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Another collaboration with Becky Hawkins.
There are oddly similar visuals between the “woman trapped in a man’s body” trope and the “you’ve got a thin person inside you” trope.
The “woman trapped in a man’s body” is how some trans women (or vice versa, for trans men) describe their experiences. But often the media treats this as the Universal Trans Narrative, probably because it’s a way of conceiving being trans that cis people (and cis reporters and editors) find easy to understand.
The “you’ve got a thin person inside you” trope is just pro-diet propaganda. But it’s an image that many fat people have internalized (as it were). We’re taught to consider our actual bodies warped, unlovable and wrong, and to imagine we have a true self who is a thin self, waiting to burst out of our fat cocoons.
I find the common visual of a person trapped inside a wrong body intriguing. But of course there are enormous differences between the lived experience described by each cliché.
One difference we shouldn’t forget is effectiveness: There’s a great deal of research showing that treatments like gender confirmation surgery are extremely effective at providing relief for gender dysphoria.
In contrast, all weight-loss programs, including bariatric surgery, usually fail in the long term. The weight comes back, the fat person remains a fat person, and the “thin person inside” either never emerges, or emerges only temporarily.
Another big difference is the direction of social pressure. Trans people face enormous social pressure to not change their body’s initial status quo; they are told to stay closeted and continue identifying with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Fat people, in contrast, face enormous social pressure to change our bodies, as quickly as possible, and damn the consequences.
And that brings us to this cartoon.
I have heard from multiple trans people that they’ve had their surgery withheld while being pressured to undergo bariatric surgery.
And surgery isn’t the only treatment withheld:
This is from people seeking breast enlargement, people seeking vaginoplasty, people seeking estrogen, people seeking testosterone, and people seeking mastectomies. It absolutely impacts the all genders in the trans community who are seeking transition related medical care.
In another essay, Kivan wrote:
We must recognize the terrible pressure trans people are under to lose weight, and we must relieve that pressure. Statistics show that diets simply do not work, and that dieting to lose weight discourages the dieter and makes it more likely that they will gain more weight. There’s nothing wrong with being fat but there’s definitely something terrifying about being dysphoric and untreated because of your body.
Despite differences, there’s a lot in common in how society treats fat people and how it treats trans people (not forgetting that these two groups overlap). Katelyn Burns writes:
Visibly trans bodies are considered unworthy of dignity or respect and are marginalized from society in many of the same ways that fat bodies are. Fat people are constantly told that being fat is based on their own irresponsible decisions. Society says to just eat right and exercise and then they’ll consider your feelings or respect your bodies. Society demands transgender bodies look like cis bodies and then they’ll consider you a “real woman” or a “real man.”
Quenby writes that internalized fatphobia made it hard to realize that they’re trans.
For me, this discomfort in my body didn’t make me realise I was trans. As a fat person I’d internalised that I should be disgusted by my body; the idea that I could ever feel comfortable in my skin was laughable to me.
While writing this, I came across a 2016 romance novel called The Thin Person Inside; the publisher’s description includes this screamingly awful sentence: “Sean thinks it’s tragic that a pretty girl is trapped inside such a huge body.” It would take a team of academics a month to unpack everything wrong with that sentence.
While Becky was working on this cartoon, I doodled some suggested body language options for a figure in panel four. I think I was putting off doing some work I actually needed to do, but I had fun.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same scene: Two women on a sidewalk talking to each other. They’re standing in front of a storefront. Posters on the storefront read “Peace, Mindfulness, a smaller BUTT” and “YOGA – Because YOU could be BENDIER.”
The woman on the left is fat. She has reddish-brown hair, tied loosely on top, and is wearing a green blouse with a floral pattern paired with a brown skirt and low-heeled boots. Let’s call her FLOWERS.
The woman on the right is thin. She has blonde hair, cut just above the shoulders, is wearing a purple tank top and blue capris, and is carrying a rolled-up yoga mat strapped to her back. Let’s call her MAT.
Flower is talking on her cell phone, looking annoyed as she tells a story, one fist on her hip. Mat, overhearing, eagerly jumps in, one finger raised high.
FLOWER: My doctor gave me this total sales pitch for bariatric surgery. I told her “hell no.”
MAT: Surgery to make you thinner? You should do it!
Flower lowers her phone, calm but annoyed. Mat keeps on cheerfully explaining, her hands held in front of her, palms-up, in classic “explaining hands” gesture.
FLOWER: Excuse me?
MAT: Why be stuck with your body, when doctors can fix it? You’ll be so much happier!
Flower puts the hand holding the cell phone on her hip, and makes a negatory “stop” gesture with her other hand. Mat rolls her eyes and holds her hands in front of her in an “all right, all right, I give up” gesture. (There are so many hand gestures! Seriously, I use them all the time, and Becky does too – everyone in our comics talks with their hands.)
FLOWER: I’m fine with my weight. Okay?
MAT: Sigh. Okay.
Flower talks, for the first time looking eager and happy. Mat looks horrified. Both of them make appropriate palms-up gestures.
FLOWER: What I asked for is gender confirmation surgery.
MAT: Gasp! NO!! You can’t let doctors mutilate your sacred body!