GeekGirlCon ’15 Recap: Fatness and Fandom Reloaded
I myself definitely wouldn’t be called thin, but I’m not fat, and even I struggle to see my body shape represented in the media I consume. So I found it interesting and, above all, inspiring to hear other women who are more actively interested in representation and the importance of safe spaces for fat geeks at the GeekGirlCon ‘15 panel “Fatness and Fandom Reloaded.”
There are not a lot of overweight characters in the games, shows, movies, comics and other things we love—and when there is, those portrayals are almost always founded on negative, embarrassing tropes. So what can we do it about it, and why is it important?
The amazing ladies who made up the panel were Amber Dawn Bushnell (@ambergloom), Sabrina Taylor (@realafterglow), Kim Correa (@kiimpulsively), Rachelle Abellar (@rachelleabellar), and Shawna Jaquez (@sheistheweather). The panel was recorded and can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, uploaded by PNW Fattitude, so check out the video and some of what I thought were highlights.
When talking about tropes, Amber said, “I think something that’s toxic about bad tropes for fat people is not just that they encourage that thinking, but they also encourage those stereotypes, and we internalize that. For me, it was something that I didn’t even realize was happening, but it discouraged me from trying the things I wanted to do.” She continued, “It’s not just about the cultural narrative that we’re creating, but also individual fat people. We don’t want to internalize that hatred.”
Sabrina brought up how hesitant creators can appear to be when it comes to telling stories other than their own. “Creative teams will say, ‘I don’t have the right to speak to that, or I don’t feel comfortable saying that,’ and I get it in the sense that it’s a weird passive-aggressive way of being respectful. But I also feel that until the pipeline to editorial and to positions of power changes, right now we’re stuck with mostly white people, mostly men, mostly cis people, and mostly non-fat people, or people who don’t want to make fat characters, in those positions.
“And I feel that if you make something for public consumption, you have a responsibility to listen to people who consume that media and listen to what they want.”
Rachelle brought up the controversy around the casting of Amanda Waller in the new Suicide Squad movie, a character who was fat in the comics. “It was rumored that Oprah Winfrey was WB’s top choice … but in the end the role was given to Viola Davis. How does that make you feel and how can we fight fat erasure?”
“I was so freaking happy about Oprah,” Sabrina said. “How can you not be? I mean, it’s Oprah. But it’s difficult, as a woman of color and as a fat person. We all have these different wheelhouses we operate in. I was excited because I love Viola Davis—but Amanda was fat. She is fat. She’s still fat in the DC continuity. So I guess the official excuse they went with was a scheduling problem, I know, bullshit—”
An audience member spoke up then, saying, “Every fat person was busy that day!” The laughter at the remark showed how much everyone had heard that excuse and knew, like Sabrina said, just how much it smelled.
The panelists tried to redirect to positive fat representation then, although there weren’t that many choices.
Amber said she loved Ellie from Borderlands 2, and how “more than once in the course of the game, there’s a reference to people making fun of her, and she completely turns it around and makes it something empowering for her.”
Sabrina voted for Choji from Naruto, saying, “I love him because in the beginning of the series, they do kind of make him the joke and it’s awful, but towards the end he really kicks ass. He really owns it and he doesn’t take shit from anybody. And it’s rad and he’s happy and he’s himself, and it’s a great evolution to see.”
Kim loved Ellie as well, but she also brought up Tierno from Pokemon XY. “He’s one of your buddies who comes with you, and he can dance and he’s fat, but no one makes fun of him for being fat. It’s very charming.”
A topic that took up a lot of the panel was fat options in geeky apparel, a subject that brought groans from the crowd when Rachelle introduced it.
Amber, who designs geeky T-shirts, brought up the unfortunately realistic side of the issue: “There’s actually very few manufacturers who make the high-quality, larger-sized stuff.” She issued a challenge: “As the content creators, it’s your job to go to the manufacturers and say our fans want this, can you do this? It’s not just about fat people, but it’s also our allies who speak up.” She urged fat geeks to reach out to content creators and make their voices heard. “As allies, content creators really need to be proactive about this.”
Shawna brought it back to an earlier issue: “Honestly, with geek fashion and the lack of availability, it plays into how we don’t see ourselves in the media. It’s another ‘you are not a person, we are not making clothes for you because you do not exist or do not matter.’ And that’s bullshit. There’s no reason for that. We’re clearly here. Let us give you our money please.”
Sabrina called out, “Sailor Moon stuff until my eyes bleed!”
Amber and Kim both brought up the issue of how tiring it can be to constantly battle for representation. “You don’t want to burn yourself out,” Amber said in response to Kim admitting she’s not always able to engage in the conversation.
Kim streams games on Twitch, and she chooses to stream with her camera on, which unfortunately brings her harassment. “You basically get two types: oh, you’re a girl, and oh, you’re fat. And it’s just so weird how those two interact. Because they ask, ‘oh, why are you streaming? Your camera is way up high because you’re trying to hide that you’re fat.’ No, I know I’m fat, I’m just putting the camera there. ‘Why are you trying to trick me into thinking you’re attractive?’ No, I am attractive, you just think I’m tricking you because I’m also fat.
“You always get the sexist ‘girls can’t play games’ bullshit. If you don’t stream with a camera on, you might not get as much bullshit, but I like to because the live-streaming community right now—all the big streams are white, mostly male, and thin. I want to try and say, hey, if you’re fat, you can also participate in this form of media. I can deal with it, I can take it, and I want to show other people that fat people can play and stream.”
When it comes to facing harassment online, Kim has moderators who help, but everyone also advocated for blocking and unplugging if you need to.
“Self care is really important and you don’t want to burn out,” Amber said. “I think finding allies, which isn’t always easy, but if you can find allies or people in the same position as you who can take up the fight, or at least support you and commiserate with you and help you feel like not everyone’s against you.”
“Reach out to people who are experiencing that,” Shawna said. “If you or someone else is experiencing harassment in a mob form, there’s a resource called Crash Override [link]. That is a very valuable resource if you’re in that situation.”
Remembering tools and having support is helpful, but Rachelle also asked the panelists for advice for fat people who are faced with fat-shaming in the moment. “It’s a bummer,” she said bluntly. “I still struggle with it every single day. I try not to think about it until later and put it away. You can do that to protect yourself but eventually you have to do something about it.”
Amber said that sort of mindset helps her sometimes. “In those moments when you have a chance to defend yourself, it can be really helpful to know there are people who have your back and with whom you can decompress later.”
Rachel brought up an idea that may seem extreme, but can also be extremely helpful. “I think also setting boundaries, which isn’t always easy to do. But specifically for me, dropping almost half my friends on Facebook has improved my mental health so much. If you can, if you’re in a safe space, reexamine your relationships with toxic people.”
Amber agreed, saying, “Or even, as you said, setting boundaries within relationships. Maybe you don’t want to end that relationship, but set boundaries. Like with my mom, I told her, let’s not talk about my weight at all. Anymore. It’s not helping our relationship and it’s just going to make us happier to not talk about it. If it’s possible, set those boundaries within relationships, or just remove those toxic people from your life.”
To end the panel, each panelist weighed in on what they did for self-care. Sabrina and Shawna immediately weighed in with a vote for a spa day—something the ladies of PNW Fattitude do on a regular basis.
Amber suggested, “Finding a support system. Spending time with real people. It’s nice to be around people who look like you. It’s one thing to see them online, but it’s another to actually spend time with people who look like you, who have the same experiences.”
Kim’s idea was simple: “Take selfies.”