S3 Ep2: Fat Erasure

Listen: http://fatandfaithful.libsyn.com/s3ep2-fat-erasure

Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.  

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(intro music)

Amanda – Welcome to Fat and Faithful, an ongoing conversation about faith, politics, and culture, as they relate to fatness.

Amanda – Welcome to this episode of Fat and Faithful. I’m Amanda Martinez Beck and I’m here with my faithful co-host.

Nicole – Hi everyone, I’m J. Nicole Morgan. Nice to see you again. . . . or hear you? I don’t really know what to say there.

Amanda – Nice to present our disembodied voices to you on a podcast platform.

Nicole – It’s a pleasure. As always.

Amanda – Nicole, how are you today?

Nicole – I’m doing really well. Yeah life is good. How about you?

Amanda – I’m doing great. This is the first podcast we’ve actually recorded since both of our books have been out.

Nicole – It is yeah. The last one we recorded we were waiting on all that, I forgot. It’s been a while.

Amanda – How how is book sailing? Sailing. Book selling?

Nicole – It’s going great. I confess I’m one of those authors who tracks the Amazon sales. If you’re not an author, you may not know this, but there’s like a little graph on Amazon that’s completely wrong based on your publisher’s numbers. But you can watch a little graph go up and down, of like you’re ranking and how many books Amazon says you sold. And it’s a little nerve racking but it’s fun. But one thing that’s been interesting is, I noticed like after the New Year, like it started going up again. And my book released in August. So that’s exciting to watch and see and, it’s not making the New York Times bestseller list or anything. But it’s fun to see that people are still engaging with it and that it’s still active in people’s minds even all these months later. That’s been encouraging.

Amanda – That’s awesome.

Nicole – Yeah. What about you? How’s yours going?

Amanda – Going good. I talked with my publisher, about halfway through January and I don’t look at the Amazon chart thing because I…

Nicole – Too much?

Amanda – Forgot about it. Well I forgot about how to access it. And so I’m like well, I’m just going to go straight to the donkey’s mouth. No.

Nicole – Horse’s mouth.

Amanda – Horse’s mouth?.

Nicole – Relatively the same thing.

Amanda – The hoofed animal’s mouth. So yeah, books are selling well and they’ve got to take my book to something called the Sikh conference in,I think it was at New Year’s. And it gained some attention from conference goers and then I’ve been on some podcasts and it’s really exciting.

Nicole – Yeah I was able to speak at an event a few weeks ago in January, was a local Atlanta women’s event. But that was, it was fun and cool. It was my first like, event where I was invited to speak instead of I like had to pitch people and convince them to let me come speak. So that was a fun milestone and the women were very receptive and it was encouraging to chat with them about it.

Amanda – Good. Well I wanted to talk today about something that I posted on my Instagram account about. I’ve started a weekly advice column called Ask Amanda, where listeners and readers of our books, our blogs and part of that All Bodies Are Good Bodies Facebook group can ask questions and then I usually get some feedback from Nicole and other members of our All Bodies Group and write out a response. So this week we covered something that Nicole gave me the word for. And that is fat erasure. Nicole can you define what fat erasure is?

Nicole – Yeah and I’ve seen people to define it a couple different ways but the biggest is when, in film and media, there are no fat bodies. And that can either look like, it’s a fictional story and fat bodies just don’t exist to the storyline, even as extras in the background. Or they do only in ways that are like stereotypically negative about fat bodies. Or if you’re looking at a movie or a film that is based on a true story, that people who in real life are chubby or fat or plus size, becomes slim in those representations of them on film. And then I’ve also seen people use the same term when they’re talking about when super fat people get pushed to the side in favor of what we call smaller fats’ voices, where like the more socially acceptable fat gets the center stage instead of like the extremely fat person. So all of that is kind of around the same idea of just silencing and ignoring the voices and very real bodies of people who are fat and not getting to see them or hear their perspective in the media that we consume.

Amanda – Yeah I also, before you taught me the term fat erasure, I used the term thin washing.

Nicole – Yes I think that’s also great.

