Plus Size Pageant Documentary–There She Is and some questions for my readership about being fat and expressing gender

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.

Planning the next trip to the house.
I accidentally bought an evangelical christian guide to retreat planning when at the used book sale.

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.

I competed for the title of Miss LEZ and talk more about my pageant thoughts in this post.

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.

Cuddle pile.
Cuddled up watching the documentary.

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?

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing this. So many thoughts. I’m a single femme so I more careful in what I go out in but I only wear sunscreen to dance class except during pride week when I wear my BB cream too ! I love wearing full face but I’m lucky I get to do that a lot!

    I was really disappointed that the girl getting the lap band got engaged to the fat-phobic douche bag. I really wanted her to be with some guy that saw her & loved her for herself… She is so beautiful & sexy…

    But the whole film made me wonder if straight girly girls need pageants to have an opportunity to dress up? As a queer femme I can& do dress up all the time! I have events that I can wear an evening gown to if I choose (I’m more of a rocker chick so gowns aren’t my thing but short skirts suddenly are with lots of sparkle!).

    I love films that get me thinking! And your blog is always doing that which is why I love it so!

  2. I identify as “femme-y” rather than “femme”, and I am ok with going out without makeup for smaller things – ie in daytime, by myself or with just my partner/family. Otherwise, I always wear some light makeup, and for night events will sometimes do a little more.

    I think that living with friends (at dorms or with multiple roomies as a limited-funds student) helped me to be comfortable with this, since obviously I wasn’t going to wear makeup constantly when I’m in my home. It also helped when I started getting happier with my natural appearance / came to see makeup (and hairstyles) as a sometimes-fun and non-necessary form of dressing up or playfulness. I find that to be a much more affirming and healthy approach than my previous shame-tinged “I am distinctly unappealing without it, and cannot expose others to my subpar self”.

  3. The weight loss question made me think not of my OWN weight and weight loss (although, like Danny and countless other people, I’ve got close family members who are very interested in those topics), but the weight and weight loss of others. Like, what do you do as the fat person in the room when the whole rest of the crowd is busily praising someone for weight loss?

    I am big on compliments: you look beautiful, what a lovely tie, that color is gorgeous on you, etc, etc. I give ’em to fat people and thin people and everyone in between, but I never give them for weight loss. When others comment on someone’s weight loss, I generally absent myself from the conversation quietly. Often, I find, the hubbub is so enormous that my disappearance isn’t even noted.

    When I am forced, especially one-on-one or in a smaller group, to address a person’s weight loss because it is so drastic that would be awkward not to, I might ask, “Have you been well? Your body looks smaller.” If someone else brings up their own weight loss — looking, as always, for positive feedback for it — I instead say, “Are you happy about changing your size?” or “Do you feel good?” If they say yes, which most do, I try to cut off the gushing as soon as I can and say, “I’m always glad for you when you feel good and strong.”

  4. I’ve just recently started weight training, as well as giving up processed foods and sugar, and while my goal isn’t to lose weight, it’s happening. I’ve been determined from the beginning when I started doing this that I was going to try and resist the mindset that losing weight was somehow “better”, but damn, it is hard, especially when people keep praising me for it. I like the idea that it’s just a by-product, and am trying to promote that idea to anyone who comments on my body. I don’t know what size I’m going to end up, but I’m determined to love this body, regardless.

    As for makeup, I’m sort of left of femme, so I usually feel like I need to at least be wearing mascara when I go out. Clothing is more complicated…I enjoy choosing clothes that make me feel powerful and sexy and in my body, but there’s part of me that resists the idea of value judgements of others based on my outward presentation. Still wrestling through that one…

  5. Let the novel begin!

    My face is pretty red, especially during the summer, so I usually feel better if I’ve got a bit of foundation or powder on. Other than that, though, I don’t wear makeup because I wouldn’t feel safe wearing the kind of makeup that I’d like to wear (metallic eyeshadow, gold eyeliner, bright lipstick, etc) anywhere but a costume-centric party.

    I’m a queer, non-binary person. Looking androgynous isn’t an option for me because I have a large chest, wide hips, and a comparatively small waist, and while some days I love this there are more than a few days where I want to crawl out of my skin. Again, I wouldn’t feel safe wearing the clothes I’d really like to, but lately I’ve been compromising by wearing bright and frilly underwear under jeans, a t-shirt, and combat boots.

    I’ve been fat since middle school. My mom is fat. My dad is fat. My brother is getting there, and all but a handful of family members are fat as well. I love my body; I love the way it looks, I’m attracted to people with similar shapes, and I feel strong, capable, and healthy.

    My family feels differently, though, especially my mom. Just a few weeks ago she asked me to get my thyroid tested, hoping that it would be the cause of my weight, and was disappointed when both it and all of my other tests came back just fine. When I was very young, maybe twelve or thirteen, she let me know that she’d be happy to pay for a breast reduction. Whenever the subject of weight comes up she hastens to assure me that I carry my weight well, apparently unlike other people my size? I don’t know. Just little things like that, but it hurts because she sees my body as an impediment to my happiness whereas I see it as ME.

    So weight-loss to me is pretty value-neutral, since it tends to happen around different times of the month or depending on what I drink, but my family is very concerned with it in a way that seems to me to be inherently negative.

  6. I’ve found it impossible at this point to stop myself from feeling disgusting when it comes to my weight. Despite this, I often think I look very good (even beautiful) a lot of the time. I also find other fat women incredibly hot. Yet, when it comes to myself, I find it hard not to be disgusted about my body *for* other people. Like they don’t even have to, since I’ll do it for them.

    In regards, to makeup, I used to be unable to leave the house without my protective armor of loveliness firmly in place. Concealer, eyeliner, mascara, and lipgloss at the very least. Oddly, I went through a period of not caring due to depression, but came out of it with a greater appreciation of my face without makeup. Now I apply makeup when I’m in the mood or when I have an idea for a new colorful creation. I explore the most brilliant colors I can get my hands on (if you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend Sugarpill eyeshadows because they’re amazing) and try to have as much fun as I can. I do tend to wear makeup more if I’m going to be going to an event where I’ll be surrounded by people (especially sexy people).

    My gender is femme non-binary, but I find it hard to feel myself in a comfortable place much of the time. I mean, I feel good to myself and secure in my knowledge of who I am, but I know that the world sees me as a femme woman with a fat and very feminine figure. Sometimes I that’s who I feel like, so that’s cool. Other times I feel that my body type stops me from being able to engage in more masculine or androgynous forms of expression in my outward appearance. It can definitely be very frustrating for me. When I try a lot of masculine clothing on, it renders me shapeless and kind of blobby or sloppy looking, which I hate. I see a lot of smaller people combining traditionally masculine and femme clothing/haircuts/makeup in ways that I find utterly beguiling and I’d love to feel like I had the ability to do the same.

    At the risk of basically writing a fricking novel here, I’ll respond to your weight loss question, too. I feel a constant pressure to lose weight, but I actually rarely try to lose weight anymore. Exercise hurts me over time due to some health concerns and overeat very rarely. I eat foods made from whole ingredients and fresh fruits and vegetables, with only an occasional junk food splurge. I’m comfortable for the most part with myself when I’m on my own or with a trusted partner or friend, but I feel a lot of discomfort around groups of people (especially people that knew me when I was smaller). I also find that I feel half resentful and half happy for friends that have lost weight. I try to make it value-neutral, but I think it’s going to be an uphill battle that I’m planning on continuing to fight with everything I can manage.

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