confidence

All posts in the confidence category

Strengthening Self Esteem

Published February 4, 2014 by sleepydumpling

After a recent conversation, I’ve been mulling the concepts of confidence and self-esteem over in my head.   One of the constant criticisms women get when we talk about having confidence or good self-esteem is that we’re vain, we have tickets on ourselves, we’re narcissistic or arrogant.  Since I’m thinking more about how we feel about ourselves, our bodies and our worth, I’m going to stick to just using the term self-esteem for now, but confidence is something that comes as part of good self-esteem.

For example, recently I had a day where I was feeling really great.  I had an outfit on I loved, my hair was doing what I wanted it to do (and has been really soft lately), and I just felt awesome.  I said something about feeling really cute today.  Well, the open hostility and ridicule that I got in response from acquaintances was a bit of a shock to the system.  One woman rolled her eyes.  Another spat under her breath “Talk about tickets on yourself!”  Once I would have got upset at their negative reactions and let it ruin my day, but I just responded in a cheeky tone that my cuteness was completely wasted on them, they don’t appreciate how adorable I am.  It didn’t go down well, but it made me feel better.  It wasn’t about other people judging me as cute, it was about me FEELING cute.  However a little later a business acquaintance popped in to visit and he mentioned that he thought I was “looking particularly sunshiney today” – so my feeling cute was clearly showing in my demeanor.

Part of that is sheer sexism, women aren’t allowed to feel positive about ourselves – our culture is designed to keep us in our place by making us feel insecure, unworthy and doubting ourselves.  But I think part of it is misunderstanding about what good self-esteem actually is.  I think a lot of people see it as some kind of black and white territory, where people either have good self-esteem, or they have bad self-esteem.  I also think that people see good self-esteem as someone feeling perfect, or invincible.

Which is not really what I believe it’s about.

Self-esteem is about seeing your own value.  Good self-esteem isn’t about believing you are perfect, that you never make mistakes or don’t have flaws, or that you are invincible.  Good self-esteem doesn’t mean that you are never vulnerable, or unhappy, or feel bad about yourself.

I think so often when we think about good self-esteem in ourselves, we see it as this massive mountain that we have to climb, and once we’ve reached the top, then we’re there and we never have negative self thoughts ever again.  Which makes good self-esteem seem totally unattainable to so many of us.  We can’t see ourselves ever feeling perfect or invincible, which is a completely normal and healthy way to think, so we think that we can never have good self-esteem.

Good self-esteem not a mountain to climb.  It’s a road we travel.  With twists and turns and bumps and dips.  Sometimes we run out of fuel and have to top up the tank.  Sometimes we’re running like a dream and travelling smoothly.  Sometimes we get a bit out of control and crash.  But if we learn to value and take care of the vehicle (ourselves – physically, mentally, emotionally) and navigate with attention and care, then we mitigate the risks on the road.

The other thing I think holds us back from good self-esteem is the rhetoric around “loving” yourself.  While I think it’s a good thing for people to learn to love themselves, not everyone can do it nor should they be expected to do it.  When you’ve been taught your whole life that your fat body makes you dirty, diseased, faulty, disgusting, it’s not just a matter of deciding to love yourself and wahey-hey, off you go, everything fixed.  Particularly when those messages are constantly re-enforced every single day, every single time you engage with any form of media, and often, by the people in your life.

What has worked better for me, has been learning to value myself for who I am, flaws and all.  There are things I do love about myself, but other things I’m not ready or able to love yet.  Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.  But learning to value myself and see my worth in general has been instrumental in improving my self-esteem.  Mostly it’s about learning to cut yourself some slack.  Not one of us can be Wonder Woman or Superman.  We are always going to make mistakes, or the wrong decision or get hurt.  That doesn’t diminish our value – in fact I think it increases it, because despite our human frailty we still contribute so much to the world around us.

