Three Quick Questions: Hanne Blank
The semi-regular Three Quick Questions is the world's shortest interview: three questions for a person in fat acceptance. This week's guest is Hanne Blank, noted author of books tackling fat and sexuality.
BFB: What's the biggest misconception about fat people and sex that you've attempted to clear up?
Hanne: The biggest misconception about fat people and sex that I've attempted to clear up is actually a two-for-the-price-of-one misconception: the idea that fat people don't have sex or romantic relationships because they're not sexually attractive to anybody, ever, full stop. It simply isn't true, and never has been.
American culture particularly likes to fuel its images of sexuality with things that are unattainably "perfect" -- perhaps on the Robert Browning theory that "Oh that a man's reach should exceed his grasp / or what's a Heaven for?" -- and part of what is typically presented in that context is that unless one is physically "perfect" one will be rejected and found wanting and end up alone and loveless and sexless. So part of my job with Big Big Love and Zaftig has been to point out that this isn't realistic and isn't true, and remind people that if they've been basing their expectations or their feelings of self-worth on those kinds of images, they need to think again.
How did you come to fat acceptance and fat rights?
I'm fat, smart, opinionated, and politically active, and have been all these things since I was a teenager. I don't take well to being silenced or told that my ideas don't matter. And I've always thought that behaving badly toward people because of some aspect of their physical body -- whether that means their skin color, their height, their use of crutches, their weight, their gender expression, the scars on their skin, their gray hair, their biological sex, whatever -- is generally unjustifiable, that whole "can't tell a book by its cover" thing. For me as a progressive feminist, opposing the whole range of physical-body-based prejudices and stigmas is all of a piece. Fatness and fat rights happen to be two of my personal issues, so it's a topic I can speak to from the inside. But fat politics are not separate from my overall politics of inclusion and human value.
What do you think are the necessary ingredients to empower fat people?
Well-channeled outrage, a hell of a lot of noisemaking, and absolute persistence. Preferably on an enormous scale. They're the same ingredients that have given social power to other marginalized groups of people: the day we have a fat-people equivalent of the Selma-to-Montgomery march or a fat-people Stonewall, we might just begin to see some progress. And that's true insofar as personal resistance in our daily lives go, too: being well-dressed and polite only gets you so far. I think Marilyn Wann has a good point about fat being punk, and with some of her playful ideas of fat militancy. Without a sense of militancy, a sense that we're done being pissed on and now it's time to be pissed OFF and, yes, take some actual risks in expressing that anger and demanding redress, it's very easy for people not to take fat discrimination seriously.
Sure, it's hard to get there. It's hard to overcome years of being pushed down and a culture that devalues you and everyone who looks even remotely like you while it tells you that you can not be this despised thing if you just try hard enough... it's very hard to push past the conditioning to get to a point where being outraged on your own behalf is even possible. But it isn't impossible. And it's that kind of outrage -- real live fury, born out of a mixture of anger at oppression and compassion for the oppressed and channeled into real live action -- that's ultimately going to make a difference if one is going to be made. That's just as true for fat people as it is for anyone else who stands to gain from challenging the status quo to change.
Hanne Blank is currently working on a book about the history of virginity. Her website is hanneblank.com.