Personal Perspectives: Ottawa Explosion, my fat freaky body, and the freedom of punk

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Personal Perspectives is where Girls+ Rock Ottawa readers can share what music means to them. Contact us if you have a story to share!

By Emma Kenny

Disclaimer from the author: In using the terms fat and freaky to describe my body, I want to acknowledge and make clear that I carry a lot of privilege as a white, cisgender woman on the very small end of the sliding scale of fat. I understand and respect that folks of different identities may not share my feelings about punk. This piece is not meant to be prescriptive in any way.

Ottawa Explosion Weekend is my favourite time of the year.

The punk festival has been running during the second week of June every year for the past eight, and is euphemistically called a “weekend” when the “weekend” actually begins on Wednesday evening and proceeds to ruin your ability to be productive at your day job for succeeding Thursday, Friday, and Monday. For me, this week presents an annual opportunity to unleash the side of myself that I keep hidden: the sloppy, lazy, junk-food-devouring, unwashed side of myself. And there’s something particularly powerful about that.

I came to punk later in life, after some detours through classic rock, indie pop, and mainstream alt-rock. My discovery of punk coincides with my decision to stop dieting and start investing that energy into loving my body, choosing to unlearn fatphobia and learn radical body positivity instead of counting calories and allowing myself to be consumed by guilt for eating bread twice in one day. Punk makes me feel like it’s possible to be completely free of negativity and anxiety about my body and appearance. It shows me a different way to be myself, a way that includes the anger, elation, and messiness inside of me. To find a space where I (usually) feel able to give myself total freedom in what I wear, what I eat, how I move, and how I talk is a rare pleasure, and a real privilege.

I always tell the same joke when someone asks me why I like punk: I used to think I didn’t, that I was too soft for punk, until I realized that I just don’t like it when men shout at me. And no, “female fronted” is certainly not a genre, but punk and hardcore bands fronted by women and queer folks provided an entry point to a genre that I used to think was explicitly not for me. I never thought there was a place for an introverted femme bookworm in punk, but once I saw my friend screaming onstage about how much she hates winter and being misread as hetero, I tapped into an anger I’d been denying for a long time. And all of sudden punk made a whole hell of a lot more sense.

In short, I fell in love with punk.

It can become very easy to swallow your anger, especially in world where there is so much to rage about. Punk provides an outlet for me to explore and express my anger, a space where I can try new things - from outfits to dance moves - and the self-assuredness to go home when I’ve had enough without being devastated by FOMO (fear of missing out). The best thing about punk is that there are no rules, which means more than just anarchic violence on the dancefloor and staying out until sunrise (although that’s fun too). No rules can also mean sobriety, freedom from body shame, safety, and, yeah, going home early.  I feel like there’s something special about a genre that’s engineered- in all of its many forms - to allow participants to express anger. Done right, punk scenes make space for people to share rage, sadness, anxiety, and fear in a way that builds community. I’m not saying punk is a utopia, but I think it could be.

Punk lets me be free, and Ottawa Explosion is a time when I can fully embrace that freedom in the city I love with the people who matter most to me. That’s the incredible thing about music: it creates communities based on mutual love. And we can all work together to make those communities more welcoming, inclusive, and safer than ever before.