Sunday, July 8, 2012

silly, but I liked it

I like the silly, disconsolate fruit. Especially the star fruit.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evelyn Waugh to Diana Cooper

. . . [he] lost 1-1/2 stone. Well that is a lot for a shortish man. It will all come back and depress him much more. The craving for leanness is one of the nastiest of America's contributions to modern folly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Venus of Cupertino the name of an iPad docking station by artist and digital sculptor Scott Eaton. Check it the heck out! Put 'em on the glass!

t-shirt, on actual human

Looks good!
From this Tumblr. T-shirts can be ordered here.

I was just a skinny lad

Roger Taylor's lapel at the 1976 launch of Queen's A Day at the Races:

Argument persists about the real fat girl national anthem; for me it's probably this. Rise to my feet and salute when the harmonies start.

By the way, it turns out it's "dem dirty ladies," not "lardy ladies," as this image in Flavorwire cleared up last year. Check out Freddie's hand-written lyrics:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Uh, Ashley?

Many women I know have reposted the Ashley Judd piece in The Daily Beast in which she takes the media to task for pouncing all over changes in her face due to steroids and attributing them to whatever wild range of judgements about her life they felt like. I'm glad Judd wrote it and happy to see it get so much attention.

I can't help remembering, though, her involvement in her sister Wynonna Judd's bizarre and boundary-less public discussions of her weight, which started with a couple episodes of Oprah in 2003-2004 that made my skin crawl. Their family "finally" (their word) talked about Wynonna's Weight--on TV, in a weird quandrangulated Oprah-led discussion, a few months after Wynonna broke down about it in Oprah's office (also on TV). The episode with her family as I remember it (it was eight years ago) was humiliating and attention-seeking all at once, a kind of public apology and excoriation for her size, the Oprah show clearly the perfect place to find complicity in all the shame. These discussions were just one example of how this family overshares in the media, and Wynonna, who instigated the Oprah chaos, has gone on to overshare about her weight (loss, gain) for years since. But those shows felt especially grotesque.

Ashley said on Oprah about her sister at the time:
Her current effort [to lose weight] is different because of how deeply she's investigating the roots of her extra weight and why all those previous efforts did fail. I think that doing it publicly with Oprah as her supporter will be really helpful. I hope that I've made it clear over the years, I love her however she is, as long as she's healthy.
That last line there is the usual sop in these situations, and stands in for the unending world of judgement that fat people experience. I'll love you as long as you're healthy--with the unspoken end of the sentence: but as long as you're fat you're not.

That is--would there really have been a show if Wynonna had been struggling with eating disorders but "normal"-sized? "Healthy"--how we understand "healthy"--is why people will not see the public shaming in Wynonna's case as the same as Ashley's. Because being fat is a mandate for public disapproval, it's okay to be up somebody's ass about it. To put it another way, fat people deserve whatever criticism they get for their puffy faces, because it's their own fault.

The fact that what Ashley Judd wrote is garnering so much attention is great. It's extremely pleasing to see her take one day, one set of observations (which I wish had been quoted in context, rather than restated in Judd's voice--it undercut the power of the piece), compare them, and point out the absurdity of it all--call the media out on its crap. I just think it's interesting who women listen to about these things--and how--and who they don't. As she rightly says in her Beast article, the constant public conversation about women’s bodies "affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Spock has a shop!

I noticed that Leonard Nimoy has a new lil stand-alone internet shop, and that in it he is selling, in addition to his books of photography, a t-shirt with an image from his Full Body Project on it. What can I say, I still get a kick out of seeing Spock with the fatties on him. Pretty neato (and great photo choice for a t-shirt).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

one seat

Like many women in downtown Chicago, I seek gynecological care in a building that houses the Playboy offices. The sight of so many pregnant women tottering back and forth beneath the shiny chrome PLAYBOY sign in the lobby always cracks me up. There is a pretty constant stream of women, usually slender women (this is a swanky part of the city) with pregnancy-related deviations from the thin woman profile--a belt tied higher than normal over a swelling belly--on their way to the banks of elevators under its benediction. It's a busy place.

I walked into a doctor's waiting room in that building recently and suddenly remembered--oh, right. This room. I am not in that waiting room very often anymore, and I had forgotten that it was one where I had lobbied for years for more accommodating seating.

