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Time Out (Sydney) - - THIS MONTH IN SYDNEY -

Fes­ti­vals, events, shops and mar­kets

Can we ac­cept that fat is just fine? Au­thor Sarai Walker is on a mis­sion to make us think dif­fer­ently about fat, start­ing with her talk at the Fes­ti­val of Dan­ger­ous Ideas. By Emma Joyce

Sarai Walker prefers ‘fat’ to the more clin­i­cal words ‘over­weight’ or ‘obese’. When the writer moved from New York to the UK to com­plete a PhD (where she wrote her first novel Di­et­land), she at­tended Fat Stud­ies con­fer­ences, where the word ‘fat’ was a neu­tral, pos­i­tive ad­jec­tive – and ev­ery­thing changed from there.

“Peo­ple are very freaked out when I use the word ‘fat’ on book tours and in­ter­views,” she says. “It re­minds me that I used to be very un­com­fort­able as well, but once you get used to us­ing it you for­get that it has a lot of bag­gage.”

Speak­ing ahead of her visit to Syd­ney for FODI, Walker says fat ac­cep­tance is still taboo. Peo­ple aren’t ques­tion­ing their as­sump­tions about it. “It’s very rad­i­cal – the idea that you can be fat and that it’s OK, like some­body who is tall or short. Peo­ple get an­gry and find the idea very threat­en­ing. I’ve had peo­ple re­act in to­tal rage when I sug­gest that fat should be ac­cepted.”

Walker’s novel, pub­lished ear­lier this year, fea­tures a fat girl called Plum who works at a teen mag­a­zine. Through the book, Walker takes on our cul­ture’s ob­ses­sion with weight loss and she in­tro­duces a vi­o­lent col­lec­tive called ‘Jen­nifer’, a mys­te­ri­ous gang that throws rapists out of planes.

“Peo­ple de­scribe the story in dif­fer­ent ways,” says Walker. “Some say ‘this isn’t a book about fat, it’s about rape cul­ture.’ I started off with the ques­tion ‘why are fat women so hated?’ and that led me to other is­sues. I see these things as in­ter­re­lated: the fat body, the way we dis­tain women who don’t ad­here to ideals, the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women, de­hu­man­i­sa­tion, vi­o­lence. It’s very com­plex.”

Walker is cur­rently en route to New Mexico to work on her sec­ond novel, which she says will be set in the past. “I can’t imag­ine me writ­ing a book that doesn’t tell women’s sto­ries or deal with women’s lives some­how,” she tells us. “Di­et­land is so plugged into the con­tem­po­rary mo­ment, that I just need a break from that.” The 42-year-old en­joys dig­ging up advertising posters and pho­to­graphs from decades gone by to re­mind her

and oth­ers that fat sham­ing wasn’t

“Peo­ple find the idea threat­en­ing”

al­ways the norm. “Peo­ple think that our aver­sion to fat is nat­u­ral, and it’s not; it’s so­cially con­structed and there­fore can be un­done.” In par­tic­u­lar, Walker is fas­ci­nated by the 1968 protest against the Miss Amer­ica pageant, at which women threw items into a ‘free­dom trash­can’. When asked what she would dis­card into that trash­can to­day, she laughs and says, “I don’t know how you throw ‘wax­ing’ into a trash­can!

“Women are judged first and fore­most by how they look, so it be­comes more im­por­tant for women to chal­lenge that.”

Fes­ti­val of Dan­ger­ous Ideas Ben­ne­long Point, Syd­ney 2000. 02 9250 7111. fodi.syd­ney Var­i­ous times and prices. Sep 5-6.

Sarai Walker

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