body image

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What Being a Fat Woman Is Really Like

Published March 1, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I don’t know if you all came across that piece from Cosmopolitan, the interview with two self-identifying fat women which was a surprisingly respectful interview for a mainstream media piece.  Thanks to Laura at Tutus and Tiny Hats I’ve discovered that quite a few fat bloggers having a go at answering the questions themselves, to give some more perspectives on what it is like to be a fat woman.  There is a list at the bottom of this one by Charlotte at The Reality of My Surroundings of others who have done it.

So I thought I might have a go myself.  I think it’s a great idea to have as many perspectives of what it is really like to be a fat woman, so if you’re a fat blogger, I encourage you to have a go yourself.

piggy donut

How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?

It really pisses me off.  Because 99% of the time, not only am I fatter than they are and it implies that there is something bad about me, but they actually don’t mean that they feel fat, they mean that they feel miserable, ugly, sad, frumpy, unattractive, bloated, unwell etc.  “Fat” has become a catch-all negative word that women use when they don’t feel good about themselves.  It’s time we expanded our vocabulary and used the actual words that describe how we really feel.  You can’t “feel” fat… well, not unless you’ve got your hands on me.

How has your body image changed since high school? College?

Vastly.  It didn’t really happen until my mid-30′s, but before finding fat activism, I honestly believed I was completely worthless as a human being, simply because I was fat.  All of the other things about myself didn’t matter – I was fat, therefore I was worthless.  How things have changed since then!

Have you tried dieting? What happened?

AHAHAHAHAAHA!  I wish I could charge a dollar for every time I have been asked that question.  What happened is that I completely fucked my metabolism, my teeth, my digestive system and continued to get fatter and fatter until I stopped dieting.

Do you think in your case your weight is partly or entirely genetic?

I actually think it doesn’t matter.  It’s irrelevant how I or anyone else arrived at being fat – we just are, and regardless of how we got there, we all deserve the same dignity and respect, and to live our lives in peace.

Do you consider yourself healthy? Have there been instances where people assumed you were unhealthy?

Again, something I think that is entirely irrelevant.  A fat person’s health status has no bearing on their value as a human being.  Not to mention that it’s also their own business and doesn’t have to be proven or declared to anyone.  It is also ableist to assume that everyone is obliged to be healthy.

And people make assumptions about me and my body and my abilities all the time.  I don’t actually care what they think, what matters is how I feel, and that I am treated with dignity and respect. (I’m gonna keep using those two words until the world gets it in their head!)

Are your parents both supportive of you at the weight you’re at? Have they always been?

I wouldn’t know what my parents think these days, I no longer allow them in my life.  When they were in my life, they were both very abusive about my body, even before I was fat.  I think it’s common for girls to be targeted about their bodies as part of abuse, no matter what size or shape their bodies are.

How do you think retailers can improve clothes for plus-size people?

This is an easy one.  Provide the same clothes in the same amounts and same variety as they do for straight sizes.  Simple as that.

Do you think plus-size women are judged differently than plus-sized men are? How?

Most definitely.  While I don’t think fat men escape judgement, I think women are judged much harsher, simply because we’re women, and society believes the most important thing a woman can be is decorative.  It’s already hard enough to be a woman in our culture, but to be a woman who “fails” to conform to society’s standards means that she is seen as less than human.  Add more marginalised identities and you’re even more detested by societal standards.

Do you think there’s an assumption made/stereotype that exists about plus-size people? How would you respond to it?

How long have we got to go over the assumptions and stereotypes about fat people.  There are many, they’re pretty much all negative bullshit.  My response?  This:

homer fingers

Do you think there’s ever a right way or time to express concern about someone’s weight?

Mostly no.  In most cases, someone’s weight is none of your business or concern.  Ask yourself, why are you REALLY concerned about that person’s weight?  How about showing concern about someone’s feelings, or their wellbeing first?

What are the worst things people have said to you about your body?

Again, how long have you got?  I think the regular calls for me to kill myself would probably have to be the lowest of the low.

How did you respond?

See the image of Homer above.

What have people said (or do you wish they’d say) that would compliment your body or appearance?

I don’t want people to compliment my body.  Unless I am getting all sexy with that person, my body is irrelevant.  In the case of lovers, the thing I’ve always loved to hear most is how soft I am.  I am soft!

Though once a little boy I looked after when I worked in a child care centre hugged me and said to his Mum “Mumma she’s the huggiest lady in the world!”  I thought that was pretty cool.

If people want to compliment how I dress, or what I do with my hair – that’s a different thing.  That’s about my style and my taste, not about my body.

Do you find yourself hanging out with women who are closer to your size?

I hang out with women of all shapes and sizes.  In my friendships, bodies and size don’t matter.

However there is something very special about being around someone close to your size, who understands what it is like to live in a fat body, and to share that commonality.

How has your weight affected your sex life, if at all?

Not the actual sex life.  It has affected relationships, but not sex.

When you’ve been single, has your weight affected your dating life?

My weight itself hasn’t, but other people’s attitudes about my weight has.  A lot of men think that fat women should be grateful for their attention, which I find infuriating.  I’ve had men ask me out and then qualify it with “I don’t mind dating bigger women.”  Really?  Is that how you impress me?  By telling me that you “don’t mind” dating women like me?  BZZZZZT!!  Next!!

There is also the fetishisation of fat women to contend with.  I find it really gross when men don’t see me as a person, but see me as a masturbatory aid.

Do you feel weird if the guy you’re with only dates larger women?

Yes.  I don’t date only one type of man, so I don’t want to be with someone who limits themselves to being attracted to me for my fatness.  I want to be with a man who is attracted as much to the rest of the things that make up me – I’m more than just my fat.

I understand sexual attractions – I have some “things” that I find attractive too – very tall, thin men, men with chest hair, men with big feet and so on… but I’m not going to reject a man that doesn’t have those things – sexual attraction is about so much more than just body features.

Do you feel weird if he’s only dated slimmer women before you?

I don’t know – I’ve never been with someone who has ONLY dated slimmer women before me.

