discrimination

All posts in the discrimination category

No More Media Excuses

Published July 8, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Well.  Just a little while ago I received the following email and I was outraged.  I think my response sums it up pretty clearly, don’t you?

Morning,
I was wondering if you’d be around for a chat over the phone this morning about a story we’re covering.
We’re going to be talking to Katie Hopkins who has come out and said that she wouldn’t employ an overweight person as they’re all lazy….
Wondered if you’d be up for challenging this remark?
Can you call me on [redacted]?
Look forward to hearing from you.
Natasha Bateman
Producer
Mornings with Adrian Goldberg

And my response:

Natasha,

Katie Hopkins and her ignorant, bigoted attitudes are not worth me getting out of bed for, let alone making a long distance phone call from Australia to the UK for.  It shows an astonishing lack of respect from you to expect me to respond to someone who so openly hates people like me.  In fact, it is completely shameful that you would even have someone like that on your radio show AT ALL and expect your listeners to tolerate it.  Would you allow someone who would discriminate on the grounds of gender, sexuality or race on your show to spout their bigotry?  Would you ask a woman, a gay person or a person of colour to also appear on your show with someone who is going to openly spout hate at them?  I would hope not, so why would you ask a fat person to participate in such a programme?

We are led to believe that the BBC is one of the quality broadcasters of the world.  Yet you still entertain the notion that it is acceptable to allow people who openly and unashamedly discriminate against other human beings to have air time on your shows to promote their hateful, ignorant attitudes, and that the people who are the victims of their hate are in some way obligated to spend their time responding to them.  That is not the mark of a quality broadcasting service.  It is the mark of gutter media trying to stir up ratings.

Please do not waste my time in future unless you are willing to ensure that I am treated with the basic dignity and respect that I deserve as a human being, by both your programme and any guests you intend to have on it.

Yours sincerely
Kath Read

It’s time we started calling out the media for this kind of behaviour.  It is time we responded to these media outlets and told them that they are both wasting our time and are deeply disrespectful to expect us to tolerate such hateful attitudes, let alone respond to them.  The media have stitched up so many of we fat activists over the years, that it’s time we name our terms and start valuing ourselves as worthy human beings, as busy people who have better things to do in our lives than be subjected to people like Katie Hopkins and their bigotry.

No more excuses about “it’s what people want to hear” and “it’s just debate”.  We don’t want to hear people like Katie Hopkins any more.  If people want to hear someone like Katie Hopkins spouting bigotry in the media, then they should be ashamed of themselves.  Not to mention that our rights as human beings are not up for debate with anyone.  People don’t get to “debate” whether we fat people deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect.  We do, as do all human beings.

I Am NOT a Disease

Published June 19, 2013 by sleepydumpling

One of the things about being a highly visible, deeply combative fat activist is that everyone seems to think you’re made of steel.  That you are so strong and confident, that nothing ever hurts you or makes you feel bad.  Nobody believes that you have bad days, that there are times where the fight just goes out of you and you can’t face another moment of trying to claw your way out of the hatred and stigma that surrounds fat people.

But that’s not true.  It’s not true in the slightest.  Even the most radical fatty, the most sartorially brave, the fiercest fighter, the strongest critic of the dominant paradigm around fatness struggles.  Every single one of us have those times where we just run out of oomph.

I am having one of those days today, and have been really struggling all afternoon.  You see, the American Medical Association today declared obesity as a disease despite a report from their own council on science and public health urging them not to.  According to the AMA, we fat people are no longer just people, we are diseased, defective, damaged, broken.  We are officially diseases to be cured, prevented, eradicated.  And this news has shaken me to the core.  I simply feel so defeated right now, like all the work that I and many other fat activists have done, and are doing to claw back our rights and improve our quality of life has just been taken away from us.

Rationally, I know why the AMA has made this ruling.  They’ve done so because big pharmaceutical companies, the weight loss industry and big health insurance companies, have lobbied, threatened, bullied and bribed them to do so.   Rationally I know that the reason these big corporations have done this is because it’s in their best interest financially to do so.  After all, they’re raking in HUGE amounts of money by convincing society in general that appearance = health, and that if you don’t meet the arbitrary levels of appearance that you must be sick, and surprise surprise, they have a drug, or a surgery, or a device, or a diet plan or an extra expensive health insurance plan to sell you to fix it.  The weight loss industry alone was worth almost $800 million just here in Australia.  Can you imagine what could be done for $800 million per year in this country?  We could all have completely free health care for every Australian, more than we would ever need.  People with disabilities could have all of the equipment that they would ever need, and any support and care they would ever need.  No human being in Australia would go without food, water or housing.  Education would be free for our whole lives, from kindergarten through any university studies that we would care to take on.   Medical research into every known actual disease, from the common cold to cancer could be funded fully.