Amanda – Because I just noticed my, one of my favorite saints is St. Teresa of Avila, and in portraits of her from around her lifetime, she is shown as very quite, quite plump, fat and delightfully so. And I remember in college just finding a kinship with her in that. But then I see prayer cards in churches and they’re always very modern concept attractive, thin, with striking eyes, portraits of her.

Nicole – Yeah. People might ask like why does that matter.

Amanda – That’s my next question, why does it matter?

Nicole – I think the term like gut punch, like when I realized that it’s happening, when I can actually see and notice. It does very much feel like, oh well this isn’t, my body is not the kind of story that people want to tell. Like my body causes too many problems to include it in the story. I guess maybe the opposite of fat erasure, like fat inclusion. I remember a couple years ago I think, whatever year the Netflix christmas prince movie came out, like that cheesy movie where with like a reporter who like sneaks into a castle and marries the prince. That’s probably describes like 12 movies but the one that Netflix made. Like two years ago. The very last scene or very close to last scene there’s like a dance. And in the background, people who have no, they have no names. They’re literally just extras. But there is a young woman who’s dancing and she’s fat, like very visibly fat and she has on like a formal dress. And she’s just dancing and there’s nothing else about her. And I remember I just stopped and I rewound the scene and I watched it like 5 times, ’cause that was so shocking. Like I don’t see, you don’t see fat people in the background. And so when it’s included it’s like, oh someone thought that it was OK to have a fat person just be a part of the world. She didn’t have any lines or anything, but she was just part of the world. That was very affirming for that three seconds.

Amanda – Maybe some of our listeners are thinking, well there’s been a lot of fat centered narrative lately. Like Dumplin’ on Netflix, or This Is Us with Kate’s storyline, or American Housewife with Katie Otto. There’s a difference in what we’re talking about between fat main character and, and this concept of fat erasure.

Nicole – Yeah.

Amanda – One of the differences is is, can a fat person have a storyline that does not revolve around their weight.

Nicole – Amen. It seems complicated.

Amanda – So does, do all those movies revolve around weight. Or all those roles a lot, yes and at some point yes. And we don’t, we’re not saying we want people to ignore that fatness has a societal impact because it does, it’s a, there’s structural bigotry and prejudice against fat people that is going to make itself known in narratives. But with something like background actors, there’s no narrative for them to live up to or or to play. So if we only cast thin people, thin able bodied typically white people in in backgrounds, then it says that in this real, this scene that’s supposed to be like real life, there are no fat people. And it just speaks a lot about our cultural assumptions about fatness.

Nicole – Yeah it’s like we don’t exist. We’re not part of standard society.

Amanda – Unless it’s in a negative light like presented like the bullies in class are always, are typically fat or, you’re at a gym and there’s a class for fat people going on in the background or something like that.

Nicole – I think one of my favorite go to examples of fat characters, is Sookie from Gilmore Girls. Sookie who was just fat and that really wasn’t a part of her storyline which is interesting to me ’cause that show’s creator, writer Amy Sherman-Palladino, like is super anti fat. A lot of her work. If you’ve seen Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, like it’s pretty awful. There’s even a lot in Gilmore Girls. I think I wrote a blog post about this one time. I’ll have to look it up. But it’s like everyone in Gilmore Girls who’s not Sookie, or Babette, or forgetting the other lady’s name. There was another neighbor, the dance teacher, Sookie, and a neighbor were all fat and they were all okay because they were loved in the town. But any other person who is fat or that they wanted to shame, there is a fat joke about them. And so I guess that’s part of fat erasure too. I love the Sookie character, but at the same time it’s super problematic that fat is still bad unless you’re talking about the few people who love you, and have decided that you’re OK, even though you are fat. Like you have to redeem yourself before you’re allowed to just be a person.

