A Contribution of Swantje Martach

Fat Aesthetics: Why Being Fat Should Be the New Normal

Arthur Cardoso de Andrade, interviewed by Swantje Martach


    Arthur Cardoso de Andrade is a student of philosophy at the Federal University Campina Grande in Brazil. Although a still young member of our field, Arthur is one we should pay attention to, as the present interview with him seeks to reveal. 

    History shows it to be probable that those who have not yet become entirely entangled in a metier’s standards often still make significant contributions to it. This is due to their status of not having already and entirely stepped, but rather being in the movement of stepping into a discourse, while one of their feet still remains outside, and thus is not yet absorbed and consumed by the system. And this “still, this “not-yet-entirely” enables them to think concepts (confronted and/or created) more with regard to their effects on reality than with regard to their impact on further concepts. The “still” equips them with a veto, asking: Does this really make sense? In short, in the “still” lies not only a weakness, but also a power, namely the power to be a realist rather than a "discourse thinker”. 

    Arthur is such a realist thinker (still!), and the first (and already quite remarkable in its firstness) contribution he provides us with is the concept of “fat aesthetics“, which I had the chance to listen unfold in April 2021 during his contribution to the conference “Roman Ingarden and Our Times“, organized by and at the Jagiellonian University of Kraków. Since then we have been in touch, and the following three questions interview is a textual subsumption of several exchanges (via email, GoogleMeet, and Instagram) we had. 


    SM: Standing for itself, your concept “fat aesthetics” could be understood as intending to grow a new and another sub-sector within the field of aesthetics, in addition and maybe also in fruitful exchange with the already existent sub-genres of “everyday aesthetics” or the more recent and still more minoritarian “maternal aesthetics”. 

    However, if I understand you correctly, even though a differentiation of topics will at some point certainly be desirable, what you aspire to elaborate right now is not precisely another umbrella term, but rather a very particular phenomenon, namely the beauty of being fat. Put in the context of our present (yet probably still too modern) sociocultural ideals, the assertion of such a possibility, namely that being fat can be beautiful, is already a provocative thesis. The combination of the terms “fat” and “aesthetic” will thus certainly strike many readers. So may I begin this interview by asking you directly: What is fatness? How do you define this term? And in what way is it beautiful to be fat? Or else, what kind of beauty lies in fatness?


    ACA: So far, fatness was only defined in the negative, in the pathological, even in the teratological, namely as a too-much, an abundance that is seen as ugly, that makes you ill, that tends to scare the person denoted as “fat” (from appearing in public, wearing certain clothes, showing herself) as much as it tends to scare others (a sensual fear as well as the self-oriented fear of becoming so too). But I seek to redefine fatness by means of its positive, aesthetic side. Fatness can also be a freedom, an exit from conventions, a liberation from norms and from the continuous striving, even the anxiety to fit in, which necessarily manifests in a never-ending effort, a constant mental/bodily work. 

    I thus seek to research fatness as a potential. And in this potential lies a beauty. But to experience this beauty, to live out your fatness beautifully, is definitely an art you need to acquire. At the beginning thereof lies the realization: “I do not fit anyway, so hey, I do not need to care.” 


    SM: Trust me, I see its relevance for philosophical as much as social/cultural/political discourse, but I still would like you to explicitly formulate a reply to the question: Why should we care about fatness? Why is this concept important for the general reader? 


    ACA: In the common view, fatness is opposed to thinness. While fatness is associated with ugliness and illness; we have been taught to link thinness to health and beauty. To be thin is to have a correct body, and to be fat is to be inappropriate, to fall out of the given measures (sometimes literally, think of e.g. airplane seats). 

    However, de facto, what I call the “thin” part of our society is not only minoritarian, but I dare to say: vanishingly small, as being even more realistic because precise, a correct body is not only a thin body, but in order to be correct, you must be thin the correct way, that is, e.g. thin in a fit and not in an emaciated or a haggard way (even though the fashion regime already turned this coinage around, I think in the public it still prevails). The right parts of your body have to be thin/fat, e.g. your waist must be narrow, but you are still seen as thin if your chest is more voluminous (for both male and female). By implication, many thin people don't correspond to the given beauty standards either. 

    It might even be that nobody constantly fits into it, as the prevailing understanding of beauty excludes certain moments in a normal flow of life, e.g. an after-dinner belly or after-sightseeing legs and feet; while it highlights and rewards others, such as a matutinal belly. And with the course of time and the movements and works accomplished, bodies grow generally fatter. Just think of elder people’s hands, that can be so comforting! I regard it as inaccurate to understand such hands as falling out of the frame of beauty. 

    I claim that almost nobody is entirely fat/thin, and to focus on this little minority that might indeed be does not bring us, neither society nor research, further, because eventually, almost none can relate to it! With what I call “fat”, I thus attempt to encompass the sum of bodies that do not correspond to the set standards, which remarkably are the majority. In my thinking, a fat body is not a specific other type of body, but I see it rather as a way to finally break the dualism of fat/thin, ugly/beautiful, and to show that we all are partially fat and partially thin, at times fatter and at other times thinner, and that precisely in this becoming, we are normal. Fatness hence is not anymore one of two extreme poles, but it rather is a becoming in which we all are entangled. As such, fatness matters to everyone. 


    SM: Your concept made me observe a peculiar fact: In the sphere of (social) media, nobody ever documents herself becoming fat (okay, there recently was such a case in German media, but this was a self-experiment of a highly athletic moderator, who got paid for doing this as well as for the surgery that removed everything gained again afterwards — I am referring here to Jenke von Wilmsdorffs’s production for the German TV channel RTL). But what we come to see are either self-documented reversals, even escapes from fatness, or other-documented accusations of fatness, such as when a magazine shows us a bikini shot of a celebrity and dictates us to be shocked about this person gaining weight. In the first case, fatness is presented as an entry point; in the second case, fatness is presented as a repellent result, e.g. of letting oneself go too much, which does not correspond to the image of most stars. What kind of norm is it thus, that fatness speaks up against in a very material, bodily, and thus inevitable, even unmissable way?


    ACA:  I found that the given beauty standards are highly unrealistic. They are a stagnation of a becoming, a simplification of a complexity that is life. Belly pictures, as posted in social media, are usually recorded in early mornings, lying on the back, or at least while strongly breathing in, so that the belly is shown in its thinnest possible moment. But is it not rather normal, and indeed inextricable, to become? For this reason, I aspire to establish precisely this complex becoming that we are, the normal flow of existence, as a new and relieving standard. In this vein, fatness can exit its teratological status and become the new normal. 

    In a nutshell, my claim is that we need to be more inclusive and more gentle. We need to allow a belly to be beautiful in its pushing against the fabric of a tight dress after a five-course-meal. And I think we can acquire this change in thought by conceptualizing fatness in a more dynamic way. By means of the conglomerate concept “fat aesthetics”, I thus seek to break the dualism of thin/fat, in order to break the standards, to re-coin the conventions by which we judge our/other’s bodies. Aren’t there enough examples of the disastrous consequences, the pains, diseases, even deaths that come with a restricting of the human body to a static being?

    SM: Thank you for this thought-provoking interview, Arthur.