How to… Lose the Body Judgement

Published April 11, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I don’t know if you have seen it yet, but Bethany over at My Arched Eyebrow has written an excellent piece on the amount of body snark, judgement and fashion/wardrobe policing that goes on in the comment threads of plus-size clothing Facebook pages.

I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself, all those comments about what fat women “should” and “should not” wear, exclamations over garments not being “flattering” and that “fatties don’t want to expose their [insert body part here]“. Not to mention whenever there is a non-model shot (either a customer photo or a staff member usually), all this judgement comes out of so many commenters about their bodies, or what bits of their bodies aren’t “flattered” enough. Yet the same commenters usually whinge and complain whenever model shots ARE posted that they want to see the clothes on “real women”. Gah!

I was thinking a lot about the self hatred that so many women project on to others on these comment threads, either individually or fat women in general, and what really strikes me is that we’re never actually taught how to NOT judge people. From the minute we are born, we are taught how to judge others. Our parents and family, the media, school, our friends… everywhere we look from our earliest connections with the outside world, we’re conditioned to make judgements about people.

Sometimes judgement is useful. Sometimes it’s your subconscious giving you useful messages about situations – telling you when you are safe or not, letting you know whether someone is familiar to you or not, or generally just helping you communicate in the world, after all, up to 60% of communications are non-verbal. But when it is negative and based on arbitrary measures like someone’s body shape or size, it is actually of no use to you and is usually just deeply ingrained cultural conditioning, rather than actual learnt information.

One of the most liberating things I have ever learned is to undo that cultural conditioning and let go of judging people based on their appearance (among other things). Walking around the world without that mist of negative judgement on people’s appearances has meant that I’m not carrying that negative judgement on myself. It has also meant that I can approach life unfettered by all of that useless negativity and focus on the things that really matter, like how people behave, how they treat me and who they actually are. And in no way has it left me open or vulnerable to harm – it is something that is really unnecessary and has no real benefit to us.

It’s not easy. Every where we turn someone is telling us, particularly we fat women, what we should do, what we should wear, how we should eat, what to do with our bodies. So generally we naturally reflect that on to the world around us. It takes a definite, conscious disconnect at the beginning to undo the bombardment of messages we are hearing, to learn to filter out the garbage and focus on what is actually of use to us.

I have a few exercises I do when I find myself getting judgey in my head and I’d like to offer them up here for all of you to try and work on.

  • Start by setting yourself a goal. Tell yourself you are going to try to go one month without judging anyone negatively by their appearance. If you don’t think you can do a month, try a week. If you can’t do that, try a day. If even that is a stretch, try the time you walk to work or are in a shop or any measure that you think you can work with. When you master that timeframe, expand it.
  • Consciously try to find one positive thing about every single person you encounter’s outfit. Maybe they are wearing cute shoes. Or you like their earrings. Or the way they’ve styled their hair. Pick any one thing that is NOT part of their body, it only works if it is part of their outfit, and acknowledge it to yourself.
  • When you’ve mastered that, pay them a compliment. Remember, you’re not to comment on their body, it has to be something they are wearing. And keep the compliment simple. Smile and say “I like your earrings.” or “Cute shoes!” Try doing this for more and more people throughout the day. Start with people you are comfortable with – friends, family, colleagues. Expand upon the number of people you compliment every day. Try it with staff in shops, or the waiter in a restaurant, someone in the lift (elevator). As often as possible, pay people compliments on things they are wearing.
  • By this stage, you’re probably noticing things you like about people’s outfits more and more often. The more time you consciously spend doing this, the less time you spend passing negative judgement.
  • Something else starts to happen when you do this… the people you are regularly around start to return the compliments. Usually they don’t know they’re even doing it, they just tend to reciprocate. I’ve actually discovered that I’ve unconsciously trained a huge chunk of people in my workplace to notice positive things about each other. I’ve got people whose only interaction with me is that we bump in to each other in the lift complimenting me now before I get to them. People who I would never have interacted with before now smile and say hello, and we usually trade compliments!
  • You can even practice on the photos on plus-size clothing Facebook pages! Look at each photo and find something you like about the outfit. Even if it is just the colour, or the hemline, or the accessories the person is wearing.  Leave a comment saying so.  Remember, no body judgement!
  • Important caveat though – you don’t have to compliment anyone who is rude to you, who you don’t like or you can’t find anything you like about them. It’s good to try, even just in your own head, but it’s not going to ruin the experiment if you just let those people go.
  • If you do find yourself thinking “They shouldn’t be wearing that.” or something along those lines, ask yourself why. Is it hurting anyone? I mean REALLY hurting anyone, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is “offending” you because you don’t like it. Ask yourself if anything is taken away from you by someone wearing something you don’t like, or in a way you wouldn’t wear.
  • When you are next out shopping for yourself, and you see something that you like but you’ve always considered it something that you “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” wear, go try it on anyway. Grab a couple of things that you would wear and mix and match it in the fitting rooms. If you decide that you really don’t like it, put it back. But give it a try.
  • Wear one thing a week in a different way to how you would usually wear it. Wear a top tucked in or with a knot in it. Wear that sleeveless top/dress without a wrap or cardie (you can take one with you if you are really worried). Pull the waist of a skirt up higher (under a top) to make it shorter. If you can’t bring yourself to be in public, at least practice at home.
  • If you genuinely don’t like something on a plus-size retailer’s FB page (or similar), then say so, but try doing it without placing judgement on what other people “should” wear or on bodies.  State what you don’t like about it, acknowledge that others might like it, and tell them clearly what you would prefer.  Eg: “I really don’t like waterfall cardigans at all, even if they are popular.  It would be great to see you have a line of plain block colour cardigans with round necklines and elbow length sleeves.”  See… no commentary on anyone’s body, and constructive criticism.  Easy!

I would like to offer you all up the challenge to try the things above and see how you go. Even if you’re well seasoned at avoiding being judgemental about people’s appearances, you can still have a go. It can’t hurt and I find it makes me feel good. Not just about myself but about the people around me. Once you notice the changes that it brings, challenge other people to do it. Don’t allow people to spread their negative judgement on appearance around you.