Amanda – Yeah and the movie that brought this up to me in a real way, I watched the preview for the new movie, Unplanned, that’s coming out about the conversion story of Abby Johnson. And if you’re not familiar with Abby Johnson, she was the director of a Planned Parenthood in Texas. I believe it was Bryan-College Station where Texas A&M University is. And she had a pretty dramatic transformation from supporting abortion to when she assisted in abortion, it changed her mind about abortion. And a lot of my pro-life friends are excited about this film because they’re like, finally we’re getting a quality movie about this really life changing event. I am pro-life. I don’t think abortion is a right. And, it’s hard to talk about it. So hear me out for just a second. As I watched the trailer and they show Abby Johnson’s character, I just felt really sad. Because they took Abby Johnson from real life, who is a fat person, and they gave her life story to a very thin actress. And it it hit me pretty deeply because in my writing, I talk about how embracing this body that I am in, is part of my pro-life ethic. I am pro-life, womb to tomb, meaning I believe life begins at conception and ends with natural death. And I believe that accepting the weakness and limitations of our body is a part of living that out. So that includes people with disabilities being completely celebrated and accepted and given opportunity for living vibrant lives. And that means people at the end of their life being treated with dignity because our bodies are good because they are created for relationship and not perfection. So to see this champion of the pro-life movement, her fatness being erased? That was very impacting to me.

Nicole – Yeah. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve seen pictures of Abby. And I know that she is a plus size woman. Yeah just affirming that feeling of loss and that sadness. I think that’s all very valid in real.

Amanda – I think people. Who call themselves pro-life may say, but it’s not a big as big a deal as abortion. So get over it.

Nicole – Yeah and that’s super frustrating. That type of argument in general. Because I firmly believe that things are intersectional, and that means a lot of that everything is connected to each other. And if we can’t honor the bodies of everyone as they are and understand that bodies have these characteristics that matter. Like my fatness impacts how I interact with the world, and how people view my life and its worth. And if you fail to understand that, I don’t understand how you honor the life of anyone else either. Like you’re missing part of the point if you just focused on one aspect of living into full embodiment and not all of the others. And then I mean this comes into play with all of the ways that we diminish people because of something about their body. Whether it’s race or gender or sexuality or anything like that. We have to take the time, to understand how our, our erasures, and our minimizations impact that across the spectrum. And I feel like I was just being super philosophical and vague there, but hopefully that made sense.

Amanda – No I appreciate your words. My guiding principle in my life is consistency. And I don’t mean that in, obviously I want to be a woman of my word and follow through with things I’ve committed to. But what I mean is that, in everything I believe, I want it to be consistent with the way that I live my life. And so I believe that all bodies are good bodies. And that that has to, I have to let that saturate my actions, saturate my thinking that my actions to the point where, when people are saying that some body does not deserve equal protection or representation, I say well that’s not consistent with what I believe. And so it is a big deal.

Nicole – Yeah. When you brought this up, when you mentioned a message, or Instagram, I immediately thought of a movie that I watched based on a true story. And it was some like, inspirational film, made for TV movie I think. I’m not really sure but I was like, oh that was a sweet story, it was based on a true life. So as I do with everything I went to go research it.

Amanda – ‘Cause you’re a 5.

Nicole – Yes. So you know I always like I go to Google the real life story whenever I watch real life movies, because I want to know, like what was true and what was different and what actually happened. And I’m scrolling through and it was a story about a family and, faith based movie and there is some medical drama involved. And I’m scrolling through and I realize that they slimmed everyone down. And that this family, you know, they were active and they were in church and some of the kids were were athletes and they slimmed everyone down. And so like on top of just this fat erasure, like you had a real life teenager who wa, you know, just a school athlete who was also chubby or plus size. And in the movie, that teenager became a thin teenager. And when I was looking it up again for this show I was going through and I realized that everyone including the doctors in the movies got slimmer except the pastor in the movie who got fatter as an actor. And I’m not really sure what’s up with that. But I thought that was interesting. And all of our societal connections between faith and body size, and I haven’t really explored that fully because I just realized that like 30 minutes ago.

Amanda – But that’s really interesting. I was thinking of you know, if you took 15 year old Amanda, and you know something dramatic happened and so they’re making a movie of my life and they’re picking an actress to play me. What does that say to the child actor. Like we’re not going to find someone that actually looks like you, we’re gonna find someone who looks like the culturally acceptable version of you. And what that says is you’re too much, you’re not enough. And so we’re going to pick someone who doesn’t look like you because we think it’ll sell better, we think it’s a better way to tell the story.