It doesn’t matter what area of life you look at, if we are constantly expecting ourselves to be the absolute pinnacle of human possibility at all times, with no failure, no mistakes, no vulnerability, then of course we’re doomed to fail.  Why do we expect ourselves to be the next Bill Gates in the workplace, the next Mother Theresa in volunteer work, the next Beyoncé in well… everything… and so on, when only those people can be those people.  The only person we need to be is ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we don’t strive to do bigger and better things, and be a better person.  It just means that in the process, we cut ourselves some slack and realise that life takes practice, and that there are always going to be times when things don’t go the way we want them to.  There will be times that we will be hurt, worried, nervous.  Confidence is not about being fearless and invincible, it’s about telling yourself “Ok, I can have a go at this, and give it my best shot.”  It’s about dealing with our mistakes and continuing on with the business of life.

Striving to do better and be better is good for you.  But writing yourself off as worthless because you don’t reach the absolute pinnacle, or measuring your success against other people is going to do you more harm than good.

Another important thing to remember is that other people don’t get to measure your worth, or your success.  You do.  It’s nice to have our worth and success recognised, but that’s like the icing on the cake.  Not to mention that we don’t all measure worth and success the same way.  Only a complete jerk would expect their values and standards to apply to everyone.  We see that one a lot in appearance – ie my aforementioned tale of finding myself cute.  A lot of people believe that if they don’t find someone attractive, no-one else will, nor have they ever.  Which is a load of bollocks – everyone’s taste and values are different.  What I find attractive in a person is not universal to everyone.  Imagine how boring it would be if everyone found the same type of person attractive?  I can’t think of anything worse than if every woman on the planet was attracted to tall skinny white boys like I am!   Though I think an awful lot of us are attracted to Tom Hiddleston (you knew I had to work him in there somewhere!)

What I guess I’m trying to get at in a long and winding way, is that good self-esteem isn’t about being flawless, it’s about valuing who you are, flaws and all.

Because you are a worthy human being.  YOU are.

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.

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.

The Gift of Our Stories

Published December 14, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Up until a few years ago, I thought I was the most worthless creature on the planet.

I believed that I had no right to speak, have an opinion, share my beliefs, ask questions, or  talk to people without a being prompted directly.  Even then, I often held back, or made jokes about the situation, rather than actually sharing my thoughts or feelings.  I was full of guilt and shame.

But then I found fat acceptance.

I don’t remember exactly where I first encountered the concept, but I guess someone shared a link on Twitter or Facebook, and something piqued my interest, and I had a look.

Fat acceptance opened up a whole new world for me.  It changed my life so much that I can’t express fully just where I was and where I am now.

Where I am now, literally now, as I type this, is sitting in one of my favourite blogging spots, a little tabled area not far from my office, writing this blog post on a laptop as I’m photographed and filmed by a couple of academics as part of a documentation project about fat embodiment and activism.

When I look up, this is what I see. Lauren and Isaac.

Me.  Being photographed.  There are moments that I still can’t believe that I’m allowing the above to happen, not just allowing it but feel relaxed about it and even enjoying it.  I have a gap of about 20 – 25 years where there are only a handful photographs of me in existence.  More years I think, I’m not really sure.  I destroyed most of the photographs that were taken, simply out of self loathing.  I’ve had more photographs taken of me in the last 25 minutes than I did in that 25 years.  In the past few months, literally hundreds of photographs.

We found some photographs at work recently from 2003, and many people wouldn’t believe that the woman in those photos was me.  My self loathing is actually visible in most of them, even if I’m smiling on the surface.

It’s a massive shift in my paradigm.  To just allow someone to photograph me and relax (well mostly!) while they do so is so radically different to where I was years ago.

That’s fat acceptance and fat activism that has led me to that place.

An aside… it’s weird.  Every now and then a giant lens appears over my shoulder like a shark swimming into view.  I keep expecting to hear that music from Jaws, you know the bit with the cello?  It’s also kind of funny to have someone seeing my writing as I do it – normally it’s only seen by someone else when I have given it a tidy up and clicked on “publish”, not while it’s flowing out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen.  It’s a challenging exercise in the writing process.

