By Nicole Tan
This past Friday was the very last classroom session at Frauenkreise. After our 3 weeks here, I was excited to see how everything would wrap up with our final activist group, Fat Up! If you ask Kristina Kuličová and Magda Albrecht how they define themselves as a group, they will say they are a “fat positive, queer feminist riot group in Berlin.” Additionally, “emerging” is placed in parentheses in my title and the title of their discussion, because this group exists in what might be called a vacuum. There is an absence of a fat activist history here in Germany, so this marks the beginning of a new struggle. Still, Fat Up currently has a nucleus of 7 dedicated, passionate members who met during a Fat Empowerment Workshop.
During class, we began with our final round of introductions, a ritual that happens as many as three times a day. In exchange, Kristina and Magda told us their own personal stories and reasons for starting Fat Up. Magda is an activist and feminist blogger who attended her very first diet camp at the age of 5. Kristina recounted her experience growing up in the Czech Republic, where fat politics are almost entirely non-existent. Despite the absence of positive, fat role models around her, Kristina was able to discover this from within. In her own words, she “learnt to stop looking at [herself] through the eyes of men”and began to realise that “maybe it is not [her] that is wrong, but the structure of society.”
You may be wondering, what makes this relevant to our class on Afro-German women and feminisms? As our 3 weeks here have progressed, I’m beginning to realise that this topic was a platform that enabled us to engage with a much bigger discussion on what racism looks like today. If you look closely, you can see similar parallels in fat politics. In many societies, a thin body is perceived to be healthy, which is ideal and acceptable. Contrarily, fat people are often attached with stigmas like lazy, slow, and ugly. These negative connotations are similar to those that have been attached to Blacks in Germany, as we learned from Ika Hügel-Marshall, defining an altered perception of what is “normal” in order for those in power to exclude certain individuals as “others.”
Next, Kristina and Magda introduced the idea of being fat as a discriminating factor in the workplace. This narrative is similar to those we’ve heard from individuals and organizations committed to refugees and migrants. Along these lines, Kristina and Magda recounted an incident just recently in the U.S. when someone filed a lawsuit on the basis of fat discrimination after discovering an interviewer’s notes scribbled with comments like, “Too fat.” However, in most cases, discrimination is difficult to identify and prove. If someone does not hire you, how can you prove that this is on the basis of race or size? This quickly triggered discussion on the floor, as Beril recounted the weight requirements for women wanting to work as air airline stewardesses in Turkey. Why exactly is weight a pre-requisite that qualifies a candidate for this job?
The next question that evolved from this was, “Who exactly benefits from fat discrimination?” Immediately, we began to discuss how the fashion industry can exploit women’s insecurities about their weight for profit. I’m sure we’ve all seen the diet books, the fitness magazines, the gym equipment, etc.—all promising immediate and instant weight loss. This illustrates a mentality that suggests skinny is the only acceptable way to look, something we should all desire. In conjunction with the unrealistic body images presented in the media, the fashion industry is able to breed insecurity in women, the basis upon which they feel the need to purchase these items.
A classic case and point of this is Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, who once said, “We go after the cool kids […] A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.” He also said, “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” This is why it is no surprise that fat activism has played an active role in counteracting these images.
In closing, Kristina and Magda provided several links to fat activist fashion bloggers like Fettcast and Fatty Fashion Fun Challenge. Today was a fantastic, engaging final conversation that I can’t wait to bring back with me to the Colorado College community, as with everything else we have studied over the last 3 weeks.