I write about complex women. Women with issues. Women with secrets. Smart women with blind spots and poor judgement. Women who have sex for the sake of having sex and don't feel any remorse about it. Women who are magical and powerful and not here for your bullshit. And many of those women I write about will be fat.
Now, I understand that the word fat carries a lot of luggage with it. To call someone fat is almost always to insult them, to belittle their character. If a book or a movie needs a character that's a little bit lazy, a little bit stupid, a whole lot gross, or maybe just plain mean, using a fat person is an easy shortcut. I mean, who needs actual character development when you can just hire (fat actor of your choice here). The sight gags write themselves.
I have my own relationship with the word 'fat'. My stepfather was cruel, and enjoyed hurting people. He especially liked calling me fat, or some variation thereof, because he knew how much it hurt me. When my mother was divorcing his sorry ass, there was a confrontation at our former family home. One of the last things he said to me as he was leaving, real quiet so that my mom couldn't hear, was that my thighs were starting to look fat. I felt so ashamed and gross.
That moment, however, was about so much more than the cruel, fucked up commentary on a young woman's body. We weren't just leaving him; my mother was getting remarried, and we were moving out of town, away from... everything. I was also moving in with my mom and her fiance before they were married, and that was a very big deal in the religion of my upbringing. I had other options, I could have stayed, but I knew that my stepfather's creeping, latent abuses - which had become the wallpaper in our lives, always in the background - would have escalated. I had to choose between an 'immoral' situation and hope for forgiveness, or more substantial abuse, knowing that he would further obliterate any semblance of who I was.
I chose not to be abused any further.
As he drove off, the humiliation gave way to anger. I had to do something, to let him know, to let myself know, that he would not get away with that anymore. So, I stood my 15 year-old body in the middle of that road, and I gave him the finger. I knew that I might get into trouble, that he might tell the elders from our congregation what I'd done, but I did not care. I stood there with my fist in the air until his car disappeared down the hill. I stood there until my mom called me out of the street.
It'd be another 12 years before I would lose my religion and start on the path of something resembling real self-acceptance, but I like to think that my thick-thighed one-finger salute was the beginning. You see, he tried to break me by calling me fat. And my fat ass told him to get bent.
Perhaps the world of pop culture will continue to lazily use fat people as the punchline. Fine. I'll be over here, in my little uncool corner of the world, writing bad-ass, fat-ass women, because I know what fat really stands for.