Giving Isaac a taste of his own medicine!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, fat activism has brought so much to my life and radically change how I think about myself.  From a girl/young woman who received the dual message of “It’s lucky you’re smart, cos you’re not much to look at.” and “You shouldn’t get too big for your boots girlie.” to a 39 year old woman who has the confidence to allow people to document her life, and to share it with the world.

Telling my story is really important to me.  I think the most powerful thing about fat activism is the empowerment it gives to people to tell their stories.  Not to mention to hear stories of other fat people, which we simply don’t get in the mainstream.  Fat people in the mainstream are  one dimensional parodies – the sassy fat sidekick, the angry fat bully, the sad fat loner sitting at home in front of the television shoving food in their face.  We’re not seen in the mainstream as everyday people, with multi-faceted personalities.  We’re not seen as having jobs and careers, families and friends, hobbies and interests, passions and convictions.  Part of the power of being a fat activist is putting a representation of a real person, with all of those things, out in the world for other people to witness.  Both our fellow fatties, who often feel alone and isolated by the mainstream representation of fatness, and to non-fat people, who are sold this view of us that is not real.

Storytelling is a powerful, powerful thing.  Religions grow from it.  History is determined by who gets to tell their story and which of those stories is documented – which is how privilege is born.  That’s what marginalisation is – the silencing of people’s stories.

Fat activism not only allows me to tell my story and document my own history, but it also allows me to create a place for you to tell your stories, and to encourage you to create your own spaces to tell your stories.

And sometimes, if you’re really, really lucky like I am, you get other people who want to tell your story as well.

I’m having a lot of lightbulb moments while I work on this project.  I’m thinking about a lot of new things and learning a lot about myself.  From personal stuff – my own identity and embodiment – to the broader perspective of what it means to be telling the stories of fat people in general.  It’s become this strange meta process – the more immersed I get into a project about fat embodiment, the more I find myself defining my own identity and what I embody.

As I just said to Lauren, one of the best things about the internet is that we all have the power to document our stories and share them with the world, and to possibly have those stories heard by others, who then weave them into their own stories.  My story becomes entangled with yours, which then becomes entangled with the people in your life, and so on.

So thank you, dear Heffalumpies, for entangling your stories with mine.  That enriches my life far more than you can know.

Time for an Experiment

Published December 7, 2011 by sleepydumpling

It’s that time of year again Heffalumpies.  You know, the silly season.  For those of you in the northern hemisphere, you’ve already started with your Halloween and Thanksgiving and stuff.  The “holiday season” is really hitting it’s straps now that it’s December, there is Christmas schlock in all the shops, the carols are already worming their way into my brain and I’m seeing everyone’s stress levels steadily climb, what with family stuff, trying to find the perfect gifts for everyone and going to all the holiday events that happen at this time of year.  Not to mention how expensive this time of year can be.

Unfortunately, all of that stress and running around tends to mean that we let our self care slip by, because we’re too busy to really focus on making sure we are ok ourselves.  Often we drink a bit too much, eat a whole different way to the rest of the year (all that rich holiday food) and don’t get enough sleep.  Not to mention the self esteem crushing that can often happen when one is visiting family.  The exact reason I DON’T visit my biological family, this time of year or any other!

It’s a tough time of year for a lot of reasons and our self esteem is usually the first thing to get battered and bashed in the process.

So how about a little experiment?  Are you all up for trying something fairly unobtrusive but that I believe is pretty powerful, to keep that self esteem ticking along strongly for the rest of December and into the new year?

It’s pretty simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy.  I’ve had to learn it myself, and it did take some time to pick up.  What is it, you ask?  Well, just this:

Every day, for the rest of December, whenever you talk to someone in your day, find something about their outfit or their personality or actions that you like, and compliment them on it.   Everyone.  From the people at your bus stop, to the folks at your work, to waiters or servers in cafes and restaurants, even if it’s someone making you a sandwich or selling you a drink.  Your colleagues, your family, your friends, anyone that you encounter during your day.  If you find yourself sitting next to someone on public transport, or in an elevator with someone, have a go at finding something for them too.

