this is such a wonderfully written and clear as a bell post. And I totally get what you are saying. I think you are raising such an important point of inclusion, equal representation and figuring out how women can walk that fine line of owning our sexuality without becoming identified as or identifying ourselves predominantly by our fuckability. And challenging why it is that tight clothing, abundant bared cleavage, and fish nets are symbols of sexiness as opposed to khakis and flannels? True that one of the most powerful and seductive aphrodisiacs in my book is knowing that someone is turned on by me, but it it’s based purely on my looks or how much cleavage I am showing, then that stops working for me. I didn’t see the 50 days entries, but I can honestly say, that I, like you, am more of a Rachel Maddow dresser as well, if i had been one of the 50 days you would have had at least one person representing the soap and water jeans and t-shirt contingent. At the reading the other night, which really turned out to be fantastic, I was aware of, though not uncomfortable with the fact that I was the least glammy author up there and I was enjoying the variety of plumage and clothing that my co-presenters were sporting as well as the people in the audience. Thanks for writing this and giving us all a chance to reflect on some really important issues.

  6. November 12, 2012 1:55 pm

    I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on that, but the 50 days promo definitely seemed fairly homogenous in its representation of “sexy.” But it makes me wonder, Theresa, what “sexy” looks like to you? Surely, you don’t enter the bedroom in flannel and jeans and a come hither look. So, if you were going to be included in the 50 days promo and you wanted to represent your fat, fierce sexuality, do you do something different? Or is your sexuality so ingrained in your essence that you’re always sexy, regardless of what you’re wearing? I ask this as someone who has zero idea of how I would represent myself as sexy. I have no come hither look. Just my, “Hey, wanna have sexy time?” look.

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • November 12, 2012 3:32 pm

      What does sexy look like? Well … to me, it has very little to do with what a person is wearing and everything to do with how they are acting. Sexy comes from inside, and manifests as confidence and a demeanor that says you’re fun to be around.

      As for the flannel shirts and jeans (frequently with hiking boots and wool socks!) they have never caused me to be turned down for sex. Maybe it’s a Maine thing — it’s cold a lot of the year and nobody’s going to get into the mood if they’re hypothermic. ;-)

      If I were going to be photographed in all my fierce fatness, I’d probably want to go with something outdoorsy and sporty, or have the photographer take some action shots of me in the gym, lifting heavy things.

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