challenging perceptions

All posts in the challenging perceptions category

More on That Louie Scene

Published May 25, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I had intended to run this post a few days ago, but the working week got the better of me (the crescendo of the financial year is always so intense), and I’m a little bit later than planned.  But it’s still important and I know some of you want to expand the discussion more from the previous post – thank you for your patience and keeping in topic!

So last post I was talking about the scene from Louie with the rather amazing Sarah Barker giving a stellar performance as a fat girl on a date.  My last post was a response to the criticisms of her statement that it sucks to be a fat woman were not a win for fat activism.  If you still haven’t seen the scene, or need a refresher, you can check it out here.

It’s important to note that I do have issues with Louis CK and his TV show.  But I’m not talking about those here.

Today I want to respond to some of the fatosphere criticisms of the scene with regards to dating and relationships.

The major criticisms that I have seen that bother me are:

  • She is begging for attention/to have her hand held.
  • That plenty of hot men want to date fat women, why did she go out with one that was reluctant to date her/be seen with her.
  • Men don’t want to date her because she is whiny and annoying, not because she’s fat.
  • It portrays single fat women as “pathetic” or desperate.
  • She’s “settling” when she says she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a husband.
  • Why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?

I find these criticisms extremely problematic.

The first thing that I have a problem with is the way that many perceive her as begging/whining/annoying.  I think that reaction actually reflects the point she makes to Louis about the double standard between when men and women talk about how hard it is to date while being fat – how he can get up on stage and joke about being single and a fat guy and people think it’s adorable, but if she tries to talk about how hard it is for her, people call the suicide hotline.  To me, suggesting she is begging/whining is deeply misogynistic.  She’s being very clear about what bothers her about the way she is treated, and she’s also calling Louis out for behaving in a way that she finds really disappointing.  She expected better of him.  But because she is a woman, it is instantly read as whining/begging.  However if a man were to outline when someone’s behaviour bothered him, he’d be considered assertive and honest.

The next point that bothers me is the suggestion that there are “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” and “why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?”  I think that this reaction to the scene also demonstrates exactly what she is talking about.  She asks Louis if he has ever dated a fat girl, and quickly pulls him up when he starts to say yes and says “I didn’t ask if you’ve fucked a fat girl, every guy has done that.”  She’s calling out the constant fetishisation and objectification of fat women.  Those “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” on BBW sites are in the majority not looking to date a fat woman – they’re fetishizing/objectifying us.  Hands up if you’ve ever been involved with a man who is all too happy to sleep with you in private, but won’t take you out for dinner, or hold your hand in public, or introduce you to his friends?  She quite rightly says that if she had offered Louis sex, he’d have taken it up straight away… what if that’s not what you want from a partner?  There is nothing, NOTHING wrong with wanting to have a romantic relationship with someone, and to want them to put some effort into that relationship.  She’s right, any woman who is willing can get laid.  But it is exceptionally difficult to find men who are willing to date fat women in the same way that they would a thin woman.

Another criticism I find difficult to accept are those asking why she is bothering with Louis if he doesn’t get it (settling).  That’s the judgement we all have to make on all of our interpersonal relationships with people who don’t quite get fat activism.  We don’t live in a bubble of fat positivity, we live in the real world and it means making decisions about whether people are worth having in your life.  Do you take up the challenge of educating them, getting them to see how their behaviour is problematic, or do you just move on.  Sure, pick your battles, some people really aren’t worth your time.  But some people are.  Some people, while initially not getting it, are more than willing to listen and work through it.  That’s what you have to decide.  I’ve not that long ago dated a guy who kept putting his foot in it, not quite understanding what bothered me, but he was willing to listen, and asked me how to get it right.  Sure, it gets frustrating at times, but I never felt that it was “settling” for me to continue to see him.  One of the greatest moments with someone who “doesn’t get it” is that moment that the penny drops and they DO get it.  I love that moment!  Some of the most important people in my life today were really defensive at first, but I thought they were worth keeping around, and now they’re my staunchest allies.

But the one that really sticks in my craw is the suggestion that this portrays a fat woman as “pathetic”.  Why?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to call a man out for a crappy attitude/behaviour and state clearly what she wants?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to say that she wants a man who will be proud to be with her and put some effort into dating her?  It’s interesting that whenever a man shows vulnerability or wants a romantic relationship, it’s sweet and romantic, but if a fat woman does the same, it’s “pathetic” and “needy”?

