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By Michael Chapman

Performance artist Scottee: we need to quit fat shaming

To mark the opening of his performance piece Fat Blokes, British performance artist Scottee explains why he’s fat-igued with body shaming

I grew up in Kentish Town in North London, now the home of bouji 20-somethings addicted to kombucha. Back then, in the early noughties, it was the 15th most deprived area of the country, with child poverty at 40.3%. I was one of those kids. I grew up poor and in social housing. I was the child and grandchild of Irish migrants who as a result of poverty, social exclusion and trauma lived with tricky relationships with food, booze and drugs. I adopted some of their addictions and made poverty shame my own. As a result I grew up as, and still am, what doctors call ‘morbidly obese’.

As a teenager I did everything not to be the fat one so I quickly learnt how to be funny. For a long time, I used humour as a veil over my fatness, that was until I found a bunch of radical dykes and femmes in queer nightclubs across London who encouraged me to live my best fag life and own my fatness.

I’m what they call a bad fatty – I don’t wear black smocks and try to be invisible, I’m not trying to lose weight or pretending to be on a diet, I walk with my head high in clothes that are marketed towards women, but this doesn’t mean I’ve reached body positive utopia.

I live within a culture that tells folks I am a drain, I take up too much room, I’ve had more than my fair share. Primetime television is dedicated to trying to heal or cure people with bodies like mine. My body is the one that is always depicted as the ‘before’ shot. High street retailers design a separate clothing line for us, usually kept tucked away somewhere out of sight or online only. Hollywood only ever shows fatness as being funny so people think it’s acceptable to make fun of us.

Fatness in western cultures equates to temporal failure, a failure that can be fixed and so people are desperate to get me to see the errors of my ways. In my lifetime I’ve been questioned for eating in public, had my food choices critiqued, I’ve been spat at, attacked, had photos of me taken on public transport. People have done everything possible not to sit next to me on planes, trains and buses. Trucks have veered onto the pavement to try and scare me. I’ve had groups of men chant “you fat gay” at me in the middle of one of London’s busiest train stations. I’ve been insulted by police officers. People often rub or pat my belly when they’re drunk. Then there are the members of my own community. Gay men have often been the most vicious and vile. I’ve had bottles thrown at me at Brighton Pride. Someone once even tried to set me on fire in a nightclub in Vauxhall.

When I was 21, I started to attempt to call myself an artist. I decided that for this performance I would do something I was afraid of: strip. The moment I opened my rainmac to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ and heard the gasps I realised audiences were more afraid of my body than I was of getting it out. Since then I’ve made a whole body of work about fatness, from beauty pageants to BBC documentaries, but something I’ve always wanted to explore since those early violent assaults in queer clubs is fatness and queer masculinity.

Earlier this year I put out an open call on my blog to find a bunch of fat weirdos who fancied making a show with me. No experience necessary just a willingness to put their fat on show. Six months later this gang of strangers is a bunch of my closest friends. We love each other. There are five of us and we come from all over. Our experiences of fat are very different; some of us own it, some of us are on diets, all of us have complex relationships with our bodies. I spent last weekend putting the finishing touches to our dance show, Fat Blokes. I chose dance because we’re always being told to exercise so I thought for once I’ll do what I’m told. However, if they want to see us sweat, they will also have to hear our beef.

When we’re with each other we feel like, for the first time, we’re all allowed to be whatever Spice Girl we want, catwalking down high streets of regional towns and cities like them lot off the Boots advert screeching “ come the girls!” When we’re together we can’t be picked off, we can’t be decapitated and used in lazy news bulletins to depict the so-called obesity crisis. People are too afraid to shout abuse because we’re en masse – for once there's more of us than them! Together we’re invincible.

The other day, after 72 hours of rehearsals in Manchester with my gang of fatties, I wake up in our AirBnB full of body confidence and hastily posted a 7 am nude to Instagram. Feeling myself and fending off the chasers in the DM’s we say our goodbyes. I’m on a high and head back to the Essex seaside where I live. An hour after leaving the gang, the same day I posted that thirsty selfie, I find myself alone in First Class. I’ve upgraded myself because a bunch of blokes thought they were allowed to degrade me. Each huffing and puffing taking turns to sit next to me because sitting next to me was “too uncomfortable”. 

My lover texts me to see if I’m OK and I tell him what's happened, that I’ve been on the receiving end of worse but I’m embarrassed more than anything. Embarrassed that I caved in, that I moved and paid (and could pay for) the privilege of an easy life. Saddened that folk around me deemed this bullying acceptable.

I play it down, I say I’m fine but I’m not. I’m crying into a not very nice Pret sandwich. I don’t want to come across like these things worry me. I think those of us who live in marginalised bodies do this all the time. We mitigate these experiences, perhaps so we don’t look damaged, not to scare people off, or perhaps we can’t hear “it’s all in your head” or “you’re not even that fat” yet another time... because if I were ‘that fat’ I’d deserve it? 

When you’re fat you unfortunately become accustomed to this sort of bullying and violence. For me, the extreme physical violence has left its marks on my confidence, and has no doubt informed my fear of drunk cis men, but perhaps what I find more draining is the day-to-day microaggressions, the monologues about my body and weight that people invite themselves to impart. Be it my perceived fluctuation in size that is often congratulated, asking if I’m on a diet or them trying to convince me I’m not fat. It’s something that no one who likes you wants you to be, even if your Instagram handle is @scotteeisfat.

However petty these tears bouncing off my keyboard sound it’s not this incident I’m upset by - it’s a lifetime of having to play the role of the bullied one - I am fat-igued.

The painful irony here is that this happened to me the same weekend I thought I found fat utopia, when I was really feeling myself and how easily it was shattered. I guess this is confirmation as to why I need to make Fat Blokes, why I need to bring together this gang of radical fatties. We’ve got to derail this narrative that we will be saved, changed or beaten into submission. We’ve also got to accept that, despite Instagrammers helping us find body positivity, unless our culture shifts, those of us who are marginalised will always find ourselves back at square one.

Tomorrow I’ll be back on form, on my fat feet, a bit more ready for the next punch. Until then, you’ll find me in bed watching Killing Eve, dreaming up ways to fight back.

Scottee’s Fat Blokes opens at London’s Southbank Centre on 8th November with UK and Irish touring until Spring 2019.