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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert

Dancing Resistance?: Charting Some Politics of Fat, Feminine Sexualized Performances

Lesleigh J. Owen

My very first moment inside Divine Curves, a BBW (big, beautiful woman) Club in Southern California, I encountered a 350-pound woman, smiling warmly while balancing atop a spindly barstool. She'd piled her long, artificially-platinum hair high on her majestic head, and her tightly-wrapped waist channeled her curves upward in a cascade of jiggling cleavage.

"Ten dollars, please," she said to me, her bright pink lips smiling. Smoky-black, half-inch-long eyelashes framed her blue eyes.

It wasn't as though I had never before thought of how fatness and heterofeminine sexuality would intersect, but seeing it performed quite literally in the flesh was an entirely different matter. Like most Americans, I had been raised in a culture in which fatness stands primarily in stark contrast to sexiness, desire, and pleasure. For most of us, in fact, constructions of fatness serve as warnings or boundary markers that separate sexiness from asexuality, beauty from ugliness, "normal" sexuality from queerness.

I am certainly not the first researcher to examine the overlaps of fatness, femininity, and sexiness.[1] In fact, it feels difficult for me to address the topic of fat without noting how it so frequently intersects with discourses surrounding gender, sex, and sexuality. It is somewhat of a truism for fat researchers that fatness frequently serves as pop cultural shorthand for considerations of "normal" and acceptable gender and sexual performances. At the very least, many of the same notions (think morality, excess, health, duty, identities, appetite, shame, and, of course, propriety) inform the constellations of forces comprising fatness and sexuality.

Three years ago, I walked into Divine Curves for the very first time. As I watched, engaged with, and danced various performances of fat and feminine sexiness, it became clear to me that this site was rife for analysis into the possibilities, however realized or not, of counter-discursive discourses surrounding fat, gender, pleasure, and sex.

This is not to imply my foray into this subculture landed me in a "Fat Wonderland" of feminine empowerment. Instead, I encountered a much richer and more complex site for negotiations with fatness and sexiness that, at the very best, de-centered thin, hetero-feminine sexiness. But this does mean the space was uncomplicated. Indeed, I find these contradictions and ambivalences the most intriguing. What began as a question of fat resistance led me instead into considerations of the discursive contradictions inherent in performances of fat, hetero-feminine sexiness.

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