On the 3rd of December we organised another online Intersectional Talk, this time on the topic of fat acceptance. We had the honour to welcome Olave Nduwanje and Saskia Olivieira as our guests for the evening.
Burundi-born Nduwanje identifies as a non-binary trans femme (pronouns: she/her/hers). She is a published author, legal scholar, activist (anti-racism, LGBTQI+ rights, anti-capitalism, disability rights, anti-ecocide, etc.). She has provided literary contributions to the following titles: Zwart-Afro-Europese literatuur uit de Lage Landen(2018), De Goede Immigrant (2020) and Being Imposed Upon (2020). You can find her on Instagram (@Nduwanje), Twitter (@OlaveTalks) and Youtube (@OlaveTalks). She has been based in Brussels since 2019.
Saskia Olivieira is a mother of two teenagers who flies around the world as a flight attendant. She is a content creator, body positivity activist and self-love advocate who is committed to greater diversity and inclusion. She shares fashion, beauty and everything that keeps her busy on her social media platforms. She does this with ‘a little sass’ and a lot of passion.
During the event, Olave and Saskia shared a lot of personal experiences with us and gave us so many valuable insights to discuss. The evening was simply too short for our discussion!
For those of you who could not make it to the event, we would like to share a brief summary of the issues we discussed:
The fat acceptance movement started in the 1960s as a counterculture movement against fatphobia and fat discrimination. It started with Black women fighting oppression. Black fat women were very stigmatized because of their size and so their movement was a political statement, they wanted the world to know: “we are here, this is our body, accept it!”. Now, under the influence of social media, the movement - which used to be a safe space – is completely taken over by white women. If you now search the hashtag #BodyPositivity you see that Black women are swooped out and it’s white fat (and thin) women only. A lot of people don’t even know where the movement came from and the Black women that started it are being marginalized within their own movement. Meanwhile, a lot of white women in the body positivity movement started capitalising off of it and are now making money out of a movement that was started by Black fat women fighting oppression.
We also discussed the use of the terms ‘fat acceptance’, which focuses more on accepting fatness and being accepted, and ‘fat liberation’. While acceptance is very important in order to create a healthy self-image, the term ‘fat liberation’ encompasses more than that, because it focuses more on liberating fat people from the society that stigmatises and discriminates them.
The importance of fat liberation can be illustrated for instance by the current COVID-19 pandemic. When the hospitals and ICU’s were filled with COVID patients back in March (and again today), medical officials started making triage rules about who would get ICU priority in case the ICU’s would reach their maximum capacity limits. In these triage rules, being fat was being used as a way to exclude fat people from ICU/healthcare. So, these were life-threatening policies for fat people. And because Black and brown people are more affected by COVID in general (because of f.e. living conditions and high-risk jobs), this means that Black and brown fat people were put even more at risk by these harmful triage rules. And also now with the vaccine, people are talking about who is more worthy of receiving it and again people who make the decisions are talking about being fat as a reason to deprioritise you from getting the vaccine.
This fatphobia in medics can be traced back to the 1960s when society said: “you have to look a certain way and you have to have a certain BMI”. Fatphobia came first, then they started to “legitimise” it with science by inventing BMI, which is built on white peoples bodies. This has led to a lot of people falling into the category of “overweight/obese” according to BMI. When people started capitalizing off of that, this was the start of toxic diet culture. Now still not much has changed, and many medical professionals still focus a lot on BMI and make assumptions about a person’s health based on it. Important advice from Olave to all medical professionals: “Listen to the problem and do not judge when looking at the body. Doctors need to be willing to learn and to understand that fatphobia, racism, sexism and transphobia also affect our (mental) health.”
Fatphobia is deeply embedded in white supremacist ideas. For centuries we’ve seen the portrayal of thin white women being juxtaposed with the fat and “lazy” Black person. Although this image has slightly changed over the years it is still deeply rooted in racist stereotypes and white supremacist ideas of what a body should look like. Science and technology have only made it easier to spread these ideas over the world. For example in Burundi, and a lot of other cultures, being fat was not a bad thing, but now - because of social media and because a lot of Burundi doctors are being trained in Europe or the US - diet culture and fatphobic ideas are also gaining ground there. This shows how important it is to change the system that imposes these fatphobic ideas upon the world.
So what can we do to support the fat liberation movement? The movement needs to again become a safer space for the Black and brown fat people who started it. White people who want to support the movement have to be able to step beyond their own stories and understand that we need to change the system, because white supremacy is not something of the past. So do not centre whiteness, and do support and give space to the Black and brown women in the movement. On a broader level, it is also really important that mainstream media show different stories and different body shapes.
Last but not least, we would like to finish off with these important closing remarks by Olave and Saskia!
Olave: “Fill your timelines with women like Saskia: share, retweet, like and PAY them! Support fat Black women! Because they have an understanding of what they are fighting for.”
Saskia: “If you have a platform, shout out the names of fat Black women who are doing the work. Pull up and give space to us!”
We would like to give a big thanks to our amazing guests: Olave and Saskia, it was an honour to have you at our Intersectional Talk! We also want to thank all our participants for being there and actively contributing to the discussion!