Chrissy Brown is an artist who works primarily in 3D, and as a fat, disabled, queer, femme she wants to make sure she and others like her feel welcomed to take up space in the world. Her subject is fat liberation and body positivity, and she’s trying to strip away all ‘performance’ we, as fat people, are expected to do to fit in to mainstream society.
Tell me about you! What’s your name? What pronouns do you use? Where do you live? What do you like to eat for breakfast?
Hello! My name is Chrissy J Brown (she/her or they/them), and I love a bit of arty mess. I’m based in Colchester (Essex, UK) where original Roman ruins live side-by-side with tower blocks. I usually have sleep for breakfast (I make myself into a Chrissy-stuffed croissant in my duvet).
What is your business, and how does it make a difference in the world?
My biz is all art, but mostly sculpture – with clay I’m literally building the world I want to see into existence. Fat babes who are utterly comfortable with their large, soft, sprawling bodies. I like to think what I do makes a difference to individuals who have spent a lifetime feeling ashamed. The messages I receive from people who are finally getting positive reinforcement from a world that has only ever shamed them is what keeps me going.
Why is what you do important? How does it change the way people see or how they feel about their bodies?
Fat visibility leads to fat joy, and fat pride, and everyone deserves to be joyful and proud of who they are – especially those who are systematically marginalised because their bodies don’t fit some ephemeral, garbage ideal. My art, I hope, allows the people who relate to it to feel valid, seen, and heard.
What’s your most popular item/service, or the one you most enjoy doing/making?
I can’t get enough of clay! I’ve been playing naked in the mud since I could crawl, and working with ceramics now makes me feel so grounded (even if I’m not naked!). I have many health and mental health problems, and losing myself in the process of building is incredibly therapeutic. My most popular items are my little goddesses, which are made from polymer clay. They’re cute, fat babes that people can keep anywhere as little reminders of their worthiness.
How does body positivity or fat positivity make your business different from others in your field? What has your experience been like?
I’ve displayed work alongside artists who have thin, naked people as their subject and they never get queried on it. My experience has been that people feel entitled to ask me why I do what I do – proudly displaying fat people in a non-derogatory context – whereas artists who are displaying thin art are very seldom subject to the same interrogations. People will straightforwardly ask me why I think fat, naked people are an appropriate subject matter.
I’ve had people sneer at my artwork as they walk past my table at art fairs, I’ve had skinny people beckon over their buddies and point at my sculpture to say ‘ha ha, that’s me after a big meal!’ and then giggle when they see me, an actually fat person, behind the work. To so many people it’s baffling.
But then, one day, an eleven year old who reminds you so much of yourself at that age comes up to you, mesmerised by the sculptures, and starts talking about learning to love herself, and it makes it all worth it.
The majority of reactions I get range from confusion to anger (which often I don’t mind, because I’m disrupting the status quo and I expect push-back), but those positive ones I do get mean the world to me.
Can you share an instance where you made a real difference for a customer, or had some really great feedback from them about your body-positive work?
I’m very lucky because I often get lovely messages from followers or customers, and each one is so special. I think the most notable one recently has been from a woman who bought a sculpture of mine to keep with her during labour and childbirth to remind her of her worth, beauty, and strength through it. That was really special.
How did you discover body acceptance or body positivity personally? What kind of difference has it made for you?
Mine was a rocky, pot-holed, uphill path to body positivity. I had active eating disorders until my mid-twenties, and around that time I left a hard-won PhD as well as a long-term relationship that had gone seriously sour. I was very lucky to have a friend who happened to introduce me to the fat acceptance hashtags on Tumblr, and since then I’ve gone through various stages of healing, change, and figuring out what body acceptance meant to me. It hasn’t always been straightforward, but it saved my life – there’s no other way to put it.
What advice do you have for other people who are learning to love and accept their bodies?
Take your time, and listen to yourself. Learning how to advocate for yourself in this world is hard, and we’re in a position where we have to more actively navigate the world than people who appear to ‘fit in’. Rest, and allow yourself to feel unadulterated joy wherever you can.
What advice do you have for other business owners who’d like to incorporate body acceptance into their work?
Work from your own experiences. It’ll show in your work when you have a very personal connection to your subject matter. Body acceptance could look totally different for you than it does for anything else you see out there, and don’t be afraid to explore that!