Interestingly, those within fat activism that have been the most vocal in suggesting that this portrays fat women as pathetic are those who have the privilege of being in a relationship of whatever form themselves.  It makes me really side eye them as supposed allies… do they really think those of us who are single and are interested in dating a man who is proud to be seen with us and puts some effort into us as “pathetic”?

I want all of you to know there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable.  There is nothing wrong with speaking about what you want and expect from relationships.  There is nothing pathetic about wanting to be in a relationship.

Personally, I found this entire scene empowering, because it articulates a lot of things that I feel and represents situations I have been in myself.  That’s what I want to see in television – realistic portrayals of the lives of fat women.  I don’t just want to see us lampooned or turning ourselves into cariacatures (a la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids).  I want to see realistic fat women in realistic situations. Awkward conversations, guys being jerks and then getting called out on it, fat women who are angry, disappointed, exasperated, and fed up, people who don’t quite get it but are willing to try, and sometimes getting that wrong too.

I want to see all representations of fat women, not just those that tick all the Fat Activism 101 boxes.

It Sucks to be a Fat Woman

Published May 17, 2014 by sleepydumpling

I don’t know if you’ve all seen this snippet from the TV show Louie, but it has done the rounds of the fatosphere quite a bit over the past few days.  Just in case you haven’t seen it, or want to refresh your memory, here it is again.

I’m not a watcher of Louie, and I have mixed feelings about Louis CK, and his show as a vehicle for social politics, but I want to move away from that aspect just now.  That’s a conversation for another time.

This clip has garnered a lot of criticism within fat activism circles.  Some of it is valid criticism, some of it I disagree with because I think it is viewed through a lens of privilege and internalised misogyny as well.  I’m going to do more than one post about it, so please hang in there ok, and we’ll hit the issues up one by one.

But for me, well, I connected with it very deeply.  Not only because Sarah Baker gives one hell of a performance, but because she voices a lot of things I feel and think.  I have a lot of thoughts on being a fat woman and dating, but I think those are for another time.  I will actually have a post on that coming up soon.

What I want us all to focus on here is the statement that seems to have got the most criticism.  “It sucks being a fat girl.”

So many people have complained about this, saying that it doesn’t suck to be a fat girl and that her saying it sends a “bad message” to the rest of the world, that it’s “so negative, we can’t see it as a win.”

Well I’m going to be the one to say it as a real life fat woman.

It sucks to be a fat woman.

It really does.  But not because of physically being fat.  It doesn’t suck having a fat body, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  It sucks to be a fat woman in a world that treats us as second-class citizens.

It sucks to be treated with contempt, derision, ridicule and outright hatred.

It sucks to have a lot of men act like their dick is going to fall off if they are seen with you in public.

It sucks to be sneered and tutted at on public transport as though you don’t have the right to be there.

It sucks to go to the doctor for a cold or a sore toe and be lectured on your weight instead of being given treatment.

It sucks that retailers who know they could make very good money off you refuse to stock reasonable quality, fashionable clothing at a reasonable price because they don’t want to lose their thin customers who wouldn’t be seen dead in the same outfit as a fat woman.

It sucks to have random men scream abuse at you in the street.

It sucks to get hate mail and trolling because you dare to be a visible fat woman.

It sucks that furniture often isn’t made to include your body.

It sucks that you can’t turn on the television or open a magazine without being shamed for your body.

It sucks that strangers take your photo in public without your consent.

It sucks to be a fat woman.

I find the whole idea that we must be positive at all times, and only represent the good things about being fat at all times really damaging.  It’s not helping anyone to expect that fat women are always depicted as everything being perfect and rosy.  Or that we’re 100% arse kicking, take no prisoners, school every nasty dude that crosses our path at every moment of our lives.  Not only does it provide a false sense of “Everything’s fine!” to not fat people, but it doesn’t help we fatties.  It doesn’t help we fatties to think that so long as you’ve got good self esteem and don’t hate your body, suddenly the world gets all sunshine and roses.  It doesn’t.  People told me back in my self hating days that when I learned to build my self esteem and be confident, people wouldn’t be as horrible to me as they were when I hated myself.  That’s a blatant lie.  It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get better.

