“Fat activism is about creating awareness around fat issues by making our fat bodies as visible as possible — on dancefloors, stages, streets, wherever,” says Chelsey Lichtman, self-proclaimed “fat ass extraordinaire,” and one half of the mouthy and marvelous Fat Femme Mafia (FFM).
“Our action is rooted around claiming the space we know our fat bodies deserve,” says the 23-year-old. “Creating awareness around fat bodies combats stereotypes — for example, that fat isn’t sexy or healthy. Mass media has brainwashed us into thinking fat people should hide behind lots of clothing or in their bedrooms, their kitchens… so my activism also includes the little things, like walking around with my gut or my ass crack hanging out. Because even now when my mom sees that, she tells me to pull up my pants or pull down my shirt.”
“It’s about going to the gym with all the skinny kids and not feeling ashamed,” explains Liz Brockest, 22, who shares the FFM crown with Lichtman. “Proving that yes, despite our fat, we, too, can do 10 pushups in a row. While skinny people are allowed to exercise just to feel healthy, there’s an assumption that if you’re fat and working out, your intention is to lose weight. Lots of myths surround fat bodies and part of our intention is to live our lives in a way that challenges those stereotypes.”
“The Fat Femme Mafia is a revolution — a big fat one,” says Brockest. “It’s a performance troupe and a daily action — one that makes our bodies a point of political discussion.”
The two gals push the discussion on to the stage with Chubb Rubb: A Fat Cabaret at the Gladstone on Fri, Feb 24.
FFM officially ignited in September 2005. “Liz and I were thinking, ‘Hey, the two of us are like a fat femme mafia,'” says Lichtman, “because we were always dressed so fat femme fabulous with short skirts, fishnets and big hoop earrings. And then we thought, ‘Fuck that. Let’s make it huge.’ We gave ourselves a name, told our friends, got ourselves a Friendster profile and said we were a fat activist performance group. Simple as that. We just went ahead and said, ‘Okay, this is who we are.'”
Being queer and fat complicates gender performance. “Being fat and female is a daily struggle when we’re surrounded by images that don’t reflect our bodies,” says Brockest. “Being fat and queer adds a new dimension to how that identity is played out. Fat queer girls can’t do butch as well as androgynous boy types because our bodies are curvy, big, round and reflect ‘mom’ more than ‘man.’ And when fat girls dress up really femme, it’s like we’re playing drag in the straight world because we can’t fit into the dominant skinny girl ideal.”
The pair met in May 2005 when Brockest was attending Trent and York universities, playing ukulele and the xylophone, and engaging in violence prevention work with young women. Lichtman, a member of fat performance duo Hairy And Phatty (with Jordan Zaitzow), was also a York student. “I thought she was really hot,” Brockest says. “I always have a thing for hot juicy girls and can’t always tell if it’s because I want to fuck them, or be them. Regardless, Chelsey caught my eye.
“I went to her house and gave her a zine I’d written about fatness. She read it and then we talked a bit about the violence prevention work I’d done, and all the while I was thinking I kind of wanted to fuck her, and my palms were probably a little sweaty. But we didn’t end up doing it. Then she made me chicken fingers from a box and salad with bottled dressing, and I realized I could never date a fattie who didn’t know how to cook — though she’s learned recently. Sexual attraction aside, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to do something about politicizing our shared experiences of living in and through fat juicy gay bodies.”
While blazing new trails, Lichtman and Brockest are keeping alive the work of previous activists. “Fatties who are fierce and unapologetic have had lots of influence on FFM: Pretty, Porky And Pissed Off [PPPO], Fat Bottom Revue, NoLose, Nomy Lamm,” says Lichtman. “My dream is to be half as fundamental to fat folks as PPPO was and still is,” Brockest adds.
“Having Allyson Mitchell [formerly of PPPO] as a teacher at York has greatly influenced how I’ve come to know my fat self. Before hearing her talk about fat bodies and power and PPPO, I never really understood fat as something to be active around in a positive way,” says Lichtman. “It was only last year that I realized my body could and should be celebrated.”
Lichtman’s positive attitude is hard won. “I grew up with a typical fat kid story. I was on Weight Watchers at 11. I didn’t understand anything past the fact that I was repulsive in the eyes of every grownup. I was always told how much prettier I’d be if I just lost some weight. Finding my way to fat activism has allowed me to literally recover myself as a person. Being able to say, ‘Yes, I’m fat, but it doesn’t mean I’m not desirable or worthy,’ is a relatively new experience for me. This doesn’t mean there aren’t days I feel disgusting about myself. I think everyone has those days.
“I want to take all the shit I’ve learned around fat bodies and make it sexy and accessible. And of course, we’re lucky to have so many wonderful, brilliant, hot fat folks around us all the damn time.”
FFM’s premiere party, Chubb Rubb, promises to pack the house with fat sexy genius and abandon, with blockbuster performances by the FFM gals, Mitchell, Tracy Tidgwell, Daddy K, Emmett Outlaw, Sasha Van Bon Bon and DJ Nikki Red, among others; Andrew Harwood, aka Miss Skinny Divine, hosts. Proceeds will go to Phat Camp, the Chicago-based youth workshop and support network founded by queer femme punk fat activist Nomy Lamm (Morethanjustphat.com).
“Chelsey and I have wanted to do a show for a long time,” says Brockest. “Chubb Rubb is our first stint together and it’s gonna be hot. It’s a rare occasion to see a bunch of fatties taking up space onstage, dancing and shaking it in an empowered way.”
Besides “working on recruitment tactics,” Lichtman says that FFM’s future involves a plot to invade the public school system. “Our goal is to go into elementary and high school classrooms to work with young girls on self-esteem building and media literacy. We intend to create a workshop series that provides girls with the tools necessary to look at and deconstruct how media dictates their relationships to their bodies and influences their self-esteem, confidence and feelings of self-worth.”
“I may end up teaching teachers one day because I think the public education system sucks. [That’s] an effective starting place for looking at how people form opinions that are potentially destructive,” says Brockest. “I’m kind of invested in the idea of changing the world — from a stage, through a microphone, on a street corner, through writing, it doesn’t matter.”