“What I wanted to achieve with Fat Eire was to make fat a conscious issue in Ireland in the first place. And also to start a conversation about what obesity is, as opposed to just being something to be ridiculed or shamed.” Emily O’Brien talks about her new Arts Council-funded publication Fat Eire, an annual magazine, the first issue of which will be published this September.
Obviously obesity is something that people don’t want to talk about or be about. The release is about doing the opposite of that, showing people that we’re going to talk about this and that there are people who are fat, who don’t necessarily want to change that, who are okay with being fat . That’s kind of what it was made for. For fat people in Ireland.”
Emily points to the fat scene in America, “a huge culture,” and the growing one in the UK. “But there is nothing like it in Ireland and it is hardly talked about in Ireland.”
Emily, who lives in Cork, where she grew up, has a background at Bloomers, now an artist-led publishing collective and arts organization that was founded in 2018 and initially published magazines aimed at showcasing emerging writers and artists, among those Emily also owned the literature manager.
As we speak, she’s started receiving pitches from potential contributors. The tone, she says, is defiant. “Resisting the attitude they’ve been given all their lives as fat people. And also her defiance of having to change. That seems to be the recurring theme.”
For the first edition, she picked up a mix of ideas. “I curated them to include in the publication introductions to fatness, the intersection of queerness and fatness, the fat community, fat pride, and finally, to use one of the essay titles, what it means to be fat and Irish.”
Emily, who is now 30, says she was always fat except for two years as a teenager. “I think that’s the experience of a lot of fat people. Always. While it’s odd, looking back at pictures of me as a kid, I wouldn’t necessarily have said I was fat, but kids…kids are different. The child’s perception of things. And especially back then.”
As one of her predominant childhood memories, she recalls seeing the women in her life trying to lose weight: “Weight watchers, walk every day — you did that, you tried to lose weight. I was a fat kid and that was the predominant word used against me by the majority in elementary school.”
Now she can look back and see how she subconsciously took in the message that being fat is bad. “As the years go by you internalize the fact that being fat is bad, if you’re fat you should try to lose weight all the time, you should do that. This is the attitude you sense from the adults in your life, as well as from your peers at school and later at work. It followed me, you know.”
She would try to lose weight, she adds. “Or I would try not to eat that much because I think I’ve eaten a lot. But I never succeeded. My love of food always trumped any disgrace that was attempted to be placed on me. I just am. I look like this.”
There was a lot of shame, she adds. “Because you’re like, ‘My life would be so much easier if I didn’t look like that. It would be so much easier if I was smaller. Looking back, no matter what you look like, someone will always call you.”
At 19, Emily first encountered fat activism and body positivity online, “through American channels”: “It was a massive thing. Then I became extremely resentful of how I had been treated in my past, my childhood and probably my teenage years without ever, ever noticing or thinking critically about it – as a woman and because I was fat. It was an integral part of discovering feminism and body positivity.”
She outlines some of the everyday problems she may encounter when living in a prejudiced society. “Buying a dress would be something I would never have thought of, even though it’s kind of politicized. If you want to stop by somewhere and buy a dress, you can’t do that.” As far as she’s aware, there are no plus-size shops in Ireland. “They’re a thing in society, in the UK and the US.”
On a recent warm day, she and some friends decided to take a last minute trip to the beach. “I didn’t have a bathing suit, and someone said, ‘Well, get one,’ and I said, ‘I can’t do that. I have to go to a website and order exactly my size from a place that has my size. Because as far as I know you cannot go into a shop anywhere in Ireland and buy a swimsuit that is larger than a size 18.”
Emily explains that she has no recurring health problems and is a healthy person, but if she ever gets a chance to see the doctor, she is always told that she needs to lose weight.
“It’s unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable to me, how much that’s happened. I worked in retail and had upper back pain and they said ‘lose the weight’. Turns out I slept with too many pillows.”
“This is what your body looks like. Is it working correctly? Do you treat it well? can you function Yes. can you stand yourself Yes’
Eating in public is “something that scares me,” she adds. “Because I’m always aware of what it might look like. Even if that should be something you shouldn’t even think about.”
The goal is self-compassion, Emily explains. “Accepting that this is your body. Your body looks like this. Is it working correctly? Do you treat it well? can you function Yes. can you stand yourself Yes.”
Her life changed when she became aware of fat activism and feminism over a decade ago. “It blew me away,” she exclaims. Now Emily wants to further change the conversation with her new publication.
“We can say fat and it’s not loaded – it’s not something to shy away from. “No, no, you’re not fat,” is the prevailing take on people when you call yourself fat — no, it’s okay. I am fat.”
Working on Fat Ireland urged Emily to become more confident: “To my life, to myself and also to the culture of fat phobia again. Instead of saying ‘that’s just how it is’, I feel like it is and I have to face it head-on.”
Activism can be daunting and stressful. “Facing people, and also a massively influential culture that’s ‘don’t be fat,’ head-on.”
“My main goal with Fat Ireland is consciousness. Not just with the general public, but with people who might be fat and have no idea they can call themselves that without it being embarrassing. That maybe they realize that there is a community there for them to join and be a part of and feel like they’re a part of something.
“And having this realization that I had when I was 19. You’re a person – period, the end – you’re not a fat person waiting to get thin.”
For more information, follow Fat Eire on Instagram @Fateire
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/there-are-people-who-are-fat-who-dont-necessarily-want-to-change-that-who-are-ok-with-being-fat-41911469.html “There are people who are fat, they don’t necessarily want to change that, they are okay with being fat”