Fat Blokes is a new show from artist Scottee, which brings together five fat men to talk about being fat. The "sort of dance" show explores how each of the cast members engages with their bodies, and how their experiences relate to food, sexuality, class, race, violence and joy.
"I wanted to make the show because I wanted to explore what happens when we get a group of fat people together, and to give the general public what they want," Scottee explains. "You all want fat people to sweat and to exercise. In Fat Blokes, we do exactly that, but in exchange you have to listen to our experiences as well."
I spoke to the cast members of Fat Blokes about living life as fat blokes.
Gez, 29, Liverpool via Crosby
When I was a teenager, I was eternally fat, and I felt terrible about it. You just always dream about having the perfect body and the perfect life. Then I lost a load of weight really quickly and I still felt big. Then I started to put weight back on. I was gutted.
I noticed I was being patronised by the people I was working with – we'd do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month, where you walk a lot and work hard, and I'd lose weight. There'd be these comments: "The weight is really dropping off you, you look amazing!" – but I felt amazing already. I'd be having a salad, because I like salads, and someone would come up and say, "Oh wow, you are eating healthy today." It was so boring. And then four years ago I just thought, 'Fuck it, I'm going to be happy and fat.'
I started to see myself as attractive, slowly. It was like falling in love with myself again. I became the person I always had been, but was never able to show it. Fat is an adjective – there's nothing bad about it. There's just the poison other people have put on it. It's someone else's problem. It's insulting and exhausting to be debated: are our bodies right or wrong? It's always: you do have a problem, you do need to change. It's not even a microaggression, it's a really violent thing – the mainstream message of your very existence saying you're harmful, you're disgusting, change.
Sam, 27, London via Tamworth
I can't remember how many years ago it was now, but I was glassed in Soho. I was walking down the street and this man said something like, "You fat fuck, you need to go to the gym." I was in a good mood, so I went to confront him in a very relaxed way to explain why that wasn't OK. He was just vile, so I walked away. As I did, he took a champagne glass and threw it at the back of my head. All for his dislike of me big fat. I was tottering about really happily that night. It's almost like he was offended that I wasn't walking around head-bowed, carrying my Iceland shopping, depressed and sobbing.
That's the thing – it's not really about fatness, it's about someone trying to manage your body. Why does anyone have a right to comment on anyone's body? Why do fat people have to face graphic violence?
I always described myself as fat. Someone always goes, "No, you're not!" I'm just like, "I'm a man with tits. I definitely am fat, hun." It's patronising. I've always been OK with calling myself fat, but just not OK with being it. It didn't make me happy. My self esteem oscillated. One minute I'd be super OK with how I looked, and the next I'd be super uncomfortable.
I've always been on a diet, until last year. I just decided I couldn't be bothered anymore. I pinned everything on losing weight, then I'd be happy; then I'd do this or that. Something clicked inside me – I decided not to keep trying to change it, but to accept what my body is.
Asad, 31, London via Manchester
It was during swimming lessons at school that I first realised I was fat. I must have been about 12. I always knew I was bigger, but in my trunks I got teased. I took my shirt off and realised I just wasn't comfortable. That was the first time I knew for sure.
I'm still not comfortable with calling myself fat – when I tell people the title of the show I wince a little. It's the association with the word. Usually, when I use the word fat, people chuckle, or say, "Well, you're not fat-fat at least?" I have to ask why it makes them laugh; what they mean by "fat-fat".
I'm attracted to fat people, but I hate it in myself. I've grown up with the ideal that I need to be skinnier, but I've never been attracted to thin people. I look in the mirror and don't think I look great, but I look at my husband and I think he's hot – and he's bigger than I am. It's confusing. I've got a lot of unpacking to do.
I still want to get away from being fat, if I'm honest. But this show has given me a different perspective; I've seen people who are fat and happy, fat and willing to fight. I still struggle with it, I still don’t want to be fat.
Scottee, 33, Southend via London
I think about fatness in relation to old age and ageing: if you claim to be it, everyone who loves you will try to convince you otherwise. People who don't like you will try to convince you you're twice the size you are. When you're fat, you become public property – people like to come up to you and tell you what they think of your diet, what you're wearing, the space you take up.
Once, I was in Euston station and a group of ten guys just started yelling "you fat gay" at me; another time, a truck veered onto the pavement to where I was stood and the blokes inside yelled slurs at me. All these incidents happen when I'm on my own.
Primetime TV is dedicated to solving or healing us, but while doing so producers put fat people against each other, portraying us as losers or failures who need to be saved. Britain's Biggest Loser, Embarrassing Fat Bodies. Fat people are always decapitated on the news – we're only a midriff. We're an epidemic, a crisis, a time bomb. It's hardly a wonder why people consider me to be an enemy.
This show isn't about force-feeding people pork pies and telling them to be fat. I'm not asking people to suddenly accept my body – that's unachievable. I’m asking whether people think the level of abuse and violence that my body and the fat bodies go through on a daily basis is acceptable.
Joe, 32, Salford
I am sick of constantly being told how brave I am, just for existing in my own body. You're always told really condescendingly how "good" and "brave" it is that you're not just ashamed all the time. I'm a gogo dancer, so I get it a lot. I find it hilarious that I'm a dancer – I can't believe it. Still, it's not constant pride. It's a mixture of euphoria and dysphoria; sometimes I can feel shit-hot, but also just feel shit.
Fatness and class are tied in together. Working class people are demonised for being fat, and it's woven together with stereotypes of working class people. We're lazy, uneducated and we have no control. It's always working class people exploited, working class people embarrassed on TV. The food that's accessible and available to us is up for so much scrutiny. Middle class food is fattening, but it's always chicken dippers which get attacked.
You've got Nigella Lawson cooking the most fattening foods, but that's nothing to be ashamed of, right? Fuck off. Why is it fine for Nigella to do that silly segment when she goes into the fridge at night, but if working class people do it? Disgusting.
Scottee's 'Fat Blokes' opens at London's Southbank Centre on Thursday the 8th of November, with UK and Irish touring until Spring 2019.