The room has maybe 30 unusually narrow wooden chairs, with arms, placed closely together, the same ones there have always been. But there is also now a love seat, upholstered in some mid-90s hotel pattern, the result (I was told) of all the comment cards I filled out, over and over, full of underlinings and exclamation points, pointing out the lack of seating for people of size.

At the point in my life in which I was in that waiting room a lot I had back problems and terrible mobility. Standing was even harder than walking, and it was horrible to know that after I had struggled painfully down the hall to the office there would be more urgent distress instead of relief. None of the narrow chairs fit me. It was a frantic feeling to be in so much pain while people around me were nominally relaxed. It was humiliating. I often felt like I wouldn't make it.

I am a resourceful, wide-hipped fatty, willing to advocate for myself with regard to seating as necessary, without too much apology or defensive anger most (not all) of the time, but the message implicit in that room--unintended, but very clear--got me down sometimes. Sometimes it got me down a lot. I was not welcome. I know my doctor didn't mean to say that to me, but she did. Her waiting room did.

I would "stand" by the receptionist, sweating with pain, holding myself up by leaning gracelessly against the wall, hard, making (I'm sure) weird facial expressions to deal with the effort, feeling conspicuous and angry and embarrassed. I was in an office attending to the demands of the human body, but when you got down to it, there was nowhere for mine in it. Without being in a wheelchair, which was a line I guess I wasn't willing to cross, I had no way to make do. They had even gotten rid of the stool-like end tables that I would sometimes commandeer for myself, startled patients watching me sweep the brochures off them as I plopped down as discreetly as I could.

So I grit my teeth and sweated, and I wrote and I wrote my frustrations on comment cards and told the nurses and the doctors about the problem every time I was there. I was really mad about the big issue here. I mentioned all the other people besides me who could use better seating, talking about the demands of pregnant women and the elderly and feeling frustrated that in my ears that sometimes sounded more convincing than my own needs. Eventually the fugly love seat arrived. Eventually I regained my mobility too, after a lot of rehab and work. Eventually I wasn't in that doctor's office as much.

When I entered the waiting room this time there was a couple sitting on the love seat, their limbs tangled casually together, texting on their cellphones and looking very comfortable. They were the opposite of the image of a nervous couple waiting for the doctor. There was nobody else in the waiting room, just rows of empty chairs.

After checking in and hanging up my coat I went to stand in a somewhat out of the way spot in the waiting room. The one seat that could fit me was filled, and well-used, I thought, by this couple able to relax together on the seat a little and feel comfortable before a doctor's visit, and not by somebody who, for instance, just wanted a cushy seat for her purse, whom I might ask to give me her space. So that was that. The seat was theirs. I would be standing for the duration.

Social behaviors in a doctor's waiting room are very narrowly defined. You are a patient, companion of patient, or medical professional. That's it. You're either waiting, going in, or leaving. You are required to look like you're waiting when you are, so staff knows what to make of you while doing their constant head counts--so other patients know how to categorize you. It's a kind of nervous place.

Standing looks weird in a waiting room. I was no longer fighting the humiliation of physical pain while I did it, but it was born in upon me as I stood there that it didn't matter, that I was exactly as out of place as I had been five years ago, just a little less sweaty. The new seat--the seat I had agitated for--hadn't really changed anything. I wondered if I looked like a nerdy soldier afraid to be at ease, or maybe a neurotic afraid of chair germs. Or maybe it looked like I had to stand for a bad back. The couple glanced at me in confusion a few times but basically ignored me. I was willing to stand, but I wondered as they looked away--why did they think I would want to? The math was really clear--you look at me, you look at the wooden chairs--

I could feel the familiar anger and upset swelling in me, whether I wanted it to or not, including that deep-down frustration that nobody but me knew what was happening. Didn't I have a right to sit down? Didn't I have a right to sit down without having to make a big fuss about it and inconvenience other people? I didn't want to have to ask, I didn't want to have to bug these people. I didn't want to involve them in my needs at all. I didn't want to take anything away from them. But I would have to if I needed to sit. I could feel my adrenaline rise as I imagined interacting with them. It was all really close to the surface.