All this just from the money that the diet and weight loss industry is worth in a single year, and there would be change.  In fact, if we only took their profit margin for ONE year, approximately $63 million dollars, and applied that to public funding annually – we could fund a lot of the things I’ve listed above.  And that’s just here in Australia, a country of only about 22 million people.  In the US, the weight loss industry is worth 66 BILLION DOLLARS.  Let alone the cumulative value of the rest of the world’s weight loss industries.

There is NO WAY ON EARTH that the weight loss industry is not behind this ruling from the AMA.  They have $66 billion dollars worth of power per annum in the US alone.  $66 billion dollars they can spend on lobbying, propaganda, graft, legal threats to anyone who opposes them, you name it to make sure the ruling falls the way they want it to.

Rationally I know this.  I know the facts.  I’ve done years of my own research into this because what I was being told about my fat body wasn’t matching up to reality.

But despite that knowledge… I feel so defeated today.  I feel so disheartened.  I feel so cheated.  I feel like I’m being marked as inferior, defective, broken.  Simply because my body happens to fall on the far end of a bell curve of diverse human bodies.  Simply because my body doesn’t fall in the small peak of the bell curve, the median of human bodies, a tiny arbitrary band of people who are granted the “normal” status just because they’re in the middle statistically.

But being at one end of the statistics doesn’t reflect who I am.  It doesn’t reflect how I feel.  It doesn’t reflect what my body can do.  It doesn’t reflect my value as a human being.  The AMA doesn’t know what it feels like to exist in my fat body.  They don’t know what it’s like in my body to wake up after a deep sleep, stretch and feel that stretch go down to my toes and up to my outstretched fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to go swimming, feeling the cool water soft and cocooning around my body, and the wonderful sleepy feeling I get afterwards.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to walk along the waterfront near my house on a windy but crystal clear winters day, with the sun warming my back as the wind nips my nose and fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to laugh with my friends, my belly rocking, tears rolling down my face and my ribs hurting from giggling so hard.  They don’t know anything about what it feels like in my body.  All they know is that I am at the far end of a bell curve, and that someone out there can make money from making me hate myself and by encouraging society to hate me, and to repeatedly attempt to move myself to another point on the statistical bell curve, something we scientifically know fails for 95% of all attempts.  And with that they have marked me, and people like me, as diseased, defective, broken.

The only time I feel diseased, defective, broken is when society repeatedly pushes me down because of how I look and what numbers show up on a scale when I step on it.  I don’t feel those things unless I am taught to feel them.  Not even when I actually suffer illness or injury.

How is simply declaring me as diseased based on statistics, and despite how I feel or the quality of my life, good for my health?

How is that good for anyone’s health?

The inimitable Marilyn Wann has started a petition against this AMA ruling here.  Please sign.

*Edited because the figures I got from a study were incorrect – not that they change anything.  Let’s try to not kick me while I’m fucking down, OK?

Stares, Sneers and Snickers

Published February 14, 2013 by sleepydumpling

If you follow me on my Fat Heffalump Facebook page, you may have seen this article I posted yesterday.  Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has documented the reactions of people around her, a fat woman, in public.  If you go to Haley’s page, you will see the full suite of photographs called Wait Watchers as she documents people laughing at her, sneering, and generally just being douchey.

Now I don’t advocate reading the comments on PetaPixel articles (actually, on any articles about discrimination and bigotry for that matter), but I did, and I also saw them elsewhere, suggesting either that Haley just captured “general expressions” (not necessarily aimed at her) or that perhaps they weren’t deriding her because of her weight but because of the way she dressed (which is no different than most of the thin people around her – only fat people are considered “sloppy” in shorts and a top), her looks, or as one said “Those people aren’t looking at her because she’s fat! It’s because she’s doing x, y, z. But if she doesn’t want to be ridiculed in public, maybe she should lose some weight.”

Wait, what?

Regardless of the reason why people behaved like they did, they were behaving in a judgemental manner, and judging her negatively, which their expressions and behaviour showed.

