Big Beach Bums, Brighton, 2011
Yesterday’s conversation with Marianne on Twitter got me thinking about the necessity for in person fat meets. Here are some of my thoughts, and an idea.
Before I went to Uni at the tender age of 19, I was the fattest person I had ever known. As a teenager, I had ranged in size from a UK 14 to 8, and yet, I was the fattest person I’d ever known. Even at Uni, I was one of the biggest people in my class, but what was amazing there were two of my teachers. They were fat, and they rocked. Sajni-di was my tutor and Medieval Studies professor, and her breadth of learning was matched only by her incredible warmth and loveliness. She immediately became my favourite professor, and Medieval Studies my most beloved subject. Some of my fondest memories as an undergrad involve sitting in the front row of the Chaucer and Langland class, leant forward, furiously scribbling notes in rapt attention, caught up in a fascinating world that she had opened up for me. Kavita-di, on the other hand, was different. One of my Comparative Literature professors for a semester, she had an air of aloof dignity that set her apart from anyone else. She taught me the Greek Classics, a subject I had dreaded so far, but in her hands the Agamemnon was transformed into something lucid and fascinating. It was an incredible experience to see fat people, fatter than me, who were nothing like the stereotypes I had grown up on – my professors were scintillatingly brilliant, knowledgeable, very, very good at their job and deeply respected by the rest of the faculty. They inspired me, especially Sajni-di – under her tutelage, I decided to become a medievalist. Of course, that never transpired – my academic interests turned towards Postcolonialism after I dropped out of my Masters, and eventually faded altogether at York. But the impact she made on my life stayed.
I didn’t really meet many other fat people in India. The ones I did, like one of my best friends, Shveta, were people I had to guide towards Fat Acceptance; the person who came closest to being a rad fatty was my then girlfriend, Arijita, who I was a massive dick to because she was a size smaller than me. (I still had a lot to learn then, and even now, I’m learning.) It really wasn’t until 2011 that I had the chance to hang out with other fat people – rad, stylish, awesome fat people who I had only seen on the internet so far. The internet fat community had made the biggest impact on my life, right from 2007 when I discovered Fatshionista. I have talked about this experience several times and in many places, so I won’t go into it in detail now, but by the time 2008 rolled along, internet fatting had become my LIFE. Blogs like (the now sadly deceased) Shapely Prose, Marianne’s and Lesley’s blogs were my everyday reading. Being fat in India had broken me down to nothing, and being in the “fatosphere” helped me build myself up from scratch. I took two years off from the real world, smoking pot in my attic room with Arijita and fatting on the internet, and by 2010 when I went to the UK, I was more or less a new person.
PlusLondon (1) was my first experience of a fat blogger meet, and it was seminal. For the first time in my life, I got to hang out with fellow fat people, and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I shopped with them, chatted with them the best I could despite my legendary social phobia, and spent the whole afternoon hanging out with the marvellous Cynthia before the night event which I missed because I ran out of spoons. It was life changing. The concept of a confident, well dressed fatty was something I had only ever encountered online and suddenly, I was surrounded by SO MANY, several of whom I had admired from the other side of a computer screen for years. I felt a sense of community for the first time in my life, a safe space where my size and sartorial choices would not be ridiculed, where I could talk about all the things I faced on a daily basis knowing that the people I was talking to would innately understand. I remember being in the giant Oxford Street Primark with Carla, Cynthia and a bunch of others I sadly don’t recall right now, and it was fucking radical. There we were, fatting in the store – wearing cute clothes, looking awesome, being loud and reclaiming space. I had never done anything like that before. Groups contain a kind of power that people don’t have on their own – the power of visibility, the power of community. Later, when all of us gathered together in a park for a breather, the sight was amazing to behold. Dozens and dozens of incredible rad fatties taking up public space and having fun. My feet were achy and I was tired, but I felt exhilarated. Later that year, I would repeat the experience at Brighton, albeit on a much smaller scale, but with equal amounts of fun, if not more, since I tend to operate better in smaller groups. And same again at last year’s Fat Swap in Leeds, where, sadly, I was mostly quiet and wished I had talked to people more.
When you have spent all your life being an anomaly, an outlier, a freak of nature, with no one you know that you can relate to, and the fat hating world around trying its best to crush you, it is not just important, but crucial to have meets like this. Safe spaces, stylish spaces, rad spaces – free from fear and judgement where you can wear your bra top and shorts and have your outfit admired. I remember, on the day of the Leeds Fat Swap, I went out of the house in my beloved bra top and suspender shorts, throwing a trench over it in case of bad weather. The stares I got on the bus to the station unnerved me enough to button the trench. I felt wretched. But once I got to Wharf Chambers, I took it off despite my shakiness because I knew I was in a safe space. The first person I saw was Kirsty, rocking an amazing ASOS playsuit and I thought to myself, “Yes!” I got so many compliments that day, and although I buttoned up again as I went home, I wore the same outfit a month later in Cambridge, left out the coat, and walked around town, taking photos. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that without the positivity that was showered on me that day in Leeds. It is essential that we, as fat people, get to interact with other fatties in safe spaces. And for me, the biggest impact of these meets is the fashion. How many times do we get to see confident, stylish fat people in our everyday lives? Fat people who are not afraid to show off their bodies? Even when I lived in the UK, it was an exceedingly rare sight. But at these meets, I was surrounded by a sea of amazing fashion on bodies that resembled mine, and that – that was life changing.
Last night, I sent a message to Pranaadhika, a like minded person and friend whom I know from her incredible work regarding women’s abuse and safety in Calcutta. I briefly told her about my experiences in the UK and asked her if she would be interested in helping me organize a rad fatty meet here. To my delight, this was her response – “i would love to be a part of this! much-needed.” We are going to be sketching out plans soon, because this needs to happen. To my knowledge, there has been nothing like this in this part of the world till date, which is why it’s imperative. The fatties of Calcutta need a safe, awesome space, and I am determined to help create it. I can only imagine how much of an impact something like this would have had on me when I was a baby fatling who had never had the chance to be in a judgement and harassment-free space. The international fat community has shaped who I am today – now it’s my turn to give back. As a person with multiple disabilities, I am obviously scared that I won’t have the spoons, but I am resolved to do this. So, my fellow amazing rad fatties of Calcutta (and India!) who might be reading this – please get in touch with me! Give me your ideas, suggestions, comments, anything really! Let’s fucking do this, let’s make it happen. It’ll be awesome.