I know, I know, it sounds kind of cheesy and Pollyanna-ish when you write it down, but I have noticed something.  It started with a woman I work with, who every time she speaks to me, compliments something about me.  It might be as simple as my earrings, or my shoes, or my dress.  Other times it might be a task I did at work, or how I handled a situation.  Or sometimes it’s just something about me – my laugh, my knowledge of trivia, my phone manner.  Every single day, without fail, Wendy finds something to compliment me on.  I started taking more notice, and discovered that she does it to everyone around her.  Every single person in the office.  Anyone who comes in for a meeting.  People she encounters during her day, no matter how brief.  If she speaks to them, she compliments them on something.

At the same time I was noticing that she always complimented people, I noticed that she is one of the calmest, most joyful people I know.  She is joyful of countenance and seems to cope better with stress than almost anyone I know.  This is not simply because she looks for positives, but also because by just being who she is, she makes people feel good, and they like working with her.  They return the joy she puts out into the world.

So I started trying to do the same.  It was really hard at first, because I either felt so hard on myself I cast that onto other people, or I was too scared I’d make a fool of myself.  I started with friends and people I felt comfortable with.  Every time I see them, I pay them a compliment.  Then I progressed to just finding things that I could compliment other people with, even though I was too scared to voice it yet.  I’d think to myself “Her earrings are so cute!” or “He always makes me laugh.”  Eventually it became habit, second nature to find things about people that I liked.

Then something interesting happened.  As I paid more attention to the positives in other people, I started to pay more attention to the positives about MYSELF.  I started to feel more confident, and yep, my self esteem went up and my stress levels went down.  I started voicing those compliments to more and more people.  The more I did it, the more I noticed people’s demeanor changed around me.  I noticed more smiles.  The general stress levels dropped in everyone, not just myself.

I’ve even started doing it to strangers.  If someone at the bus stop or in the elevator has a nice dress or shoes, I’ll say “I like your shoes.” or “That is such a cute dress.”  It’s amazing how someone lights up when you pay them a compliment, and it’s amazing how good it feels to light someone up like that.

Of course, there are some caveats to this exercise.  Let’s see…

  • Keep away from comments about anyone’s bodies, since I have found it’s rarely (if ever) acceptable to comment on someone’s body, and besides generally speaking, ones body is deeply private anyway.  Remember our motto here at Fat Heffalump: If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.
  • Be genuine.  If you genuinely can’t find anything about someone, then skip it.
  • There will be times you forget, or you’re in a crappy mood or you just have other things on your mind.  That’s ok.
  • If someone is a douchecanoe – don’t waste your time on them.  Move on to someone else.
  • Don’t load your compliments with baggage.  Instead of saying “That dress highlights your shape.”, say “What a beautiful dress.”  Don’t load the compliment so that it casts judgement on someone’s appearance and it can imply that they aren’t as “worthy” other times.  Just keep it simple -  I love your earrings.  You handled that difficult customer so well.  Cute shoes!  Your laugh is so infectious.  Fab handbag, where did you get it?
  • If you aren’t bold enough to say it, think it.  Start with the people who are close to you that you feel comfortable with.  Challenge yourself to add another person each day.

So, do you think you’d like to give this a try for the rest of December?  Are you up for an experiment?

 

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Criticism of Fat as Identity

Published October 5, 2011 by sleepydumpling

“Why the obsession with fatness?”

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been asked that question.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been labelled obsessed, sensitive, angry, paranoid, fixated, hung-up, pissed… you name it.  It seems that if one wears ones fatness as their identity, and/or speaks up on the injustice of our society’s treatment of fat people, then one must be “obsessed with fatness”.  We’re told to “get over it”.  To stop talking about it, nobody wants to hear about this stuff.  Stop identifying as fat and then people won’t treat you so badly.  People use euphamisms to try to soften the sound of their criticisms of fat activists.  They say things like “You must be proud of being large, if you call yourself THAT” (rarely will they use the word Fat, even though I use it as my screen name).  As though there is something shameful about being proud of who you are, and your body, if you are a, well… large person.

