fat stigma

All posts in the fat stigma category

I’m Not Making This Shit Up!

Published February 26, 2014 by sleepydumpling

One of the best things about being a fat activist is the community that you get to be part of.  Thanks to my work in fat activism I’ve been able to meet (both online and off), some of the most amazing people, a number of whom I now call good friends.  Of course, there are those who treat fat activists like we are some kind of giant hive mind that all think the same things and have had exactly the same experiences in life, but that’s not true.  I’ve met fat activists from all walks of life, some of us get along really well, some of us disagree vehemently and some of us simply don’t like one another as people.  That’s good in a way – it shows we’re have a good balance of people, approaching fat activism from all angles.  It means we have robust discussions that nut out all the thorny bits of activism.

Another great thing is that we share resources.  Recently I was lucky enough to have bestowed upon me a fantastic collection of fat studies reference books by a fellow fat activist who was moving house at the time and needing to downsize her library.  It was an absolute joy to have parcel after parcel arrive in my PO Box full of books about fat.  Check these glorious piles of literary goodness out:

One of the things that struck me as I catalogued these into my own collection (yes, ever the librarian) was that people have been talking about fat politics, and particularly fat stigma and fat hatred, for a very long time.  This collection alone spans about thirty years, and it is by no means a complete collection of fat studies works.  These titles approach fat politics from almost every angle imaginable – sexuality, health, feminism, fiction, media, sociology, childhood development, eating disorders, psychology, food, exercise… you name it and someone has raised the topic in relation to fat politics in one of these books.

To put it bluntly, people have been talking about this shit for a long time and from a lot of perspectives.

However, listen to any of the many (and boy are there many) critics of fat activism, they will have it that we’re just making this stuff up as we go along.  It usually falls into two categories – either that we’re in some kind of denial about how horrible fat is, or that we’re just trying to find ways to “justify” being fat.  Let’s put aside the fact that I personally don’t focus on justification of my fatness – I am fat, the reasons are irrelevant  – but am focusing on fat people’s right to live their life with dignity and respect, and without discrimination or persecution, no matter what in their life led them to be fat.  We’ll also put aside that I’m in no denial that there are negative issues that correlate with being fat, but are not caused BY being fat, and don’t forget to include those issues that are caused by society’s loathing of fat.

But here in these books, and the many more out there, you have evidence that people have been examining fatness and society’s attitude towards fatness for a very long time.  I’m not the first person to discuss the subjects I do here on this blog, I’m certainly not the most formally educated person to examine the subjects I do here on this blog, and I’m definitely not making this shit up as I go along.  Unlike the majority of those who criticise fat activism, I spend an awful lot of time researching fatness, it’s effect on people and how society responds to it.  I certainly have not yet read all of these books, but I’ve spent almost 5 years reading an awful lot of them, along with an incredible amount of material online from all perspectives, which is a lot more than can be said from the average fat hating commenter who turns up with “But! But! But!  EVERYBODY KNOWS fat is bad!!”  Despite the fact that there is an incredible amount of material published from all over the world that disputes that supposed “everybody knows” knowledge.

The one thing I do know – fat haters do not present us with any new information or perspectives and have not done so for a very, very long time.  The very same arguments that the earliest of fat studies literature responds to are the same arguments that we are presented with today.  One would think, considering the amount of information we have presented over the past 30+ years as to why fat stigma and fat loathing are so damaging and erroneous, that a new perspective or new information would have come into play from the anti-fat brigade.  But alas, no.

What I do know is that there are people who have far more qualifications after their name than myself, and certainly more than the majority of the anti-fat brigade, listed amongst the authors of these books.   These are a learned bunch, and they’ve got very important things to say, and the evidence to back it up.

Something you will hear often in fat activism is “Educate yourself.”  Because it’s not our job to educate you in our oppression and how it affects us.  Many of us have spent years educating ourselves in the subject, we’ve spent our own time, money and energy to learn what we have learnt as fat activists.  If you wish to engage in the subject and dispute us, the least you can do is educate yourself.  Of course, there are always those that have excuses, saying they don’t know where to start or can’t find resources (Google is your friend people!)