What does change when you find self esteem and confidence is YOU.  You get better.  Not better as a person – you were already perfectly fine even before you found self esteem and confidence.  But better at dealing with the crap.  Better at valuing yourself.  Better at realising that other people’s crappy behaviour is no reflection on you.  Better at self care to deal with other people’s horrible attitudes.  Better at advocating for yourself.  Better at saying no.  Better at shrugging off the haters and living your life anyway.

I also don’t want us to have to deny any vulnerability.  You know what, people are shitty to and about fat people, and it’s hurtful and bloody stressful!  We’re dealing with a constant level of stress that thin people generally don’t have to think about.  Will I physically fit in that furniture?  Will people be rude to me for taking up too much space?  Is the doctor going to take me give me treatment or are they just going to prescribe a diet?  Can I take a walk without someone mooing at me and calling me a fat bitch?  Will I be able to find a suitable outfit in my size for a job interview?

But most importantly, the answer to “Being a fat woman sucks.” is not “Well become a thin woman then.”  Firstly because there is no proven way to do that and secondly because our bodies are not the problem – our culture is.

Note: Please keep to topic in the comments and any “But thin people have it hard too!” denial of privilege will be sent to the spam bin and banned from commenting permanently.

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.

Outside the Margins – Fatshion and Fashion

Published December 2, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Hasn’t this week been a big one for the discussion of what has happened to fatshion?  This discussion is a very good thing, and mostly it has actually been discussion, rather than drama.

That said, there are two assumptions/perceptions that I really want to address today in this post:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

Before I address these two things, I want to acknowledge that high profile plus-size fashion visibility is most definitely white, smaller fat (14-18), young, cis-gender, heterosexual, able bodied and affluent.  Hell yes, the freebies, the plum gigs in the industry, the advertising money, and the popularity go to those with privilege.  We need more diversity in plus-size fashion.  We need more women of colour, we need more variety in size and shape of fat women in plus-size fashion, we need older women, we need variance of gender and sexuality, we need visibility of people with disabilities and indeed, most plus-size fashion is expensive and inaccessible to those without ready disposable income.  Absolutely.

But answer me this… isn’t ALL fashion guilty of these things?  Isn’t the entire fashion industry, regardless of size, guilty of these things at a base level?  Plus-size fashion companies are mirroring the EXACT thing that happens in straight-size fashion.  The entire industry needs revolutionising, for no other reason that like all of society, it favours the privileged.  A young, white size 16 woman in fashion may not be radical anymore, but it is radical that we have shifted the boundaries to the point that they are no longer considered radical.

What I believe, is that fatshion is not the same thing as the plus-size fashion industry.  They intersect of course, but the reality is that the plus-size fashion industry is not fully serving the fatshion community (or just the general fat community) to meet it’s need.  That brings me to my first point above:

1) That fatshion has been consumed by the corporate, that it has been branded and marketed out of all power.

We are seeing a slight shift in the world of plus-size fashion.  It’s not a radical one at all, but it is a shift.  Young, attractive women bloggers over a size 14 are starting to get noticed by the plus-size fashion industry.  In fact they’re starting to get noticed by the fashion industry in general.  Names like Gabi Gregg and Nicolette Mason are turning up in mainstream fashion arenas.  Models like Teer Wayde, Fulvia Lacerda and Lizzie Miller are being featured in mainstream magazines.  We are seeing an interest in women with bodies outside of the traditional modelling and fashion size range (which is obscenely narrow – pun not intended) across the board.

But that’s not the reality of fatshion for the vast majority.  Gabi, Nicolette, Teer, Fulvia, Lizzie and others like them are making amazing careers for themselves in an industry that until now has otherwise excluded them.  They are doing something that very few people get to do, and I believe should be celebrated for doing so.  But they are working in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is not about working in the fashion industry, it is about every day fat women engaging in dressing themselves with care and pride, despite a world that tells them they are not entitled to do so.  Yes, these women definitely do that, it is possible to engage in fatshion while working in the fashion industry.  But we should not be holding them as a standard that all fat women should aim for by engaging in fatshion.  Realistically, there is only ever going to be a tiny, elite few who get to do that.

Fatshion is not the same thing as the fashion industry.