Well, I can tell you now, I have further proof to add to Haley’s testimonial of the derisive surveillance fat people are under.  Because some time ago, I engaged in an experiment with Stocky Bodies photographer Isaac Brown, where I spent time in the Queen Street Mall here in Brisbane doing things that I am normally likely to do in public, as anyone else is (reading, using my phone, eating a salad, eating an ice-cream) and Isaac blended into the crowd and photographed people’s reactions to me.

Before anyone says “But it’s because you have bright pink hair!” let me address that.  Firstly, lots of people have bright coloured hair these days.  But many of them are not ridiculed in the street.  I am a fat woman with pink hair, I get a very different reaction from Jo Public than a thin woman with pink hair.  Secondly, I currently have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and I get the same treatment no matter what colour my hair is.  Just two days ago I spotted a guy on the opposite train platform to the one I was standing nudge the woman next to him, point me out (brown hair, tattoos covered up, wearing quite a conservative dress and plain ballet flats) and they both laughed at me.  When they realised I had seen them pointing me out and laughing, they both clearly knew they had been busted by me.

And finally, do people with pink hair or any other bright, bold appearance deserve to be ridiculed in the street?  No they do not.

Others suggest people stare because “You look awesome Kath!”  People do not scowl, laugh derisively, or have expressions of disgust at people they find awesome.  They do not nudge and point.  When people find me awesome, and yes, some do, they smile at me.  They pass and say “I love your hair!”  Their faces are open and friendly, not closed and hostile.  Believe it or not, fat people are emotionally intelligent enough to be able to distinguish between negative and positive reactions to them.

I asked Isaac to send me some of the photos he took, so that I could share them with you.  You will see quite clearly that these are not the expressions of people who are thinking “That pink haired, fat lady is awesome!”

KathQSM-14

Some people just stare.

Sometimes I'm stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Sometimes I’m stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

It's not just women that stare either.

It’s not just women that stare either.

Even "nice little old ladies" stare and grimace at me.

Even “nice little old ladies” stare and grimace at me.

Some don't even bother to hide their laughter.

Some don’t even bother to hide their laughter…

... until their companions stare too.

… until their companions stare too.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Even sunglasses don't hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

Even sunglasses don’t hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

As you can see, it’s not just a phenomena that Haley Morris-Cafiero experiences.  I do too, as do many other fat people who spend time in public places.

But what is most offensive is the routine denial of those experiences, as though we are either imagining the stares, disapproving/disgusted looks, the nudging and pointing and laughter, or they are somehow our fault.  Having our experiences dismissed is actually part of the systematic oppression of fat people.  Portraying us as overly sensitive, or imagining the way we are treated is also a form of abuse.   It labels us as “deluded” or emotionally damaged.  It is ironic, many of us do have emotional damage, not because we are fat, but because of the way society treats us as fat people, which includes the regular dismissal of our experiences.

The thing is, it’s not just me that notices the way people behave towards me in public.  It affects my relationships with others as well.  I have had a boyfriend leave me because he couldn’t handle being subjected to so much derision from strangers (yes, I am aware that I am better off without such a man!) and it often diminishes the enjoyment of time out with friends, because they see how people behave towards me and because they care about them, it upsets them and makes them angry, as they want to defend me and respond to the general shittiness of strangers behaviour.  Not to mention that even though I’m mostly pretty thick skinned about it, some days it gets too much for me and affects my mood – it’s hard to relax and have fun with your friends when you are being subjected to the kind of derision and judgement shown in the photographs above.

It is sadly just another example of the way fat people are viewed as inferior in our society.  Not only do we “deserve” the vilification, ridicule and judgement, but if we acknowledge it, we are viewed as irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.

If you are experiencing these things, you are NOT irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.  Your feelings and experiences are valid, and you are not alone.

Note: Any comments denying my or anyone else’s experience with judgement and ridicule in public will be marked as spam and have you blocked from commenting.  You are welcome to state that you are fortunate enough to have not experienced it, but DO NOT suggest that I or anyone else is imagining our experiences, as you will be doing exactly what I call out in this article.

No More Hoops

Published January 6, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Over the past few days there have been loads of pieces from awesome fat activists on fat and health, mostly in response to a couple of studies that reports that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive and that fat is not an instant death sentence.  It has been really heartening to see so many responses from fat activists that highlight how important access to health care is for fat people and the prejudice that fat people face both in the health care industry and because of the myth that fat automatically equals unhealthy.