Nicole – Yeah, I’m, I’m trying to imagine, you know younger me, who is not body positive, and just… I can imagine I would have been so grateful, that they pick someone slimmer. That, that, oh okay, so this whole idea like, when I was younger I was very much steeped in the idea that if I loved God enough, then I would look beautiful despite my body. That somehow like my inner holiness and purity would like shine through and people would see something besides my fat body or they would just like not pay attention to my fatness, because they would see how devout and holy I was. And so I think like a younger version of me, if they had made a movie about my life and chose a thinner actress to play me, I would have felt somehow affirmed that, oh good. They decided not to like, display my shame for the entire world. They decided to let the real me take presence on the stage. And now that is just like deeply sad to me. Because my body is such a big part of who I am and how experience life, and how people interact with me. And to lose that, this is a big part of who I am and what my story is.

Amanda – Because our bodies tell a significant part of our story.

Nicole – Yeah.

Amanda – So who is doing this well. Who, what have you seen where fat people are included, without being either the main focus of the story and who are just a part of the fabric of this storytelling. Do you have any feedback of who’s doing what well?

Nicole – Oh goodness. Off the top of my head. No. Let’s see.

Amanda – I had a reader write in that in, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, she was surprised to see that some of the background people were fat and it wasn’t a part of the plotline it’s just normal people being fat.

Nicole – I haven’t watched that show in a few seasons. I’m not sure. Like I’m obviously like thinking of like storylines, modern storylines where we have fat people who are central characters. Which are hit and miss, whether they’re good or not. In terms of background fat people I think of like, Grey’s Anatomy has some great people, like I’m seeing it more often. Especially like in a medical drama, like we have some plus size doctors nurses. I think there’s like a new intern person on the past couple of seasons who’s plus size. So they’re not background characters but they’re there and their body is not part of the storyline. And Miranda Bailey has long been a character like that if you watch Grey’s Anatomy. She’s obviously a central character but her body is not part of her storyline.

Amanda – That’s awesome.

Nicole – Yeah, I’m not sure.

Amanda – Well I think this means there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Nicole – I know. Attention, anyone in Hollywood. Just stick fat people in the background, you’re gonna make us happy. It’s great. I mean give them a role too.But, a step in the right direction. Yes.

Amanda – All right well, Nicole, I don’t have any, other than that. And I’m constantly watching out for it.

Nicole – Tweet us and tell us what you know because we’re at a loss.

Amanda – Speaking of tweeting we are on Twitter. Our, the podcast handle is fatandfaithful. Nicole is JNicoleMorgan and I am AmandaMBeck. And then Instagram. Can you share that Nicole?

Nicole – Yes. We’re also fatandfaithful. And on Instagram Amanda is your_body_is_good. And there’s underscores in between each of those words. And you can find me at JNicoleMorgan there as well. And then Facebook is a great place to get connected with people talking about this. You can find the group All Bodies Are Good Bodies on Facebook, just search for the groups for that. I think if you go to Facebook.com/groups/allbodiesaregoodbodies and find it as well. It’s a private or a closed group so you need to request membership. There’s some questions to answer and make sure you answer those and then we’ll approve your membership.

Amanda – Yeah. And we’d love to have your feedback for Ask Amanda. So hop on over to Instagram, or there’s also a contact submission form on my blog AmandaMartinezBeck.com. And Valentine’s Day is this week. This episode I will be posting the week of Valentine’s so please know, that whether you find yourself alone or with a partner, you are loved. You are not too much, you are enough and you are lovely.

Nicole – Amen. All right. Thanks everyone. We’ll join you next time.

Amanda – Thanks.

Nicole – Thank you so much for joining us today. We’d love for you to continue to engage with us online. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at Fat and Faithful and join the discussion group on Facebook at All Bodies are Good Bodies. Please take a minute to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, and share this episode of social media using the hashtags fatandfaithful or allbodiesaregoodbodies. This helps us reach more people with our mission to love God incarnate and our neighbor’s body as our own.

Amanda – We’re so thankful that you joined us today have a great week.

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