However, I’m going to do something very generous.  I’ve created a resources page here on this blog, where I’ve listed all of the books in this collection, and others that I have read.  Now I know not everyone can afford all of these books, but you see, I’m a librarian, so I’m more than happy to encourage you to go and get a library card to get your hands on these resources.  If your library doesn’t have them, talk to your local librarians and ask them if they can add them to their collection, or organise an inter-library loan for you.  Librarians LOVE help with collection development, it’s a big job, any help we can get is always welcome.

For those of you who genuinely want to broaden your horizons and hear about the experiences of fat people, especially for those of you who are fat yourselves and need to know you’re not alone, this is a good place to start.

If you know of any other great resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will add them to my “to read” list.

You’re Not The First to Tell a Fat Person…

Published June 25, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Look, I know I have a lot of new readers.  I understand that many of you are totally new to the concept of fat activism and fat liberation.  I know that when you turn on the telly or open a newspaper, you are told, over and over again, fat = unhealthy and unhealthy = bad therefore fat = bad.  So what I’m saying here on this blog is a radical concept to a lot of you.  The idea that someone might refuse to believe that dominant rhetoric of fat = bad and actually be happy in their fat body is possibly confronting and confusing for many of you.  But it’s not a new concept.  Go back to my first post… July 2009.  I’ve been banging on about this for four years.  In fact, I just noticed that this is my 400th post.  So for four years, and with an average of 100 posts per year, I’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time now.  And believe it or not, a lot of people have been talking about it for a lot longer than me.  In fact, fat activism has its roots in the SIXTIES.  Yes, this stuff has been around for 50 years.  It’s not new.

So we need to talk about the sudden influx of you leaving comments on this blog that are never going to see the light of day.  Because yes, I know for you these things are radical and new… but to we fatties in the fatosphere, we’ve heard the same old same old our whole lives.  So not only do they not need to be published here to beat us over the head again and again with the same stuff that we’ve debunked time and time again, but you really don’t need to say them in the first place.  WE’VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE!  SERIOUSLY, YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO TELL US THE THINGS BELOW!

Today I’m going to address a few of the most commonly deleted/spammed comments (other than the usual troll bullshit) that I just refuse to allow space on this blog any more, because I do know there are a lot of you newbies out there who have just started reading my blog recently and perhaps think you’re presenting some new idea to myself and other fatties in your comments.  This is for you, so that you don’t make a dick of yourself any more in comment threads on fat activist blogs and other sites saying things that every fat person has heard a bajillion times already.

But fat is unhealthy!?

There is a plethora of evidence out there that debunks this myth, I’m not going to go into that here and now.  It’s not my job to educate you – I’ve given you lists of resources, off you go to educate yourself.  What I am going to say are the following things:

  • health is not a moral obligation.
  • Health is not a measure of human worth.
  • Health is arbitrary – what is “healthy” for one person, is not necessarily the same for the next.
  • Thin people suffer health issues too
  • People with illness/injury/disability are just as deserving of dignity and respect as anyone else, no matter what that illness/injury/disability may be or how it is “caused”.

But you’re driving up taxes/health insurance!!

So are people who drive cars, drink alcohol, play sport, have unprotected sex, get pregnant or get old.  Among many other things.  Fat people pay taxes and for health insurance too, and their taxes and health insurance dollars go into the same pool that yours do.  Fat costs on public health are a false cost – if you medicalise something, then it is going to “cost” to “treat” it.  If the medical profession focused on treating actual health issues and not trying to make fat people thin, those costs would all but disappear.

Well I’m all for loving your body, but within limits/not for super-obese people!

Firstly, I’m actually not interested in “body love”.  Sure, it’s probably good for us to reach a place of love and acceptance of our bodies.  But in the face of a world that sends us constant messages that our bodies should be something completely unattainable, I reckon if we can just get to a point where we respect our bodies as remarkable and complex systems that propel us through life, we’re doing well.  If someone does love their body, then that’s a bonus and I believe that anyone is allowed to love their body, be they thin, fat or in between.

As for the “limits” to which people are included in fat activism/liberation, it has to be all of us.  Not some, not to a certain point, not just the “healthy” ones, not just the ones who are cute/attractive, not just the young, white, straight, able-bodied ones.  Every single one of us deserves to live our lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on our weight and size.  Every single fat person deserves positive representation.  EVERY. SINGLE. FAT. PERSON.

