These Women Are Taking Body Positivity Back from Brands
The hosts of the "She's All Fat" podcast talk about intersectionality, their "Fatmily," and why people who say, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful” are missing the point.
Photo from She's All Fat
In the past few years, the body positivity movement has finally begun to have an impact on American culture—but it too often fails to actually center on or benefit plus-sized people. The podcast “She’s All Fat,” hosted by April K. Quioh and Sophia Carter-Kahn, aims to change that. The show, which has attracted several thousand subscribers since launching last year, unpacks the unhealthy and ultimately exploitative way that fat people are represented in popular culture, answers questions from listeners, and gives concrete advice on subjects like “going to the doctor while fat.” They do this within the framework of their different life experiences—Carter-Kahn is a “nice wealthy white lady from the Southwest,” Quioh told me, while Quioh herself is the daughter of African immigrants who grew up poor in the Midwest—in conversations that are both casual and raw, intimate and explicitly political.
I got coffee with them and chatted about their challenges with a world that doesn’t make space—for their identities or physical space for their bodies—and the goals they have for their podcast and the body positivity movement in 2018. Here's how the interview went:
VICE: How did you two come up with the idea for “She’s All Fat”?
April Quioh: Sophie always looks at me, and I feel that it was a collaboration.
Sophia Carter-Kahn: It was your idea first. April and I both were looking for a way to talk body positivity—right now, we’re not seeing many intersectional conversations. It’s not about just fat bodies, because you can’t divorce fatness from the other marginalized parts of your identity. Those other identities are just as integral to body positivity, and we want there to be healthy discussion in the culture in general. When we sat down the first day to make a list of topics, it was three pages, just off the top.
What qualms do you have with the mainstream representation of body positivity?
Quioh: You know how the conversation about body positivity is sort of “buzz-y” right now? It’s not intersectional and it’s very surface-level. It freaks me out a little bit, the way body positivity is used as a marketing tool. You’ll see phrases like “love yourself” printed on pink mugs in glitter being sold at an exorbitant price. Victoria’s Secret was marketing a “body positive” lingerie line that featured no actual fat people. To me, these are examples of corporations completely missing the point of body positivity but attempting to co-opt the language in order to seem “woke.”
The reality is, body positivity is about more than loving yourself. It is a political movement about dismantling the oppression people face because of the bodies that they live in. It’s important to us that we do not conflate the two. I think it would be easy for our brand to be like, “We want to seem inclusive”—look, there’s a chubby white woman and a chubby black woman, and I just put them on my page and it looks like I care about all bodies and all sizes! But we try to be active about what we align ourselves with. What do we truly want to stand for?
Carter-Kahn: People will also still say, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” and they think that that is body-positive. And it’s like… you’re missing [the point]. Body positivity is about dismantling oppressive systems, not about "not saying mean words." Until it's truly neutral to say "I'm fat," the movement isn't done. We get a lot of fetishization, too. My unread messages aren’t even explicit, they’re lazy. “Hey, hey you’re fat and beautiful. I love fat girls.”
Quioh: What did someone write to us today? “You’re abundant.” You’re not fat, you’re an abundance. We get a lot of problematic “fan mail” in our Gmail right now. Especially with fatness in general, it’s easy for women to feel desexualized.
Carter-Kahn: I don't want to be hypersexualized or desexualized; I just want to be afforded the same neutrality as other bodies existing in space.
What makes “She’s All Fat” different from existing resources? What are your goals for you listeners, yourself, and the body positive movement at large?
Quioh: We have three major goals for the pod. First, that listeners who are fat feel seen and heard by the show. Second, that listeners who are not gain a better understanding of our unique experiences and some tools on how to be a better ally. And third, to do our part to encourage the body positivity movement at large to be more intersectional and continue to uplift the voices of the most marginalized voices among us.
Carter-Kahn: Centering fat voices is a pretty radical act, and our show and community is explicitly for and about fat people—our “Fatmily,” as we say. That doesn't mean "don't listen if you're thin"— we have a lot of straight-size listeners and community members! It just means that our focus, as a podcast, is fat positivity as a worldview, as a lens, similar to how other podcasts might use other identities as their lens. There's tons of different resources for body positivity and fat positivity that are also doing great work—we have a resource page on our site and we often shout different people out on the pod or in our Patreon posts.
How have people responded?
Quioh: We get emails all the time from people who say, "Hey, I learned from your podcast, and I talked to someone in my life about it," or "I used something I learned in a class I'm teaching," or, "I stood up for a fat friend after listening to this," and that really makes it all worth it for me.
Carter-Kahn: We love that so many people have found us at the beginning of their body-positivity journey, but our core mission is creating our very own space that centers fat voices. Many people expect the marginalized to educate people on the ways in which they are oppressed—but usually that comes down to explaining why your humanity is important, which is taxing. Not only do we need more intersectional voices in this space, but we need more allies interested in doing their own work on figuring out how to be a part of this movement. Fat positivity isn't trying to put thin people down - it's saying, "my oppression hurts you, too." The same way that feminism is good for men, or dismantling white supremacy is good for white people as well. Taking down the barriers that hold some of us back allows us all to be lifted up.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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