However, I think we need to stop and reassess what we are doing here.  Yes, conflating weight with health has been a very pervasive myth that many people have used to justify fat hatred and addressing that is important.  But I don’t think that it is going to help fat people in the long run as much as we need it to.  Because no matter how many myths and stereotypes you bust, those who hate fat people are ALWAYS going to find a way to justify their disgusting attitudes.  Be it health, fitness, appearance, the cost of mittens in America… there will always be something used to justify fat hatred.

We need to let go of constantly trying to meet the bar set by fat haters.  If they say it’s because poor health, we spend our time proving that fat does not equal poor health.  If they say it is because we’re lazy, we spend all our time proving that we are not.  If they say it is because we are gluttonous, we spend our time policing and justifying our own choices for eating.  The list goes on and on.  No matter what myth or stereotype we respond to, there will always be another.

It is time we stopped looking to ourselves to be the ones to change to fight fat hatred.  It is time we started demanding that those who hate fat people are named and shamed for what they are – ignorant bigots who sincerely believe that some people are sub-human and do not deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity.  We, as fat people who are the victims of fat hatred have absolutely no obligation at all to modify our lives or our behaviours to suit those who hate us and to justify our existence.

You know who else believed that some people were not human?  Heard of untermensch?  How is it any different that some people believe that fat people are sub-human or inferior because of how they look and their bodies than it was believed that some people were sub-human/inferior because of their skin, hair or eye colour?  Is not the belief that thin people are superior evidence of the belief of a “master race”?  No decent, ethical human being would ever hold this belief.  Honestly, what kind of person would sincerely believe that they or others are somehow superior to other human beings?

That’s what bigotry is, the belief that there is some kind of hierarchy of human value based on those with power and privilege being higher up than those without.  It’s bullshit and we really need to stop buying into it – both externally AND internally.

Not to mention that every time we engage in the health argument, we are not only setting ourselves up to have to meet some kind of arbitrary requirement of health (which we owe NOBODY) but it’s also incredibly ableist.  What about fat people with disabilities or chronic illness?  What about anyone with disabilities or chronic illness?  How about someone in a coma or other incapacitated state?  Do they not get treated with respect and dignity simply because they’re “not healthy”?  How about those thin people when they inevitably get sick or injured?  Do they forfeit their right to dignity and respect at that moment?

Even if we buy into the whole thing that fat people “choose” to be fat (yeah right, like anyone would choose a life full of discrimination and hatred), that still does not justify the mentality that we are sub-human or somehow inferior to thin people.  Lots of people choose to do things that lower their life expectancy – for fuck’s sake merely driving a car statistically drops YEARS off your life, let alone all of the wild and extreme things human beings do to their bodies.  Just because someone smokes or skateboards or jumps out of perfectly good planes doesn’t mark them as lesser human beings, so why should it apply that way to fatness?  Because again, it’s not at all about health.  It’s not at all about life expectancy.  Fat hatred is simply about a fairly young (only about a hundred years) cultural stigmatisation of people based solely on their appearance, because someone, somewhere decided that money could be made by frightening people into trying to control their appearance.  All because someone saw money (and power, let’s not forget the intersectionality of the control of women in fat hatred) in getting people to buy products, diets, gadgets, pills and schemes to change their bodies, we now have a culture that marks fat people as sub-human.

No, this is about creating hoops for fat people to jump through so that we are not allowed to EVER live our lives with the freedom and dignity that is our right as is every human’s right.  And we must stop engaging with it.  We must stop believing that we have an obligation to prove our health, to prove our lives meet some kind of arbitrary standard placed on us to prevent us being marked as inferior.  Instead of arguing that fat people are not unhealthy/lazy/gluttonous/etc, we need to be repeating over and over and over that to label any human being as inferior based on their health, their appearance, their size, their choices in food or physical activity or any other arbitrary measure that is nobody’s business but their own is bigotry.  We need to be naming and shaming people who honestly believe that they have the right to label us as sub-human/inferior.  We need to be reclaiming our right to live our lives in our own bodies without interference or intervention from anyone.

But most of all we need to believe that of ourselves.  We need to be able to walk through this world that is rife with prejudice against us with our heads held high in the knowledge that we are not sub-human, we are not inferior, that we are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on the planet.

YOU are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on this planet.  Your life is yours.  Live it for you, not to prove that you’re not a stereotype.