As I grew more agitated inside, I also grew increasingly aware in a very familiar way that my claim on the chair, if I got it, would be temporary. Under siege. Even though I needed the seat more than these people at the moment, there could easily be somebody else who needed the seat more than I. A nursing woman with a child. An older person unable to maneuver the wooden chairs with the sharp corners. A person with a broken leg who needed to put their leg up. Somebody bigger than I. Where were we going to all sit?  Whose seat was it? I needed that seat. What if somebody who Didn't Need It came in and sat in it before I had to chance to? What if someone determined I didn't need it and asked me for it? What if somebody yelled at me that the seat was for two people, not one? The less I wanted to obsess about the seat, the more I did. I was in a relationship with it other people couldn't see. Other patients came into the waiting room and sat in the wooden chairs, giving me quick looks as I stood there like an idiot, protecting myself nonetheless. I tried hard to not feel anger at the relaxed happiness of the couple, but that was eroding too.

After about 15-20 minutes they were called in by the nurse for their appointment, and I quickly sat on the couch in their place, wishing I could feel less desperate about it. Unlike the years when I could barely stand, it wasn't the end of physical agony, but that didn't really matter. It was still too important.

I rolled my eyes at the departing couple's backs (yes, I did this), even though they'd done nothing wrong other than maybe not wonder why a woman was standing in a room full of chairs. I was pissed by the ignominious "fight" in my head for what was in the end just a chair. It all felt dumb. And it suddenly felt odd, as it always does, to have been a big deal, once I was in a seat that fit me. A seat that fits--that's not so weird, is it?

There is unintended meaning everywhere in this man-made, physical world as a fat person. There are lines and limits drawn everywhere other people don't see, of which we are excruciatingly aware. There are limits for a lot of people in this world, to which I can speak with less (or no) personal experience. Whether differently abled, or large, or short, or deaf, or one of innumerable things that aren't taken into account--this world isn't built for all of us. ADA rules have changed some things (for fat people too), but not everything. A lot of times the world feels pretty blithely unconcerned with accessibility. Years of serious mobility issues will never let me take that for granted again. Being large won't let me either.

I am more and more interested as I get older in the ways in which spaces make decisions for us--millions of decisions, good and bad, deep in people's lives--especially for those of us whose accessibility needs are our "own fault" and therefore looked at less straight-on, by designers and by ourselves, but exist regardless. What about fat people who won't even try engaging with public spaces--won't try to fly, won't risk new environments, won't try public transportation? Spaces make decisions for people. A lot of other things do too, but we underestimate how much our relationship with the edges of the spaces we occupy affect us. That waiting room is not the only place, not by a long shot, where I have nowhere to sit.

Or, I should say--where I have just one place to sit. I am really glad there is a love seat in my doctor's office. There are a lot of people who really need that seat. But there needs to be more than one. I don't think we should should have to fight over it. The world, which is designed and built by us and for us (all of us), should fit us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

photo Tuesday (and how)


If you learn nothing else today, you will learn (if you didn't know already) how amazing open-work stockings look on fat girls.

Volup 2 is a new magazine from ex-pat American plus-sized model and photographer, Velvet d'Amour. As far as I can tell she had a hand in photographing and styling almost every shoot in all 300+ pages of Volup 2, which she describes as:
A bilingual English/French online quarterly magazine showcasing diverse beauty, with an emphasis on curvy women, and exploring the generosity of Mind, Body and Spirit.
D'Amour became famous when she was a 2006 Gaultier runway model and her continuing interest in fashion shows. That is, Volup 2 is a fashion mag--sort of. Fashion, clothes, bodies, makeup, locales. Femmey femme.

I really enjoyed seeing the eye of a fashion photographer brought to bear on fat bodies, and how fat bodies wear clothes, without the usual need to sculpt them with perspective into vague, largish constructions supporting acceptably unfat faces. Her camera is really looking at these plump--fat--thick--bodies. She really wants so know how they look in the clothes they're wearing. It's fun. I don't totally know how I feel about the naked black dude in one of the shoots, but in general I really loved this mag. Nice to see older women and a woman in a wheelchair, too. Often NSFW in delicious ways.

Stay Fatty and Carry On!

T-shirts for sale! White tees go to 5x; dark tees to 3x. Store at Zazzle to come shortly (white tees there go up to 6x).


