READING GROUP PLAN AND NOTES FROM GROUP: The Blob by Dr Charlotte Cooper

I am leading next week’s Babeworld3000 reading group, and have chosen to examine a zine made by Dr. Charlotte Cooper, The Blob. This post is essentially my notes covering what I want to discuss during the group so that I have something prepped!

I have chosen this text as it is something very close to my heart- I have lived my whole life as a fat person, and like the author I was was particularly affected by the Obesity section of the now closed Medicine Now exhibit at the Wellcome Collection- particularly by a sculpture by the artist John Isaacs, called “I Can’t Help The Way I Feel” which is the piece that inspired the zine we are reading. I think speaking about marginalisations is super important and I have learnt a lot from our reading groups so far, and whilst we talk about a lot of different intersections- class, race, gender, disability, mental illness, sexuality- we haven’t given much time to the discussion of being fat, and what that means in the society we live in. I think this has a lot to do with how we view being fat. We see those other things as things we cannot change about ourselves, or things that we are born into, but being fat is often still seen as a moral failing, or a flaw that we can work on and change, as opposed to simply being a different body type or being a product of various other factors. All this is why I decided to suggest this text, so that we can open up the discussion and get to grips with how being fat can interact with our other marginalisations. 

The sculpture mentioned above provoked a very visceral reaction in me, so much so that I made a video using clips I filmed on my phone of it, interspersed with clips of my own body and other related imagery called “I Can’t Help The Way I Feel: My Fat Body”. It also inspired me to run a drawing workshop by the same name, which wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, but which has continued and evolved into the FAT Project I am currently working on, including the zine I made during my residency at The Playground and a series of sculptures  and drawings I have been working on.

I think it’s really important that fat people control our own narratives; if the sculpture, which Dr. Charlotte Cooper nicknamed “The Blob”, had been made by a fat artist who was exploring their own relationship to and feelings surrounding their body and body image I think my reaction to it would have been a little different. I would still have had the visceral reactions of disgust and uncomfortable-ness that it provokes, I think, but knowing that someone like me had made it to express themselves would make it feel more genuine and relatable. Finding out that is was in fact made by someone who is not, and it seems never has been, fat felt like a slap in the face. I am not saying that thin people can’t have body issues or eating disorders (for clarification, don’t jump down my throat!!) but for someone to come along and create this narrative, to decide he knows how fat people feel about being fat is just really gross in my opinion. It isn’t the only work of his that sensationalises, trivialises, and makes the fat experience seem “gross” or “other”. He has made a whole series of fat sculptures where they seem to melt onto the pavement and ooze as they dominate the spaces they are installed in.

john-isaac-i-can-t-help
“I Can’t Help The Way I Feel” AKA “The Blob”

Points we could discuss:

  • This idea of co-opting or taking over narratives from marginalised groups- when people who do not belong to a certain group of marginalised people try to tell us how we feel or how we should feel (i.e. how THEY think we should feel) it takes spaces/opportunities/audiences away from those people
  • The “Headless Fatty” concept
  • Fat as symbolism for wealth, greed, laziness, ugliness, as a fetish, or as the “maternal”
  • doctors and fat people
  • body positivity movement being co-opted by thinner, white, cis, straight people when fat queer people, fat people of colour, fat disabled people, FAT fat people are still facing stigma and trauma at higher levels
  • the links to poverty and fatness- as discussed in our first reading group session
  • The Adele situation currently happening
  • The idea that fat people are a modern creation- see Historical Fat People Instagram

Then we’ll see where all this takes us I guess!

Further reading/watching/resources:

Please feel free to message me with other resources that discuss fatness, and specifically fatness alongside other intersections (i.e. being a fat person of colour, being fat and queer, being fat and LGBTQ+, ect)

EDIT:
Really pleased with how the group went, everyone seemed to engage well with the material and topic and I really enjoyed taking on a more active role as leader- I hope to do it again sometime in the future!

We also discussed:

  • Jameela Jamil- the idea of a thin person starting the “I Weigh” movement, how it feels as if she is taking up space that an actually fat fat activist could be using, how it has gained popularity because she has thin privilege and is famous- yes she is doing good work, yes she has had issues with body dysmorphia and eating disorders in the past, but she is undeniably thin and conventionally attractive and so her spear heading the movement in this way is harmful in the long run
  • Instagram
  • fatness and dating/relationships
  • Georgina discussed fatness and sex work
  • Feeling like you have to over perform femininity as a fat person- always having a full face of makeup, looking well put together, not wearing certain clothes (i.e fitted/bright colours/revealing), having certain haircuts/styles, always having to look your best so as not to fit the fat slobby stereotype
  • fatness and disability/mental health/eating disorders
  • Lizzo and Cupcakke – online bullying, especially aimed at fat, black women who decide to be visible
  • power dynamics and institutions- having to censor yourself and beg institutions to be given a platform/commissions, and being blacklisted when you refuse and are critical of them
  • “But is it Healthy?” – this idea of thinness equating health and fatness meaning someone is unhealthy- it isn’t anyone’s business, and thinness doesn’t always equal health, you CAN be fat and healthy (but your health is no one else’s business!! If you wouldn’t ask a thin person about their health then why do you demand to know the medical history of every fat person you meet??)
  • Reclaiming harmful narratives and turning them into positive experiences that raise awareness or celebrate the truths of marginalised groups- i.e. Dr Charlotte Coopers’ dance piece in front of The Blob “But Is It Healthy?” or my drawing workshop and subsequent fat projects
  • bullying of fat people is still seen as publicly acceptable because it is seen as something a person can actually change (unlike other marginalisations) and as a moral failing
  • Lockdown weight gain memes and posts and how it can affect those of us with eating disorders and those of us who are larger anyway
  • The idea of your body being public property

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