Coming out is such an intensely personal decision, since being queer is somewhat of a seemingly mutable way of being different. ("Passing" as straight is easier for some than others, and it is often tied to gender presentation.) I thought in honor of the occasion, and the fact that I told this story to my friends Jenna and Rick at my Epic High Holiday Shabbat dinner on Friday, I would share it here!
I was asked by the filmmakers of a new documentary released yesterday to watch a sneak preview. I was cuddled up in a cabin in the woods with a bunch of my queer besties and it seemed like the perfect activity for a rainy day. Now that it’s released world-wide for free on the internet, I want to share it with my readership.
From the press kit: “There She Is follows two plus size pageant queens as they prepare for an upcoming pageant. They discuss their lives as plus size women, including how they feel when others’ perceptions of their appearance clash with their own. The film challenges the viewer to examine his/her own definition of beauty and the ways in which it affects our everyday lives.”
It’s very fat acceptance 101 but also very human. It’s full of pretty dresses and watching girls do make-up (one of my favorite things to watch).
I have some thoughts about the film, so read on for my feelings or you can watch the movie and then read what I have to say. I’d love to hear your reactions, too.
Here is the full film (about 20 minutes long)–the link to the website is here.
Or just watch the trailer:
I feel strongly that pageants can be a great thing for people. I think beauty, make-up, hair and clothes are art forms that are derided by mainstream culture as “frivolous” but can be very empowering. I think aesthetic arts are actually really helpful ways of reclaiming your body from what society expects from you. This is assuming that one understands that make-up/hair/etc are optional parts of aesthetic life and not compulsory. So I went into this documentary on the side of the contestants because I know beauty pageants are actually really fun hobbies/pursuits for folks.
A couple of things struck me about this movie. The first was that the blonde subject spoke about not wanting to run out to the grocery store without doing her hair, make-up and wearing cute clothes because she felt an unspoken expectation not to appear like a “fat slob.” I actually struggle with this myself. I challenge myself all the time to appear outside (and sometimes in photos on this blog) without wearing make-up. Sometimes I just physically don’t feel comfortable not wearing make-up and I am not sure if that’s because I just like to present a version of myself that is more in line with my vision or if it because I feel pressure to make myself more palatable for the outside world as a fat, queer person. I think it’s likely a bit of both, though I do work really hard to not let other people’s perceptions of me affect what and how I do things. I also never truly feel “in my gender” if I’m not wearing false eyelashes, red lipstick and some killer outfit.
I also was curious about the subject who talked about her weight loss at the end. It was actually kind of a bummer because as a fat loving person who is self loving I secretly want a fat acceptance narrative to not involve weight loss goals, but at the same time it’s unrealistic to expect fat people to not participate in ways of bodily self-determination. I rarely pursue weight loss goals myself but certainly make choices with regards to food and exercise that sometimes have a by product of weight loss.
I was curious and confused about the brunette’s reaction to her weight loss. In some ways I felt like her engagement was a byproduct of it from a man who wouldn’t otherwise accept her. (I.e. “It’s okay if you’re fat as long as you’re trying to lose weight.”) But I had a hard time understanding whether I was perceiving that correctly.
For me, I try to make weight loss value-neutral and not focus on the scale about success. I focus on how my body is feeling. I don’t think losing weight will change who I am inside and suddenly make myself love me more. I’ve known enough formerly fat but still self-loathing people to know that’s not a narrative that works, you have to love yourself from the inside first regardless of how big your body is. As a body liberation activist, I also work really hard to not mind other people’s weight loss positively or negatively. I won’t judge them for it and I won’t celebrate it. I want to know if the person is feeling good in their body.
I’m wondering from readers what they feel like about wearing make-up, whether they find it compulsory, if they feel comfortable in public spaces or specifically queer spaces without it (if they are a make-up identified person)?
In what ways do you feel “in your gender,” and how does that present? How does that differ from day to day, moment to moment?
How do you respond to weight loss in your life? Are there ways that you make it value-neutral?