Why Fat Mutual Aid?

In this current era of environmental crises, pandemics, and the visibility of community efforts to care for each other, I want to address fat-specific mutual aid. I’m speaking here mostly to fat people, but I think these ideas are also important for all those doing mutual aid projects in communities where there are fat people, which is everywhere.

I’ve noticed that fat people are often excluded from community mutual aid efforts (e.g. lack of awareness and/or care about fat risks or access needs). I’ve also seen that fat people can be targeted by mutual aid efforts in dangerous, fat-hating ways (e.g. “food justice” projects that focus on fat kids losing weight). 

Many people, including folks on the left where mutual aid has become popular, have not questioned the dominant narrative that says fat people are to blame for our fatness, and that fatness should be eradicated. This results in a culture of shaming, neglect, mistreatment, surveillance and punishment toward fat people that can be isolating and deadly. 

Fat people, disabled people, and other folks often pushed to the margins need to be part of community organizing and mutual aid just like everyone else. We are not disposable. 

Fat people have the best wisdom about surviving and living fat life. We need each other to survive. There are fat people joining together who are doing a lot to care for each other — personal care, resource sharing, emotional support, community organizing, advocacy, providing fat liberated-zones for each other. 

And, I am still dreaming of a world in which our lives are considered important beyond our silos. Many fat people are isolated. Fat people are left to die in disasters (both hurricanes Katrina and Sandy saw this). I want a world with such strong solidarity, and fat and crip liberated community mutual aid that these murders would be impossible. 


What is Mutual Aid?

Mutual Aid is people working together democratically to figure out how to meet each other’s needs, while also organizing against the oppressive systems that are creating or exacerbating the needs. 

Mutual Aid is, by definition, revolutionary. Caring for each other is a threat to established society. The state doesn’t care for us and it will not save us. Mutual aid is about survival, working together, and building solidarity and collective power to dismantle oppressive systems and build the world we want. 

If we dream of a world in which all beings are cherished, practicing mutual aid is one way to start embodying that world. If our mutual aid efforts are really going to be part of movement building and world changing, they need to include fat and disabled people. 

Many communities have been practicing mutual aid forever. And the forces of white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and other oppressive systems have for generations been working to disempower us: severing our connections to each other, to the land, to our own bodies. Mutual aid is a way to uncover what we know deep in our bones — that survival and connection and belonging are our earth rights.


What is Fat Mutual Aid? 

When I think about fat mutual aid, I think first about fat people supporting each other, and how vital this is and has been to our survival and wellbeing. I doubt I would be alive without the fat people who have cared for me. 

Fat people, especially politicized fat people, have taught me how to live in the fat body I have, how to care for my fat self, how to navigate the fat-hating world and how to fight for fat liberation. Fat people provide empathy and outrage when I deal with anti-fatness, and celebration when I experience fat joy. Fat people help me feel less alone. Fat people show me what’s possible. 

All of this is mutual aid. 

Here are some recent, concrete examples I’ve seen of activities that I think could be called “fat mutual aid,” because they are mutual aid efforts that include and meet the needs of fat people. Most of these occurred in fat liberation community.

  • A fundraiser for a fat, disabled person who needs a scooter
  • Support when a fat person is sick
  • Connecting with fat folks who are isolated
  • A fat clothing swap/giveaway/benefit sale
  • Organizing or offering fat/crip-accessible housing
  • Organizing fat/crip communities targeted for denial of care during a pandemic
  • A gathering of fat folks sharing fat hygiene wisdom
  • Showing up for the family of a fat person killed by police
  • Supporting a fat person with house tasks 
  • Sharing and nurturing joy with fat folks
  • Finding generators and batteries for folks who need electricity to power CPAPs, ventilators and other medical devices during a wildfire season power shutoff
  • Checking in on other fat folks during emergencies 
  • Sharing tools and resources that support fat bodies
  • Supporting a fat person to deal with their fat-hating family
  • Witnessing, listening, emotional support
  • Planning a fundraiser for superfat folks who need clothes
  • Fat folks cooking together, or for each other
  • Supporting fat elders, fat crips, fat youth…
  • Bringing a friend to a medical appointment to provide witness, solidarity and advocacy
  • Sharing personal care: foot care, washing, skin care, hair cuts
  • Giving a fat person an accessible car ride

Some of these are examples of fat people connecting with each other. But not all of them. Fat mutual aid can and often does include the non-fat people in our lives. 

