Flesh, Fat, and Fantasy
Wilson Barbers reports on his FA workshop

Last fall, this writer was privileged to preside over a pair of workshops for Fat Admirers at the Midwest Regional Conference of NAAFA. The first of these, "FA Fact and Fantasy," was a look at the themes and popularity of fat admirer fantasy. I've been writing and dissecting these things for over ten years now (Dimensions #38 and 50 contain some earlier ruminations of mine on the matter), but I'd never been in a room full of other male FAs discussing the topic.

The prospect of doing this was both exhilarating and anxiety inducing. Isn't often that I get to talk about this stuff with more than one person at a time. Would the discussion be as free-flowing and non-judgmental as I hoped? Or would I come out of it feeling like some irredeemable reprobate?

The experience, thankfully, turned out to be positive. Eight men were in attendance, and every one of them seemed grateful for the chance to talk about their fantasies. Most FA workshops tend to focus on the external picture - what's the FA role in NAAFA? How can admirer and admiree get along? - but this was something more internal and private.

Privacy can be a core issue here. As a fiction newsletter editor, I know of more than one FA reader who has kept their enjoyment of my fiction hidden from wives and lovers. At the same time, I know readers who have shared such fantasies as a form of foreplay. The pages of Dimensions have had repeated debates about the roots and subtext of FA fantasies. While some folks clearly enjoy them, others find them troubling.

So what are FA fantasies? For the purpose of my workshop, I defined them as stories that celebrate fatness, frequently in exaggerated fashion. Some of the components of this peculiar little sub-genre are fat-positive settings, loving descriptions of fat bodies and food, and - most controversial of all - weight gain. The feeder fantasy is a subset of this form, but not all weight gain fiction is automatically feeder fiction.

I'm wary of attempts at broadly categorizing any group of people. I opened my workshop, in fact, with the following disclaimer: "Anything that I talk about will be, first and foremost, taken from my own experience. So if we differ significantly, feel free to pipe up!" But among those in attendance that day, there was a certain uniformity of opinion that I now offer as a means of showing how one small group of male FAs felt about the subject at least.

Among the areas of commonality that I discovered were a similar set of childhood images. FAs hooked on fantasy seem to remember the same cartoons: a thirties Warner Bros. cartoon, for instance, entitled "Pigs Is Pigs" was a familiar item to everyone. (To those with less reason to recall this particular gem, it depicts the dream of a food hungry boy pig and includes a cartoony force feeding sequence.) Moments from comic strips and books (e.g., "Li'l Abner," which had weight related stories almost yearly from the beginning of the mid-fifties) were also common currency. Mention any of these, and you saw the whole group start nodding and smiling.

Skip ahead into early adolescence, and you come across other prevalent stories: the FA teen who takes "before and after" ad photos from the Sunday supplements and reverses them, for instance, received a lot of knowing nods. (In that single moment, perhaps, is FA fantasy apotheosized.) Like much adolescent sexual expression, this sort of expression is typically kept under wraps, particularly since the young FA doesn't have peers to share it with.

This fact got me considering the secretive nature of much adult FA fantasy: there are those who'd like to see all expressions of it closeted, but then they weren't attending my workshop. (As if I expected them to be...) Still, there's an underground cachet to the fantasy that may be a part of its allure for some FAs. Consider the durability of mail order newsletters like the feeder title Belly Busters. Does its existence speak to the popularity of clandestine fantasy or to the insatiable nature of the FA audience?

Bringing this question to my workshop guests, I found them ready to take a good fantasy wherever they can find it. Most FAs have had to seek out fat friendly material all their lives, which probably has made them more amenable to outlets like mail order or computer postings. They generally seem unimpressed by any underground labels, though.

This background information considered, we then come to weight gain fantasy itself. As currently written, it can generally be classed as two types: "magical" (or pseudo-scientific) and feeder fiction. In magical fiction, weight gain may occur either voluntarily or otherwise, but it is not necessarily related to, food intake. Feeder fiction, however, posits a relationship between two lovers that revolves around one feeding the other to super size and beyond. Of the two forms, it is the most polarizing.

Much of the reaction against feeder fiction appears to come from anecdotal tales of FAs who've unwisely attempted to force this fantasy on unwilling partners. While there's little risk of this occurring with the magical fantasy (though I did once get a letter from a reader who wrote that he was looking for a real weight gain spell), the feeder story is just close enough to real life to make some readers uncomfortable. And as more than one writer has pointed out, there's a sado-masochistic dynamic in feeder fiction which some folks see as incompatible with the ideals of size acceptance.

Too, most feeder fiction is clearly predicated on the stereotypical notion that all fat people are that way solely from overeating. This is an idea that the size acceptance moment has been countering for years, so you can understand why some activists see the form as anathema to the movement. I'm leery of the line that accepts "overeating" as a negative character mark, though. It smacks too much of the prudery that condemns all forms of fantasy in the first place.

But where did our workshop stand? Squarely on the side of weight gain with or without "realistic" plot mechanics. To them, the prime element of FA fantasy is fatness - and more of it - but the specifics of getting there aren't a major concern. This may be disheartening to us wordsmiths who labor to piece together a convincing fantasy, but I suspect that the prime audience for that level of craftwork is only the author, anyway.

So what about those sadomasochistic story elements that crop up even in magical fiction? Our group was more divided on this topic. While reacting against the s-and-m label, they admitted in some cases to enjoying fiction where a character grows to sizes that force them to become dependent on another. This was not a scenario that they really cared to live, but it remained a potent fantasy.

My own theory is that sadomasochism remains an inextricable part of most American genre fiction, in part because the creators of same share the same feelings of powerlessness that their readers have. Like misogynist elements in pornography, these elements recur because the fiction itself is so naked and because our common language is so limited. Look up all the synonyms for "fat" in your thesaurus, for example, and you'll find a good portion of them are pejorative. It's difficult to write a reasonable length story without having to reclaim some of these loaded descriptors.

Why do FAs enjoy weight gain fiction in the first place? No one at my workshop had a single answer, though part of it may lie in one member's statement that he enjoyed reading about the biggest women imaginable. To reach that ideal requires a process of transformation. Weight gain in this light becomes another variation on the Pygmalion story.

When dealing with the "biggest women imaginable," there are only two ways you can practically describe them. In magical stories, you frequently get women (and men) still capable of moving around mega-sized - it's often a plot point that their mobility has not been hampered by their miraculous change. But "realistic" fiction can only give us characters at the largest possible sizes who've lost mobility as a consequence.

Is this immobility a by-product of the fantasy or a significant component? Again, this was an area where members of my workshop differed. Some saw it as just one descriptive element; others as something more. Still others preferred to see that aspect of the fantasy ignored, as so many other mundane facts of life are ignored in fantasy.

There were other facets of FA fantasy that I wanted to explore with the group: the emphasis on domesticity and old-fashioned man/woman relationships that you see in so much of the fiction, for instance. Our workshop ended with only a few questions incompletely answered - and even more questions aired. But it made one thing clear. The audience for FA fantasy may share common experiences, but it differs in many important areas, often where outsiders are the most judgmental.

So are the readers of FA fantasy all irredeemable reprobates? Well, the attendees at my workshop looked normal to me, but then I write this stuff, so I'm hardly the most objective source. This much is obvious: FA fantasy remains a potent genre for many fat admirers. What's needed are more opportunities like this workshop - where FAs and others are given leeway to discuss the subject without hysteria or name-calling. ß

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