I Won’t Join Lady Gaga’s “Body Revolution”

By Shannon T. Rucker

Editor’s note: Recently Lady Gaga has been criticized in tabloids for apparently gaining weight, and in response she launched a self proclaimed “Body Revolution,” kicking it off by posting photos in a bikini with a caption suggesting she’s struggled with anorexia and bulimia since 15. However, she also took it upon herself to wear the dress equivalent of a fat suit, and many of us are pretty uncomfortable with the idea that a thin, white, cisgender, non-disabled, wealthy, woman is becoming such a visible advocate for (her particular, narrow brand of) “body positivity.”

[Image description: Lady Gaga (a thin, pale white woman with dark brown hair) in a pink and blue dress that balloons away from her body and creates the illusion that her waist, hips, and arms are much wider and rounder than they are. She is wearing sunglasses and is surrounded by men in suits who seem to be security and photographers.]

Thin women often treat gaining weight or becoming fat as if it’s the worst thing that could happen to them. In a society where we are flooded with images of thin and “fit” bodies, where the “war on obesity” is being waged from inside of the White House itself, such attitudes and beliefs tell fat people that their bodies are worthless, undesirable, unhealthy, and unsightly, that they deserve to be discriminated against.

In my opinion there’s a marked difference between people who have always been thin, fat people who lose weight, thin people who gain weight, and people who have always been overweight/fat/obese. Even within these limiting and innocuous categories, there can be vast differences in the way people experience their bodies personally and in relation to the world around them. I am by no means here to speak for everyone.

I will, however, speak for myself.

I have always been what is medically classified as overweight/obese. As far as I’m concerned, there are many reasons why a thin, rich, white, cis-privileged, non-disabled pop star cannot and will not be the figurehead for any “Body Revolution” I want to be a part of.

Here are eight:

  1. I flat out do not need another thin, white, rich celebrity speaking for me or in any way seeking to represent me. This goes double for me as a fat Person of Color. I can and do speak for myself, on a daily basis. I don’t need Gaga or any other celebrity to do that for me. I have to wonder: who gets heard and who doesn’t get heard in this?
  2. Lady Gaga is not the first person to put on a fat suit and mock fat people’s bodies. Her reason for doing so is unacceptable. She gained weight; putting on a fat suit wasn’t the answer. Imitating a body that isn’t hers wasn’t the answer. A white thin woman trying make a statement or a Black male comedian trying to get some laughs and make some money: the two don’t seem that far apart.
  3. Lady Gaga benefits from and is part of the same industries and systems that vilify, stigmatize, and dehumanize fatness and fat people. The last thing I need is another skinny woman complaining about gaining a couple of pounds. It’s not my problem if you feel fatter than you actually are and expect sympathy. That’s based on the assumption that being fat is inherently pitiable. I’m not here for it.
  4. Celebrities are not concerned with fat politics or body politics until it’s beneficial to them to be concerned, while fat activists–and other body positivity activists–have been doing the necessary work and have struggled for the experiences and knowledge to back it all up.
  5. It has been said that white people can never understand what Black people experience with racism/oppression except from unhappy circumstance: something similar can be said for Gaga, her weight gain, and the fat suit nonsense. By unhappy circumstance, she experienced a fraction of a sliver of what fat people experience every day and she couldn’t handle it. Her answer was to passive aggressively imitate–thereby disrespecting and erasing–the experiences of an entire marginalized group.
  6. Fat people with eating disorders are often treated completely differently from thin people with eating disorders. Fat people are encouraged to lose weight at all costs even if it is entirely damaging to their minds, spirits, and bodies. If they gain weight or refuse to lose weight, they are shamed, stigmatized, and unsupported.
  7. As a fat person of the working class, I’ve lived in food deserts and have experienced what it’s like to be unable to afford “healthy meals” all my life. Even if I wanted a personal trainer, weight loss surgery, or some kind of special diet, those things are not readily available or sustainable to someone of my class status. Lady Gaga can more easily try to lose weight any time she’d like, with support and funds at her disposal.
  8. My fat body is not a publicity stunt. My body is not a way for a skinny woman to make herself feel better about gaining weight at the first hint of criticism.

As Lesley Kinzel wrote, “the reality is that fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise, and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does these things is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them. This is why our culture has no concept of a fat person who also has an eating disorder. If you’re fat, it’s not an eating disorder — it’s a lifestyle change.”

It may be important for many people living with or recovering from eating disorders to sympathize, identify with, or idolize Lady Gaga; this is where I think some people are willing to overlook, accept, and applaud Gaga’s stunt with the fat suit. At the same time, many fat people such as myself and allies of fat acceptance cannot and will not accept a thin woman in a fat body suit as positive figure in fat activism, whether she has a history of struggling with eating disorders or not. There might be plenty of space for Gaga in the body positivity movement…to thin people with eating disorders. Can you see the limitations and lack of allyship in that? I can’t say she’s an ally or claim she’s a part of any body positivity movement, because when she put on that fat suit, her thin body automatically took up too much space, so to speak. She overstepped her bounds.

What Lady Gaga and her supporters probably saw as an act of expression was alienating, disrespectful, and dehumanizing to many people who actually are fat and are made to suffer and pay the imposed consequences for it every day by a capitalist industry and its agents, which are focused on generating profits and upholding a worldview of white/Eurocentric aesthetics. Any thin/average-sized person who accepts or supports this form of oppression can never call themselves an ally of body positivity, let alone fat acceptance. When you say you are my ally, you check your privilege at the door and keep checking it. You do not dress up in a fat suit and parade around in it.

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Shannon T. Rucker is a twenty-four year old blogger and creative writer. She graduated from Seattle University in 2010 with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing, a minor in Sociology, and a specialization in Diversity, Citizenship, and Social Justice. Her passions are womanism/Black feminism, anime and gaming, intersectionality, fat acceptance, creative arts, cats, and just plain expressing herself. She writes speculative fiction/Afrofuturism, poetry, and romance and is the moderator of a collection of blogs, including Every Smile a Lie: a living while fat journal.