Reading through Belly Songs by Susan Stinson makes me think a lot about the gendered nuances of fatness. As a male identifying person, I can’t quite relate to the experiences depicted in Stinson’s book because of how it is specifically about more female experiences in regards to being fat.
However it’s hard to still discuss the concept of body image and fatness without talking about it in terms of gender and different experiences. The goal of Belly Songs is to capture the female experience of fatness in a positive manner. We see moments like poems with the words whale (possibly the lowest hanging fruit insult) being used positively, helping to reclaim fatness as a positive experience and regain agency of their body image perception. Poems like “Ways A Whale Gets Hungry” and “Passing” use the word ‘whale’ in the opposite way of its intended insulting use.
The interesting bit to me is that whale is often thrown at fat women, and fat men are perceived (negatively) differently. Fat men are stereotyped in media from every way to unwanted nerd to comic relief. In my own personal experience, I’ve received a fair amount of backlash for being fat. I’ve received comments about not being attractive as a chubbier male, and told to go gym/exercise to get back into shape. I notice a distinct disconnect between the current body positivity moment and fat men, because while on one hand a lot of fat men don’t get the same experiences like Stinson describes in Belly Songs, but there’s less positive reinforcement in our appearances. There’s a culture of toxic masculinity surrounding being fat, but also tropes like the “dad bod” exist which can be sometimes portrayed positively in certain cases. But fat men still serve as punchlines in real life and media, I mean, look at how Jack Black’s entire career consists of fat characters serving as the butt of the joke in most movies. And without positive reclamation of male fatness, we end up with many men wanting to be slimmer in order to be perceived as more masculine, specifically more ‘macho’.
I think there’s a lot of work to be done in talking about male body variety, especially for plus sized men and make the effort to shift the narrative to something that makes it more acceptable to be comfortable in their own skin. I would love to see a male version of Belly Songs , where we not only discuss the reclamation of male fat bodies but also talk about male queerness and fatness, because that’s another layer of dynamics that could’ve been its own discussion topic. Either way, my conclusion is that there’s a lot of ground to be covered here in regards to the male fat experience.