I loathe being called large, big, hefty, fluffy, chunky.  These are weasel words that are designed to shame the word FAT.

We’re not allowed to have fat as part of our identity, yet at every turn, we are reminded that we are fat.  Every day, we see and hear hundreds of negative messages about weight in the world around us, from the news story about the “obesity epidemic”, magazine covers about some celebrity’s latest weight loss or gain, advertising for weight loss products or diet foods, to public service announcements about living a “healthy lifestyle” which always imply that healthy = thin.  Then if those messages aren’t enough, fat people are told they can’t have clothes as nice as everyone else (lest we be “promoting obesity”), must pay for two seats on many airlines, shouldn’t take up too much space on public transport, should cover our bodies to hide our fatness and are not allowed health care unless it is focused on our weight.  When we go to the doctor, no matter what it is for, most of us are told to lose weight, or asked what we are “doing about our weight”, or lectured on the perils of obesity.  Then on top of that, we are shamed and bullied by the arseholes of the public.  We are yelled at, photographed, body-checked, have things thrown at us, are lectured by our families, friends and workmates, are spat at, are called fat bitches/cunts/fucks, are filmed without our consent by news crews to use as headless fatties on stories about how we are the scourge of the nation, fat children are bullied at school and singled out by the schools as being “unhealthy”, we are called liars if we say we eat healthy, and are called gluttonous/pigs/greedy if we eat anything that is deemed “unhealthy”.  If we don’t exercise, we’re told we’re lazy and deserve to die, if we do, we’re bullied while we go about it.  If we want to have children, we’re told we are too fat and it would be cruel to inflict us on our own offspring, and now it seems if we wish to not have children, we’re told we’re too fat to have an abortion or birth control.  And over and over again we hear messages about how we, as representatives of “the obesity epidemic”, should be eradicated, cured, prevented, fixed, solved, removed.

All of that comes at us every day of our lives, over and over and over and yet we’re not to own our own fatness as part of our identity?  We’re not allowed to identify as fat?

The thing is, we ARE fat.  There is no escaping that fact for us.  But we have a choice, we can buy into the cultural norm of the fatty claiming mea culpa, and never referring to themselves as what they actually are, never using the word fat, except in a whisper or to beat ourselves up, always speaking in euphemisms – large, chubby, big, hefty, plus-sized, thick.  Or, we can claim our fatness as it is – OUR fatness.  Our bodies, our lives, our experiences, our needs, our perspectives.

When someone says “Why are you so obsessed with fatness?” answer them “Because that is who I am and owning my identity isn’t obsession.”

When someone says “You sound like you’re proud to be fat.” answer them “Yes I am.  I’m proud to be a fab fat person who doesn’t let your fat hating culture rule my life.”

Fat hatred is not OUR culture, it is the culture we’re opting out of.  We don’t identify with it any more.  Our identity is fat positive.

Fatshion: Posing a Threat

Published August 22, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Clothing is one of the most visible ways we get to express ourselves.  Through the things we wear, and how we wear them, we tell the world something about ourselves.  Everything from our beliefs and personal standards, our taste in music, film and television, our sense of humour, our favourite colours, how confident we are (or aren’t) with our bodies, what kind of work we do, how we spend our leisure time, and indeed our personalities can be shown through the way we present ourselves with clothing.

For fat people, taking pride in dressing, developing style and dabbling in fashion are all radical acts.  We are constantly told we’re not allowed to enjoy dressing, fashion, style, shopping and expressing ourselves.  By being visible, we’re giving ourselves a presence and a voice in the world.  This is why fat people are regularly ridiculed for the way we dress, because we pose a threat to the status quo.

Which makes me think of this  hilarious video from Flight of the Conchords:

For fat people, our clothing options are severely limited.  We don’t have the vast choices that are available in straight sizes, nor do we have as many affordable options.  Thanks to the availability of online shopping and a lot of campaigning on behalf of fatshionistas in the US, UK and Australia (and many other places too), those options are starting to open up a little more, but they are nowhere near the level that are around for straight sizes.  You only have to look in department stores and compare the floor space given to straight sizes as opposed to those given to plus-sizes to see evidence of that.

