I'm here today to talk to you
about a very powerful little word,
one that people will do almost anything
to avoid becoming.
Billion-dollar industries thrive
because of the fear of it,
and those of us who undeniably are it
are left to navigate a relentless storm
I'm not sure if any of you have noticed,
but I'm fat.
Not the lowercase,
or the seemingly harmless
chubby or cuddly.
I'm not even the more sophisticated
voluptuous or curvaceous kind.
Let's not sugarcoat it.
I am the capital F-A-T kind of fat.
I am the elephant in the room.
When I walked out on stage,
some of you may have been thinking,
"Aww, this is going to be hilarious,
because everybody knows
that fat people are funny."
Or you may have been thinking,
"Where does she get her confidence from?"
Because a confident fat woman
is almost unthinkable.
members of the audience
may have been thinking how fabulous I look
in this Beth Ditto dress --
thank you very much.
Whereas some of you might have thought,
"Hmm, black would have been
so much more slimming."
You may have wondered, consciously or not,
if I have diabetes, or a partner,
or if I eat carbs after 7pm.
You may have worried
that you ate carbs after 7pm last night,
and that you really should renew
your gym membership.
These judgments are insidious.
They can be directed
at individuals and groups,
and they can also
be directed at ourselves.
And this way of thinking
is known as fatphobia.
Like any form of systematic oppression,
fatphobia is deeply rooted
in complex structures
like capitalism, patriarchy and racism,
and that can make it
really difficult to see,
let alone challenge.
We live in a culture
where being fat
is seen as being a bad person --
lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible
and morally suspect.
And we tend to see thinness
as being universally good --
and in control of our appetites,
bodies and lives.
We see these ideas again and again
in the media, in public health policy,
in everyday conversations
and in our own attitudes.
We may even blame fat people themselves
for the discrimination they face
because, after all, if we don't like it,
we should just lose weight.
This antifat bias has become
so integral, so ingrained
to how we value ourselves and each other
that we rarely question why
we have such contempt for people of size
and where that disdain comes from.
But we must question it,
because the enormous value
we place on how we look
affects every one of us.
And do we really want to live in a society
where people are denied
their basic humanity
if they don't subscribe
to some arbitrary form of acceptable?
So when I was six years old,
my sister used to teach ballet
to a bunch of little girls in our garage.
I was about a foot taller and a foot wider
than most of the group.
When it came to doing
our first performance,
I was so excited
about wearing a pretty pink tutu.
I was going to sparkle.
As the other girls slipped easily
into their Lycra and tulle creations,
not one of the tutus
was big enough to fit me.
I was determined not to be
excluded from the performance,
so I turned to my mother
and loud enough for everyone to hear
said, "Mom, I don't need a tutu.
I need a fourfour."
And although I didn't
recognize it at the time,
claiming space for myself
in that glorious fourfour
was the first step towards becoming
a radical fat activist.
Now, I'm not saying
that this whole body-love thing
has been an easy skip along
a glittering path of self-acceptance
since that day in class.
Far from it.
I soon learned that living outside
what the mainstream considers normal
can be a frustrating and isolating place.
I've spent the last 20 years unpacking
and deprogramming these messages,
and it's been quite the roller coaster.
I've been openly laughed at,
abused from passing cars
and been told that I'm delusional.
I also receive smiles from strangers
who recognize what it takes
to walk down the street
with a spring in your step
and your head held high.
And through it all, that fierce
little six-year-old has stayed with me,
and she has helped me
stand before you today
as an unapologetic fat person,
a person that simply refuses to subscribe
to the dominant narrative
about how I should move
through the world in this body of mine.
And I'm not alone.
I am part of an international
community of people
who choose to, rather
than passively accepting
that our bodies are
and probably always will be big,
we actively choose to flourish
in these bodies as they are today.
People who honor our strength
and work with, not against,
our perceived limitations,
people who value health
as something much more holistic
than a number on an outdated BMI chart.
Instead, we value mental health,
self-worth and how we feel in our bodies
as vital aspects
to our overall well-being.
People who refuse to believe
that living in these fat bodies
is a barrier to anything, really.
There are doctors, academics and bloggers
who have written countless volumes
on the many facets
of this complex subject.
There are fatshionistas
who reclaim their bodies and their beauty
by wearing fatkinis and crop tops,
exposing the flesh
that we're all taught to hide.
There are fat athletes
who run marathons,
teach yoga or do kickboxing,
all done with a middle finger
firmly held up to the status quo.
And these people have taught me
that radical body politics
is the antidote
to our body-shaming culture.
But to be clear, I'm not saying
that people shouldn't change their bodies
if that's what they want to do.
Reclaiming yourself can be one
of the most gorgeous acts of self-love
and can look like
a million different things,
from hairstyles to tattoos
to body contouring
to hormones to surgery
and yes, even weight loss.
It's simple: it's your body,
and you decide what's best to do with it.
My way of engaging in activism
is by doing all the things
that we fatties aren't supposed to do,
and there's a lot of them,
inviting other people to join me
and then making art about it.
The common thread
through most of this work
has been reclaiming spaces that are
often prohibitive to bigger bodies,
from the catwalk to club shows,
from public swimming pools
to prominent dance stages.
And reclaiming spaces en masse
is not only a powerful artistic statement
but a radical community-building approach.
This was so true of "AQUAPORKO!" --
the fat fem synchronized swim team
I started with a group
of friends in Sydney.
The impact of seeing
a bunch of defiant fat women
in flowery swimming caps and bathers
throwing their legs in the air
without a care
should not be underestimated.
Throughout my career, I have learned
that fat bodies are inherently political,
and unapologetic fat bodies
can blow people's minds.
When director Kate Champion,
of acclaimed dance theater
company Force Majeure,
asked me to be the artistic associate
on a work featuring all fat dancers,
I literally jumped at the opportunity.
And I mean literally.
"Nothing to Lose" is a work made
in collaboration with performers of size
who drew from their lived experiences
to create a work as varied
and authentic as we all are.
And it was as far from ballet
as you could imagine.
The very idea of a fat dance work
by such a prestigious company
was, to put it mildly, controversial,
because nothing like it had ever been done
on mainstream dance stages before
anywhere in the world.
People were skeptical.
"What do you mean, 'fat dancers?'
Like, size 10, size 12 kind of fat?
Where did they do their dance training?
Are they going to have the stamina
for a full-length production?"
But despite the skepticism,
"Nothing to Lose" became
a sellout hit of Sydney Festival.
We received rave reviews, toured,
won awards and were written about
in over 27 languages.
These incredible images of our cast
were seen worldwide.
I've lost count of how many times
people of all sizes
have told me that the show
has changed their lives,
how it helped them
shift their relationship
to their own and other people's bodies,
and how it made them confront
their own bias.
But of course, work
that pushes people's buttons
is not without its detractors.
I have been told
that I'm glorifying obesity.
I have received violent death threats
and abuse for daring to make work
that centers fat people's bodies and lives
and treats us as worthwhile human beings
with valuable stories to tell.
I've even been called
"the ISIS of the obesity epidemic" --
a comment so absurd that it is funny.
But it also speaks to the panic,
the literal terror,
that the fear of fat can evoke.
It is this fear that's feeding
the diet industry,
which is keeping so many of us
from making peace with our own bodies,
for waiting to be the after-photo
before we truly start to live our lives.
Because the real elephant
in the room here is fatphobia.
Fat activism refuses to indulge this fear.
By advocating for self-determination
and respect for all of us,
we can shift society's reluctance
to embrace diversity
and start to celebrate the myriad ways
there are to have a body.