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.

8 thoughts on “MALE PATTERN FATNESS”

  1. Thank you for this post! As as female identifying person, I read and thought about Susan Stinson’s Belly Songs from only a female point of view. But you’re right, we absolutely need to think about body shaming and body positivity from the perspective of other genders as well. I’m a little ashamed at myself for not thinking about these poems from a non-female perspective. Thank you for sharing some of your own experiences and allowing me to think about Belly Songs from the point of view of someone who is not female.

    1. Gotta start somewhere. I think it’s ok to not have to think about everyone’s experiences all at once, but process them one at a time.

  2. Hi! I definitely agree with you that there is a lot that needs to change about appearances concerning women and men. While Stinson’s piece did focus on the negativity associated with women’s weight, men are also just as ridiculed and targeted. It seems that the overarching issue is society’s definition of fat and the desire to be stick thin. Size should not be the defining feature of a person.

    1. Absolutely agreed! I think it’s very important we start looking past size, but so much of the cultural conversation around appearances is often size or race first.

  3. hi!! this was a really well-written and interesting blog post. I fully agree that men are left out of the body-positivity movement and that the male fat experience is totally different from the female experience. I think a huge issue with this is that the mainstream body-positivity movement focuses on the idea of beauty instead of body neutrality(focusing on what the body can do for us, rather than what it looks like). With the way that our society correlates beauty with femininity, the body-positivity movement is inherently gendered and could feel exclusionary to anyone who does not align themselves with femininity. It makes me so sad that young men have to experience body-shaming and fatphobia without at least some semblance of a supportive community and I think that the body-positivity movement must become more neutral and inclusive.

    1. Yes! A lot of appearance-related conversations are centered on a (typically cis, typically white) version of femininity and it’s very hard to get to speak about men in that conversation. Queer men at least are able to break some barriers and overlap in some areas with women because of societal standards for them, but it’s also really bad that cis men don’t really engage or get left out of these conversations entirely.

  4. Hi! I really appreciate this perspective on Stinson’s work and your own perspective of it. I agree that men are often left out of the body-positivity movement and also that there is a lack of positive representation for fat men, and would love to see a change in this representation. Body image and similar issues are rarely seen as “men’s issues,” especially when considering the underdiagnosis of men with eating disorders because they don’t fit the “look” of someone with disordered eating. I also think part of this is caused by predominately male spaces, such as sports teams like wrestling that enforces different regimes for teen boys to either rapidly gain or lose weight. I hope that moving forward men are more included in the body positivity movement and gain representation of characters who are not fat for the sake of a joke.

    1. Wholly agreed! I am tired of male spaces embracing this toxic culture of appearances when it is absolutely anti-inclusive and treats a whole group of men like crap because of their appearance and nothing else. We need better depictions of fat men that have depth to them.

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