What is amazing about these women is that they are pushing the boundaries of what the fashion industry means.  A mere two years ago, these women were struggling to be seen, to progress in their careers.  They’ve worked hard to get where they are and they have been propelled by fatshion, both directly and indirectly.  By engaging in fatshion themselves, they have become visible in an industry that almost always renders women over a very small size range invisible.  It has made them stand out in an industry that is pretty bland really.  However, fatshion in general has also had it’s role in propelling these women into an industry.  The snowball effect of more and more people engaging in fatshion and visibly interested in style, clothes, accessories and expressing ourselves through those things has meant that it empowers others to do so as well.  This then rolls on to the money spent in the fashion industry.  The fashion industry notices this change, and then responds by trying to make more money by cashing in on this expanding marketing.  It’s the nature of the beast.  The more visible those of us on the fringes are the more the boundaries are pushed.  The more we make it clear that we care about where we spend our money, and that we will spread word of mouth, both positive and negative, the more the fashion industry tries to cash in on us.

Fatshion has not been consumed, nor is it powerless.  The boundaries of the fashion industry have simply shifted slightly to include a tiny few more.  Fatshion’s job is not over, nor will it ever be.  Someone is always going to be marginalised, and it’s our power to use fatshion to constantly push, stretch and pull those margins to include more and more people.  Fatshion is powerful and valuable.  I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for fatshion, and my engaging in fatshion is often what opens the doors for people to come and investigate my activism.

This brings me nicely to the second point above:

2) That fatshion is inaccessible to people who do not have things like a fancy camera, access to designer brands, high profile status, the ability to travel, or influential contacts.

There seems to be this perception that the only people engaging in fatshion are those like the aforementioned high-profile women.  That fatshion is somehow closed to everyday people.  If you think that’s what fatshion is about, I say you’re not looking hard enough.  The vast majority of fatshion bloggers are people with everyday lives.  Jobs, families, commitments and restrictions are all present in most fatshion blogger’s lives.  Again, fatshion is not about being directly involved in the fashion industry.  Fatshion is about participating in something otherwise denied to fat women. It is about visibility, celebration and creativity.

The assumption that engaging in fatshion requires the best of everything, or the most privileged of people, is erroneous.  Otherwise I wouldn’t engage in it myself, at 40 years old and size 26AU and beyond, using my phone to take photos in the bathroom mirror at work, and shopping on a $25 per week clothing budget (sometimes less).  I’m not even a fatshion blogger, one doesn’t have to be to engage in fatshion.  I use my fatshion as one of the aspects of my activism, to change how people think about how fat women present themselves and how we should look.

When I look through my Fatshion folder in Google Reader, I see so much more than just a few high profile plus-size women in the fashion industry.  I see canny thrift shoppers, skillful re-stylers, talented crafters, and most practice a make-it-work philosophy.  I see a smattering small-time designers creating amazing things for women with bodies like their own.  I see photographs taken on smart phones, budget digital cameras, webcams and borrowed cameras.  I see single Mums, carers, women who work from home.  I see bloggers who work long hours in regular jobs, some who have several jobs.  I see some who have continued through illness, injury, unemployment and tragedy.  I see etsy hunters and eBay stalkers. I see swappers, sharers and sellers.  I see those who take fatshion to an artform, living their lives as works of art.  I see women of colour, women with disability, a rainbow of gender variations and sexualities.  I see women of all ages, from those fresh out of high school through to those with “advanced style”.  I see every size from 16 through to beyond what is available commercially in plus-sizes.  I see high fashion, high art and popular culture interspersed with alternative style, radical looks and vintage kitsch.  I seldom see high end designer pieces, but I see vintage, budget mass produced and hand-made all used with personal flair and creativity.

This is what fatshion means to me.  While I admire the few who have made it into the mainstream fashion industry and continue to push it’s boundaries, they’re not what I take my inspiration from.  They’re not why I take pleasure in fatshion myself, and not how I use fatshion as activism.

Fatshion is so much  more than mainstream fashion up-sized to fit a size 16 or 18.  Fatshion belongs to us, not to the fashion industry.  Fatshion will always be outside the margins, and will always be radical.  Fatshion belongs to here and now, not the past.  Fatshion is about finding your own style and rocking the hell out of it, flying in the face of a world that tells us we should never be seen.

