Step up and speak out for fat people


Photos By YAP CHEE HONG

Three of My Fat Squad's co-founders (from left) Farizah Ahmad, Ratna Manokaran and Dorian Wilde. The fourth co-founder Jaskirath Sohanpal (not in picture) is currently in England doing her Masters.

Fat people often stand alone in advocating for themselves and demanding that they have the right to a seat at the table or access to the most basic things in their everyday life.

And that was one of the reasons that six friends decided to come together and start My Fat Squad, a fat positive and fat liberation group, in 2019.

“Our goal is to create a sense of community while advocating for fat people to be protected and given the same rights as other non-fat people, whether it is in healthcare or even finding comfortable seats in spaces such as restaurants, universities, hospitals or clinics,” says co-founder Farizah Ahmad, 36.

My Fat Squad co-founder Farizah AhmadMy Fat Squad co-founder Farizah AhmadThe support of community and having fat allies is important for fat people to find moral support and understanding, as they navigate their way in a world that isn’t fat friendly, says Farizah, who co-founded the group with Dorian Wilde, 36, Ratna Manokaran, 42, and Jaskirath Sohanpal, 36.

MyFatSqaud started as an online space where fat people could find support, encouragement, advice, resources, and friendship.

MyFatSqaud started as an online space where fat people could find support, encouragement, advice, resources, and friendship.MyFatSqaud started as an online space where fat people could find support, encouragement, advice, resources, and friendship.The six (two have since moved on due to work and other commitments) first met at an online forum about fatness in 2019. They started talking and grew closer during the pandemic as they leaned on each other for support, comfort, etc.

“We wanted to create a sense of community so we started a WhatsApp group for other fat people to join. We’ve now also started a database of fat-friendly vendors and service providers, such as non-fat phobic healthcare professionals and doctors who won’t only focus on your weight. We plan to expand this to include other providers such as restaurants or venues that offer accessibility and comfort for fat people,” says Farizah.

“It’s necessary to provide these resources because it’s extremely difficult for fat people to even access basic human rights like healthcare, transportation, restaurants, and clothing.”

She adds that they do go into activism spaces to advocate for fat liberation.

“Two years ago, we spoke at the Women’s March on fat justice and fat liberation.

“My Fat Squad has also been involved in a clothes donation drive during the floods that happened a few years ago. In such situations, clothes donated through regular channels are for normal-sized people.

“But our efforts are focused on building up fat people because most of the time, our needs are overlooked,” she says.

Read more: Tired of being ignored and judged, My Fat Squad was formed as a community to advocate for fat people

Importance of allies

Anthropologist Dr Vilashini Somiah teaches a class on gender, sexuality and fatness as a senior lecturer in the Gender Studies Programme at Universiti Malaya. - Dr Vilashini SomiahAnthropologist Dr Vilashini Somiah teaches a class on gender, sexuality and fatness as a senior lecturer in the Gender Studies Programme at Universiti Malaya. - Dr Vilashini SomiahAnthropologist Dr Vilashini Somiah – who is a senior lecturer at the Gender Studies Programme at Universiti Malaya – says that fat alliances are extremely important to fat people.

“A fat ally recognises the challenges that come with a fat body and defends as well as speaks on behalf of those who are fat. Anyone can be a fat ally – whether they’re fat or thin,” she says.

“As a fat ally, you’ll tell people they’re not doing anyone any favours by using fat phobic language or treating and speaking to a fat person in an unkind manner.

“You’ll also help to spread awareness about fatness. This is important because fat people also want dignity – they want to be seen as human beings and not the sum of their weight,” she says.

Fat allies are also mindful about the language that they use.

“Most people often overlook the fact that language can be so laden with fat phobic words.

“For example, when going out with a fat friend, you might want to be sensitive and not blurt out ‘I can’t eat this or that, I’m on a diet! I’ve gotten so fat!’ when clearly, you’re not fat and much thinner than your fat friend,” she explains.

So, what does it mean to be a fat ally?

Fat allies support the dignity, safety, and joy of fat folks, who live in a very hostile world.

My Fat Squad co-founder Ratna Manokaran.My Fat Squad co-founder Ratna Manokaran.“Straight-sized, able-bodied people can be allies by calling on establishments to make sure there is adequate seating options for fat people, calling out discrimination, standing up when there is an injustice – for example when they see people taking photos of fat people in a public space, or when trolls are commenting on images or articles like this. You can come to our defense and stop that,” says Ratna.

Other examples of allyship include giving fat people a space in places that are often hostile to them, such as certain workplaces that aren’t fat friendly.

“A lot of work opportunities comes from recommendation so, offfer to hire fat people,” she says.

“You can also accompany a fat friend to the hospital/clinic and when they get stigmatised, you can be their support system.”

However, Ratna is well aware that fat acceptance in society will take time: “It won’t happen overnight”.

“Although fat people face issues with access to facilities and discrimination, there are spaces willing to accommodate fat people, but it comes only with a lot of work from our side.

“It’s not something that non-fat people automatically take into consideration so as fat people, we've to advocate for ourselves,” says Ratna.

“For example, before going to a restaurant, we've to call to find out what kind of seating arrangements they have. We might check Google reviews and photos to see if their chairs can accommodate fat people. For event spaces, if they don’t have chairs suitable for fat people, we’ll ask if they’re willing to bring in chairs that can accommodate fat people for that occasion.

“The end goal is to have spaces that accommodate different bodies, including larger bodies,” she adds.

Jaskirath Sohanpal, one of MyFatSquad's co-founders, is currently doing her Masters in England. Photo: MyFatSquadJaskirath Sohanpal, one of MyFatSquad's co-founders, is currently doing her Masters in England. Photo: MyFatSquadJaskirath adds that the responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the shoulders of fat people.

“Advocating for ourselves is what we’ve to do to survive. But others who aren’t fat need to also take responsibility and be an ally,” she says.

“Putting the burden on only fat people to advocate for themselves can be exhausting and unfair. They’ve to advocate for themselves every day of their lives, navigating many spaces that aren’t fat friendly.

“So, if you’re the owner of a restaurant or venue, make sure your establishment has seats to cater to people of all sizes.

“And, if you’re organising an event, make sure the venue has chairs that can accommodate everyone, including larger-sized friends,” she adds.

Ratna’s advice to fat people is to “find your community”.

“Know that you’re not alone. Find people like you and get together – whether it’s My Fat Squad or other fat communities.

“The Internet has enabled fat people to connect with one another to share their resources, struggles, joys and triumphs. It’s good to see how fat people in other parts of the world live, as a benchmark.

“Fatness isn’t usually equated with success so it’s encouraging when you see fat people in fields that people said you couldn’t get into because you’re fat, like a fat doctor or a fat dancer for example.

“In the future, we’d like to see fat-friendly spaces nationwide. We’d also like to work with medical professionals and companies that design spaces to generate more public awareness on the importance of being fat-friendly,” she concludes.

More information: @myfatsquad (Instagram)


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