New Release Excerpt: Belly of the Beast
Categories: General Event Info Excerpt New Release Society & Politics
Excerpt from chapter one of Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun Harrison
In this book, we will talk about the body. Not just any body, but the fat Black body. And while our focus on the fat Black body will be general in some places, we will talk specifically about the fat Black masc body—how it has been imposed on, forgotten, and dismissed within fat studies. This book doesn’t exist anywhere else in the literary canon. There are many books on Black people, and there are many books on fat people, but there are so few that focus on fat Black people, and there are none that center on fat Black masc people’s bodies. So that is what we will do here. We will add to the few works that have begun to bridge a necessary gap between Black studies, fat studies, and gender and sexuality studies.
In a sea of necessary memoirs and “how-to” books, it is my hope to provide the literary canon with a text that will explore topics often interrogated separately, but rarely ever interrogated together. What does it look like to talk about policing, police violence, and prisons with regard to how the fat Black masc body experiences them? What does it look like to talk about health not as something the Black fat body has been removed from but rather as something created precisely for fat Black people, or the Black fat, to never have access to? What does it look like to talk about Desire/ability as a form of systemic violence that, too, was designed as a building through which the Black fat could not enter? How has gender encaged the Black fat? How do wars on our body, like the War on Drugs and the War on Obesity, overlap and intermingle? What is the utility of “body positivity” if it only seeks to provide one with a false sense of confidence rather than to liberate all from that which cages the body? In this book, these are some of the questions we’ll explore, and ultimately answer, together.
As a fat, Black, trans-nonbinary disabled person, I know the complexities that come with living in this body with these identities. I imagine that you do too, or you’re looking to learn about those complexities. You opened this book because, at the very least, you acknowledge that anti-Blackness and anti-fatness have something to do with one another—even if that acknowledgment is only that you read the words on the cover of the book. And that is why I’m writing and ultimately why I care about this book. A curious mind can be the start to someone’s understanding, and someone else feeling seen, heard, and understood. I value that.
When I started writing years ago, it was with the intent to ensure that our stories were documented well and that history tells those who come after me the full story. And that is why you should care about this book. Out there is a reality where fat Black folks are experiencing the harms of anti- Blackness as anti- fatness and need this book to give them the language to determine why it is harmful or give them a sense of comfort to know it is not happening to them in a vacuum and there is something they can do about it. Black liberation is the end goal, and for it to happen, fat liberation must also be part of that goal. Not “body positivity,” but freedom from the confinements of cages—as Roxane Gay refers to the body—altogether.
In a post–body positive world—by which I mean a world subsequent to the formation of body positivity—at any given time on any given day, if someone fat posts a picture to social media or wears a bathing suit to the beach, they’re met with one of two types of comments: comments intended to uplift or comments intended to cut deep. “You’re so brave,” someone might say. “I love this confidence” might be another one. Or perhaps, “I wish I had your confidence” or “Love the skin you’re in!” find their way to the comment section. On the contrary, comments intended to do harm, like “You need to lose weight,” “Stop glorifying obesity,” or “This is disgusting,” can also oftentimes be found under a fat person’s pictures—especially when that person is Black. Generally, the harm in the hateful comments are understood as such, at least to most decent people. However, not many people understand the harm in the comments intended to be affirming. What could be so bad about complimenting someone’s confidence? Or wishing you had their confidence? Or encouraging one to love all of who they are?
The issue with all of these comments is that, at their core, they suggest that self- love is enough to eradicate anti- fatness and that if you just accept yourself, or love who you are, that somehow the methodical violence of anti-fatness—housing, employment, etcetera—is no more. This is what is violent about “body positivity”; it is benevolent anti-fatness in that it is masqueraded as some sort of semblance of acceptance for fat people when it is, instead, an opportunity for Thinness to reroute, but not give up, its hold on fat people’s collective liberation. As a politic, Thinness is a system that seeks to subjugate and ultimately eradicate fatness and fat people. Body positivity takes up this mantle through abandoning a fat politic—which ultimately insists on a world wherein fat people aren’t discriminated against or marginalized for their fatness, and as such, people aren’t categorized by the size of their bodies—and replacing it with one that makes a desire to lose weight a qualifier for the type of fat person that’s worth celebrating and being nice to. And it is this type of fat person that is allowed to “love the skin they’re in.”
Because the love they’re being tasked with is conditional, by which I mean it is assumed that they want to lose weight and therefore will only have to temporarily love that skin. In other words, it passively demands that fat folks change their own bodies rather than explicitly demanding that the world in which we live shifts how it understands and responds to fat bodies. Which means that there is nothing necessarily positive about body positivity. “Bad fats,” as they’re affirmingly referred to in fat acceptance spaces, aren’t allowed access to this movement because their end goal isn’t to lose weight. This leaves “good fats” as the only fat people who “deserve” to love themselves and feel confident in their bodies. By “good fat” I am referring to the type of fat people whose acceptance of their body is contingent on their ability/desire to decouple their fatness from the prescribed actions fat people are supposed to take to be regarded as “healthy”—actions that are assumed will one day make them thin. “Good fats” are perhaps fine with not losing weight but must obsess over exercise and “healthy” eating to justify their fat body. And yet, whether one is a good fat or a bad one, these comments are always violent. Self-love, even a radical one, cannot and will not disrupt or bring an end to systemic violence.
In her book The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love, Sonya Renee Taylor writes beautifully about radical self-love, describing it as an island on which self-confidence and self- esteem sometimes go to vacation, but do also vacate. At great length, she explores radical self-love in juxtaposition to self-acceptance, where she describes self-confidence and self-esteem as the “fickle cousins” and self-acceptance as the “scrappy kid sister” to radical self-love. Taylor asks the reader, essentially, to go back to their beginning. Beings we call humans were not born with hatred for their body or other people’s bodies, and as such, she argues that this is integral for one to be able to embody or truly arrive at “radical self-love.”