Have a go… you may just find you like it.

Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by sleepydumpling

This morning I awoke to see a constant stream of retweets and shares for an article on a major Australian women’s online magazine (give you two guesses – I’m not naming or linking to it) about a woman who found a note in her 7 year old daughter’s bedroom, labelled “Diyet”[sic] and listing the food she ate (not much) and quite a considerable list of daily exercise.

Now yes, I agree, it is awful that a 7 year old child is making diet plans.  It is awful that a 7 year old child is obsessing over her body and diet and exercise already.  It shouldn’t be happening and I understand her mother being horrified that she would find this item in her child’s room, and despairing that her daughter is being influenced by this stuff already.  I find no fault at all with the author of the piece or the story she tells.

But seriously, for this particular online women’s magazine (let’s be honest, most online women’s magazines and most mainstream media) to be clutching their pearls over children dieting is a bit fucking hypocritical if you ask me.

This shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  These same media outlets publish story after story beating the “obesity epidemic” drum, and wringing their hands over “childhood obesity”, and then wonder why children obsess over their weight from a ridiculously early age?   These media outlets crap on about being “healthy”, which is just diet-talk reworded with no actual conscientious addressing of holistic health of all people, and then they get all up in arms about children dieting?  They allow the most hateful, bigoted crap about fat people to be published in the comments and call it “opinion”.  Not to mention that every single time I go to a mainstream media site, women’s or not, I am bombarded with ads for weight loss.  Where do they think kids, and their parents, get all of this stuff in the first place?

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dieting.  From as early as I can remember, there were stories in her magazines, and on the TV my father always had on, and in the Sunday paper, talking about the latest, greatest diets, the importance of being thin and how fat was “bad” (think of lazy, fat, beer drinking, old Norm in the Life: Be in It ad campaigns, fellow Aussies of a certain age).  Even if I hadn’t been told I was fat from my earliest memory (I wasn’t fat for most of my childhood) by my family, all I had to do was pick up one of the women’s magazines laying about the house, or sit and watch TV with my father and I was getting those messages.  Right from my earliest memories, I was hearing that fat is bad and that I should do ANYTHING to avoid being fat.

So what did I do?  I was put on my first diet at 11.  But I had already been experimenting with dieting and exercise regimes some years before that.  I was maybe 7 or 8 the first time I put myself on a “diet”.  I was very good at sneaking the various diet products that my mother had about the house, and I was an excellent reader, so I just read the magazines and followed the diets in those.  I was 13 the first time I was put on meal replacements (powdered shakes that were VILE).  Soon after I started engaging in purging after an older girl taught me how to do it.  I also started stealing laxatives and worming medicine because I’d heard those helped you lose weight too.  Once I got busted for stealing those out of the medicine cabinet at home, I started stealing them from the local chemist.  I can remember watching an article on one of those current affairs shows about childhood obesity when I was in Year 8, and this was in 1985 – long before the current obesity epidemic hysteria kicked off in the 90′s, which has magnified the situation hundredfold.

It has to stop.  The media are never going to take responsibility for the shit they publish, so we have to stop supporting the media that publishes shit.  Even when they do publish something that is worthy, like the story I mentioned above, we have to view it through the lens of the other stuff they publish as well and call them out on it.  We need to promote outlets that share the worthy stories without all of the fat shaming and stigma.  If we are worried about what our children are being exposed to, perhaps it’s best to start by examining what WE are exposed to.  Because if you think kids aren’t seeing this stuff, you’re seriously delusional.  Even if you don’t give it to them directly, if it is around, they find a way to get to it.  Or they hear a second-hand version from other kids at school.  We need to teach our kids critical thinking.  But first we have to learn it ourselves.  To question the source of information and to ask what their motives are.  We need to discuss these issues with kids and teenagers and each other, openly and critically.   We need to look at the ethics behind these outlets and their sponsors.

If these media outlets come up lacking, we need to stop supporting them.  We need to walk away and not give them clicks, not give them airtime, and not signal boost them.  Instead, find alternative outlets that take responsibility for the messages they are sending and don’t engage in hypocrisy.  Or that at least TRY.  If you know that an article that people are sharing from a media site is a cross post/re post from a blog (most of them say so somewhere on the article) – share the original version, not the re-post in the dodgy mainstream media.  We need to tell our stories and have them untainted by fat shaming that undoes the message that we are sending.  Want some suggestions?  Try here, here and here.  You’re welcome to share others in the comments that you like.

I dabbled myself with writing for mainstream media (was also offered a regular writing gig at several of them) and was burned more than once by them selling me out to some disgusting fat shaming story as a “follow up”, so I decided that I would rather tell my story here and keep it’s integrity than taint my readers with contradictory information.    It might mean I reach fewer people here and now, but the message gets through clearer and un-sullied by shaming to those it does get to.

The mainstream media is never going to change until we walk away from it and stop giving them the clicks, the reads, the purchases and the support.  Give that support to those who don’t perpetuate bigotry and hate while then decrying the state of the world that THEY created.

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Published November 28, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Looking out my window this evening there is no mistake that summer is here.  There is a storm brewing, it’s hot and it’s sticky.  I’m sitting here in a camisole top and a sarong, the fan blowing on me and my balcony door open to get the evening sea breezes until the storm hits and I have to run around and shut everything to keep the rain out.

It has now been about 5 years since I first started hearing about this thing called “fat acceptance” (my first foray into fat activism of any kind), and started entertaining the notion that I wasn’t worthless because there was more of me than there is of many other people.  In those years, my life has radically changed.  I’m a different person than I was 5 years ago.  I no longer put my life on hold, waiting to do things “when I lose weight”.  I no longer apologise for being the size I am.  I no longer allow people to treat me as sub-human because of my fat.  And I no longer hide myself away behind baggy, shapeless, dark clothing because others suggest it is “flattering”.

