In her autobiographical show, Greenall explores the experience of living in a body that the world tells you there's no room for
'How old were you when you first came out?' This is a question posed on the podcast of This American Life, but it's not about sexuality – it's referring to calling yourself fat.
Coming out as fat may seem a little jarring to some; however, being a fat person in an inherently fat-phobic world means saying it can be difficult. Katie Greenall, who is debuting her solo autobiographical show Fatty Fat Fat, says she never used to say the word. 'Up until I made this show, I never referred to myself as a fat person and it wasn't something I necessarily felt comfortable doing.'
The episode of the podcast, 'Tell Me I'm Fat', featured Lindy West, author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, a central figure in the current fat acceptance movement in the US, who discussed why society needs to rethink its views on fat bodies. This is what Greenall wants to do with her show in the UK. 'It's about me and my body and what it's like to live in a body that the world tells you there's no room for.' She's firm on her purpose, 'A fat body being on stage and taking up space publicly is a political act.'
Fatty Fat Fat is based on personal anecdotes Greenall collected about her body throughout her life, experiences she didn't realise not everyone had. 'I began to tell them as amusing anecdotes when I was at drama school and I'd get halfway through them and people would be like, "that's really sad"'. The show also mixes in more interactive moments (she opens with the hit 'Cha Cha Slide') that comment on the wider fat activist movement and poetic sections that reflect where she's at on her journey.
credit: Grace Ludlam
Greenall also realised her body was unfairly treated when she found herself being type-cast.'I was bored with that and I was also really bored with feeling ashamed,' she says. As a way to subvert this, she started to tap into other artists who were making work in the fat acceptance movement. 'I was like, I want to do that too! I want this to be something I can reclaim and qualify for me.'
She makes it clear, though, that she doesn't tap into the body positivity movement, which has been accused of using a capitalist agenda to celebrate thinness. 'I want to challenge the status quo in moving against this whole body positivity thing that's like: "Congratulations you love yourself despite your tiny fat roll when you bend over". I'm more interested in fat activism and how I can challenge people's ideas on what fat bodies can do.'
Media campaigns like Cancer Research's obesity ads and the Nike plus-size mannequin controversy have stirred up heated debate in recent times, prompting arguments around the complex factors that contribute to people's weight issues and whether their opinions are being adequately taken into account. 'I talk a lot about how other people's opinions have changed the way I view my body so that people have a better understanding of how the little things they say matter,' says Greenall.
The stigmatisation of fat people is why she believes it's so important to use the word. 'People shy away from the word fat because we're fed narratives across the media and are told to be scared of bodies like mine. It's simply a descriptive word, just like anything else, and if we refuse to acknowledge it or give it this – pardon the pun – weight that it doesn't have, we're continuing the idea that it's something to be scared of'.
So say after me: Fatty Fat Fat. Greenall is not just performing a show, she's performing a radical act; one that sticks a middle finger up to society's expectations, puts fat bodies front and centre, and does the 'Cha Cha Slide' while she's at it.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 Aug, 3.15pm, £8–£10 (£7–£9).