Fat people are everywhere, in every community. Our lives and experiences are inseparable from the world, and determined by all the other, intertwined aspects of our existence  — race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and more. In addition to our own efforts to support each other, we need the support of allies, and we need to be supported as fat people within the contexts of our whole, diverse communities. We need our experiences to be heard and respected. We need our lives to be valued, in the bodies we have now. We need this revolution to abolish fat hatred and ableism.


Fat Mutual Aid Pods

An important way to access the kind of mutual aid we need is to create a group, or “pod,”  that’s focused on it. A “pod” is a small  group of people who self-organize to provide support to each other in whatever ways they mutually agree to. 

A few examples of pods:

  • A natural disaster mutual aid pod that prepares for and deals with emergencies together.
  • A COVID pod who all agree to protect each other from infection.
  • A mutual aid pod that comes together in response to a person’s or group’s specific or general needs
  • A transformative justice pod, meant to support someone who has been harmed, or to support accountability for someone who has caused harm. (introduced by Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC)
  • An organizing pod, more often called an “affinity group,” that does direct action together.

One example of a fat mutual aid pod: all members are fat, long-term friends. The group shares information, emotional support, witnessing, fun, food, cooking, medicine, CPAPs, money and other resources, foot care, haircuts, skin care, checking on each other, healthcare advocacy, housing, rides… Members of the pod have different needs at different times, and the pod members seek and offer support as needed. 

Some of the support mentioned in this example involves trust and an understanding of each other’s access needs, or “access intimacy” (a term from Mia Mingus). These relationships will take time to develop if people don’t know each other well from the start. That’s ok! 

You don’t need to be coupled or partnered to be in a pod. Let’s debunk the myth that the only place we can build trust and intimacy is in the context of a sexual relationship. 

If your mutual aid pod includes people who aren’t fat, there may need to be more trust building and education about fat bodies, anti-fatness and the specific needs and abilities of the fat folks in the pod. It’s important that your pod be curious about you and your needs, and that you develop enough trust in the group that you can share honestly what your needs are. 

Sometimes as fat people we might be reluctant to ask for or receive help, especially from folks who aren’t fat or explicitly in support of fat people. We have received lifetimes of blame, shaming, and abuse for our fat bodies. It’s no surprise that we might not feel safe acknowledging or exposing our needs. It takes time to build trust. 


Getting Started with Fat Mutual Aid

1. When you think about fat mutual aid, what do you need? And what can you offer?

2. Who’s in your pod? Start by thinking about the people closest to you and what skills, resources and care you can offer each other. Check out “Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid” — by Rebel Sidney Black, who offers a good example of how to map the people and groups in your life using the BATJC map style.

You may already be part of a pod, or something like a pod — a care team or affinity group or a group of friends or kin or other kind of community. In my experience, one advantage of actually naming it something (whether “pod” or something else) is that it can create space for conversations about what we each want or need, as well as to get explicit about shared intentions, expectations, boundaries, and agreements.

3. Follow this conversation and connect with other fat mutual aid organizers over at @fatmutualaid on Instagram

Shout out to the fatties, crips, fat liberation, disability justice and BIPOC communities for sharing so much wisdom about how we can survive by connecting with each other. 

Stay tuned for more.


Resources

DOWNLOAD the ZINE that contains this article, along with extra illustrations, “Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid,” and a Pod Map Template.

[PDF for Screen Viewing]

[PDF for Printing]

Abolish Time (Estelle Ellison)

Access Intimacy, Interdependence and Disability Justice (Mia Mingus)

Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness (Da’Shaun L. Harrison)

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha)

Cripping the Resistance: No Revolution Without Us (Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, post at Disability Visibility

How Disabled Mutual Aid is Different Than Abled Mutual Aid (Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, post at Disability Visibility

Insurrectionary Mutual Aid (Curious George Brigade)

Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) (Dean Spade)

Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid (Rebel Sidney Black)

Pods and Pod Mapping Worksheet (Mia Mingus and BATJC)

POOR Magazine