I realised the other morning as I was getting dressed for work, the me of 2012 really resents having to wear sleeves and cover my body in this hot weather.  That astonished me.  Was it really only a couple of years ago that I would never have dreamed of being seen without my arms covered?  There was once a time, that even in the hottest of summers, I would not leave the house without my arms covered past the elbow, my legs covered past the knees and a full face of makeup.  Now I often roll out of bed, shower, throw on a sun-dress and sandals and I’m out the door.  If I’m working and I have to have my arm tattoo covered, I find tops with the barest minimum length to cover the bits I need to, and then leave the rest free.  On the weekends I will chuck on a cami or tank top, a pair of shorts (sometimes plain shorts, sometimes bike-pants) and go for a walk along the waterfront with the sea air blowing on my skin.

As the weather heats up, I’m currently looking for a new swim suit, preferably a tankini or halter neck top with boy-leg shorts (so they don’t creep up my bum!) to go swimming at my local pool in.  No more wearing a huge t-shirt over the top to cover my body, no more dropping the sarong off my bottom half at the side of the pool and slipping quickly into the water.  Where my arms and legs were once pale white and untouched by sun, never seen by anyone, they are now gently ripening to brown and are adorned with magnificent ink.

I only wear makeup now when I want to dress up a bit, or have fun with some colour.  I no longer feel that I have to have a “face” on to be acceptable to be seen.  I once wore glasses that were plain and unobtrusive, now they are bold and make a statement.  Where I once wore my hair long, thick and heavy because I was told it was flattering to my round face, slowly cooking my own head under it’s weight, I now crop it uber-short with clippers, cool and light, and dye it bright hues as it grows back to a short back & sides.

Once I would hunt the sparse racks of plus-size clothes looking for black, navy, burgundy and forest green, now I am drawn to red, turquoise, magenta, mint, peach and cobalt.  From plain dark colours of my past wardrobe to the now busy prints, bold patterns and clashing colours.  I embellish them with big, fabulous accessories, shiny, colourful and jangly.  I like accessories that move and make noise, they stimulate my senses.  I look for shapes that skim my body, not blouse over it like I’m trying to hide it.  Where my legs once were always covered in plain pants, they now are bare under skirts and dresses.  When I did wear skirts before they were always with heavy black tights to hide my legs.  Now they are bare, or if it’s cold enough to need cover, have bright tights and leggings that draw attention to the shape of my legs.

In the past I walked with my head bowed, looking at my own feet, avoiding eye contact with anyone, trying to disappear.  Now I walk with my head held high, my shoulders back, surveying the world around me, smiling at the things that make me happy, meeting the eye of anyone who dares stare at me.  I would never, ever eat in public, always uncomfortable in restaurants or cafes, preferring to drink vast quantities of alcohol instead of being seen eating.  Now I don’t touch alcohol at all (I figure I drank all my share at once) and I love to dine out, to socialise with friends over brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee and cake.  I enjoy the food that I eat, and eat what I want, stopping when I’ve had enough, even if there is still food on my plate.  I know the foods that make me feel good, and those that make me feel cruddy.  I refuse to allow anyone to shame me for my food choices.

When I am home alone, I am comfortable with my naked body.  My new flat has a large mirror level with the plain glass shower stall.  The past me would never have been able to shower in this bathroom without covering the mirror, lest I catch a glimpse of my large, round, naked body.  Now I see it and value it, for being strong and capable, and for carrying me through my life.  I admire the roundness, the curves and bumps, the thickness and the marks of my life – stretchmarks, scars, moles and freckles, adorned with the ink that documents my life.  I am not bothered by the hairy bits or the saggy bits.  They are part of the road map of my life, signs of my maturing body.  Nor am I bothered by my natural hair, greying at the temples.  I feel no need to cover it as I grow it back ready to colour it something bright and fun.

This is the first phase of fat liberation for me.  I am free, I have been liberated from the prison I lived in for the first 35 years of my life.  A prison that I was both forced into, yet for many years was too afraid to leave.  My choices are mine.  My body is mine.  My life is mine.  I may never see fat bodies truly valued and celebrated by society in my lifetime, but my body is valued and celebrated by me.

I wish that for each and every one of you.

Dear You, Volume 3

Published March 11, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Dear You,

Yes, you.  I know you’re reading all of this fat positive stuff, all this self esteem stuff and the general concept seems really wise and kind.  It makes sense to you on the surface, after all, generally speaking, that’s how you approach the world right?  You see everyone has value and is important in the world, and you don’t care about the size or shape of people in the world around you.  What matters is their mind, their heart.  How they treat people and how they behave right?

The problem is, I think you’re struggling with feeling that way about yourself.  You feel the need to be perfect, to be beautiful, to be confident and awesome and amazing right?  But you just don’t feel that way.  You’re feeling things like scared, lonely, unworthy, stupid, ugly, not good enough.  You just can’t seem to get those old recordings in your head to stop playing, all the times that you’ve screwed up, or someone has told you you’re not good enough, or that they think you’re ugly, stupid, worthless.  No matter how much you “get” self esteem on paper, you just can’t seem to grow your own.

Am I right?

Let me tell you a little secret.  All those confident people you see around you that you admire but think you could never be like them?  You are already like them.  Not only because you are taking that step out into the great world of self acceptance and positive self esteem (which is awesome!) but because they feel just the same way as you do.    They feel scared, they feel like screw ups, they feel like imposters, they feel ugly, stupid, not good enough.  The difference is, they know that those feelings are normal to have, and that they’re not always accurate depictions of themselves.  They acknowledge those feelings first, and then they examine why they are feeling them.  They realise they’re usually because of stress, because of carrying around other people’s behaviour and attitudes, because of tiredness, because of worry.  Sometimes they’re chemical – lots of us suffer depression and anxiety.

There are lots of things that you can do to help work through these feelings of inadequacy.  Surround yourself with positive people who value you for who you are in your heart and mind.  Engage in self care – be it a good night’s sleep, a swim or some yoga, a night out with friends, or a long hot bath.  Whatever it is that makes you feel good.  Fill your life with the things that inflate you, not those that crush you down.  Throw away those magazines.  Stop watching TV shows and movies that engage in fat hate or criticism of women over their appearance.  Don’t give media that engages in bullying your time and attention.  There are plenty of other fantastic things out there you can read, watch and do that build you up, rather than tear you down.

