And, it’s true. As a skilled businesswoman, fat activist, facilitator, podcast co-host, and sometimes model, Cat has a unique ability to create space for herself and other fat-bodied individuals to be unapologetically themselves.
In junior high, she started at a new school in rural Minnesota where the other students had known each other for most of their lives. “The other kids were kind of mean and already thought I was weird when I showed up, she says. “So, I thought, ‘if you think I’m weird, I’m going to be even weirder.’” She used clothes to express herself, and to influence the story other people told themselves about her. In a year, she’d won them over.
Later, she attended Hamline University in St. Paul, before moving to New Orleans. She found work as a student counselor at the University of New Orleans, where she one day scribbled in her goal journal: “open a thrift shop?”
It was there, in 2013, that Cat did something both mundane and pivotal on a rare New Orleans snow day: she cleaned out her closet and decided to sell her clothes for some extra cash. She knew that if she were going to buy clothes on the internet, she’d want to see them on someone, not just a hanger.
Cat, who uses the word fat as both a way to describe her body and an identity, photographed herself wearing the clothes and shared them on Facebook. Three hundred dollars later, the online store and blog “Cat’s Closet” was born, and Cat was onto something that would transform into a brick and mortar store in her home state only four years later.
“From the very beginning, it’s been less about the clothes and more about the conversations the clothes allow me to have,” she says. “Starting a relationship with someone while talking about clothes can allow you to really get into the good stuff.” Cake Plus-Size Resale is built around that good stuff. Rooted in fat liberation, and with radical body positivity as its touchstone, Cake is an extension of Cat and her values.
The store is designed with fat bodies in mind: ample room between racks, large, well-lit, fan-equipped dressing rooms, and Lizzo often playing in the background.
The bright-white walls are decorated with drawings of fat bodies wearing stylish clothes, riding bikes, snuggling cats. Artwork from local artists proclaims, “Decolonize body love,” and “Riots not diets.” A prominently placed sign from Nalgona Positivity Pride reminds customers they “are in a body positive zone where diet talk and body shaming, health and concern trolling, gender policing, ableism, and racist beauty standards aren’t welcome.”
“Body positivity is for everyone and fat liberation is for us,” Cat says. And by us, Cat means fat people whose bodies aren’t always centered in a growing body positive movement that’s becoming more and more visible in popular culture.
“A watered down movement of body positivity is having a moment and it’s not all bad,” she says. “The needle is moving a little bit in the right direction, but I think in many ways it is furthering marginalization of much larger bodies,” Cat says. To push for fat liberation, an idea that focuses on centering fat bodies in the fight for access to everything from clothes to medical care, Cat strategically curates the language that appears in her Shop, on her podcast, and other areas in her life where she is working to cultivate fat community.
Cat is direct and discerning about the items sold at Cake, and this is on purpose. Not only is Cat running a business, she’s being thoughtful about giving fat people access to something they rarely have access to: stylish, affordable clothes, purchased in a space made for them. “Cake is a plus-size boutique, and that word is important to me, because fat people haven’t historically and don’t currently have access to that kind of space,” she says.
Cat’s particularity around words that describe her and her shop aren’t by accident. “I call myself fat,” she says. “It is both a descriptor of my body and an identity that I hold. Part of the reason I purposely use the word fat is because there are a lot of stereotypes that people have that align with fat bodies. I don’t align with all those stereotypes, and I don’t want them to exist.”
As a fat activist who is interested in fat liberation, and an intersectional feminist committed to social justice, Cat makes sure her language and actions are telling the story she wants them to tell. This attention to strategy is what allows her to bring people into the conversation around fat bodies while also advocating and centering folx who are leading the movement, herself included.
“Diet culture is vast and persuasive and honestly fucks everything up,” she says. “It feels too big sometimes. But, I’ve found that if I’m thoughtful of the language I use, I am actually going to get to talk about bodies more effectively. I’m a fat person in the world with a fat business, I’m good at reading the room and using words appropriately,” she says.
“Some people feel like they need to change themselves, censor themselves, make themselves smaller physically, or apologize for who they are, but that isn’t who you have to be,” she says. “I don’t think it is ever easy, but I think it’s easier when you’re around people who are showing up as their full selves as much as they can, and not apologizing.” And Cat doesn’t apologize. She even teaches an online course called Big, Bold Confidence where she shares her knowledge and research to help people cultivate confidence in their daily lives. In her course, one of the things she encourages her students to do is to call other people in, instead of working against them to get ahead.
“We can all win,” she says with the caveat that the world is not equal and we don’t start from the same place. “And I think that part of competition with other people can feel like there isn’t enough room for us to win,” she says. “It can feel like there can only be one fat person doing this, or there’s not enough opportunity for us to all get what we need.” To Cat, those feelings stem from ideas that capitalism and patriarchy feed us. “If we allow those things to be what motivates us, then you might make it to the top, but at what expense?” she asks. “We need to lift as we climb. We need to be empowering and working together.”
With her co-host Saraya Boghani, Cat has created the podcast, Matter of Fat — a body positive podcast with Midwest sensibilities. As the podcast enters its second season, it’s clear that Cat is refining her voice and entering into a conversation with many of her idols she’s learned from along the way including fat icons like Gabbi Fresh, Lindy West, to more recent influencers like the “Fat Sex Therapist” Sonalee Rashatwar and Alok Vaid-Menon. Cat likes to remain busy and take advantage of every opportunity, but for now, she is content to dream of the future in the world she has created around her.
“I am often having ‘pinch me’ moments because I am around fat people all day every day and it’s the best life ever,” she says.
—“Stick up for fat people when we’re not around,” she says. “It’s easy to say, ‘ya know what, I’m not comfortable talking about X’s body in this way, so let’s not.’”
—Interrogate your own fat phobia.
—Follow the Radical Health Alliance, a local nonprofit that champions the health of fat people, on social media. You can also work with your employer to bring them in for training on fat bias.
—Attend, volunteer, or donate to the Big Fat Super Swap.
—Support Family Tree Clinic, who does great work at the intersections and is working toward a Health at Every Size model.
—Remember that accessibility and fat liberation deserve a space in social justice spaces.
—Remember that fat people’s bodies are not the things that need to change.