Unlearning

Published August 20, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Firstly, I would like to welcome all the new readers who have come over here from the article in U on Sunday in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) yesterday.  For those of you old timers (I love you, you oldies!) who haven’t yet seen it, you can read it here.

Just a note – if you’ve come here to tell me I’m going to die… so will you.  If you’ve come here to tell me I’m going to infect people with my fatness… careful, or I’ll rub up against you.  And if you’ve come here to tell me that I am crazy – I’m not the one who Googled a blog just to rant in the comments section.  And we won’t have any stigmatisation of mental illness on my watch thank you very much!

So, on to today’s topic!

In light of a lot of comments on Saturday’s post on the Nike ad, some of which I chose not to publish because they were stigmatising, and some of the responses to the article in the Courier Mail yesterday, I wanted to talk a little bit about the things that we’ve always been taught, those things that “everybody knows”.  Mostly because in my experience, I have realised that I have had to unlearn so many things that I took as given, since I took up fat activism.  In fact, I pretty much have spent the last 5 years unlearning the previous 35 years.

One of the reasons I think people rail so heavily against fat activism is that they are terrified that they might not know things.  They hear or read something that is contrary to what they have always been led to believe, or have simply assumed, and they feel inadequate in not having known that.  Or they feel like they must prove those things wrong to save face themselves.  Instead of taking a step back and re-thinking things, doing a little research, asking a few respectful questions of people who know stuff, they lash out at anyone who challenges the dominant paradigm.  The thing is, as human beings, we should be taking it as a given that we really know very little indeed.  And that when we don’t know something, or don’t understand it, there is no shame in just sitting back and listening, or seeking more information.

When I was in high school, my favourite teacher was my science teacher, Mr Bendell.  The one lesson he taught that really sticks with me, is that there is no shame in simply admitting “I don’t know.”  Remember when you weren’t paying attention in class and the teacher would catch you at it and ask you a question, and you’d stammer and try to bluff your way through it?  Well to Mr Bendell, that was the worst thing you could do.  After all, you didn’t know, you hadn’t been paying attention.  The appropriate response was “I don’t know Sir.”  It acknowldedged that you hadn’t been listening, (and in Mr B’s class, being called out was punishment enough, we all loved him) and there was no trying to prove you knew something by lying about it.

But that said, it wasn’t until recent years that I’ve started to understand that what I thought I knew about the world really isn’t a fraction of the whole picture.  I’m learning, sometimes through making mistakes, that if I don’t understand something, or I don’t have direct experience with something, that there is nothing wrong with just shutting up and learning.  There’s nothing wrong with letting other people speak.  And if I still disagree, when I have privilege over someone, I can just leave it alone.  I don’t have to leave a comment railing at how they are wrong (when I have never experienced something from their underprivileged perspective) and that because I didn’t interpret something in the way they do.  For example, it’s not my place to tell people of colour what their experiences are as I am a white woman.  They are quite able to speak for themselves and their own experiences.  It’s my job to listen, to learn, to adjust my own behaviours and assumptions, and to bear witness to those experiences when they happen around me.

But I also wanted to talk today about some of the things I’ve personally had to unlearn about bodies, weight, health and fatness over the past few years, especially considering I have been a fat person myself for many, many years and believed a great deal of things that I now know, were not right.  I love a good list, so how about we try that?

