Why it's time for radical fat acceptance

<i>Dietland</i> author, Sarai Walker.

Dietland author, Sarai Walker.

"I hope you have a heart attack and die."

Author and fat activist Sarai Walker receives such nasty comments on a daily basis.

"People's rage scares me sometimes," says Walker. "There are a lot of people who think that fat people deserve to get diseases as punishment for being fat. On some deep level they think that fat people should suffer because they are fat."

Walker has channelled this anger into creative pursuits. Her new novel Dietland tells the story of Plum Kettle, a fat woman working for a fashion magazine. Kettle is biding her time until she has weight loss surgery and her life as a thin person can begin.

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On the surface, the book highlights the ways fat women are discriminated against in our culture, and debunks many of the myths about weight and the diet industry. But at its core, Dietland asks what would happen if women expressed their anger in 'masculinist' ways — outwards rather than internalising it.

Walker creates a world where women fight back against the men who oppress them. And their tactics go way beyond angry protest marches and strident calls for legislative change.

Plum Kettle finds herself involved with a terrorist organisation called 'Jennifer' which drops accused rapists out of helicopters and burns down the houses of college fraternities that approve of rape.

"Women have a lot of things to be angry about, but unlike men who often turn their anger outwards, women tend to direct it inwards and that can lead to self-hatred and depression," she says.

In her fiction, as in life, Walker says that the hatred of fat bodies and a hatred of women are inextricably linked.

"The hatred directed at fat women is completely intertwined with misogyny," she says. "Any time you see a guy saying that he hates fat women or that fat women are disgusting or gross, it is a huge red flag for a guy who hates women. He's saying that women have to adhere to a particular body size and look a certain way, otherwise they are just sub-human."

Walker hopes that her book will help to change people's attitudes towards fat.

"I wanted people to think about why women's bodies are constructed in a certain why; why fat women are discriminated against, why we have this objectification of women in our culture," she says.

She wants thin people to understand how hurtful, damaging and unfounded their fat prejudice is. And she wanted to break the mould of storytelling by having a main character who is fat.

"There were no serious novels about what it's like to be fat. For fat women I hoped that they would be able to see themselves represented in the book."

Her message is also one of fat acceptance. In Dietland Plum Kettle comes to realise that she will never become thin and her pursuit becomes about self-acceptance rather than thinness.

For her part, Walker says she's truly happy with her body size. Even if she had a magic wand, she wouldn't choose her body to be anything other than it is.

"I've come to appreciate the perspective that being in a fat body gives me. I have a perspective on feminism, society and culture that I wouldn't have otherwise. If I weren't fat, I would be a totally different person," Walker says.

In a culture that places so much importance on appearance and encourages self-dissatisfaction, contentedness with one's self is highly political, says Walker.

"To say that you are going to accept yourself the way you are really freaks people out. It makes them very angry. It's deeply radical," she says.

But Walker is the first to admit that genuine body acceptance isn't easy.

"Fat people are treated horribly so it is natural for people to want to escape a group that is treated like that. It's just a practical thing; you wouldn't suffer as much mistreatment or have to put up with discrimination if you were thin."

Even those who consider themselves politically progressive seem to have a blind-spot when it comes to weight.

"Left wing, liberal and open-minded people will think critically about the government and corporations, but when it comes to fat they just accept everything they are told by diet companies and pharmaceutical companies."

And those who agree with her fat acceptance message are only supportive up to a point. They're still in pursuit of the thin ideal.

"There is this idea that 'fat acceptance is ok for you and I support you but for me I want to be thin otherwise my life would be over'," she says.

How has Walker managed to find body-acceptance in a world that, for the most part, hates her body and is totally obsessed with thinness?

It took Walker several years to relinquish the fantasy of one day becoming thin, and to realise that there is nothing inherently wrong with her body.

"Part of it was accepting reality; accepting that this is my body. It's the only body I'm ever going to have and I wasted so much energy hating it and fighting it. It was no way to live."

 

Sarai Walker will appear at Melbourne Writers FestivalBrisbane Writers Festival and Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney.