Susan Stinson’s poem “A Practical Guide to Successful Living” is very brief: “Fat girls let your shorts ride up / Lie down on the cold spring dirt / and get mud on your fat backs” (Stinson 1). Although Stinson’s poem is quite short, it is incredibly meaningful.
I am taking a Fat Studies course with Prof. Farrell, and recently we read an essay written by Joyce L. Huff about how fat bodies fit into space. In her essay, Huff unpacks and analyzes Southwest’s fatphobic decision to make fat travelers purchase two airplane seats, therefore paying double the amount their slender peers have to. Huff argues that “… this body has come increasingly to be seen as capable of adapting itself to spaces constructed to meet the needs of corporations rather than those of individuals”. I agree wholeheartedly. Our society pushes limited, standardized items, such as clothing sizes, and people are expected to figure out ways to squeeze in. When Stinson commands girls to let their shorts ride up and their bodies spill out, she is rejecting society’s want for malleable bodies that fit in. Women should not need to lose enough weight to fit into provided clothes, nor should they have to shroud their bodies in clothes that cover up what society deems unsightly.
I also think that Stinson is equating rejecting clothes that don’t fit to embracing queer identities. Much like the way fat girls spill out of restrictive clothes, queer women ‘come out’ of restrictive spaces that value heteronormativity. Moreover, Stinson also writes to “Lie down on the cold spring dirt / and get mud on your fat backs” (Stinson 1). By directly connecting naked skin and earth, Stinson is writing about retreating to nature to live a truer identity. This implies that queer, fat women will be happiest when living as outlaws from society’s heteronormative, slender values. Stinson’s beleif of finding refuge in nature reminds me of queer poems such as Song of Myself, and queer communities such as the Radical Faeries, as both urge queer individuals to grow comfortable with their identities in natural environments.
Ultimately, Stinson’s message is important: she encourages women to find happiness through embracing unique identities and refuting society’s hopes to jam everyone into a uniform space. Additionally, instead of expanding standardization, Stinson healthily encourages queer, fat women to start with identities that are closest to nature- and to accept true identities through escaping societal norms.
One thought on “Susan Stinson refuses to be malleable”
Hi! I really like your interpretation of Stinson’s poem. I particularly love your comment about how Stinson equates “rejecting clothes that don’t fit to embracing queer identities” as well as your connections to nature and one’s true identity. I think accepting yourself is a great message that everyone understands universally, however, it is difficult to put into practice. Are larger women suppose to identify themselves with their weight and physical appearance as “fat?” No, as you state, women can find their true identity by escaping societal norms and connecting with nature. I think everyone could listen to that advice a little more!
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