What a lovely surprise, while reading a garden-variety health-related piece in a mainstream magazine (February 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living), this one concerning "The Truth Behind 10 Cholesterol Myths," to come upon a fact that sounded uniquely size-positive for the context. Although really what was so refreshing about it was that it was just information. Not presented as part of any system of thinking about size, not there for any other reason except to sell magazines (basically):

One of the very most worrisome things about size prejudice in the health media is that people DON'T GET THE RIGHT INFORMATION. They are prepped to not get it, or see it, by bigotry. Critics of size acceptance say that fat people are just looking for reasons to "excuse" being fat, or make it okay (let's sidebar that argument for the moment), but seriously--what about the thin person with really high cholesterol who gets a sense it doesn't matter due to the way the issue is sold in the media? Or doesn't check it at all, because they think they don't have to--that only the fatties have heart problems?

We go through this over and over with heart disease in America--everyone's all baffled and surprised when (for instance) a thin, long-time runner like David Letterman needs heart surgery despite major hereditary risks. We're pretty sure we can diagnose disease from looking at people. But that denies the complexities--and complications--of the human body. Whatever size it is.

Information is good. Good job, MStew. Very refreshing!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

These are double-sided, laminated bookmarks I made around the same time as the button, in the post below, I think (maybe 1999?). There was a template for them in my second 'zine and I still have a big pile of them. I used to slip them into diet books at the bookstore and under the flaps of boxes of diet products. Hee! Naughty. They are fun to carry with you when you are out and want to fight the power. Just a wee bit. With wee sliplets of revolution! I think I may start carrying these again.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This is a button I made & sold in conjunction with my first and second zines. I still wear it when I am in the mood, (already) feeling saucy, or feeling like feeling saucy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Weegee, c. 1948-1950.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stand Against Weight Bullying

I have been very happy the last couple weeks to donate my Photoshopping time to this project:

...which is one of the organized responses to the Strong4Life campaign in Georgia. It's a project that is trying to reduce rates of childhood obesity with "harsh" (their words) advertising showing chubby children in black and white photos staring sadly into the camera with fat-shaming slogans like: IT'S HARD TO BE A LITTLE GIRL WHEN YOU AREN'T.

That one breaks my heart. How dare they say little fat girls aren't little girls. It's hard not to be mad and heartsick when you see advertising that recreates visually the worst of what it's like to be treated as a fat kid and then tells the kid it's their fault. Basically the campaign is an endorsement of fat prejudice.

I don't know that they're trying to do this--I don't know that they even see that they're doing this (well, now they probably do). I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt at the moment for no other reason that contemplating the opposite makes me exhausted, and note that truly, yea verily, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that like many organizations like this--organizations that make heavy-handed mistakes like this--they are probably passionately interested in the health of children. The problem--the dead-end--is tying health to size, full-stop, and working backwards from there. Good health--bad health--health is much more complicated than that. And why is there no concern for thin children who have health problems that may stem from their different diets? And is there anything about this project that would make a fat kid want to run around outside?

It seems like so many conflicts that the people promoting this and the people aghast at it are quite close together, as well as far apart, like the ends of an unclosed circle. If people could set aside the blindness that comes from fat prejudice, there is common ground here. We all want healthy, active kids.

So, the "I STAND" Tumblr and photos (called "STANDards") are one response to all this. They're fun, they're real, they're diverse, they're happy, and they are positive and focused on health. People are smiling! I really like that.

If you'd like to do one yourself email Marilyn Wann at with a photo and a short slogan that completes the phrase "I stand...".

Another response to Strong4Life is the fabulous Billboard Project run by Regan Chastain. The idea is to put up positive messages on billboards to counteract the message of Strong4Life in the Atlanta area. Fundraising for this project starts at midnight tonight--here's the link!

In the meantime, some more great STANDards (the first one is Debora Iyall of Romeo Void):

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

all evidence to the contrary

Yes, fat can be healthy. Thin can be unhealthy. So whenever we make assumptions about a person's lifestyle based on weight, we should know that our judgment is really based on aesthetics, not health. If we won't listen to the many fat acceptance experts who have been telling us this for years, maybe we'll listen to a "cute" thin girl whose diet is killing her.
An extremely good point--the point about all this stuff, really--from a tight, well-written piece by Amanda Hess about media coverage of Stacey Irvine, a girl in England who's eaten nothing but chicken nuggets and fries from McDonald's for years and is now suffering anemia and other problems. Cultural bias is so strong that the assumption Irvine is fat persists even though all the articles show photos of her. She's thin.

People seem to be clucking in bemused shock at her. Does seriously nobody care about unhealthy thin children? This worries me as much as the way fat kids are treated.

