It’s a sunny, mid-70s day.
A crowd arrives at Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, and soon the pool is filled with revelers and unicorn floaties. DJ Darling NicQue revs up the tunes while people dine on a nacho bar and enjoy unlimited LaCroix. Mid-party, a splash mob erupts via the help of the Subversive Sirens, a celebrated Minnesota-based synchronized swimming team with an activism bent.
This is CAKE Plus-Size Resale’s Fat Splash, a vibrant, fat-positive pool party that has quickly become a hot summer happening. When the event was announced on Facebook in May, tickets sold out in less than 12 hours. After that happened, “I did a mini scramble and got another one together [for the following month],” says Cat Polivoda, owner of CAKE.
The August installment sold out in less than an hour.
“Last summer, we had our first Fat Splash and it was a huge hit,” says Polivoda. “That made me think this year would be popular. I guess I just didn’t realize how wildly popular.”
The importance events like the Fat Splash lies in the positive communion of experiencing a pool party with other fat people. It allows for attendees to heal, celebrate, and bond in an environment that may have been uncomfortable or felt unwelcoming in the past.
“A lot of us spend a great deal of our lives thinking that our bodies need to change,” Polivoda explains. “I’m here to tell you that it’s actually the world around you that needs fixing. You’re great just the way you are. You deserve respect, love, and to have your needs met now… not if/when you manage to -- usually temporarily -- change your body.”
Events like Fat Splash speak to the growing Twin Cities fat community.
“There are so many folks out here pushing back and creating spaces, initiatives, art, and activism that celebrates fat bodies and all the identities that intersect with fatness,” Polivoda says.
Events like the Fat Splash are not new. Fat pool parties have been around since the 1970s, organized by individuals with backyard pools and at hotel pools during NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) conferences. In 2016 Torrid, a plus-size retailer, began to hosting branded pool parties. That same year, author and activist Virgie Tovar’s Ted Talk included a story about attending a fat pool party that inspired her to create the Lose Hate Not Weight campaign.
However, it wasn’t until the release of Hulu’s Shrill earlier this year that popular culture was exposed to the body positive pool party on a large scale. The series, which is loosely based on Lindy West’s novel Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, was celebrated for its fourth episode, “Pool,” in which the main character has a transformative experience at a “Fat Babe Pool Party.”
In speaking with party-goers at Fat Splash, it’s clear that the spirit of the gathering aids in deep connections. “[Fat liberation] focuses on the intersection of size, poverty, disability, race, gender, and much more,” says Ben, an attendee at the most recent party. He hopes that participants and those who love them can “commit themselves to tackling their own privileges and prejudices, because that's how we come together to make the world a more accepting and accessible place for all.”
For participant Kris, she hopes that the success of events like the Fat Splash will inspire fat people to advocate for their needs in other areas.
“I want to see us spending our time and money to dine or attend events at venues that are accessible for all, as opposed to trying to figure out how to make our bodies work in a space that isn’t conducive,” she says. “I want to see us talking about these places and giving them support so more people will feel confident and comfortable going to these spaces.”
For those looking to connect and learn more about the local body-positive/fat-liberation community, one of the best places to start is the Twin Cities Fat Community Facebook group. Polivoda and her friend Saraya Boghani also co-host the KFAI podcast Matter of Fat, where they interview inspiring fat people and showcase local body positive events in Minnesota.
CAKE Plus-Size Resale hosts events and collaborations with other body positive local businesses, including their upcoming second annual plus-size burlesque show, co-produced by Deeva Rose of the Rose Academy of Burlesque. They’re also a sponsor of the upcoming Flyover Fest, which is bringing Lindy West to town.