But most of all, you need to know this: You don’t need to be perfect.  Or beautiful.  Or pretty.  Or even confident.  You are valuable right now, as you are, with all your flaws and imperfections.  Because we ALL have flaws and imperfections.  Every single one of us.  Perfection isn’t compulsory, nor is it possible.

Start to see yourself as other people see you.  When they tell you they love you, for whatever reason they love you, there is your evidence of your value. Turn off those old recordings from the past.  They are just that – the past.  They no longer matter.  What matters is who you are here and now.  Learn from and fix those mistakes as best you can, and value who you are now.  It’s never too late – whether you are 16 or 96.

Something starts to happen when you do this.  It takes a long time, but you start to see those qualities in yourself.  You may not recognise it when it starts to happen, but you will feel it.  You’ll feel brighter and lighter.  You start to see yourself as the amazing human being that you are.

And you are an amazing human being.  I can see it already.

Lots of Love

Kath

Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

Published February 28, 2012 by sleepydumpling

A few days ago I was writing an email to a friend of mine about fat, fashion and marginalisation, and while I was doing so, quite a few things kind of went “Ping!” in my head, and I realised I wanted to expand upon the subject in a general sense here on my blog.  We were talking about how many fat women feel about clothing and fashion, and the desperation so many of us feel when trying to find clothes that fit us, suit our lives, we like, make us feel good, and that are fashionable.

Those of us who engage in fatshion, the act of dressing/styling ourselves with pride and personal expression as fat women are outside of the acceptable cultural meme for fat women.  Fat women are expected to constantly be expressing their shame at having a fat body and doing everything they can to hide those fat bodies.  Regardless of whether or not that suits our lives, our needs or our personalities.

That’s the thing with inhabiting a fat body.  People see you as just that – a fat body.  They don’t attribute anything else to you, like a career or family, hobbies or convictions, let alone sense of humour, or intellect, or talent, or kindness and caring, or passion, or dedication… the list goes on.  The world sees you as FAT.  It’s the first thing people use to describe you, even if you have other more noticeable traits.  In my own personal case, my fat even trumps my candy coloured hair and tattoos as the most noticeable thing about me.  People notice that I am fat, before they notice a single other thing about me.

But of course, if you identify as fat and actually own this quality about yourself that the world constantly reminds you of, then the vitriol intensifies.  How DARE any woman not be ashamed of being fat.  She must be reminded that she is of lesser value, she must be brought down to the level that she belongs.

Clothing, indeed fashion, is one of the ways that society does that.  By restricting the options to fat women, it is another reminder that we are other.  That we don’t deserve the same things as “normal” people.  It serves to make us look even more different to general society, and then of course it is very effective in making us FEEL different to general society.

Having access to clothes that are fashionable and on a par with general society is both empowering and deeply emotional.  Because it takes away that demarcation of being socially other, and brings fat women to a point of being able to not just dress like, but BE peers to others in society.

I’m old enough to span a few decades of awareness of clothing and fashion.  I remember what it was like in the 80′s to try to find clothes to fit my fat body.  It was agonising.  So as a consequence, I spent most of my teens through to my early 30′s hiding.  Hiding in black, navy, burgundy.  Hiding in shapeless boxes.  No personal expression, no style, no fashion.  I never got to engage in fashion as a social event, so I was distanced from other girls/young women.  Therefore I never felt I could be friends with girls/women – and consequently only had male friends until my 30′s.  Of course, I didn’t know back then that this was institutionalised misogyny – teaching me that if I couldn’t “compete” with my peers, I couldn’t participate with them.

See how this shit works to push fat women further and further down the cultural hierarchy?

Then it came to work, and I couldn’t find clothes that matched those that my professional peers were wearing.  Instead, more shapeless, sloppy, dark sacks – which in turn made others (and myself) believe that I was less capable, less committed, less able than my thin peers.  After all, if you can’t dress yourself confidently, surely you can’t do anything else confidently right?

It just keeps going on and on and on.

I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are.  That’s always a special feeling.  I’ve been the one that the person with the fucked up food obsession uses for thinspiration.  I can’t tell you how it feels to have someone in a position of power use you as their metaphorical piggy-on-the-refrigerator, stalking your every move around food… and because they’re in a position of power, you can’t say “Fuck off.” or if you say anything to anyone else you get told you’re imagining it or over-sensitive.

I understand.  I know how it feels.  I live it every day of my damn life.

My only way of coping is to take it on and try to change the world.  I did 35 years of trying to change me to fit the world, and it didn’t work – it almost killed me.  Now I intend to devote the rest of my life to changing the world to fit everyone.  After all, the world is a big diverse place, there is room in it for all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like or what our lives are.  And we fat people have as much right to it as anyone else.

Defining My Identity

Published October 21, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I’m a little high on adrenaline tonight.  I’ve had some more work done on my left half sleeve tattoo today, which always gives me an adrenaline rush afterwards, but it was just an intense day all up.  I have mentioned before that I am working on a project with Dr Lauren Gurrieri of Griffith University, which I cannot share much about yet (I promise I will as soon as I can) other than it involves my being photographed around the subject of my identity.  Of course, a major part of my identity is my tattooed body, so it was obvious that was one of the events we needed to document.  I’m really pleased and honoured that my fabulous tattoo artist, Victoria R Lundberg of Wild at Heart Tattoo was willing to be photographed (and filmed) during my appointment.  She’s a good sport and a talented artist, is Victoria.

Anyway, my eventful day really started when I was sitting waiting for the bus to head into town to meet Lauren and documentary photographer Isaac Brown and head to my tattoo appointment.  I was sitting at the bus stop in the shade, minding my own business, reading twitter on my phone when a white tradie van pulled up on the opposite side of the street, and the guy driving lifted his iPhone, took a photo of me and then drove off.  I know, I know, I should have said something or flipped him the bird, or took his photo… but when shit like that happens you’re just so stunned that you can do more than give them an indignant look.

