Bevin Branlandingham does not teach your average aerobics class. First off, she’s fat, and secondly she’s queer. And she feels perfectly at ease with you referring to her that way. The name of her class is “Fat Kid Dance Party,” and truly everyone is welcome.
“I use those terms because they’re used to oppress me, but I find a lot of liberation in embracing them. I want to be that example to other people, that you can love yourself no matter what,” Branlandingham, 39, told the Los Angeles Blade before her weekly class at Everybody Gym in the Glassell Park neighborhood of L.A.
Branlandingham’s journey to self-proclaimed fat acceptance started when she was only 22-years-old and she says she learned she could be “both fat and a babe.”
“I fell in with the right crowd. I met people who said all bodies were good bodies. I felt a paradigm shift after a childhood of bullying and depression and hating myself for my weight and a million failed diets,” she says. She adds, “I finally felt like I could be at home in my body and love it as it was, instead of needing it to change. That shifted my perspective on life… I became a body liberation activist.”
Her shift happened around the time she was finishing college and attending law school. She is an attorney. She lives with her girlfriend, a consultant who creates programs for schools and nonprofits about changing their culture around empathy – something Branlandingham focuses deeply on in her aerobic classes and on her website.
Her classes start with her burning sage to clear the energy and include traditional choreography for exercise, dance breaks, high-fives for water breaks aka self-love, and even Branlandingham quoting James Baldwin.
“It’s not just for fat people, but all people, because all bodies are affected by fat phobia. When there’s a type of body that’s seen as bad, then there’s this fear that either they’re going to get fat or disabled or old, but there’s a lot of freedom and joy in accepting all bodies as they are and all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are,” Branlandingham says about her work.
She came out to her family at 19. She had a girlfriend.
“For me it was harder being fat than queer. Because being queer was a mutable identity, so, it was easier for me to ignore the queer stuff and to focus on self-loathing around fat because that was more visible… I wasn’t raised particularly religious and I wasn’t taught that being gay was wrong, but coming out was a challenge.
“I came out before I found fat liberation so it was interesting because I knew I was queer, but I didn’t come out because I didn’t think anyone would find me attractive, so what was the point. It was rooted in fat-phobia and not being able to own my sexuality,” she says.
In addition to the classes she teaches in LA and the videos she’s raising money on Indiegogo to produce, Brandlandingham has lived several chapters. She started as a performer doing “Drag King” work. She says being fat on stage gave her audience permission to be themselves. She launched a podcast called a “Queer Fat Femme Guide to Life,” about her life, friends, fat fashion, sex, and style, and it became a blog called QueerFatFemme.com. In New York City, she produced body positive dance parties – all in an effort for people to come out dance, be themselves, and eradicate judgment and self-consciousness.
Branlandingham opposes the term overweight. She prefers to use the word fat. She believes that the idea of medical obesity is an untruth.
“There are so many different ways to be fat. There are so many studies that show you can be fat and healthy and even be healthier than a thin person. Fat people are healthy and fat people are diseased. Adipose tissue, the tissue that causes fat, can be caused by genes, lifestyle, disease, side-effects from medicines, hormones, and the effects of trauma,” she says.
She believes that pathologizing fat people doesn’t lead to health, but it creates shame, and she says, shame has been shown to cause weight gain not weight loss.
“If you support people in loving themselves no matter what, you’ll support them in opening up to movement. Because a lot of people feel kept small and like they don’t get to try. We need spaces where it’s okay to screw up in class. In my class when I make a mistake, I love it, I say, ‘there’s no wrong way to do Fat Kids Dance Party,’ I’m modeling mistakes and making it safe for people. It gives them the freedom to bust a move and not worry about screwing up,” she says.