My Fat Body is ME

Published October 23, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Earlier today this post raced through my online networks like a brush fire.  With good reason, it’s an excellent piece that really lays out how fat hate has permeated so many people’s attitudes, and makes clear reasons why people need to think about what they are saying and what kind of stigma they are placing on the shoulders of fat people.

But, as is always the way with these pieces, the comments kick off with someone who simply doesn’t get it and makes the situation worse.  This person, who calls themselves a feminist (yeah right, as Flavia Dzodan says, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit) says:

But I’m also a public health scholar. I’m doing my Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health. Obesity is a chronic disease that we talk about in nearly every class. We talk about markers for childhood obesity, what leads to adult obesity, and how to curb this epidemic.

The comment does go on further and she argues with several people who call her out on this fat hating crap.  You can go and look at it if you like, the link is up there in the first sentence.  You can see how spectacularly she misses the entire point of the piece for yourself if you like.

I won’t go into the ableism and classism of the attitudes of people like the commenter here, as they both deserve posts of their own.  What I want to do tonight is address the attitude that “obesity is a chronic disease” and that we need to “curb this epidemic”. *cough* eugenics *cough*

Not about how this is complete and utter bullshit that other people have busted more eloquently and thoroughly than I could ever do, but how people like this woman are so fucking blind to the hate that they spew.  I mean, this bigot has just compared fatness (I refuse to use the word obesity to describe our fat bodies – same goes to any other medicalised word to describe physical size) to “cancer and heart disease and communicable diseases”.  I shit you not.  How anyone can fail to see this as hatred is beyond me.

Let’s break it down with some statements…

  • My fat body is not diseased.
  • I do not have/suffer obesity.  I am a fat person.
  • I am not a diseased person because I am fat.
  • My fat body is not something to be prevented, cured or eradicated.
  • I do not need anyone, be they organisation, company or individual to try to rid me of my body.
  • My fat flesh is part of me, it is not some parasite to be excised.
  • My fat flesh is not a virus to be vaccinated against, it is my body.
  • I will never again give anyone the power of starving my fat off my body, with absolutely no regard to the damage the methods of starvation cause on my body long term.
  • I will never again allow anyone to force me to apologise for my body.
  • I will never again kneel in subjugation to those who feel they are superior to me because of my fat body.
  • My fat body is not a contagion to be quarantined from “decent” society.
  • My fat body is not an affliction, a blight on humanity.
  • My fat body is not a mark of shame, or an indicator of failure.
  • My fat body is not a communicable disease, nor is it a cancer.
  • My fat body is ME and I have a right to live my life without vilification and stigma.

Anyone who seriously believes that fat bodies are any of the things above or that fat people have a debt to humanity to starve or punish themselves to meet other people’s aesthetic standards is a fat hating bigot.  It’s time we stopped dancing around the subject and named them for what they are.  No one of us has to be polite or respectful to people who believe that we are lesser than others because of the size, shape, ability and function of our bodies.  We don’t have to justify our existence, our happiness, our peace, our dignity to ANYONE on this earth.

It’s time we cut the crap with the whole “agreeing to disagree” rubbish and allowing people to be “entitled to their opinions”.  No, I don’t have to agree to anything with a person who treats me as sub-human.  Nobody is entitled to an opinion that vilifies and stigmatises another human being.  Our rights as human beings get priority over opinion, every single time.

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.

We Don’t Imagine It, We See It

Published March 26, 2012 by sleepydumpling

I noticed the old woman at the table beside me first. Watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth with a look of disgust on her face.

Then I notice the two guys in high vis vests, their hard hats on seats beside them, nudge each other and look my way.

So I sit back and start to observe people around me.

I’m sitting in the food court of a large suburban shopping centre, somewhere I rarely visit, on my lunch break from work. We’re working on a big new project due to open this week, which is a high pressure, messy environment, that I thought I’d take some time away from over my lunch break.

As I look around me, I would estimate that at least 90%, possibly more of the people here are not fat. There are a handful of we fatties, dotted around the place.

At the nearby McDonalds, there are about 20 people lined up. Only one of them is a fat person. Not an eyelash is batted at the not-fat people lined up, ordering their burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and shakes. However the fat man is attracting sneers and giggles, all eyes glance over him and none of them bother to hide their disgust, disdain or their ridicule. Even the people ordering burgers and shakes themselves are staring and sneering at the man, lined up at the very same fast food restaurant as they are.