It just goes to demonstrate just how much surveillance we fat women (and it is a mixture of fatness and womanhood that draws the surveillance) are subjected to in our culture.  It is both surveillance and the policing of our bodies.  If a fat woman is too visible, doesn’t hide herself away in shame, dress in black and minimise herself, she is scrutinised, photographed, judged and harassed for it.  But fuck hiding away.  Fuck letting other people police what I wear, how I do my hair, what I look like in public.  I think I look pretty fucking awesome:

Anyway, it got better when I was in town, I was walking through the Myer Centre when a young woman reached out and touched my elbow and exclaimed “Cool hair!”  I find that people who are complimenting me or being cool are happy to do so to my face, not by sneaking photos or whispering about me.

So it was particularly apt that today was the day I was a) adding to my half sleeve tattoo, which is a celebration of my identity and b) being photographed for Lauren’s project.

I have to say, it was pretty daunting.  I’m not used to just relaxing and letting someone photograph me as I go about my business.  I’m so used to having my appearance judged, and of that old mode of scrutinising every photograph of myself because of self consciousness.  I only saw two of the hundreds of photographs taken today, one each from Lauren and Isaac, so I have no idea how any of them look.  To be honest, that does make me feel nervous.  It’s all a learning and growing process – after all, it wasn’t that many years ago that I never let anyone photograph me EVER.  That vulnerability is very hard to let go of.  But I’m determined to let go of those old feelings of self consciousness because I want there to be a photographic record of my life.  I regret those years I didn’t allow people to photograph me.

As well as feeling vulnerable, it was an incredibly empowering experience for me.  I trust Lauren and Isaac to give me the space I need to feel comfortable with the process, and enough say in the process that if I’m not feeling comfortable or happy, I can say so and they will respect that.  Besides, from what I’ve seen of Isaac’s work, he’s a talented photographer and who wouldn’t love to work with someone with that much talent?

This whole process has been quite cathartic to me, it’s had me thinking about how I identify myself, and how through things like my bright clothing, bold hair and tattoos, I reclaim my right to determine my own identity.  Because that’s the thing about identity, it’s our own to determine.  I read this wonderful quote from Chris Graham in relation to right wing… media personality (I cannot call him a journalist) Andrew Bolt’s policing of Aboriginal identity, that I think is an excellent universal statement about identity:

No-one, no matter how hard they might stamp their feet, gets to tell you how you should identify.

Just to give you a teaser, here are a few photos that Lauren took on my little compact camera.

Victoria getting into the detail.

It doesn’t hurt that bad, really! (Lauren has a photo of me wincing in pain, so that’s not entirely true!)

Here you go.  The work after today’s session.

Victoria made the outlines bolder, touched up some of the colour in spots that were patchy, coloured the moon and the owl’s belly/eyes and added the words on the spines of the books.  All in all I’m very pleased with the progress.

Everything about today was about identity for me.  From choosing what to wear (which today, was 100% for myself, unlike on days I work or go to events for other people), being photographed without my consent, having a stranger compliment my hair, being tattooed, and indeed the subjects of my tattoos, and being photographed in the process.

I wish for all of you to be given the space and the opportunity to be able to define and own your identity.  It feels powerful and cleansing, particularly after having it denied of me for most of my life.

How Does Dieting Benefit Our Health?

Published September 29, 2011 by sleepydumpling

**Trigger warning, topic is about weight loss diets and disordered eating.**

I got a fantastic question on my Tumblr yesterday, that got me thinking a bit about diet culture and the constant calls for fat people to go on diets “for their health” and “take care of yourself”.

I was thinking about my own life of dieting, and how I felt all those times, and what my own health was like in those years.

When people say fat people should go on diets “for their health”, they’re not factoring in a) how dieting  affects the body and b) the mental health of the fat person.  Even if they are genuinely concerned for someone’s health and not just using concern trolling to police fat bodies because of their appearance, how much thought do they give to what dieting turns people into?

Now let’s just establish here that we know that fat people aren’t lazy gluttons and that we’re not all stuffing our faces 24 x 7 and that “dieting” doesn’t equal “just eating healthy”.  I know that’s the rhetoric that is spouted at us all the time, that we just have to “Put down the donut/cheeseburger/whatever.”  Let’s make it nice and clear that I’m talking about food restriction or replacement, rather than the mythical “just eat healthy” that the anti-fat seem to think we are not doing already.  When people say “Just eat healthy.” they don’t actually mean that, they mean diet, because hey, there’s no possible way a fat person can already be “just eating healthy”.  I’m talking about weight loss diets.  Calorie counting, no carb, no fat, no sugar, cabbage soup, replacement shakes, Atkins, South Beach, Pritikin, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, grapefruit, high protein, high fibre, high cardboard… whatever the fuck diet we were on at the time.  And this includes any of the disordered eating habits too – bingeing, purging, starvation, laxative abuse, diet pills, exercise bingeing, and even weight loss surgery.  Anything that is designed to restrict, reduce or purge for the supposed purpose of making us thin.

Can I ask… have any of you ever known a person, fat or thin or somewhere in between, who has been on a weight loss diet/programme, who is/was actually HAPPY while they are doing so?

*crickets chirping*

I know I was never happy.  I always felt like shit.  Having to measure every bit of food, count points, calories or grams, having to think about what I was going to eat every minute of the day.  I couldn’t just relax and spend time with friends, because I’d have to think about what foods met my diet.  Organising lunches for work was a headache and I was always on my guard for people questioning my eating habits (or lack of them).  Grocery shopping was even more nightmarish than I find it now (and I hate it now, thank God for online grocery shopping!) because almost everything was “forbidden” on whatever diet I was on at the time.  I was always hungry.  When I did get to eat, it was shitty.  Either it was really bad food (cabbage soup?) or it wasn’t even food at all, it was some powdery substitute or rubbery/cardboard diet version.  I never wanted the things I was “allowed” to eat, and yet I was so unbelievably hungry all the time that I had to eat them when I could.

