Fat Activism

My fat activism is rooted in queer feminist sensibilities, intersectionality and absurd spectacle. I am interested in co-creating life-affirming experiences. Through activism I want to expand ideas about what fat identity and culture could be, and develop the ways in which people might approach fat in a critical way.

I think of activism as a broad endeavour and consider much of my ongoing cultural work to be fat activism. There may be crossovers with the Arts and Health movement. I have shown that most fat activism takes place in small, personal and understated ways in the everyday. I am no different, but sometimes I go all out! My book, ‘Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement‘, explains this more expansively and describes and analyses the following interventions in depth.

The Chubsters (2003)

In 2003 I founded a fat, queer girl gang called The Chubsters. The gang existed through workshops, film festival screenings, articles, photographs, symbols, music, slogans, embroidery, tattoos, even stonemasonry. Anyone could be a Chubster, members didn’t have to be fat, queer, a girl or even remotely tough. Members received a badge and a membership card. What began as a pretend gang spawned new ideas about what fat activism could be: weird, made-up, funny, joyful, multi-layered, multi-directional and open. One of the important things about The Chubsters was about how queer fat imagination could be used to imagine ridiculous scenarios and hope, collective power and brilliant survival in an otherwise bleak social context. The Chubsters encouraged audaciousness in fat people. I think it is no coincidence that this project kicked-off during the worst early years of the War on Obesity. The Chubsters’ website chubstergang.com is now defunct but snapshots are available through the Wayback Machine. Visitors to 33Archive will soon be able to peruse Chubsters artifacts.

The Fat of The Land: A Queer Chub Harvest Festival (2009)

Jason Barker and I originated the idea for this wigged-out fat, queer and trans harvest festival, inspired by a small loan by NOLOSE, and we invited Nazmia Jamal to co-produce the event. We wanted to provide an alternative to the usual miserable discourse on healthy eating, and encourage people to grow their own, and participate in community and joyousness. The Fat of The Land was an unforgettable packed afternoon of tombolas, stalls, tea drinking, cake, games, vegetable monsters, allotments, performance, produce competitions, and mayhem topped off with an appearance by a troupe of lady morris dancers. I wrote a Fat and Queer Harvest Hymn for the event giving thanks for the past, present and future of queer fat community and culture. I thought of it as something that we sing to ourselves or with our friends when we need a bit of cheering up or encouragement. A short film of the hymn showed at a handful of LGBT film festivals.

The Fat of The Land: A Queer Chub Harvest Festival

Lovely and Slim (2010)

I made a tiny film in which three misfit polyamorous queers poke fun at the social pressure to be lovely and slim to an ironic soundtrack.

Big Bum Jumble (2010)

I co-produced this event with Kay Hyatt, using money that we’d made at the Fat of the Land. As well as offering an abundance of large-sized, cheap, second-hand clothes, supporting independent plus-sized retailers, and producing an amazing fashion show, the Jumble was a project about alternatives to corporatised fatshion, sustainable clothing, a celebration of looking good and showing off, and a great community get-together. We used the Big Bum Jumble to pay for the Fattylympics.

Big Bum Jumble

Bombarded by Images (2011)

I co-produced an artist’s residency at the Researching Feminist Futures conference with the Bad Art Collective. As a group, we wanted to take the mickey out of what we see as a clich√© that often pops up in discussions about fat: that women feel awful about our bodies because we are constantly “bombarded by images” in the media. We wanted to show that we are also capable of producing our own images and making our own media.

Fattylympics (2012)

The Fattylympics was a fat community response in East London satirising the 2012 Olympics. We wanted to satirise the Olympics because of its effect on East London in terms of gentrification, and the corporate intrusion, militarisation and patriotism of the Games overall. We wanted to draw attention to the ways that sport is used as a weapon in the war on obesity, and has a particular impact on kids. We wanted to do this with style and have a lot of fun in the process. Held in the shadow of the Olympic Park, we had events, stalls, specially-made torches, official mascots, home-made medals, and an anthem composed by Verity Susman and I. Our guest of honour was Erkan Mustafa, known also as Roland, the iconic fat character from the classic children’s TV programme Grange Hill.

Fattylympics

Here’s a talk I gave about the Fattylympics:

Cooper, C. (2013) Doing the Dance of Disrespect: The Fattylympics. Just Do(ing) It, Again: The Politics of DIY and Self-Organised Culture. Bradford: 1 in 12 Club/Bradford University. 11 May.