This scrutiny and public judgement is nothing unusual for those of who live in fat bodies. Most of us are used to it, many of us ignore it, simply because it is nothing unusual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Quite often we are told “You’re just too sensitive.” or “I think you imagine it.” On the rare occasion that someone who is not fat notices, they respond like its an anomaly, just the occasional rude jerk one encounters. Or they say “Just ignore it.” as if it is the singular occurrence of the day.

In my own case, I’m told that people sneer and stare because of my brightly coloured hair, tattoos and clothing. As if that is somehow a suitable excuse for their behaviour. But I can assure you that I got the stares and sneers back when I was a fat brown mouse, doing everything I could to be invisible to the world.

The truth is, in this “anti-obesity” culture, people are taught to sneer, stare and ridicule. They are taught that people like me are a scourge on society, that we are burden to humanity. You only need to look at the comments on my recent piece in The Hoopla (if you have the sanity points) to see someone refer to me (and people like me) as revolting, using up the public health system, slothful, idle and an overeater. Despite knowing nothing more about me than I have a fat body (though one claimed to know all about me from this blog, my twitter, though I think it’s my photos of myself as a fat woman she is judging me on) the judgement has been passed on my value as a human being.

Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgement is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say that physically, I do not feel limited or as if I need to struggle to do anything in my fat body. But the pressure of being under constant scrutiny and subjected to the assumptions and judgements of complete strangers is a burden to bear. I am quite sure however that I am not the only one who feels like this.

What really bothers me are the double standards. Thin people who eat fast food are considered “lucky” that they are “naturally thin”, yet no matter what a fat person eats, by default they must be lazy and greedy, with denial and stupidity thrown in for extra measure. Nobody ever suggests that inverse to the lucky/naturally thin that humans can be unlucky/naturally fat. Nobody demands thin people who are sedentary and/or eat fast food (or a lot of food) change their lives and “get healthy” because they are “costing us money with their unhealthy habits” – quite the opposite, they’re cheered on for their habits. Two people, both living the same lifestyle, can have vastly different life experiences if one is thin and the other is fat.

These double standards and snap judgements of people’s value based on their body size don’t help anyone. They don’t make fat people thin, they don’t encourage healthy behaviours and they certainly don’t change the number of people needing health care in our society.

All they do is allow some people to feel superior to others, which to me, is a pretty screwed up way to look at the world.

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.

It’s Over. No More Flogging the Dead Horse.

Published January 10, 2012 by sleepydumpling

Well my lovelies, I’ve been hit by a whole plethora of trolls from some sad bodybuilding forum that feel to build themselves up, they have to tear other people down.  If any slip through overnight, my deepest apologies and I’ll clean them up as soon as possible.  They’re a pretty sad bunch, who seem to think they can hurt me or silence me somehow, but all they do is create an irritation factor (kind of like a rash) and give me fodder for Trollapalooza.  Many of them prove my point beautifully.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m here tonight.  I’m here tonight to let you know that there’s something you no longer have to do.  You don’t have to prove anything about your body or your health to anyone.  I want you to give yourself permission to completely stop justifying your body, your health, your fatness, your weight… anything to do with your body or health to ANYONE at all.

We do live in a culture that seems to encourage people to demand others justify their bodies, what they eat, how much (or how little) activity they do, their health, their weight – pretty much everything about their bodies.  Particularly women – so often our bodies are objectified and seen as public property, which people feel is acceptable to question and even physically handle without invitation.  Ask any woman who has been visibly pregnant how many people touch her belly, or ask personal questions about her health and the birth of her baby.

When you’re a highly visible fat woman, as we fat activists are, people are constantly demanding you justify your bodies and health.  They want you to PROVE you’re just as worthy as any other human being by divulging your eating and activity.  They demand proof that you’re not costing the taxpayer money/driving up health care costs.  They ask personal questions about your menstrual cycle, your skin, your strength, your joints, your heart, your blood pressure or blood sugar levels.  They demand you prove that you’re not in pain, that you can walk, that you can do the things you mention you do.  I get people demanding proof that I ride my bicycle, because you know, fat people can’t ride bicycles.

How the fuck is any of that anyone’s business but the person who owns the body in question?  I mean really!

Besides, how much ableism is tied up in all of that as well?  As if anyone is under any obligation to be illness free or fully able-bodied.

We spend so much time justifying our place on this earth by proving that fat people can be active, can be healthy, are contributing members of society and such.  I see blog post after blog post, tweet after tweet, facebook status after facebook status, you name it, pushing back against this constant demand of “Explain yourself, fatty!”