Not to mention that fat people are expected to “flatter” their bodies in the way they dress.  These limits are placed upon us by people who are offended by seeing fat bodies, so we’re expected to minimise, disguise and cover our bodies with dark, shapeless clothing.  Baring skin, wearing bold or busy prints or bright or light colours and choosing form-fitting or “body-con” clothing is seen as “innapropriate” on a fat person when it’s found perfectly acceptable on a not-fat person.  Even our own clothing brands and providers constantly sell us ways to “flatter your figure” or “dress for your body type” – which I feel is shaming their own customers.  When are plus-size clothing companies going to realise that WE are their customers and WE don’t need to be shamed by them to buy their products?

So, how do we get around these factors to be able to dress ourselves in the way we want and need to?

The first way I think is to let go of what other people think of the way we look.  We are under no obligation to make our appearance pleasing to others.  Besides, we all know, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Instead, we need to be focusing on making ourselves happy and wearing the things that make us feel good.  If you are happiest in the kind of clothes you can just throw on and ignore for the rest of the day, then go for it.  If you prefer to dress in high fashion style, then go for it, no matter what anyone says you should or shouldn’t be wearing.  I’m personally somewhere in between – I don’t feel the need to be a slave to fashion, but I love developing my own personal style and love taking time to dress and present myself to the world.  I like being able to express myself through my clothing.

Because we have so few options, the next thing I think we get really good at doing is “making it work”.  I know myself, I love clothes that have colour and vibrancy, but so much of plus-sized clothing is black and plain.  I’ve had to build a collection of colour and work out ways to accessorise to bring colour and vibrancy into my wardrobe.  And you know what they say, nobody accessorises like a fat gal!

Part of making things work is being able to doctor your wardrobe as well.  Adding embellishments, shaping things to fit your body, letting them out, a little tweak here, and a little tweak there.

But finally, the most important thing is to work on loving your body.  When you start to love your body, you begin to look at dressing differently.  You don’t see that red stop sign of “shouldn’t” when you go shopping and look at garments.  When you start to be unapologetic about your body, the range of clothing you can wear greatly expands.  You give up the whole list of “I can’t…” clothes.  No more “I can’t wear sleeveless.” or “I can’t wear skirts/dresses.” or “I can’t wear form fitted clothing.” and that opens up your options so much wider than when you had those restrictions.  Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight.  Maybe you start with a dress when you’ve always worn pants.  Or you whip that shrug or cardie off when you get too warm.  But slowly, when you immerse yourself in body positivity and work on learning to love your body, you find yourself taking more and more risks… and things that seemed risky once, no longer seem so.

I think I will hand over to the amazing Virgie Tovar, with her video on how to FatDazzle your wardrobe:

So, tell me how you work your own personal style?  What kind of clothes and accessories do you love?  How do you “make things work”?  And what about your changing view of your body – have you seen your clothing style change with it?  And how?  Let’s have a discussion!

Your Body is not Voldemort

Published July 28, 2011 by sleepydumpling

One of the lovely, but slightly scary, things about blogging and having your blog audience grow to a fair size is that people start asking your advice about all kinds of things.  It’s lovely and awesome, to be seen as some kind of fairy fat-mother, but in the same time, it’s kind of scary.  I mean, I’m not an expert on anything by any stretch of the imagination, and in my day job, I’m an IT librarian.  I want to get things right for you guys when you ask my advice, I want to help.  But I am a human being and I can only give my own thoughts/opinions and hopefully that helps.

I get a lot of questions from people who hate their bodies.  Or they hate something about their body or appearance.  I get a lot of questions about people (usually young cis-women) who are ashamed of something about their bodies/appearance, and don’t know how to change that.  Or want to know how to hide the thing they’re ashamed of, or who to talk to about that shame.  Sometimes it’s about being too embarrassed or ashamed to go to the doctor to talk about something that worries them.

