Written by Reese Leyva
The Poetess Heart is a series of articles dedicated to women writers of poetry
and their poetic explorations into girlhood, womanhood, and femininity.
I recently discovered Rachel Wiley’s work through Button Poetry and their release of her performance “The Fat Joke,” a piece modified from Wiley’s poem “Fat Joke” as published in her newest poetry collection, Nothing is Okay.
Toward the beginning of the poem, Wiley writes, “Patient walks into the doctor’s office,” using an easily recognizable setup to a joke. She goes on to unleash an intimate and passionate exploration into the experience of being a person defined by his/her weight, so much so that being fat becomes more than a social detriment – it’s a damning diagnosis.
Being “fat” means others see your body as the cause of all your suffering. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a muscle ache or a spider bite: the problem is you’re fat, and the only solution is, “Don’t be.” What’s worse is showing any indication that you’re thriving as a fat person – boasting a healthy blood pressure, for example – makes you an abnormality, a medical impossibility. “You obviously can’t enjoy healthy blood pressure, because you’re fat.”
At the end of the poem, the speaker faces a world that demands she be thin and suggests weight loss surgery, side effects be damned. Excerpted below are the final lines of the poem as printed in Nothing is Okay.
Fat Joke (an excerpt)
By Rachel Wiley
Despite all of this, Fat Girl still
manages to love her fat body
World says, “Stop glorifying
Fat girl walks up to the World, says,
“I do not owe you shrinking,
know. I do not owe you thinness,
attempted thinness, or desired
thinness because you assume
thinness equals health. I do not
health, perceived or otherwise,
to receive basic respect. I am
deserving of existence. I am
deserving of care. I am deserv-
ing of first
no harm done.”
“That is the best joke we’ve heard
These lines frequently compel me to ponder not only my personal body image but my deepest insecurities, as well: insecurities which threaten my right to exist and unfettered judgments which dictate how deserving others are of my basic respect.
They force me to consider the ways I modify and curb my behavior in order to survive and be accepted by whomever will accept me. Then I begin to wonder, ‘To whom do I owe these modifications of myself, the contortions and distortions, fake smiles and stifled cries, the flatter tummy, gentler words, and the hardening of my softness or softening of my rage?’
I also think, ’How often have I judged another based on weight – their thinness or fatness? Their attractiveness? Their height, wealth, or eloquence? How did I treat them based on my presuppositions? How much of my care, kindness, respect, and compassion did I withhold because they didn’t jump through enough hoops to satisfy my expectations?’
How do you feel about the fat parts of you? The thin parts of you?
How do you judge yourself and others based on shape, size, or weight?
How do you use your size, weight, or looks as a source of power? As a reason for shrinking?
Call upon the poetess inside, and join me in this exploration by writing a poem based on the phrase below:
SHRINK NO MORE
Fitting into the boxes society hands you isn’t your responsibility any more than it’s others’ responsibility to fit into the boxes you give them. Consider this, and the above questions, as you write. Unleash your fury and frustrations, or coax your tender insecurities out into the light of acceptance. And if you haven’t watched Riley’s passionate performance, please do so. I’m confident it will inspire you.
If you’re willing, please share your poem on Instagram with the tags #thepoetessheart and #shrinknomore. You can also message the poem directly to @reese.leyva. I’ll be reading and celebrating selected poems on an upcoming Her Heart Poetry live show. Stay tuned for details!