I’m afraid I’m not playing that game any more.  It’s not our job to educate people about fatness.  It’s not our job to justify our existence.  It’s not our job to prove that we are worthy of the basic, fundamental human right of dignity and respect, and the right to live our lives in peace without discrimination and stigmatisation.

We do not owe that to anyone.

We have more important shit to deal with in our lives.  What’s important in your life?  Is it proving that you’re a worthy, valuable member of society?  Or is it your family, your friends, your career, your hobbies, your passions, your pets, your time?

No more will I be answering to that call to “Explain yourself, fatty!”  It’s pretty much flogging a dead horse anyway – no matter what we tell these people who demand we explain ourselves, they’re not going to listen.  Not to mention that they only accuse us of hostility anyway – as though it’s ok for them to demand we justify our health and our bodies, but are offended when we tell them to mind their own damn business.

Instead I am here for YOU, my peers, my fellow fatties.  I am here to show you that you ARE valuable, you ARE worthy members of society.  I am here to show you that you CAN be happy, confident and fulfilled, without losing an ounce.

I am here to live my life visibly, so that there is a representation of an unapologetic fat woman somewhere in the world (there are in fact, lots of us!), and encourage you to live your lives.  Anyone who wants to hold you or I back from that can kiss my fat arse.

Fat Hatred and Discrimination on Public Transport: Guest Post by Foxie

Published November 26, 2011 by sleepydumpling

About a week ago my friend Foxie mentioned on Facebook that she had been discriminated against by a bus driver in her home town of Adelaide, who refused to allow she and another woman to board a bus, citing that it was full, only for them to discover that it was not, and the driver was only letting thin passengers get on.  On talking to Foxie about her experience, she spoke about the increasing level of fat hatred and discrimination she has seen on her regular commute on public transport in Adelaide.

As a public transport commuter myself, I have experienced my fair share of fat hatred and discrimination.  It has affected me so much that I avoid catching trains here in Brisbane because it is so prevalent on them, and prefer to take the bus because at least with a driver on board and within earshot, abusive behaviour is curbed somewhat.

I asked Foxie if she would write a piece about her experiences for me to share here on Fat Heffalump, and she has kindly done so.  So without any further ado, here is her piece on fat hatred and discrimination on public transport.  Hopefully she will also update us on the situation in the comments below.

Trigger warning for fat hatred and abusive language.

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My dear friend, Kath, asked me to write something about what I have experienced in the last three days and I decided that I would as I needed to vent. Writing my vents down has always helped and this subject has really made me angry.

It seems that I have been surrounded by inconsiderate, self-centred, downright nasty people in the last three days all with comments or actions being negatively made towards us fatties. Now most times I just let these things flow over me like water off a duck’s back but this week it has, quite frankly, pissed me off.

Firstly I was dumbstruck at the behaviour of a male aged in his late 30’s to early 40’s on my bus home on Monday who made an initial comment about how he couldn’t sit down because the “fat chick was taking up all the space and making others stand”. Now for starters she was sitting on a seat at the very front of the bus that only fits one person anyway as it’s not a full two-seater like the rest of them. Secondly, he did this loud enough for all those on the bus to hear. I was standing right at the back, hearing his voice so clearly, I actually thought he was standing just a couple of people down from me.

Now some people looked at each other with faces saying “oh my, I can’t believe he said that”, while others chuckled. The lady suddenly slumped her shoulders and looked out of the window. I felt for her, I really did. He continued to make fun of her size and even offered her a mars bar in case she was hungry. Thankfully, someone stood up in defense of her and told him he was a jerk and if there was a kingdom for (and I don’t like the word he used) cu**s, he would be the King. The King of Cu**ville. This made some people laugh and he shut up. Still I could see the lady was distraught but she never snapped back at and continued to ignore him to the best of her ability.

The next day, I got on the bus again and heeeellooo! He was back. This time he was within reach and he started on another lady, except this one was only a young pup, maybe late teens, early 20’s. He was with a work colleague this time and he was not amused at having to stand once again. I hadn’t seen him at first because we were all piling on like herded sheep and it wasn’t until he opened his mouth that I realised it was going to be one of those rides home again.