Physically, my body fought me all the way.  I was constantly sick with every cold and virus that came around.  My skin was bad.  My teeth were terrible.  I constantly had to fight bad breath and diarrhea.  I had constant hayfever and headaches.  I never had any energy and never slept properly.

Emotionally, I was depressed, anxious and obsessive.  Depressed because I hated being hungry all the time and having to eat things that tasted like cardboard or rubber, depressed because no matter what I did, I could never lose weight and keep it off.  Anxious because I never knew where I could get “suitable” food, and I hated anyone knowing I was on a diet.  Anxious because my blood sugar was always low and I was shaky and couldn’t concentrate.  Obsessive because food might actually GET me, if I let down my guard.

Yet all of this was supposed to benefit my health?  How?

We all know that diets fail on the long term in 95% of cases, with weight regain plus more, but we never talk about how bloody miserable dieting is.  How nobody is actually happy while they are dieting, and because 95% of them find diets fail, they’re not happy in the long term either.  The whole diet culture just sets people, particularly women, up to be miserable all the time, both during dieting and then when it inevitably fails.

And this is supposed to be for our health?  This is supposed to be “taking care of ourselves”.

I call bullshit.

Instead, we can put all that crap behind us, re-learn to eat to nourish us, let go of exercising as some kind of penance and learn to find activity that we enjoy and live our lives to the fullest no matter what our weight.

I know which sounds like taking care of myself to me.

Working Your Way Out of the Self-Loathing Land

Published September 12, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Recently I received an email from an anonymous reader of Fat Heffalump, that asked me how one could possibly engage in Fat Activism/Acceptance when they absolutely loathed everything about their body.  They made it clear that it’s not that they thought that other people should loathe being fat, they just couldn’t find a single thing to like about their own body, they found themselves just that repulsive.

I think that is a bloody good question and one we should talk about.

Let me just say, there was once a time when I felt that way myself.  Even after years of being steeped in fat acceptance, I still have times where I get caught up in that kind of thinking.  I want to make it clear that there isn’t some kind of magical transformation that converts you to some kind of magnificent 100% self-loving fatty.  It just doesn’t work that way.  All of us have to work on it and practice and hone our skills.  I think the difference is that once you’ve been practicing this stuff for awhile and get better at it, you’re conscious of what it really is.  You’re aware that it’s not about your body being repulsive, but it’s about carrying the emotional baggage of a world that fears, loathes and stigmatises fat bodies.

We also have the benefit of community.  If you have a shitty day and you feel bad, having the community of the fatosphere to turn to is definitely beneficial.  When you have someone else to talk to, even online, who understands how you feel, and/or has had similar experiences, it is so much easier to deal with.

But also, it takes work.  We don’t just miraculously start loving our bodies overnight.  It takes work and practice.  Things like doing lots of reading of fat positive material.  Cutting out body snark of others.  Critical thinking about popular media and culture.  Surrounding yourself with fat positive people.  And taking the time to work on seeing yourself from a different perspective.

The thing that I think started to tip my thinking out of constant self-loathing was learning to be gentle with myself and actually entertain the thought that it wasn’t always going to be that way.  Just allowing yourself to think that there is an alternative way to feel is very powerful, even if you don’t feel that way right now.

So to start you all off, I’m going to share a little exercise that helped me to change my thinking about my body, and if you like you can share it in the comments below.

Think about your body and pick one thing that you like about yourself physically.  It can be anything, from the colour of your eyes, to your hair, your boobs, your hands, your elbows, the backs of your knees… anything on your whole body.  Just find ONE little thing that you like about your body, and think about it.  Think about that body part, you might like to close your eyes for a minute if you can.  Just think about it, the shape, the colour, the texture of the hair/skin/nails, all the different features of that one particular body part.  The only rule is no negative thoughts – you have to let those go.

If you can, take a photograph of that body part, or find one you already have that you like.  Think about what it is you like about that body part.  Think about how that part of your body serves you in your life, in it’s function in your body.

Hold on to those thoughts.  When you feel down about how you look, when you feel like you can’t love your body, go back to those thoughts and embrace them.  Remind yourself over and over about that one feature that you really like.  When you feel ready, have a go at finding another one.  And over time, you will find it easier to find things that you like about your body, adding more and more to your arsenal against self-loathing.

It sounds kind of silly, but it has really helped me in those very tough times.

Just to quickly share mine, I have always loved my feet.  They’re big but they’re a lovely shape. and they get me around everywhere I need to go.  I have funny wee toenails that I can paint cute colours, and I LOVE shoes, so my feet get to be decorated with something I love.  I also have both of my feet tattooed, which is another thing I love about them.  They also served me for many years with my dancing and I’m still very light on them.  Plus my feet never smell bad.  I just don’t get stinky feet, no matter what kind of shoes or socks or tights I wear.

Here’s a photo of my left foot before I got a real tattoo on it, back when I first started doing this exercise:

I’ve almost forgotten what my feet looked like without tattoos!  No matter how much I get caught up in the crappy messages society pushes at me about fat bodies, I only have to remember my feet, and how good they’ve been to me.

Your turn!!

Weight Loss Surgery: Jan’s Story

Published September 4, 2011 by sleepydumpling

I’m very happy with how the last guest post on the topic of Weight Loss Surgery (WLS) by Becky was received here on Fat Heffalump, and how respectfully people responded to it.  It goes to show that even though we might have had different pathways in life, and we might have some differences of opinion on fatness, that the crux of what we need to work on is the simple fact that fat people are marginalised and neglected when it comes to health care and support for our quality of life.

I am honoured to share with you all another guest post from a WLS recipient, this time from Jan of Outside the Lines, who is incredibly brave to share her story here.  I’m amazed at the strength Jan has had to show, as evidenced by her story below.