Friday, January 27, 2012

hey Paula

photo accompanying People poll
I haven't written about the Paula Deen story here because, well, I haven't wanted to. Something about the way this story revealed just how wide and fucked-up the landscape of people's relationship with food, health, fat, and celebrity is took the wind out of my sails.

What's to say? She has diabetes. Kinda awful. The story, like all of these news stories with huge amounts of traction, represents a challenging test case of our feelings. In this country we really love issues when they are attached to one person, preferably in some intense form. With all the variables ratcheted up. That's how we like to shape our discussions of issues. We think we can solve them if we crack the dilemmas one person embodies. Except of course, they're not solvable that way--you don't "solve" issues looking at individual people.

Anyhow, I saw this today on People's home page (what, was I not going to click on it?):

It occurs to me that what is so wrong with this may not leap out at everybody, but the reason I'm finally blogging about this little chapter in the whole PD story is HELLO WE DON'T AND IN FACT SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY INPUT IN WHAT SHE OR ANYBODY ELSE EATS LAY OFF WHO CARES NONE OF OUR BEEZWAX.

She is a person engaged in the ugly business of money and celebrity, and that makes it hard to see where the boundaries are, and yes that Krispy Kreme burger she made on her show sure looks gluttonous, and yes it's all kinda sticky, but that question above shouldn't be asked. It scares the hell out of me in some ways to see it put as baldly as that.

When you click on the poll, these are the two options:
--which at first make the whole thing look better, but there is ultimately no difference between the two. Either way--she shouldn't eat hamburgers or she can enjoy the occasional burger--we're telling her what to do.

Plus--are we saying if she gorged in private then it'd be okay? (Since this is about appearances and setting examples.) Or if she starved herself? How will we be sure she is only occasionally enjoying a burger? Are we planning on photographing her every time she eats? Will we know by whether or not she is thinner? Are we getting her A1c numbers and fasting glucose levels?

Modern celebrity being what it is--we might see those numbers. She might show us these numbers. And she will from now on probably get photographed every time she eats in public. She may involve us in all this รก la Kirstie Alley and Wynonna Judd and people like that--make us complicit via the media in her weight guilt or struggles or angst or do the opposite and dive into a chocolate trifle on TV (although I think Deen actually has some decent boundaries in amongst all this murkiness, weirdly). But you know what, we don't get to tell anybody what to eat. We just don't.

I think the issue in this case is a lot about seeing her eating. It's one thing to talk about it, but to actually see it seems to spark visceral reactions in people (and in People!). To me this reaction feels instinctively connected to the way fat people are often effaced and desired to be invisible in public and in the media. Because if a fat body is Wrong, then you're just kinda supposed to hide until it's Right. Kind of like--you go home and fix that, and then you can come back. You may be begrudgingly allowed out in the meantime, but if you're seen doing something to make it Wronger, especially eating--something that people are dead sure is making it more Wrong--then you are violating an unspoken contract with the world.

I know this sounds melodramatic, but think about it: If your body is wrong, and you caused it, how are you allowed to exist--to be seen, which is the same thing in the media--right now? In what way? Eating what?  The only way you're 'allowed' to be fat with any approximation of autonomy is if you are shown to be trying to change it--or if you at least aren't seen doing things that everyone is quite sure make fat happen (like eating a hamburger). Then the criticism is held off just a little. At a fundamental cost, of course, because you must always make it clear first you don't like your body either. But if you don't do this...all bets are off. The world's going to go get the belt.

The other day somebody posted this comment by her sister on her Tumblr page: "I think people who don’t actively try to lose weight should be euthanized." People have posited that fat children should not be given food stamps, because "they've already had enough food." That's what I'm talking about. These horrible sentiments are nothing more than the usual thinking--all the much nicer, concern-trolly versions--taken to their logical ends.

Anyhow. I certainly won't solve anything by writing about her either, but I do wish people would back off.

As of right now, by the way, these are the results of the poll. I guess if one of them has to be 84%, might as well be #2.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prince Fielder!

Such a great name (and such a great name for a baseball player).

