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Myth Four: Fat is Androgynous

May 16th, 2011     by Shaunta Grimes     Comments

Dr. Pattie Thomas wrote a book called Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life that is just really awesome. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth investing in.

The first chapter of the book has 10 fat myths. As I read them, I had so many ideas and thoughts and things I wanted to say about each one. I contacted Dr. Thomas and she said that it would be okay for me to use her list to talk about each of the myths here. So - welcome to a 10-week series.

Myth number four on Dr. Thomas’ list: Fat is androgynous.

(Please note that this post is written only from my own perspective as a fat cis woman. I would love to hear any comments on this issue from people with different gender identities.)

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take a very feminine picture for the Rad Fatties Project I host on my blog. I put on a little black dress and some fishnets and heels—and nearly died from discomfort. I take pictures outside almost every week and don’t feel particularly embarrassed when a neighbor sees me posing for myself—but that morning it was everything I could do not to run inside.

I’m posting this picture so you can see—just look at my face, at my shoulders hunched up, my hands clenched—how uncomfortable I was.

I don’t know why this series of pictures I took is what came to mind when I thought about this week’s myth. When I look at that picture, I don’t think, “Wow, I look like a man in drag.” I think, “Wow, I look like me, in drag.” Me, pretending to be pretty. Who do I think I am?

There is a fat meme that goes like this: fat women use fat as protection against men.

That might be true, for some people. I think, in some ways, it is for me. I’m uncomfortable with too much sexual attention. I don’t know how to react to it. A man driving by in his truck while I was taking the picture slowed a little, and I wanted to climb into a hole.

I experienced some sexual trauma as a child, and I am certain that it’s left me more comfortable with a layer of protection around me—that may or may not manifest itself as fat. My fat does offer that protection (however symbolic it may be.)

But, does it offer that protection because it makes me less desirable to men, and so less feminine?

What does fat is androgynous even mean? That fat people are neither male nor female? That on the gender continuum, we’re somewhere in the middle regardless of biology and sexuality?

Does it mean that slender people can’t be androgynous? That on that same continuum, they are fully to the left or right, simply because they fit the beauty myth in a way fat people don’t?

What about fat people who are androgynous?

Maybe the myth should read “fat people look androgynous,” rather than they actually are androgynous.

Dr. Thomas points out that when Hollywood wants to de-gender someone, they put them in a fat suit. By filling out a woman’s middle so that her hips and breasts aren’t as obvious, or giving a man a pear shape, they try to hide gender.

But, I think maybe the people who buy into the myth that fat is androgynous are confusing gender with sex. In fact, when I first started thinking about this post, I did, too.

It’s possible to make an argument for the opposite of fat looks androgynous as far as women are concerned. Fat women are often seen as benevolent caretakers—mothers, even if we aren’t. We are expected to be soft and loving and sweet. The human equivalent of cream puffs. So much so that when we aren’t, the backlash is often ugly. (But that’s another myth.)

Fat women are also often considered promiscuous—what wouldn’t we do to get laid?

There is a lot of generalization going on in this post. I’m finding I have to fight against this on every one of these Fat Myth posts. Turns out, myths are generalizing. They say that we’re all alike, when really we aren’t. In fact, I’d say that any time someone wants to try to figure out if something is the truth or a myth, they should start by looking for generalizations.


Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism at Live Once, Juicy.

Tags: body politics

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