I Can’t Help The Way I Feel: Fat Bodies Drawing Workshop

Do you identify as fat?

Would you like to draw and be drawn in a safe space for like minded postgraduate students who also identify as fat?
Join Kat Outten for a workshop ran by a fat Post-Grad student, for fat Post-Grad students.

Created in response to the sculpture by John Isaacs currently in the Medicine Now exhibit at the Wellcome Collection, fat is so much more than a body type. We deserve to celebrate and love our bodies as much as anyone else- to do so in this current culture is a rebellious act that defies social norms.

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(Image above used to promote the event, a photograph of the sculpture the workshop is a response to, printed in black and white, with illustrations of fat bodies drawn over the top. Photograph and drawings by me)

As part of my role as Post Graduate Ambassador for Camberwell I organised a drawing workshop, aimed at fat post grad students. The workshop was in response to a piece of work I find very repulsive at the Wellcome Collection, with the goal of creating a safe space for fat post grad artists to come together and celebrate our bodies. We ran the workshop on Monday 10th December at CSM for 2 and half hours, and I was very excited to meet fellow fat creatives. Unfortunately it didn’t go as I envisioned. There ended up being only two fat people in attendance- myself and my friend who is not from UAL whom I invited. The other attendees were not fat by most societal standards, and this was something that caused both myself and my friend a lot of anxiety. Where we had hoped to be in a room full of people like us, we instead felt incredibly anxious and judged.

It may not have been the intention of the other attendees, but when thin people invade safe spaces designed for fat people it leaves those who are fat feeling alien and excluded. Having to listen to someone talk about how they used to be fat, (FYI size 16 is actually the average size of a woman in the UK) how they didn’t feel welcome in some fat spaces, and about their fatter friends was actually deeply patronising and insulting, but we felt unable to voice these opinions. It made both of us deeply distressed, which was the opposite of how I hoped we would feel at the end of the workshop. It has taken me a while to write this blog post, as I have been trying to organise my thoughts and write about the workshop in a less emotional way, however I now realise that my emotions are a valid response, and I would be doing myself a disservice not to put them down.

The artwork that this workshop was a response to caused a deeply emotional and visceral response in me when I first heard about it, and even more so when I saw it in person. When you see something that is an exaggeration of what your own body looks like and you witness school children walk past it making disgusted noises and making comments like “ew that’s what happens when you eat too much”, amongst other things, it does not make you feel good. It made me feel sick, angry, upset, and brought to the surface all of the body image issues I have been struggling with since I was a child. The fact that fat bodies are objectified and ridiculed by society means that safe spaces where we can be ourselves without shame are deeply important and needed.

The vast majority of people who are not fat, and who have never been fat, cannot understand what it is like to exist in a fat body. Our bodies are constantly policed, every choice we make scrutinised; from what we “can” and “can’t” wear, what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat, how much or little we exercise, to whether we need mobility aids, and how we travel.

When being fat is enough to have people bully and fat shame you in school, in shops, online, at work, on public transport, in court, –pretty much everywhere you go- it is a daily act of rebellion to even dare to exist.

I understand that anyone, at any size, can feel “fat” and struggle with body issues and self esteem, and I am not trying to detract from that, or invalidate their feelings. Diet culture, fatphobia, and our society’s obsession with the “perfect” body affects everyone, but those who are not what western society considers to be “fat” should be mindful of the impact their presence will have when they enter a safe space designed for fat people.

Safe spaces are not exclusionary, but by definition they should be spaces where marginalised people feel safe, comfortable, and able to express themselves- this can be difficult when people who do not share your experiences talk over you and take over the space. If you are entering a safe space that is not aimed at you (for example, if you are straight and entering a safe space for LGBTQ+ people) it is up to you to be thoughtful, considerate of your words and actions, and to listen to what members of that marginalised group have to say. Acknowledge that you come from a place of privilege, and choose to be part of a positive change. Ask questions, but respect that some things might be hard to answer.

This is not what happened at the workshop, and it was deeply saddening and frustrating. Going forwards I plan on organising this event again, outside of UAL, so that I can invite all the amazing, non UAL fat creatives I know from social media, and hopefully create the space I hoped for.

Below are photographs of some of the work created during the workshop, which came out really cool! So a positive amongst the negatives.

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