Thursday, 22 April 2021

On the year in fat 2020

Before the sickness came, 2020 was shaping up to be an incredibly exciting year for Fat Studies scholarship and activism around the world. Then the world changed. But even as most of the world had to stay away and stay home, incredible fat things did continue to occur (mainly in online spaces). In New Zealand, Elizabeth Heritage declared that “fat activism is blossoming, a welcome ray of light and hope in these stressful times” These are my favourite fat things of 2020; I’d love to hear about yours!


#FATFEB was a month-long festival that took place at the art gallery, Vunilagi Vou, in Ōtāhuhu, south Auckland. Organised by Ema Tavola and Lissy Cole, the festival centered Pasifika art and community and included an exhibition, workshops, and a Fat Babe Pool Party. The exhibit, FAT, featured the work of Lissy Cole, Louisa Afoa, Riki Tipu Anderson, Jessica Hansell, Infamy Apparel, Meagan Kerr, and Elyssia Wilson-Heti with Jermaine Dean.

Louisa Afoa at FAT; Image credit: Raymond Sagapolutele

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Fat Babe Pool party, and it was fatlicious. My first fat pool party, and it will forever hold a special place in my life.

Friend of Marilyn hitting 300 episodes

Design by Ria Pugmire

My fat positive radio show, Friend of Marilyn, celebrated 300 episodes in March of 2020.  The show, which is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Access Media NZ, has been on the air since August of 2011. Friend of Marilyn provides counter programming to the normal conversations and media surrounding fatness. It is a fat positive show that refuses to apologise for having reached the BIG 3-0-0. Across its 300 episodes, Friend of Marilyn has cultivated a repository of global fat voices. The show has been on a virtual tour since 2016, engaging with guests across Oceania, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Shows in 2020 were “located” in Canada; they’ve now begun in the Pacific Northwest of the USA and I am guessing it take about five years or so to survey the United States and the remaining Americas.

For a press release about the milestone, Manawatu People’s Radio Station Manager Fraser Greig shared, “This milestone is truly a cause for celebration. Not only is it a great achievement for Cat, the Adipositivity community and Human Rights, but it also demonstrates the necessity and importance of Access Radio. It is vital to a democratic society that the disenfranchised, the minorities and the under – or mis-represented have access to a platform that empowers them. Cat’s show is a classic example of the success of MPR. We’re excited to see what the next 300 shows will bring!” Friend of Marilyn airs at 8pm on Thursdays on Manawatu People’s Radio and additionally on Fresh FM (Nelson/Tasman region), Arrow FM (Wairarapa), and Radio Southland (Southland).

Fat Activist Mutual Aid Groups

Fat activists knew that governments would throw fat people under the bus during the CV19 pandemic. We knew we would be blamed for being sick, for needing help, for dying; and we were right. We also knew that we would be sacrificed when rationing came; and we were right. But we came together around the world to support each other. Groups like #NoBodyIsDisposable (USA) and We4FatRights (Europe) made sure that fat people were informed of the risks, had the tools to make preparedness plans, and could connect with one another to provide support and resources.


Every four years, I host a Fat Studies conference. In 2020, it was supposed to take place on the Albany campus of Massey University, following the Weight Stigma Conference. Due to CV19, the WSC was cancelled and Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures, went online. The theme of the conference encouraged attendees to reflect on history of the relatively new discipline, consider the present state of the scholarship, and imagine what the future might hold.

The keynote speakers were Professor Esther Rothblum, editor-at-large of the Fat Studies journal and Sonya Renee Taylor, founder of The Body is Not An Apology, a digital media and education company promoting radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation. Topics scholars will discuss include weight stigma and discrimination in Australia, the gentrification of fatness, public health ethics and weight stigma, and embracing fatness as self-care in the era of Trump. Thirty speakers from ten countries rounded out the three-week programme. Each week, a keynote and a set of panels were available on the password protected site. Social media events across Facebook, Twitter, and Zoom allowed opportunities for the more than 385+ attendees to engage in real time discussion and networking.

An unintended consequence of hosting FSNZ online was making it even more accessible to attendees around the world; previous conferences had offered an online option and on demand access to the recorded videos. As noted by Professor Rothblum, “Fat studies scholars ask why we oppress people who are fat and who benefits from that oppression. At a time when many of us are sheltering in place, it is delightful that we can get together virtually and throw our weight around”. To embrace this strength, FSNZ22 will be an online only conference, with FSNZ24 being both online and in person in New Zealand.

Sofie Hagen’s Fat Talkedy

The funniest fat person I know is my dear friend Sofie Hagen. Sofie, like the rest of us, was stuck inside for much of 2020. I cannot even imagine how difficult that is for someone like Sofie, who earns a living performing in front of live audiences. But the thing about Sofie is that she is resilient as fuck. And so she began Talkedys (Talkedies?), a series of online comedy shows. The first three explored being happy fat, fat-gender-dating-sex, and fat and health. As Sofie notes, “It’s a comedy talk – talkedy? – which is like a comedy show but less funny. Or like a long TedTalk but a lot funnier.” Regardless of how we describe them, they definitely kept me smiling during a year that was harder than most. You can still purchase them on the cheap; help support fat comedy!

Camp Boom

Joanna McLeod, the owner of House of Boom, hosted Camp Boom in Nov 2020 at Silverstream in Upper Hutt, New Zealand.

Joanna McLeod: Image credit – House of Boom

From the website,

Camp Boom is for fat women & non-binary people, age 18+. And it goes without saying but we’ll say it loudly anyway: trans women are women. You are welcome. As to what fat is – there’s no tape measure involved here. You know if you’re fat or not…. Camp Boom will be a mixture of activities and talks that are about being fat – and activities and talks that happen while fat. You choose what you want to attend – if something isn’t too your taste, take the opportunity to chill out in the lodge, go for a walk or have a nap. It’s your weekend.

The events at Camp included a clothes swap, colour theory, crotchet, and life drawing. There was a wide range of activities and a diverse group of session leaders. It was a really fun weekend and I am so glad that I was able to attend. The cost was prohibitive for some, but the Camp did have several scholarships for individuals who wanted to attend gratis. Camp Boom 2021 has already been announced, and you know I already have my ticket!

Me & Lissy Cole at Camp

Those were the fat highlights of 2020 for me! I am very aware of the privilege I have had in opening and closing my 2020 with in person fat activist events; I am grateful to live in a country with a progressive government that took public health seriously from the start of the pandemic.

via Friend of Marilyn