Again, please remember that this is a safe, respectful forum to discuss the topic of WLS, and while we may have differences of opinion on the matter of fatness, it’s important that we talk openly about the issues around WLS, especially the experiences and perspectives of those who have had the surgery and been dissatisfied with the result.  And in Jan’s case, she has some questions she would like to invite people to answer.

Without any further ado, here is Jan’s story:

As far back as I can remember I have had size issues. As a young girl, whilst not fat, I was always the biggest and tallest girl in my class. I didn’t like this at all, as like most kids I wanted to blend into the crowd. I had black curly hair which I didn’t like either. Actually there wasn’t anything I did like. I grew up in a family of 8 siblings all similar size. My mother was short and cuddly, my dad very tall and well fat.

Two of my older brothers used to tease me a fair bit telling me I had tree trunk legs, or piano legs. Funny thing is that looking back at my pictures I was not that big at all, so I am not sure what they were seeing. It probably started there. As I grew up it became quite obvious that I was always much bigger than the other girls and in some cases the boys too. The teasing was not that bad really. It was more that I felt so different. I was never picked for sports teams at school, that shame I remember well. Team captains would take it in turns to choose who they wanted on their team. I was never chosen, a team would get me as a default, as I was the only one left so someone had to take me. I sucked at sports, hated it with a passion. I was very conscious of the shorts or short skirts and felt awkward.
I was the tallest girl throughout school and so when we had to do dancing at school I was not chosen by a boy and had to either sit out or be made to partner up with a boy who didn’t want me as a partner cos I was too big. But really looking back I wasn’t fat, just larger than all the other girls. But I internalised all of this. Of course I did. My family did not support me, but then I don’t think they even thought there was an issue they just treated us all the same.

Of course being more developed than other girls I matured earlier having to wear a bra at age 10 or 11, then periods etc.

High school years were some of my worst. I think this is where the depression started really. I had always been anxious and shy as a small child and this continued throughout my life.

I really did not like myself but this stage. I wanted to be small and cute and pretty like the other girls. They were all getting boyfriends and going on dates, but not me. I was part of a strict family never allowed to go out.

As I approached my first working years I continued on feeling that I did not fit in. I entered the nursing profession but after only 9 months was forced to resign after failing exams. This set in place a huge amount of self hatred. My long held dream job and I had fucked up. Devastation was an understatement. Then at a young 20 I married and was pregnant and a mother before I was 21. At this age I weighed in at 101kg. The Dr’s told me to lose the excess weight. Then the next year another child and more weight loaded on. I went on to have 5 children and each time grew bigger and bigger. By the time the last one was born in 1992 I weighed approx 180kg.

Life for me was getting tough. Too big to run and play with the kids. I felt shit and a failure. Then in 1994 I had a friend who went and had WLS. She was much smaller than me, but anyway I went along to my doctor who thought it was a great idea. So I went through the process-endocrinologist, 3 sessions with a psychologist then proceed to surgeon, who I met the day before the surgery. I was so scared.

But dreamed of how beautiful I would look when I got slim. I was so scared that we bought a video camera and filmed me talking to the girls sharing memories just in case I didn’t survive the surgery!

Anyway I survived came home and was terrified. I could not eat normally. The first weeks its small bits of soup, jellies etc. I was 100% unhappy. Even though I thought I was prepared for this change I wasn’t. The medical and support staff had not focused on this part. I went into a fog, crying and raging that I was starving but could not eat. I panicked big time. My husband would shout at me to do the right thing and that I was fucking hopeless. Many other people who knew I had surgery were continually asking of my progress. It was the main topic of conversation. I was like a circus freak. I suffered mentally. I initially lost a few kilos, but it was slow going. However after about 6 months I had shed 30 kg’s and did start to feel good. People were noticing my weight loss and for the first time in my life I was receiving compliments. I actually though this is how life is meant to be. It slowly dawned on me that now I just might be acceptable to the public and more importantly myself.

However due to the nature of my WLS (stomach stapling) nutrients are prevented from being absorbed. You are meant to take multivitamins for the rest of your life. Well I didn’t.

It hadn’t been over emphasised so me being me didn’t do it.

After 12 months things slowed down and I wasn’t losing weight. I had managed to increase my eating amounts but eating little more often. I also found out that I could eat the so called empty calorie foods like chips, lollies and others such things with not too much discomfort. Then I added soft drinks like diet coke. By this stage I had a huge hanging amount of hanging belly fat reaching to my knees. So off I go to another surgeon to see if I could have it removed. He agreed to do it and in two weeks I was under the knife. Big mistake! I won’t go into the whole sorry saga but suffice to say I developed a huge wound infection and spent time in and out of hospital contracting a serious infection from the hospital. It eventually turned into gangrene and I needed blood transfusions and god knows what. After having the community nurse come to attend my wound daily for about a month or so it was decided to send me to a major city hospital. I spent a month undergoing repeated surgeries to remove dead flesh and rid me of the toxins in my body. I believe that I came very close to death. Luckily I survived and came home, but never returned to a healthy person. So time moves on and I gradually keep piling weight on and can eat just as much if not more than before. My body hungers for the food. For the comfort it gives me.

When I had that WLS I weighed 200kg and when I was weighed in May this year I clocked 301kg. I estimate that it is more now though. I am what they call a death fatty.

So there my shame is out there. I have been reading the FA blogs for some time. I started after contacting Dr Samantha Thomas, after seeing her on the telly one night. She is gorgeous and introduced me to some people like Kath. Finally I felt I was amongst people who could understand.

But here is my dilemma. I want to love myself 100%. I have progressed but how can I in all honesty do so when I am dealing with so many health issues due to it. I can’t kid myself. I currently have high blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, high cholesterol, swollen limbs, depression, and anxiety +++, I am housebound, can’t wear shoes due to swollen right foot. Can hardly find clothes to fit.

I read many blogs from FA members and I don’t see anyone who is as big as me, so I still feel outside the lines

I think this is sounding a bit woe is me now, and I admit that I do deign the cloak of victimhood. I am interested in receiving feedback on my particular situation. What do I do when it is clear that my excess weight it causing me poor health and may ultimately result in a shortened life span?

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