The dude signed an enormous contract for the Tigers today, but the thing that caught my eye were these old photos, posted by the Twitter account @si_vault (complete with a little fat-bashing--of a little kid--yay), which showcases photos of athletes from the Sports lllustrated archives. Here is a young Prince Fielder, shown in two of the photos with his father, former MLB and Tigers player Cecil Fielder (how cute is that first one of him at 9 years old):

Sports journalism being the obsessive thing it is, I am sure Fielder's size has been examined all to hell and back. That's basically how I know his name, from it popping up in conjunction with "too fat?" discussions. (One description of him from The Hardball Times: "Up close, compared to his teammates, he looked like a man among boys. His arms were bigger than my thighs, but he didn't look fat--he just looked huge.")

The thing I think looking at these photos today, when we live with so much emphasis on and hysteria about childhood size, is: how should the world treat kids like him? How did the world treat that kid? Did his family/his dad know he could be a great athlete and more or less let him be himself--let that body be the one he became a great athlete in? How much did he have to fight to become who he was?

A fat, talented kid like that these days--I'm not sure he would have been left alone. I'm not talking about the bullying aspect: he would be put on diets, and sent home from school with notes for his family, and tsked at in various ways. All that stuff happened when I was a kid, and when he was a kid, but without quite the large-scale institutional hysteria that informs most aspects of our discussions of children and food now--the constant chorus of childhood-obesity-childhood-obesity.

You can't know what that kind of stuff will do to a child, but I do know that it usually increases your chance of being fatter, of developing an eating disorder, of yo-yo dieting. How much does our emphasis on size over health interfere with kids becoming who they might be? Is it okay that this little dude grew up to be a famous fattish athlete? Is being a fat child so bad that it is worth the risk of taking away what he might become on the chance you might get him thinner now? Temporarily.

always having the wrong reaction

This billboard--yes, you would see this driving down the street--is from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who advocate a vegan diet and are targeting dairy products as a major contributor to body size.

I think we're supposed to be appalled by the butt, but all I could think was--wow, what a fabulous ass. Plus the hands squeezing the hips add to the overtly sexual nature of the image. I guess it's supposed to be a doctorly squeeze of the fat, though.

Are fat bodies so devoid of sexuality in the minds of the advertising agency/PCRM that this image is in their minds completely clinical? And can be used--negatively--to shame people? PCRM must think so, but the billboard that resulted is a bizarre kinky mess of shame, sex, hate, and dehumanization. They don't know what they're doing.

p.s. Some vegans are fat. Just sayin.
p.p.s. Thanks to The Society Pages for the article above (worth clicking).

women's sumo

How cool is this lady? (Even if the Daily Mail's hook is the calories she gets to eat, whoopdeedoop*.) She looks very strong. I'm not sure I knew or remembered that there even is women's sumo wrestling, but--neato.

*Ah, the Daily Fail. Where would we be without it? Although really, because that paper is an absolute shitstorm of obsession with the female body it can be strangely inclusive compared to other media in its coverage. At least you actually see different kinds of bodies: fat bodies, thin bodies, old bodies, whatever. You see them with crazy judgmental, hostile, sexist commentary attached--but you see them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miss. Etta. James.

This was the first time I saw Etta James, in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), a tribute to Chuck Berry on his 60th birthday. I remember I was shocked at the sight of a big woman singing like that, shaking her ass and taking the stage for her own. It's cool to watch and in 2012 still seems kind of bold and unusual. She's really big, she's really moving, she's really good at it. I wish I could have seen her in action more. And heard her (apparently) fantastically nasty stage patter.

I have been reading snippets of her autobiography via GoogleBooks and here is something she wrote about that:
Fans will see me kicking off my shoes and stomping on stage, turning my back, sticking out my big butt and shaking it like a fool. I'll rub my hands all over my body, roll my tongue, and play the slut. Been doing that shit for years. Why? I'm conflicted. Sometimes when I sing live, I feel like the devil gets in me. I want to scandalize the squares; I want to be bad. I'm defiant. I know people are thinking--man, that woman is fat!--and I want to show 'em right off that I don't give a shit.
But I do. I feel like the clown. I feel the humiliation every fat person feels. I get tired of treating myself like some joke. The joke, you see, is my way of hiding pain. It's protection. And it feels like punishment.
Depending on which obituary you read, the gastric bypass surgery James in 2002 had either created complications that contributed to her death or saved her life (maybe both, eh?). I wouldn't know. She wasn't a clown, though. She may have felt like one sometimes, but from where we sit, she wasn't. She was fantastic.

the singing at 3:30 - 3:50 kills me:

ADDENDUM: This is a fabulous obituary I hadn't read when I posted the above. By Kenyon Farrow.