Meet The North American Obeast, A Reclusive & Endangered Species

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"People aren't too fond of 'em, but I think there's actually something quite endearing about them," says scientist Stanley Keen of the endangered mammal called the Obeast. In a video clip, Keen and a colleague track and shoot an Obeast with a tranquilizer gun, so that we may learn more about these reclusive creatures.


Rewind: The first thing you should know about the Obeast is that it doesn't actually exist. It's part of an art project by Rachel Herrick.

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Herrick explains:

I am an artist and fat activist. I have a project that confronts and satirizes fat stigma by recasting fat people into the role of an endangered genus of mammals called the obeast. (The obeasts are all me wearing muumuus.) The work takes the form of a pseudo museum called the Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies which has traveling educational exhibitions, videos, and a website.

Image for article titled Meet The North American Obeast, A Reclusive & Endangered Species

Herrick adds:

The obeast project is part catharsis, part shaggy dog joke, and part accusation. My intentions as an artist are ambigious upon first encountering the work, resulting in some controversy.

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Since the intention of the undertaking is unclear, those faced with her work find themselves offended at first. Art critic Daniel Kany writes:

Because the Obeast is an obese young woman, I was mortified when I first saw the installation, because I could have been looking at one the most offensive works of art I had ever seen. I hadn't seen the name and did not know that the artist was a woman. I can't remember the last time my moral sensibilities had been so thoroughly challenged.

Through the photography and the videos, however, it became clear the Obeast is the artist herself — an obese woman who looks exactly like her self-portraits in the "museum."

Allergic to self-pity, Herrick subtly relates that obese Americans have to deal with people who routinely confuse physical largess with diminished mental capacities. Part of the joke is that Herrick plays no heavy-handed card, and leaves bigots to twist in the wind of ignorance — never the wiser despite her razor-sharp educational and informational professionalism.

Herrick's work is definitely an interesting take on fatphobia and the othering of the overweight. Sometimes our society does treat larger people like a different species, like strange animals, untouchables or undesirables instead of fellow humans. But what would happen if every diet and TV show and scare tactic worked? Or if some bizarre disease or famine suddenly struck? And there were no more fat people in North America? Would we miss them? Woud we speak of them fondly? Would we realize that "them" is us?


Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies [Official Site]
Rachel Herrick [Artist's site]
Art Review: MECA Students Deftly Open Door To New Horizons [Portland Press Herald]



Right. I've struggled with this issue for a very long time, and I'm just going to come out and say something, even if that means I'll never get a god-damn star.

Before you label me as a 'concern troll' and throw me out the window, let me tell you that I believe that larger people should NOT be shamed or mocked, that yes, they are people too, and that yes, it is totally their right to look however they want, weigh whatever they want, and have whatever health they want. I agree that there are major body image problems in western media and we need to re-normalize our standards of popularly displayed people to include people of all shapes and sizes.

But it irks the SHIT out of me when I hear this: "BMI is not an indicator of health!" and leave it at that. Ok, maybe it's not in all cases. But 1, it's actually alright for many, many people, especially if you're not borderline. 2, BMI aside, waist-to-hip ratio, fat caliper measurements, body fat percentage... any measurement you want to choose - these are linked to a higher incidence of breathing problems, cardiovascular problems, diabetes... The scientist in me screams when we act like this isn't the case. IT FUCKING IS.

Now if someone wants to choose to put their health at risk, that's their own damn prerogative. But I feel like we're throwing the baby out with the bath water here. We don't have to body snark and shame larger people to continue to say "actually, losing weight if you're majorly obese has been shown by all the evidence to improve just about all aspects of your health, and since we care about the health and happiness of other people, this is an issue that I would like to spread. But if you chose to ignore it, that's fine too."

It's really great that all the large people who hang out on Jezebel are super-fit (or that's the impression I get) but all my friends who are obese can barely keep up with me when I walk a little too quickly, and running is out of the question. They are in their early/mid-twenties and are already plagued by sleep apnea, diabetes (type II), and hardened arteries. And yet they don't think it's an issue. I've asked them, and they think it's not a big deal because almost everyone they know is that way, and everyone they know is unconcerned about their weight - they do not link, honestly, and I've discussed this (we're very good friends, and quite honest), weight with their health problems. The health problems just happen to everyone they know (most of whom are obese as well in their families), and it's something that the doctor will fix. When the doctor tells them 'oh you have sleep apnea' they don't say 'oh I should try and lose some weight!' they go 'how much is a CPAP?'

So while it's really easy for Jezzies to say 'EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT WEIGHT AND HEALTH, DUH!" Well, maybe on Jezebel they do, but in the real world, they fucking don't. And while I'm all about body acceptance, I'm not ready to throw out lack of actual knowledge about their medical issues and actual scientific evidence. You can be open, embracing of all body images, encouraging of personal freedom about body image, and still honest about what's been proven in study after study.

So no, I don't have the answer, maybe someone does. But my guess is that a lot of the people on this post who have been labeled as 'concern trolls' are actually people who agree with me - no shaming, and no de-personification, and total support of your own freedom to do what you like with your body, but also cringing whenever we see another Jezzie throw out all links of weight/fat % and health. Why can't we just say 'yes, body snarking is very bad, and it's stupid' and end the argument there, without then going on to say about how science is wrong wrong wrong? Let's tackle the social problem on one end, and the health problem on the other (so we can actually work with the science instead of against it) and create a happier place for all.

Anyway, that's my rant, and I'm sorry for anyone else in this post who has been too scared to say anything (like me) for fear of being mocked and ignored, and for anyone who was labeled a concern troll when they actually are concerned and as anti-all-the-bad-stuff as anyone else on the site, just hates to see the science mocked.

It's times like this when I'm sad because I feel like the whole issue is totally verboten on Jezebel so we don't even get to have a real exchange of ideas. Because anyone who doesn't say the prescribed words just gets labelled and ignored. And yes, I'm sure some are just concern trolling, but our eagerness to label everyone with differing opinion or raising a concern as a troll just stifles the discussion, which is really the best thing about Jezebel. The end.