His first words: “Sorry mate, I’d offer you the seat here but you know, those fat girls are taking them all up again”. I looked at the young girl and saw her get all embarrassed and swore I saw her heart break. I felt my blood starting to boil. I bit my tongue to start with but he just went on and on and on. Finally I had a enough and said “I see the King of Cu**ville is back in town”. He just looked at me stunned and stumbled with any form of a comeback. So I continued….

“I really hope you don’t have a partner or children of your own that suddenly get sick and put on any weight because you’d disown them in a heartbeat wouldn’t you?” No answer. “And I reckon if you had a daughter who was of a larger size and she got picked on by a jerk like you on the bus, you wouldn’t try to defend her at all, you’d tell her to go eat some celery, exercise and harden up right?”. Again, no answer. “Seriously dude, grow up! It’s people like you that cause people to snap and not in a good way. You really should consider what you are going to say before you say it because you have no fracking idea WHY any of us are the way we are, you have no idea if it’s pure laziness and love of food, you don’t know whether it’s a medical condition, you don’t know shit! So shut the frack up before I put you on your ass!”. I got applauded by the majority of people at the back of the bus.

He looked at his work colleague for some back up and he just said “She’s right mate, you can be a real jerk sometimes and a lot of the time, rather offensive towards people.” That there was priceless because he suddenly had nobody and was stuck on the bus for the next 20 minutes surrounded by people that were going to smack him if he opened his trap again.

The young girl who had put her iPod on smiled at me and said “Thank you”, tears rolling down her cheeks. He had pissed me off and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I think if my husband had been on the bus with me he probably would of smacked him out before I had gotten the chance to say anything.

Today however, was the icing on the cake!

Today I came around the corner from my workplace to see my bus already at the bus stop and people had stopped piling on. There were a couple running towards him and so he waited. When another lady and I got there, he looked us up and down, looked in the rear view mirror and said “I’m sorry ladies, this bus is full and I can’t let anyone else come on.”. Now neither of us had looked at the amount of people on the bus as we ran towards it and therefore said “oh ok” and rejoined the queue.

Upon turning around and saying a couple of things to each other, we realised the bus was not full, in fact it wasn’t even half full of people standing and there was plenty of room for us to get on. We looked at each other, turned towards the door of the bus to see him let on more people, all of “petite” size. Now he had not asked anyone to move back or anything and he hadn’t closed the doors to move on because it was “full” as we had walked back to the queue.

Immediately the lady that had been declined access got her phone, pen and paper out and wrote the bus number and route down, along with a description of the driver and took a photo of the bus, clearly showing the room that was on there. She then phoned up the bus company to complain, stating to me that she would then hand the phone to me for my complaint to be given.

Other people in the line started talking about it and how they couldn’t believe what they had just witnessed and so when she’d finished with her complaint, she asked them if they’d help her by giving her their details if she needed further witnesses to the incident. 7 out of the 10 said they would and gave her their name and numbers. I put my complaint in and then we both got on the next bus. She had told the person on the other end that she wanted a phone call by 5pm tomorrow from management or she’d be taking the incident to the Minister for Transport, ACA and Today Tonight and then filing papers for discrimination against the driver and the company for not disciplining him or getting him counselled.

It was while talking to her on the bus that I discovered that she worked for a Law Firm with her specialty being discrimination. The first thought that came to mind was “he screwed with the wrong lady”. I then wondered if he would of done that if we were actually disabled with canes or a walking frame. I’m betting he wouldn’t have and made people move down instead so that we could get on as well.

I can tell you I was absolutely appalled by the whole affair and to have this sort of crap for three days straight pushed me over the edge.

Yes, I’m a fatty. Yes, there are medical reasons for why I am the way I am and I have learnt to be happy with who I am because in the end, it’s my life and if I am unhappy with it, then it’s up to me to do something about it. I don’t need nor want to hear from someone, who doesn’t know a thing about me, that I need to lose weight, that I am disgusting or anything of the sort. I’m human just like they are. I have feelings just like them and I have a right to be treated as an equal regardless of my size.

There is a very good chance my young daughter will have the same issues as me from puberty so I am working hard to help prevent that; to ensure that she has a life without the bullies and I will do everything in my power to protect her from the jerks like I have had to deal with these last three days.

Will the bullying of fatties ever end? I don’t think it will, but I can always hope and will stand up for those that can’t defend themselves against those that choose to be their own “King of Cu**ville”.

Here’s hoping I see that King again this week……

by Foxie

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What are your experiences with public transport as a fat person?  Do you find some situations are worse than others?  Share in the comments.

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