  1. Fat is bad.  Yes, I believed for the first 35 years of my life that fat was the worst possible thing a person could be, and as a fat person, that made me worthless.  I now know that this is not true.
  2. Fitness and health are “inspirational” – no they’re not, they’re blessings that everyone has at different levels.  Things like strength, endurance, balance, agility, speed, flexibility and so on can be improved with work, but everyone has individual levels of these things, and no person is better for having more of one or more of them than someone else.  The same goes for health.  It is perfectly acceptable to find no value in either fitness or health, and neither are a measure of character.
  3. Fat people are going to die.  Well, this one is correct, but the bit I had to unlearn was that ONLY fat people are going to die, or they’re going to die sooner than thin people.  All people die, and none of us can predict when it will happen.  That’s what makes us living creatures – the fact that the life comes to an end at some point.
  4. Fat people live inferior lives to thin people.  No, fat people’s lives are often made inferior by discrimination and stigmatisation.  Their lives are not by default inferior to thin people.
  5. You can tell how healthy someone is, or how long they are going to live, by looking at them.  Nope, you can’t.  Quite often, it takes very extensive tests to measure an individuals health.  Most of us are not qualified to make those judgements.  Unless you are in the medical profession, AND have undergone an examination and related tests of an individual, you know NOTHING about their health.
  6. How you perceive something is how it was intended.  Oh no, not by a long shot.  While your perception or understanding of something may not be harmful, that doesn’t mean the original intention of it was harmless.
  7. If someone doesn’t intend something to be harmful, it cannot be.  Very wrong.  For example, I used to regularly use the term “real women” to describe women who were not thin.  I didn’t understand that by labelling some women as real, as good as my intentions were, I was harming others.  When we say things that are stigmatising to others, but don’t intend them to be stigmatising to those others, it doesn’t mean that any stigma is erased.  See referring to something as “lame” or “gay”, or the whole fat shaming position of many anti-ChickFilA campaigners.  While people with disabilities, gay people or fat people may not be the intended targets, they are stigmatised by these behaviours.
  8. You can discriminate against people with privilege.  Sorry, no.  There is no such thing as “reverse” sexism/racism/sizeism and so on.  That’s the whole crux of privilege – if you have it, you are by default gifted with something that others are without for no good reason.
  9. You have a right to your opinion.  Well, technically yes you do.  But you do not have the right to air it anywhere you choose.  Sometimes the space is not yours to speak in.  Sometimes it is not appropriate for you to air your opinion in a particular forum.  Hold that opinion all you like, but if someone says that you are not welcome to air it in their space, that is their right.
  10. You have freedom of speech.  Again, technically you do, but with that freedom comes the responsibility of bearing the repercussions of what you say.  Also, when we say “freedom of speech”, that actually refers to freedom of speech from your government and from corporations.  It does not mean you have the freedom of speech from individuals.  So if an individual tells you they don’t want to hear you, they have every right to do so.
  11. What you think of other people’s appearance means nothing.  This one is a tough one to swallow for a lot of people.  Your opinion on other people’s appearance is worth NOTHING until that person gives that opinion value.  So if you don’t like what someone is wearing or how they look – tough.  It’s none of your business.
  12. You don’t get to decide other people’s value in society.  You do get to decide their value in your life, but generally speaking, none of us get to decide whether they are valuable in or worthy of society.
  13. Feelings are something that people should “get over” or “deal with”.  It doesn’t quite work that way.  Feelings and emotions are really complex and we have them for a reason.  And while yes, we should be examining them and unpacking them for our own good, we don’t get to tell others to “get over it” or “deal with it”.

I think a baker’s dozen is a good start.  I am sure I could list a whole lot of other things that I’ve had to unlearn over the course of my 39 years and 1o months of life (so far), and there are many, many things I’m going to have to unlearn in the future.

If you are struggling against these things, you’re not alone.  I fought them tooth and nail for most of my life and really had to radically shift my beliefs.  I too railed against them, argued with people, stamped my foot and generally just made an arse of myself over these things.  But I can tell you this.  Once you start to unlearn these things, not only are you generally becoming a better person, but you find yourself a whole lot happier too.  When you start to let go of those things you cling to because either you’ve been taught them by authority figures in your life (from parents to politicians!) or because “everybody knows” them, and start to think about how you measure your own life, and ONLY your own life, life starts to get easier.  Hateful people don’t hurt as much.  Mistakes don’t matter so much when you use them to learn and grow.  Responsibility gets less scary.  Other people’s opinions of you have no power over you any more.

That doesn’t mean everything is rosy and easy and perfect and happy all the time.  God far from it!  It just means that you see the world from a different perspective, and that you are able to unpack your own feelings and how other people affect you.  You’re able to recognise when you need help, and you’re able to draw from your own well of strength.  You’re able to understand that how you see the world may be more privileged than the way others do, and realise that with your own actions, you can change the dominant paradigm, even if only in small ways.

But most of all, learning is good for everyone.  The more you learn, the more you grow.

What have you had to unlearn?  What do you struggle with unlearning, or at least letting go of?

Be Your Own Expert

Published June 1, 2012 by sleepydumpling

You know what really shits me?

Every time I see an “opinion” piece on “obesity”, weight discrimination and stigma, weight and health or any other subject relating to fatness, it is almost always authored by someone who is not fat.  And more alarmingly, quite often authored by someone who has no expertise or experience in the fields of fat, health or stigma/discrimination.

