Lise Pleidrup on Fat Activism
First off, can you tell me a little bit about who you are and what you stand for?
My name is Lise Pleidrup. I’m a Danish actress and fat activist and I made the first theater play in Denmark about being fat – and most importantly the first fat positive play.
At the end of last year, you appeared on Go' morgen Danmark, where you were fighting for the Danish word "tyk" (translated "thick/fat") to be destigmatized. Why do you think it is important to normalise the use of the word "fat"?
Avoiding the word “tyk” or “fat” shows that we associate it with something bad, which is why we have made up so many alternatives like “curvy” and “plus size” to make it sound better and make it less scary to be fat. The problem is that words like “overweight” and “obese” are oppressive words, because “overweight” (and “underweight”) indicates being outside the norm. They can’t exist without “normal weight”. And “obese” is pathologizing the fat body because it’s mostly linked to sickness and us being an epidemy that needs to be stopped. “Fat” or “tyk” is simply just a description of a body type, and a way of making the word less scary – and the first step to make being fat less scary - is to use the word.
Considering how your TV appearance polarized, what do you say to people who argue that unlimited body positivity glorifies obesity?
First of all, I don’t practice body positivity. There’s nothing wrong with body positivity, but I don’t believe that body positivity can eliminate the oppression and stigmatisation and discrimination – also called fat-phobia or in danish “tykfobi” - of fat people. We need fat activism because it looks at the structures, whereas body positivity is fighting for feeling better about your body - which is good, but that doesn’t help fat people that are being yelled at in the streets and are always suggested weight loss as the one solution every time they go to the doctor. You’re privileged if you can remove the hate towards your body by “just” working on yourself, but that’s just not the case for fat people that experience hate towards them at all times, and we need to reckon that.
But to answer your question: It’s funny how we are scared of glorifying fatness, because thinness has been glorified forever. Losing weight is always seen a good thing, even though it can happen from grief, eating disorders and other illnesses. We always see thinness as a healthy sign and fatness as an unhealthy sign. You can’t link a certain body type to health. So in that sense I think it’s fine that fatness gets a bit of the glorifying spot light.
You mention 'fat activism' and looking at the structures of society. What are some necessary, concrete steps that need to be taken? And what can we as individuals do?
The health care system is a major player in this. First of all I hope they'll stop using BMI asap. BMI is so outdated and was never made to be used on individuals. It was made based on white men, which makes it both racist and sexist to use. Society likes to blame the individuals, which is why it's important for me to say that fat-phobia is a structural problem. With that said I understand that individuals would like to know how to help fight these structures. My best advice is to look at yourself: If you are for example talking negatively about your rolls, weight gain ect., then your surroundings will course associate being fat with something negative. My other advice would be to support us who fight for eliminating fat-phobia. Share, like and comment our posts, support us financially and most importantly: Hand us (the fatties) the microphone when the talk is about fatness and fat-phobia.
Naturally, being within a certain BMI bracket does not reflect a person's health, but objectively, obesity has been listed as the second leading cause of lifestyle-related cancers in the UK. Do you think unlimited body positivity can go hand-in-hand with working towards a more sustainable weight?
First of all: Science is never objective. Second of all: Sustainability doesn't have a certain body type and we don’t owe it to anyone, and what does it even mean? Thirdly: It’s funny how fat people should always defend their body and especially their health. Again: You don’t owe people health. It’s a weird pressure that society has put on people, because most of the time, you’re not responsible for your own health. But that’s what we’re taught. That everybody is born thin and if you get fat, then it’s your own fault - which is why fat people are seen as lazy, stupid and without willpower. The health-question is a way of oppressing fat people, when they ask to be treated like thin people, because no matter what, you deserve to be treated with respect – ill or not. And if you absolutely have to talk about health, then please read up on it. It’s like everyone thinks they are experts in health based on some lessons in biology they had in school.
I absolutely agree that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. For people who would like to read up on the health question you are talking about, what are some resources you can recommend?
I would recommend looking up HAES (Health At Every Size) and research about discrimination and stigma of fat people - for example the report from WHO (World Health Organization) in 2017. I wish I didn't have to recommend a thin, white cisman, but as I mentioned earlier - it's the privileged we believe and listen to. With that said @drjoshuawolrich on Instagram is a great ally, against fat-phobia in the health care system, so check him out.
Over the past years, the fashion industry has undergone a slow shift away from size-zero models towards embracing people of all shapes and sizes. Looking at runway shows, advertisements and everyday retail stores, do you feel represented? Is there more that needs to be done?
Even though I’m very privileged due to my white skin, cisgender identity, etc., it’s unfortunately a no. Plus size brands feel that they are inclusive if they choose a small fat model. I have never seen a plus size model with a big tummy for example. It’s always the “Kim Kardashian-way-of-being-fat” aka “the right way of being fat”. That excludes many people.
As a fat person in the creative industry, what is some of the discrimination you experienced? In what ways did it manifest?
When fat phobia is so rooted in you that it’s hard to spot it yourself, we call it internalised fat-phobia - which we all suffer from, by the way. When fat people say that we have been deselected or treated disrespectfully or differently than skinny people, then most people – creative industry or not - will reject it. Not because they are bad people, but because their fat-phobia is internalised. And when they can’t see the problem, it’s hard to convince them and also yourself that it is true – especially when the person you’re talking to is in a powerful position and you are not. Because fat-phobia is so deeply rooted in all of us, it can also be hard for me to say exactly what went wrong when I experience fat-phobia. It’s often just a feeling. And a feeling isn’t well-accepted. It’s not only enough with proof, but you also need proof that the person in the powerful position can see themselves in it and acknowledge that, so it’s a bad circle. Not long ago I experienced a Danish theater unfollow me on Instagram right after I posted a picture of my body. It was painful and made me even more scared of being excluded from my industry. There are not many fat actors in film or on stage in general. But it was such a relief to finally have a proof to show to people. But even though I had proof people gaslighted me and questioned that is was fat-phobia.
What do you want to say to other fat people who are also experiencing discrimination, facing hate, or are struggling with self-love?
I tell them that there is nothing wrong with them. That it’s the structures in society that is wrong. I will never ask a fat person to love themselves. It’s nearly impossible in a world that hates us just based on our amount of body fat. Luckily, my theater play has made a big difference to a lot of fat people, because finally they could recognize themselves in art. I hope that I can continue to make a difference by showing some representation of fat bodies in films, series, and/or theaters, and also with my conversation saloons that I make, where fat people can gather and talk about being fat in a safe space. I also have an Instagram account (@lisepleidrup) where I talk a lot about fat-phobia and about being a (fat) actress, and a lot of fat people trust me with messages in my DMs, which makes me so happy and grateful.
Photography credits: @_bodytalks and Ida Guldbæk Arentsen