Hamburger Queen: Where fat politics and disability politics meet – and have a party! / 16 April 2014
This month, ‘Hamburger Queen’, a beauty contest for fat people, is in its final run. Dreamed up by performance artist Scottee, the contest is part beauty pageant satire, part platform for chubby people. Contestants have to show off their fabulous outfits in a ‘fat trend’ round, their cooking or baking skills in the ‘fat taste’ round, and, last but not least, prove their fat talent. In the past four years, this round has incorporated anything from comedy, lip-syncing or fertility dances to people doing weird and kinky things with hangers or shoes. ]
Each round is judged by a panel of celebrities, which has in the past included Lisa Standfield and Paloma Faith. The night also includes a guest performance (past artists have included Gateau Chocolat, Bird La Bird and of course Scottee himself) and lots of sequins, chaos, banter and delicious burgers.
This all sounds amazing, and it is, but Hamburger Queen is much more than fabulous fat funfest: It is very en vogue in London’s clubbing and fashion scene to celebrate ‘difference’ and ‘freakishness’, albeit often in dark, narrow basements where disabled people are not allowed because they are considered to be fire hazards.
Often, this ‘freakishness’ boils down to nothing but a bunch of skinny boys who dare to wear blue lipstick. Truly outrageous! At ‘Hamburger Queen’, the celebration of difference is more than just lip service. I should know, I was the winner of the contest in its first year. I am chubby. I am in a wheelchair.
Part of the reason why I decided to be a contestant in Hamburger Queen (In the beginning called ‘Burger Queen’) was my frustration with the night club/ queer scene of London. My experience was that me and my wheelchair were often regarded as a novelty prop, an edgy way to jazz up the pictures of a night out, but disabled access was an issue rarely considered or deemed relevant to club promoters, hosts or DJs. When ‘Hamburger Queen’ came along, I was ready to create something constructive out of that frustration: Competing in a show that celebrates body types that are different, which unashamedly reflects on our physicality, seemed like the perfect opportunity.
When it comes to my own relationship with fat, it’s complicated. In my early teenage years, I hated my chubby thighs. I went to a private school where all the girls were slim, wore silky scarves as belts (I know!) and had blonde highlights. I hated being one of the biggest girls in my year. I was already one of the only 5 visibly disabled kids in school, if only I could be thinner, I could at least be a little bit more normal.
Later, other health concerns complicated the relationship with my body even more: It seemed that no matter what I did, my body would never behave in a predictable, acceptable way, so I might as well have as many cheese toasties and frappuccinos as I liked.
Finally, in my early 20s, I became more accepting of my body, and at the same time, became familiar with disability studies, which was an eye-opening moment for me. For me, on a personal level, fat and disability have always been intertwined. Fat politics and disability politics seem self-evident allies and I believe that you cannot be truly accepting of one without also being accepting of the other.
Fat and disability intersect on many levels – the physicality of the disabled body and the fat body are still one of the biggest taboos in our society, and celebrating fat, impaired bodies seems highly radical when we are constantly told by the media that our lives aren’t worth living, that bodies like ours need to be fixed and cured.
When I wear my ‘Burger Queen’ medal on a night out, a gorgeous, massive necklace by Tatty Devine, I get many of compliments and interested questions about it, but when I go on to explain what it is (‘I won it at a beauty pageant for fat people’), people often give me looks of horror, embarrassment or pity, or go on to tell me ‘but you are not really fat!’ (1. You really don’t get it. 2. Seriously, have you seen my thighs??) Simultaneously, I had experiences with strangers telling me to my face that if they were disabled like me, they’d finish themselves off (cheers, if I were a horrible person like you I’d...), and I sometimes get those same looks of horror, pity and embarrassment.
Hamburger Queen gave us a platform to invite different looks, and to celebrate solidarity and empowerment while having a drink, a laugh and wearing fabulous outfits. Throughout its run, I felt a true alliance between disability and fat politics: From its very first run, Hamburger Queen was a truly inclusive, radical and wonderfully weird night.
The RVT and Scottee himself were extremely supportive of me as a disabled contestant and built me a ramp to the stage, so that I could perform at Hamburger Queen. Many of the artists who chose to perform at Hamburger Queen, for example Bird La Bird and Brian Lobel, have a strong awareness of crip politics, and this awareness was shared by many of the contestants. In the audience, I have spotted many disabled people over the years, which is not a given, considering that the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has limited disabled access and no disabled toilets.
Hamburger Queen gave us a space where allies were forged, where high-brow entertainment and trash culture were equally celebrated. It was and is a night that is unashamedly fat, feminist, crip, camp and queer. I will be heartbroken when it’s all over – ‘Hamburger Queen’ filled a real void in London’s nightlife.
Hamburger Queen’s final preliminary heat takes place on Thursday, 17th April at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and the big, fat final takes place at the Bloomsbury Ballroom on Thursday, 24th April. See you there!Get your tickets here: http://www.hamburgerqueen.co.uk/