Many of you will remember the piece written by Phil the Marketing Dude on The Hoopla a few months ago – an article published on a mainstream online magazine giving an opinion on weight and fat stigma by someone who works in marketing.  Someone who has no connection to fat studies or health studies or medicine and isn’t even fat himself, published as though he has the right to broadcast his opinion on a subject that he has absolutely no connection to.

I saw another one this week in The Conversation – another online journal, this one touting themselves as having “Academic rigour, journalistic flair” by a lecturer in politics of all things (no, I’m not going to link it, it’s the biggest pile of steaming crap I’ve ever read – plus it’s accompanied by a hateful photograph, ) giving his opinion about discrimination against fat people.  Of course, he starts by saying that he doesn’t believe that fat people should be stigmatised, and then goes on to do just that and to encourage other people to do it as well.

Over and over again, people who have absolutely no connection to weight or health get to spew their opinions in highly public forums, without regard to how their words affect the real lives of fat people.  It seems the only thing that makes one an authority on fatness in many publications is to be not-fat, and be vocal about it.  Or sometimes they will publish someone who was “successful” in weight loss, without examining just how long that “success” has been achieved (usually less than 2 years) or how that person’s life/resources or body may be at an advantage to those of long term fat people.

Even if it’s a positive bent to fatness – many publications will publish the opinions of thin people far before they will actually talk to fat people about their experiences, their history and their realities.  Not-fat authors are also more likely to be given a sympathetic/empathetic ear over those of us who are actually fat.  More often than not, fat people who speak up about stigmatisation and discrimination are accused of being angry, aggressive or too demanding.  As though if we just were “nice enough” we’d deserve to be treated like human beings.

This is why when mainstream media approach me for my input, I jump at the chance, even though I know the piece won’t be perfectly fat-positive, and is likely to contain the opinions of aforementioned “experts”.  Because so rarely do actual fat people, who live in fat bodies and face the realities of being fat in a society that openly loathes fatness actually get to be seen or heard.   Not to mention that when we are seen, we are portrayed as sad, lonely, depressed, dirty, lazy, gluttonous, smelly etc – almost always objects of ridicule.  For someone to open a magazine and click on a link and see a fat person who is happy and confident, and who is articulating the realities that fat people experience – it is a radical discovery.  I remember that it wasn’t too many years ago that I myself was completely blown away by a photograph of Kelli Jean Drinkwater being fat, powerful and confident.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was discovering writers like Lesley Kinzel, Bri King, Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby.

I think we need to call out publications that use people who have no connection or expertise to fatness for opinion pieces on fat.  We need to contact their editors, leave comments and ask questions as to why they’re publishing pieces by people who have no qualification to speak on the subject.  We need to keep telling our own stories and sharing our own experiences.  It’s bloody hard work – as well as having to find the time to do it, one has to have the sanity points to deal with those who think they know your body, your life better than you do, and those who believe that simply by measure of your body, they have the right to treat you as less than human.

That said, I don’t believe it has to be as political or even as wordy as the method I choose, which I think a lot of people assume that fat activism must be.  Being a fat person who lives their lives to the full is a radical, radical act in a culture that so openly loathes us.  Being a visible fat person – be it through fat fashion, art, prose and poetry, hobbies and sport, or generally just getting out there and enjoying life – your job, your family, your friends, etc.  If you can be a proud fat person living your life and sharing it online or anywhere else, without ever mentioning the more political side of fat activism.  When someone who has long believed that they are worthless because they have a fat body sees a picture of a fab fatty in a cute outfit, or a proud fatty talking about the job she loves, or her family, or a fatty having fun at the pool, in a dance class, at the park with her kids… their world is opened up to a whole new possibility.  It shows a completely different paradigm to the mainstream presentation of life as a fat person.

You are the expert on your life.  WE are the experts on life as fat people.

So get out there I say.  Live your life.  Have fun.  Love those in your life who are special to you.  Dress in ways that make you feel good.  Document your life – blog about your passions/share your photos/make videos/be artistic.

But most of all, in whatever way you can, tell your story.  YOU tell it – don’t let a fat loathing society tell it for you.

