Rants & Raves
TWO REVIEWS: FANTASY, EROTICISM, AND THE MINEFIELD OF LANGUAGE AND DESIRE
By Lynne Murray
Reviews of two books: The Folly of Assumption and Zaftig.
The Folly of Assumption, The Collected Fantasies of Lee Martindale, a chapbook of 44 pages published by Yard Dog Press
These four stories were published in response to popular demand from readers of Such a Pretty Face, Tales of Power and Abundance, the anthology Lee Martindale edited of science fiction and fantasy stories with fat heroes and heroines. Martindale states in her introduction that she was asked "on the average of once a week" why no story of her own was included in the anthology. I must admit that I was among those who asked. In the earlier anthology Martindale stepped aside to let others take the spotlight, but here at last are her own "fat fantasy" stories under one cover.
When Martindale uses the term fat fantasy, she means tales of the mythic "once upon a time" variety and they have the morality of happy endings for, "people who look like me and more than half the population." In keeping with the genre, Martindale gives a full-bodied twist to some archetypes that have in recent years shrunk to fit the anorexic temper of our times.
The title story, The Folly of Assumption, demonstrates the insidious cunning of a fat female assassin, while other stories offer us an Office Party Santa dispensing justice and a twist on It's a Wonderful Life that Hollywood could never have imagined. I have to say that my favorite was Neighborhood Watch—an after-dark example of why it is dangerous to assume anything about that mild-mannered, fat lady next door.
Zaftig: Well-Rounded Erotica, Hanne Blank (Ed.)
"Zaftig in Yiddish means juicy. It also means voluptuous, plump and round in a deliciously sensuous sort of way." Hanne Blank's introduction begins by defining the term. The eighteen stories cover a wide range of sexual appetites, and every story may not be to every reader's taste, but some of the writing is exquisite and sensuous. Some stories such as How Loretta Got a Schlong are spiced with humor (not to mention sausage) and others such as Etched in the Flesh are more breathlessly passionate. But all affectionate in one way or another about the abundant objects of lust and all of it is sensuous.
My personal favorite, as anyone who knows my vanilla propensities would guess, was Weekdays At Rosini's Bakery, in which a lusty baker expresses his appreciation of the deliciousness of zaftig heroine with eloquent arias of foreplay that includes amaretto, lemon and cream custard grace notes—followed by an interlude in the kitchen that gives a whole new meaning to "slaving over a hot stove."
I have to applaud the authors of the stories in this anthology for taking back the sensuousness that has lived all along in the bodies of fat people. These passions have never really stopped, only gone underground, and their expression has been eclipsed during the recent lean seasons when only starved flesh has been considered erotic.
Now a few words about language. One interchange in the title story of Martindale's book set me to thinking. The fat female assassin, captured and at the mercy of her target, discovers that he is an admirer of the larger figure. Observing his reaction, she says,
"I have a feeling that you are not one of those men you described, the ones who only consider a woman beautiful if her form is like unto that of a twelve-year-old boy. Is this so?"
His voice, when he answered, came slightly hoarse. "Yes, I find women of generous flesh much more appealing. And women like yourself, with pendulous breasts and soft drooping bellies, most appealing of all. You are very beautiful, Lauriel."
From The Folly of Assumption (p. 8)
It's only fair to point out that the purpose of that interchange above mentioned had a dramatically different purpose for the character (mortal peril) than, say the purpose of this meditation (ecstatic communion) in Flesh Love from Zaftig.
Some people use the word Rubenesque to be kind. At one time I used it reverently, like an acolyte divining the great mysteries of his religion. But with her, Rubenesque has no meaning. She is beyond that, greater than that. Larger than that. She is huge, ripe, full of life and fertility. She is like an Olmec earth mother, all flesh and fat, breasts ready to feed the world, loins capable of birthing humankind.
And it is the Olmec lover whom I worship.
From Flesh Love, Zaftig (p. 122)
Somehow, the character's statement in The Folly of Assumption reminded me of some ads I have seen admirers of the larger figure place that contain language such as "Rolls, bulges and cellulite are a plus."
One ardent fancier of BBWs went so far as to express delight at the gurgling sound he noticed that his super-sized lover's body made as she walked. I remember reading that observation with a cold chill of dread that anyone might ever observe such a thing about myself. I have no way of knowing whether the object of this gentleman's sincere admiration appreciated his compliment, but I could imagine that it might hit a very sensitive nerve and have the opposite effect. Because, quite frankly, for every fat admirer who finds such details adorable, there thousands of cruel and unkind people who find them an object of open ridicule.
I wish we could engineer a world where the fat admirers were at least equal in number to those who attack fat people on sight. But at the moment, in order to protect ourselves, those of us who have survived a certain amount of abuse for being fat have learned various tactics for coping with verbal abuse.
The situation goes from painful into fiendishly difficult however, when admiration accidentally stumbles into the same language used by abusers. I realize that sincerely loving someone and being able to express it in poetical language are two separate, and totally unrelated things. But most admirers (male and female) of the larger form have bemoaned the difficulty having to repeatedly reassure their partners that they do indeed adore their bodies and find them attractive. This can be complicated by the use, not simply of the word fat, but by other language that contains words commonly use to express disgust at the larger form.
It is very difficult for the plus-sized object of desire to filter out the negativity we are so used to hearing, and this can make the message very mixed.
There's a difference between saying, "I love you, warts and all" and saying, "I love all your warts—I have names for my favorites."
Some may disagree with me and strenuously argue that fat is beautiful and should not be equated with warts. Others may argue that physical beauty is in the eye of the beholder and should not be confused with inner beauty of heart, mind and spirit. I can't disagree with any of these viewpoints. Indeed, I agree with them.
Fat has been demonized to the point where even medical doctors have trouble looking past their prejudice to observe the very useful role that fat performs in our bodies. Sadly enough, the sturdy health of many fat people is ignored when simply being fat is assumed to be a disease rather than a neutral genetic endowment that can have some positive uses even when no famine threatens (e.g., protecting against brittle bones, storing nutrients against the demands of various stressful illnesses and providing cushioning against injury in some kinds of trauma).
When even the scientific community is blinded by prejudice, it's no wonder that changing the prevailing perversely shallow view of beauty is not so simply accomplished. Just saying, "Fat is beautiful" or "Physical beauty is irrelevant," unavoidably sounds like sour grapes or self-delusion.
Our current definitions of beauty can be changed and are even very slowly beginning to change. But it is still a challenge to maintain a positive attitude while confronting our culture's delusions on the subject. Living well really is the best revenge. Every single fat person and admirer living bravely adds another ripple of awareness in his or her environment.
In the meantime for fat admirers wishing to effectively communicate their desire to their plus-sized partners, they might find some examples of usefully lusty language in the erotic stories in Zaftig.
This essay first appeared at oooobabybaby.com. More information about The Folly of Assumption can be found online at http://www.yarddogpress.com/thefolly.htm.
© Lynne Murray