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Natalie Perkins is an artist, activist, and all-around fancy lady who lives in Australia and creates amazing things with a stunning consistency. She is the force behind this marvelous "Fat" necklace, for one example, and has most recently embarked on a project called Fat Babes Illustrated, in which Natalie hopes to address the gaps in our concepts of both what is beautiful and what is normal. I asked her some questions about it, and she happily obliged.
Tell me about the fat babe illustrations, and how they came to be. What inspired you to do this project?
In the last few years as "social image curating" has emerged on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest, I've noticed that the same kind of bodies are reblogged, pinned, liked and generally seen as aspirational. It's the same kind of body that is seen in magazines, whether in advertising or in editorials or whatever, as well as on TV and in movies. In the western pop culture I am exposed to, this normalised body is white, thin, able bodied, cisgendered and heterosexual.
I am curious as to why, when we Internet users start becoming curators and even content producers (as writers, illustrators, photographers, etc.), we stick to this normalised body, because I know that as a fat femme human I have always wanted to see more representation of ME! And of other awesome humans who aren't represented. I came to a point where I realised that even though I wanted to see more visibility of a diverse range of humans, I as an illustrator had basically just been drawing white people. Upon investigating that, I realised my education in art had been skewed toward only making the normalised body the subject.
I put out a call to people on Tumblr and asked if they'd like to submit an outfit photo of themselves so I could draw them, to practice drawing bodies that aren't represented. I especially wanted to create illustrations of people of colour, because I have never been taught to draw or paint a skin colour other than white.
My idea at the beginning was to just keep churning out illustrations when I could, to produce a diversity of representations that might float around the Internet being reblogged, and liked and just made visible.
You're no stranger to drawing fat ladies. Why do you dig this particular subject so much?
I am a fat lady and I like fat bodies. I think about fatness all the time, even before I was introduced to ideas about fat acceptance I was super in to following the lines of fat life models with my eye, then my pencil. It always felt like my hand was lighter, more free when I could make sweeping curves that butt up against other curves.
You're also the creator of the Internet-famous "Fat" necklace, and the "Does My Fat Arse Look Fat in This?" T-shirt that Lane Bryant's Twitter person derided not long ago. What's your take on the variety of responses to your work?
I am really quite amazed at the reaction to my fat necklace. I get messages from people who tell me they wore their necklace somewhere and felt like a badass and I feel so chuffed, I can't even put it in to words. When people thank me, I feel sheepish. I do this work for me too, it feels wrong accepting praise!
When the Lane Bryant drama happened, all I could do was giggle. They (and pretty much every other major plus size retailer) don't get this radical uprising of fat self-identification. It'd be nice if they did. Even though I blog about my outfits and fatshion, I'm kind of a dark horse in the "plus size blogger" sphere because these retailers know I won't be rushing in with effusive praise; in fact I am more likely to critique the plus size fashion retailers than to promote, and I am definitely too political for them to tack a "Real women have curves blargh vomit" tagline on me.
How does your art factor into your activism? Fat women are not always real visible as positive or powerful subjects in everyday life — do you think your art helps to counteract that invisibility?
I want to make my body more visible, and I definitely blog and take outfit photos as well as draw to increase visibility but I feel a bit intimidated when I think about the notion of counteracting invisibility. It's a ridiculously scary, sometimes futile experience trying to say, "HEY! I'm here too!"
Making fat visible is something I am way into, but I don't really have any lofty aspirations that I can topple fat stigma and invisibility just through my pen. That's why I am really passionate about encouraging other people to draw, write and take photos of themselves if they want to, so all our seemingly small acts of representation can join together to do the counteracting. But it shouldn't just be on the invisible to make themselves visible too -- I think visible people, those who have degrees of privilege, need to think about how they can lend visibility (a voice, a page, a stage, a photo...) where it is desperately needed.