But I’m just concerned about your health/ wellbeing!

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

But you need help!  Making  “obesity” a disease will get you help and cheap treatment!

We do not need “help” that is against our will or counter-productive to our actual health.  We don’t need “treatments” that fail and make us gain even more weight in the long term (diets and other weight loss methods), that butcher our bodies (gastric mutilation surgeries) or deplete our quality of life (weight loss medications that give us heart conditions, make us sick, give us “oily anal discharge” or a plethora of other side effects that are far worse than simply being fat).   Many of us don’t need help or treatment at all.  Many of us are happy just as we are and are doing fine.  What we need is to be treated as human beings, and to have agency over our lives.

But don’t you want to live longer?

Since when has anyone been able to control when they die?  We don’t know how long we’ll be here for.  We only get one shot at it.  So we best fill our lives as best we can, and not put them on hold because we don’t meet some kind of cultural measure of acceptable appearance.

You just want everyone to be fat like you!

Unlike the anti-fat camp, I believe that human bodies are naturally diverse and that some of us are meant to be fat, some are meant to be thin, and the rest are meant to range in between.  I don’t want to make other people fat any more than I want to make myself thin.  Unlike the anti-fat camp, I believe that all human beings are valid and equal regardless of their size or weight.  I like diversity, it keeps things from getting boring.

But… everyone KNOWS [insert anti-fat trope here]

Everyone used to know the earth was flat.  Everyone used to know that the sun revolved around the earth.  Everyone used to know that smoking tobacco was good for you.  We as human beings don’t know everything, and sometimes when we think we know things we’re wrong.  Emergent science is showing us already that our pre-conceived notions of fatness have been wrong on many counts (again, off you go to do your own research, you’ve got access to all the same online tools I’ve got access to, I’m not here to do it for you), I’ve spent the past four years learning, reading expanding my world view with these facts, I’m not just making this shit up myself.  Don’t make a fool of yourself by hanging on to ignorance.

You’re just making excuses to sit around on your fat ass all day and eat donuts!

If I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t need an excuse to do so.  I’d just do it.  I’m a grown adult and my life is mine to choose how I spend it.  That said, I actually wish I had a little more time to relax and wasn’t so busy all the time.  If I COULD find a way to do that, I WOULD take more time to relax, you’d better believe it!

It’s just calories in, calories out, you just need to put down the fork and move your fat ass!

Humans are not bomb calorimeters.  Nor are we lawnmowers.  Incidentally, do you think that no fat person ever has thought to try diet and exercise to get thin?  That at almost 41 years of age it never occurred to me to try “calories in/calories out”?  Do you REALLY think you’re the first person to make that suggestion to a fat person?  I can guarantee you, it’s highly unlikely you’re even the first person TODAY to make that suggestion to me.

You just lack willpower!

Oh really?  I engaged in a full blown restriction and purging eating disorder for twenty years, don’t talk to me about willpower.   If willpower actually amounted to anything, I would be thin, ridiculously wealthy and married to Hugh Jackman by now.  And put it this way, if you think I don’t have willpower, consider the fact that I haven’t smacked one of the dozens of fat hating douchecanoes I deal with every day in the mouth yet.  THAT takes willpower!

But I’ve lost weight and kept it off – you can too!

Define “kept it off”.  Have you passed the 5 year mark yet?  No?  Well since SCIENCE says that 95% of people who lose weight through dieting will regain it and more within 5 years, you need to go away and come back once you’ve kept it off for 5 years.  And that’s 5 years solid, not regained it after a year or so, lost it again, regained it again, lost it again, regained, lost (which most of us can do and have done).  If you have kept it off for 5 years or more, congratulations for being one of the 5% statistical anomalies.  Hopefully you can understand basic percentages and realise that most of us are likely to fall into the 95% bracket.

Not to mention that what you choose to do with your body has no bearing on what I choose to do with mine.  You focus on your body and life, I’ll focus on mine.

So there you have it.  I’ve taken the time to address the common tropes I find in comments about, and this should save us all a lot of time.  Hopefully those of you who want to tell/ask me (or any other fat people) any of the above things can save your breath and not embarrass yourselves publicly, and I shouldn’t have to deal with the same old same old in my inbox every day.