Mostly, it’s a whole lot of shame and fear about their appearance.

Every time I get a question like this, there are two things I want to do.  Firstly, I want to hug that person and tell them that they’re perfectly ok as they are.  But I also want to give them something to set them free of that shame and fear.  I don’t quite know what that is yet though!

One thing I do know, is that fear and shame often make the issue seem a whole lot bigger than it is.  That’s the nature of fear and shame – it festers away in our heads growing bigger and bigger and bigger by feeding off itself and each other.  Think about when you were a kid, and someone told you a scary story, or you watched a scary movie.  It was terrifying, wasn’t it?  But then when you go back and watch it as an adult, often it looks silly and cheesy, rather than scary.

Fear makes the wolf look bigger.

Source unknown*

Well it’s the same with our bodies and our appearance.  That scar we obsess over, those stretchmarks, the wobbly arms we hide away, the round bellies, the hairy legs… whatever it is we attach shame and fear to.  We stare at them in the mirror, or poke and prod at them as we get dressed or bathe… and we look at them in every minute detail.  You’ll never know a body as intimately as you know your own.  We practically go over ourselves with a magnifying glass, looking so closely at our supposed flaws that we are afraid other people will see, that we usually fear those flaws far bigger, far uglier and far more dramatic than they actually are.

Sometimes douchey people pick up on those things, and they use our fears and shame against us.  They are perceptive of our vulnerabilities, so they will hone in on that and ridicule or point out those things because they know they can hurt us with  it.  Thus the person who has that ridiculous habit of bellowing “You’re so fat!” or something else about our appearance, or in my case, posting troll comments about how I’m fat, hairy or ugly.

I do understand those fears and the shame though.  I lived with them my whole life until just a few years ago.  I’m fat and hairy.  I’m kind of a tall hobbit really.  I tried EVERYTHING to hide my fat, hairy self.  I avoided those topics in conversation.  I wore clothes that I thought disguised me.  And worst of all, for many years I let so many people hurt me so deeply by pointing out how fat and hairy I am.  Sometimes the barbs still sting for a second, but not like they used to, and it’s rare that it does actually sting any more.  Because it’s a pretty sad person that has to highlight other people’s supposed faults or belittle someone because of their appearance to make themselves feel better.  Seriously… it’s a bit hard to give them any power to hurt you when you stop and think just how pathetic that is!

What we do, is turn our flaws into Voldemort.  Yes, I am a Potterfile, stick with me here.  Through most of the Harry Potter series, everyone is SO afraid to even think about “The Dark Lord”, they can’t even name him.  He is You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  Even the name Lord Voldemort isn’t really his name, it’s the name he’s given himself to appear even more frightening, because he knows that not speaking the real name of something you fear, keeps the fear growing.

J.K. Rowling actually said it in the first Harry Potter book:

Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997.

We do that.  We speak of fatness in hushed tones.  We don’t mention being hairy, or having acne, or stretchmarks, or skin problems, for fear of uttering those names will conjure them up in front of us, or put a huge neon sign over those “flaws” we have.

When really, most of the time these things aren’t Lord Voldemort, they’re just boring old Tom Riddle, and can be defeated, or at least reduced to something so much easier to deal with, simply by not fearing them any more.

Letting go of that fear and shame is not easy.  But that’s the hardest bit – letting go.  Taking that first step.  Opening the door.  Once you take that step, and set off, it really does get a whole lot easier.  That doesn’t mean you never stumble, or you never have the overwhelming urge to run back in and slam the door shut behind you.  That still happens.  But I think once you’ve taken that first big step, you can often recognise the fear and shame for what it is.  You’ve given it it’s real name, rather than hiding away and never mentioning it.

So… how do you feel about fear and shame in the context of your body and/or appearance?  Is there something you think you could let go of to make the wolf look smaller?  To lessen the grip that fear and shame have on you?

Or have you been able to give something it’s real name and chase that fear and shame away?

*I’m unable to find a source/credit for this awesome grafitti/photo – if you can provide one please let me know and I’ll update with full credit.
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