In sociological terms, what she is naming is that, through various social institutions, human beings are socialized—or taught—to hate their bodies and that there is a moment in our own lifetime where we did not look at ourselves through a lens of hate and disgust. These points are brilliant and fundamentally true. Where Taylor and I depart, however, is here: irrespective of how much internal work one does for themselves, the systems under which they live that actively lay claim to their bodies are not and cannot be reversed through any introspection or outward radical self-love. These socioeconomic political structures do not need the type of reform that a radical self-love would suggest, but rather they need total destruction. If we go back to the beginning, if we pull up the roots, unless the social institutions through which we were initially socialized are destroyed, we can only ever return back to the place we left. There is a particular connection between destruction and love. In this case, if we love ourselves and the people around us, we must also be committed to destroying the World in which we and they are actively harmed. This means that if love, of self or of others, is to play a role at all in any liberatory efforts, it must be a starting point and not an end. If self-love is where we start, it must be the driving force behind our continued struggle; otherwise, we become stagnant and immovable, fixated on always challenging how we see our bodies and never getting to the place where we no longer have to interrogate our bodies at all.
Radical self-love, as Taylor writes, is necessary cultural work. It challenges our relationship to our own bodies and to other people’s bodies, and that will always be a work that can make our realities after the destruction of the World better than they were before, but it does not demand more than that because it cannot demand more. The Black fat does inherently exist as a metaphysical, political entity, but this does not inherently make one a revolutionary or a radical. If one plans to see the Beyond—a place in which we live without qualifiers, conditions, or labels meant to harm and subjugate our being—more work has to be done. Right now we live in a world of systems, all of which affect the body, some that are familiar in name, and some that are less so—systems of Desire/ability, health, the overall diet and medical industrial complexes, policing, prisons, and gender. There is tangible work one must do to destroy the ontological violence which engenders, or forges the path for, what is known as structural violence. Unless and until there is a reckoning with the conceptual, an evaluation of just how un/impractical this violence is, love of self will never be the answer to oppression nor will it ever be guaranteed. Because, while it is true that the violences of this World are happening to the body, the violence is not created by the Body.
The Body—an entity of sorts, or the flesh we are born into—is not what creates the violence. What creates the violence is an ideology and the power to enforce it, interpersonally or systemically. This means that whether or not you love on, show up for, and transform how you view your body, the structure of the World does not shift. This is, again, the harm of “body positivity.” It cannot produce anything more than a quasi-self-confidence, and even that is conditional because it—for a long time now—has not been asked to. Body positivity individualizes something that is bigger than the individual.
At the beginning of this chapter, I wrote that this book is important because it can very well serve as the proof someone may need to know they are not experiencing the violence of anti-Blackness and/as anti- fatness in a vacuum; body positivity does not have that same commitment. For us to inch toward a tomorrow not limited by the confines of today, we have to interrogate the structures that actively marginalize our bodies and beings, and we have to destroy all that is attached to those structures. Neither body positivity nor self-love brings us to that pivotal point; the point beyond this World. By this, I mean that this World—one in which the Slave / the Other / the Black are produced—is the only World to have ever existed, at least ontologically/metaphysically. It is true that beings lived and breathed before this moment in time, but it is anti-Blackness, colonialism, and capitalism that form and shape the place we now refer to as the World. As such, the Beyond—the place we have not yet seen—is not and cannot be determined by what existed before now, but rather it will be created by acknowledging what about “the now” succeeded at making the World uninhabitable. In other words, this is the only world I will reference in this book because this is the only world in which the Slave / the Other / the Black exist, and that is the beginning of the World.
It’s important that I restate this: In this book, you will read about the body. And not just any body, but the Black fat body. And while our focus on the fat Black body will be general in some places, we will talk specifically about the fat Black masc body—how it has been imposed on, forgot-ten, and dismissed within fat studies. That is my focus—the effects and affects of anti- fatness as anti- Blackness, and vice versa, and how that materializes through Desire/ability and Desire Capital, health by way of the medical and diet industries, policing and prisons, and gender, particularly as it relates to fat Black trans men, trans masculine folks, non-binary people, and cisgender men.
The capitalization of varying words throughout this chapter and the entire book (Beautiful/beautiful, Ugly/ugly, Human, and Slave) is not only about what you are, but also what is assigned to you through the identities you hold. One reaps the structural and often interpersonal benefits of being Beautiful when they are white or have light skin, when they are cisgender, when they are thin, when they are non- disabled, and when they are not disfigured. One is Human—insofar as this particular category exists in opposition to Blackness—when they are white, and therefore, the Human is not the Slave / the Other / the Black. One’s body is their own, but how Bodies are collectively engaged—and where they exist in proximity to power—is dependent completely on what identities one embodies.
About Da’Shaun Harrison
DA’SHAUN HARRISON is a nonbinary abolitionist and community organizer based out of Atlanta, GA. They once served as the Communications Director of #ATLisReady and Editor-in-Chief of Queer Black Millennial. Harrison now holds the honor of being the Associate Editor of Wear Your Voice Magazine and Lead Organizer of Solutions Not Punishment Collaborative (SNaPCo). Harrison has traveled throughout the United States and abroad to lecture at conferences and colleges and to lead workshops focused on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, (dis)abilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram @DaShaunLH, or through their website, dashaunharrison.com.
Photo credit: BrikarriTags: Da'Shaun L. Harrison