OK, so this is kinda personal, but it is relevant so I’m putting it out there. I’m in an MFA program, and I had a studio visit today that was so frustrating and made me so angry. I make art about my body, which naturally involves me thinking a lot about how I can construct a positive identity for myself as a fat women, which as my followers might know is really hard to do in the face of the intense fat stigma in this culture. My ambition with my work is to create a sense of empathy or identification between the viewer and my work/my body: that’s all. Relatively modest goal, but the fact that my body is a fat makes it difficult because most people hate fat and have lots of ignorant opinions about it. Even so I have felt very supported in my program, and have generally felt that my teachers and peers have responded to my work with an open mind.
Which brings me to today. So, I’m in my last semester, working on my thesis, and we have a new critic in our department, whom I haven’t worked with before. I introduce my work by saying, in a nutshell, that my work is about my body and identity as a fat women and my effort to understand my body as beautiful and to create a sense of empathy/identification between the viewer and me through my art. This critic responds by
1) belittling my ambition to create empathy or identification with fat bodies, as if that were an easy/not worthwhile/immature thing to aspire to
2) say I am “playing the victim”, implying that my very real experiences with fat stigma and fat hatred were somehow invented or irrelevant to my artwork which is ABOUT MY FAT BODY
3) derailing the conversation/belittling my work further by saying “everybody has issues with their body” as if all bodies are treated the same in our culture which is so fucking ignorant in the face of rampant racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/ableism/sizeism etc I can’t even
4) claiming that fat is unhealthy - fucking no, dude, no. I have been studying this for two fucking years and you come at me with god damned conventional wisdom fueled by the diet industry and an “obesity epidemic” obsessed media. And that is SO not even what my work is about, even if fat WAS unhealthy fat bodies still deserve respect and empathy and beautiful images.
and 5) saying that I “can change” my body. This one at least I managed to shut down pretty quickly, by telling him the truth, which is that there has not be even ONE statistically significant scientific study where the majority of participants went from “obese” or “overweight” to “normal” (BULLSHIT TERMS) and stayed there for the long term (5 years). And even if I COULD change my body it would not justify bigotry!
UGGGGGH! I don’t know how I can work with this guy for the rest of the year (on my master’s thesis no less!).
Oh, and for the kicker, he told me that I was prejudiced against him for being a white male, and that he personally didn’t have aaaaaany prejudices at all. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! That is so funny because it is so ignorant! And by funny, I mean infuriating and crazy-making. And you know, I actually didn’t prejudge him for being white and male: most of the rest of my professors have been white males, and, as I said, generally supportive. But now that I have talked with him, I DO judge him to be a privileged asshole. Which many people had told me before, but now know it first-hand!
How do I deal with this attitude in the future? He didn’t even talk about my work? And I know I am going to run into lots of people with the same ignorant biases, so I need to figure out a way to keep the conversation on my work and their response to it, without constantly getting derailed into this toxic bullshit. Art about identities and bodies is always political, but I do my level best to make the actual images as open and beautiful and non-confrontational and provoking of compassion/empathy/identification as I can. The politics is very important to me personally, but it isn’t necessarily what defines the work, and I can’t keep having the same fucking health/diet conversation again and again or I will fucking lose my mind.
Help me followers, what do I do??!!??!?!