Food Freedom

Published March 23, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Well what an exciting day or so I’ve had.  What with my piece being published in The Hoopla, I’ve had a whole lot more attention here, on Twitter and of course in the comments on The Hoopla.  Mostly people are pretty cool, they get just how damaging fat stigma is.  Sadly, many of them experience it themselves, which is always heartbreaking.  Of course, there are always a few who are willfully ignorant who go down the route of “BUT THERE’S AN OBESITY EPIDEMIC AND YOU’RE GONNA DIE FATTY!!” and just will not be swayed otherwise.  I even got my regular hater cropping up there too, how special do I feel to have someone who hates me so much that they go through all of my online accounts and search for clues of my health/eating/lifestyle?

Anyway, the message I keep seeing repeated by those who just don’t get it is that fat people all overeat, we’re lazy and we clearly have no idea to take care of our bodies.  These comments have a definite purpose – they’re designed to make us justify our bodies, our lives, our health and our choices.  The purpose of those comments is to make fat people say “But I eat healthy!!” or “But I’m on a diet!” or something along those lines.  It’s another control mechanism to make us jump when they say so, so that they can feel superior.

But of course – we unconsciously do it.  We don’t talk about the food we eat, or if we do, we justify our eating, making it clear that it has been ages, or we’re eating “good” foods, or whatever.  We’re careful about talking about needing to rest or sleep, always sure to be clear how hard we’ve worked so that it’s clear we’ve “earned” that rest.

Well, I’ve had enough of that shit.  Eating is not unhealthy. Not even for fat people. Nor is sleeping. Every human being must do both.  Nobody, not even fat people, owe anyone an explanation or declaration of their health. It’s irrelevant to almost everything.  Fat people do not have to prove that they are “worthy” of basic human respect and dignity to be allowed to live.  All of us except a very small few are not “addicted to food”, no more than we’re “addicted to breathing”.  We need food, rest and sleep to survive.  Every single one of us.

It’s time to set ourselves free of the need to justify the things we need to do as human beings, particularly eating.  It’s time to set ourselves free of the urge to prove that every morsel we eat is “healthy”. We have to stop letting other people determine what we should and shouldn’t be eating or doing with our own bodies and lives.

So I started tweeting with the hashtag #freefatty earlier today, and urged other people to do the same.

https://twitter.com/#!/Fatheffalump/status/183044928421634049

https://twitter.com/#!/Fatheffalump/status/183045064795242496

Some of the responses I got back were:

I even decided to tweet a picture of myself eating something that would be labelled “unhealthy”, check it out:

Om nom, lolly snake.

I know, I know, how dare I put anything in my mouth that is not, as Kate Harding would say, Splenda flavoured air!  How dare a fat, Type 2 diabetic eat a lolly!  I tweeted a picture of the piece of birthday cake that I ended up having too, after my boss went and got one for my colleague.  Look:

Happy Birthday Kellie!

It is my colleague Kellie’s birthday, and we wanted to celebrate that.  I think this was raspberry coconut cake, I forgot to ask.  It was made with real butter, eggs and sugar.  I didn’t talk about how “sinful” it was for me to have a piece of birthday cake, I didn’t apologise for joining in the celebration and I didn’t make a comment about how it would go straight to my hips/thighs/waist.  I just accepted a piece like everyone else, wished Kellie a happy birthday and enjoyed a little down time with my team.

And you know what?  Here’s my dinner tonight:

Yup, that’s a real bagel, with real cream cheese (not light), ham and roasted capsicum.  It doesn’t come in a box marked “Lite”, there are no points on it, it’s not powdered and intended to “stave off hunger pangs”.  The bagel is the authentic deal, not low carb or gluten free.  I don’t have to make sure everyone knows I “earned it” because I exercised or had a busy day.  I don’t have to make sure people know it is “diet” or “healthy”.  I don’t have to promise I’ll “be good” tomorrow to justify it for my dinner.  It’s dinner time, I have beautiful fresh, real-deal bagels and fresh fillings, I’m hungry and it tastes good.

None of us have to play those games around food, sleep, rest and health any more.  We don’t.  If someone passes comment, reply “Well lucky I’m eating it and not you then.” or “It’s food, not the anti-Christ, you won’t go to hell.”  Or simply “Please don’t place judgement/comment on my food or my body.”

I am free to eat my dinner, relax and live my life.  And so are you.

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