The Committee for South Asian Voices partnered with the Asian American Resource Center to host Sonalee Rashatwar — popularly known by their Instagram handle @TheFatSexTherapist — via video chat for a body positivity workshop Feb. 28. The discussion was centralized around queerness and fatness, with a focus on South Asian contexts.
Rashatwar identifies themselves as a “fat, queer, non-binary therapist.” Their work, which is primarily based in Philadelphia, specializes in counseling victims of sexual violence and sexual trauma, as well as individuals who struggle with issues surrounding body image, racial or immigrant identity and South Asian family systems.
Rashatwar has accumulated a large social media following, and currently has over 55,000 followers on Instagram. As Rashatwar highlights on their website, their fame peaked when Breitbart, a far-right news and opinions website, criticized them for naming thinness as a white supremacy beauty ideal in March 2018.
Event organizer and CSAV committee member Sahana Mehta SC ’20 said the workshop was planned partly as a follow-up to a body positivity event from last semester. Mehta said past conversations the group facilitated on body positivity were more casual, and the CSAV wanted to put together a more hands-on workshop with input from an experienced facilitator more well-versed in issues concerning sexual health and body positivity.
Mehta also said CSAV wanted to provide a space to talk about body positivity in a context that is more specific to South Asian communities.
“Oftentimes, we see whitewashed frameworks of body positivity that don’t serve our communities in useful ways,” she said.
The workshop itself was largely question-and-answer driven, with attendees submitting questions anonymously via index cards, which were then read and discussed as a group with Rashatwar.
Committee member and event attendee Gayatri Ketavarapu CM ’19 said she thought the event was successful, especially considering that it came at the end of a difficult time for the student body.
“I think, particularly at a time on these campuses when people are dealing with a lot of trauma and hurt and stress, events like [student deaths] can exacerbate feelings that may already exist, particularly amongst non-white communities,” she said. “I think that having a space where everyone felt included and safe and heard was very, very valuable.”
She said it seemed like attendees felt comfortable voicing concerns about issues not regularly discussed.
“I think the environment in which the conversation with Sonalee took place was productive because people were able to say what they wanted to say without feeling like their name was attached to those question,” she said. “There still is a lot of the shame and stigma around the things we discussed.”
One moment that Ketavarapu said stood out about the workshop was when Rashtawar answered a question on how to address people who are fat-phobic.
“She was just like, ‘No, I don’t — that’s a waste of time and energy,’” Ketavarapu recalled of the speaker’s response. “That really resonated with me because, at least in my personal experience, I feel … obligated to explain why I react a certain way to certain comments, like microaggressions and stereotypes. I don’t owe anybody anything, and I think hearing that sort of reinforced the idea that I will only say what I feel comfortable saying — no more, no less.”