The Fat Activist Nourishing a Grassroots Community in Malaysia

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At navabi we’re not just about making great clothes. We want to do more than that. This is why we launched the navabi Talent Fund, where we awarded four plus size women around the world with grants to pursue or continue work that will make the world better for the plus size community. One of the projects we were honoured to fund was pitched to us by Nadia Mohd Rasidi, who lived in London for a long time but has now returned to Malaysia. She found that the contrast of a thriving fat positive scene in London with the relatively limited opportunities for fat people to come together in Malaysia was something that she wanted to improve on.

Nadia used her Talent Fund grant to plan an event in the town of Petaling Jaya near Kuala Lumpur that was part-workshop but also simply part-social gathering for plus size people in Malaysia.

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A few of the attendees at Take Up Space

The event Nadia put together comprised a film screening featuring fat positive media, a panel with Malaysian and Singaporean fat activists Nazirah Ashari, Ratna Devi Manokaran, and Rani Dhaschainey, and a sharing session for participants to speak openly and imagine the future of fat positive Malaysia together. Nadia said her event was designed to centre the Southeast Asian experience in discussions around fatness, after feeling that was conspicuously absent from a lot of fat activism. She wanted ‘to de-centre the global north’s dominance over fat acceptance discourse and counter tepid nods towards ‘body positivity’ by corporations that seek to sell liberation as an individual pursuit that can be solved through enthusiastic participation in exploitative capitalist structures,’ which is pretty cool.

Attendees spoke of this being the first time that any of them were in such a space with multiple other fat people, and there was a consensus that it felt good to be around others of similar sizes in a place where they didn’t have to worry that their body would be perceived as a burden.

I want to de-centre the global north’s dominance over fat acceptance discourse

Nadia Mohd Rasidi

‘The navabi Talent Fund grant was invaluable in helping me contribute to the kickstarting of the development of this community in my home country,’ Nadia says. ‘It allowed me to make the event free and accessible to all attendees. It covered the costs of renting and decorating the venue, food and drink, and a photographer to document the day’s activities. I was also able to provide transportation bursaries to all who requested it and compensate each panel speaker for their time and expertise.’

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Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with most suggestions structured around how to continue to build up a fat community in Malaysia. The attendees also discussed their privilege as people who live in big urban centres in accessing and shaping discourse, and how going forward they might include participants from other economic and linguistic areas of the country. And the work doesn’t stop with this event: by the end of the workshop, people had started collaborating on ideas to create a monthly meet-up, a fat positive photo exhibition, and a zine about fatness.

If you want to see what Nadia gets up to next, she can be found on Twitter at @NRasidi.