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?

Public Health Does Not Make Me Public Property

Published June 16, 2013 by sleepydumpling

If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me with some form of “But.. but… HEALTH!!” message in response to my fat activism, I would be a very wealthy woman indeed.  I’ve heard it all when it comes to people trying to use health, either private or public, as a stick to beat fat people over the head with.  To me it just boils down to one thing… no matter what a person’s appearance, weight, shape, level of health or physical ability, every human being deserves to live their lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on their appearance, size, shape, body or health/physical ability.

Of course, to the essentialists out there who want to claim that fat activists are somehow anti-health, the idea of EVERYBODY deserving the same rights regardless of their appearance or physical state-of-being gets them into a right lather of outrage.  There is this attitude that “public health” must somehow trump basic human rights for some kind of greater good.  Of course, this is borne of decade after decade of big pharma, the media and the “beauty” industry carefully constructing a culture that equates health with attractiveness and thinness, and manoevering those measures of health to unattainable levels that very, very few people in the world actually come close to meeting, ie thin, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered, affluent, etc.

Fat activism, even those of us who actively call out healthism, is not an anti-health message by any means.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I believe that everyone, yes EVERYONE, deserves access to the same healthful resources.  Clean water.  Clean air.  Safe spaces to engage in physical activity that is enjoyable and inclusive.  Abundant, fresh, affordable, nutritious food.  Compassionate medical care.  Vaccinations against communicable diseases.  Fair pay and working conditions.  Comprehensive education for all.  Mental health care.  Accessible public spaces for all bodies.  Affordable housing.  Affordable and suitable clothing.  All of these things contribute to improving the general health and quality of life of all people.

What I do not support is the idea that public health renders some people’s bodies as public property.  Public health is important in our society, and I am all for universal health care (an imperfect version of which we are lucky to have in Australia).  I am all for public health ensuring that our water is clean, that everyone has access to the medication and treatment they need, that people are aware of the importance of vaccination, that all people are encouraged and enabled to get outside into a clean, safe environment and enjoy moving their bodies, that public funding goes into curing disease and providing those treatments to all human beings and so on.

What I do not support from public health is the marking of non-normative bodies as “diseased” or “defective”.  I do not support the removal of agency and self-advocacy from people with non-normative bodies.  I do not support intervention into our bodies and health by public health organisations.  I do not support the vilification of human beings based on their appearance.  I do not support public health being driven by the diet, beauty and pharmacy industries, or the mainstream media, all of which have financial gain to be made in the othering of people based on their appearance.  I do not support public health campaigns that mark some bodies as inferior, immoral or defective.  I do not support public health campaigns that encourage friends, family, schools or other groups to intervene in to other people’s health.  None of these things actually help improve individual health or quality of life, in fact they all impact both health and quality of life negatively.

Anything that renders human beings as vulnerable to any of the above is public shaming and public stigmatisation, not public health.

Part of living in a society is that we can all contribute to that society for the general betterment of all.  Some people will need different resources and levels of care to others, because like any other living species, human beings are diverse.  That does not make those people beholden to society in general to try to change themselves to meet the narrow band of “average” that is classed as “normal”.  Instead, the responsibility is on society as a whole to include all people, rather than just the lucky few that meet some ridiculous arbitrary standards.

Resources! Get Your Resources Here!

Published May 31, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Well hello!  Welcome to all of the new readers, thanks to my being listed on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed feature overnight.  It’s an honour to be featured on Freshly Pressed and I hope that by being featured there, some new fellow fatties have found me and perhaps the fatosphere in general.

Because of the influx of new readers, both from Freshly Pressed and those who came along from the UQ Women’s Collective event I did last week, I think it’s time to do a refresher course on Fat Activism 101.  Because it will save us ALL a big headache in the long run.

Now, one of the things about being an activist is that people expect you to educate them all the time.  But it doesn’t work like that.  You have to go educate yourself.  If you’re reading this, you have an internet connection, and I think it’s pretty safe to assume that you can use Google.  If you don’t understand a term or a word, please take the time to Google it, and do a bit of reading.  Not because I’m too lazy to educate you, but because if I have used a term or word or even talked about an issue, it is undoubtedly the gajillionth time I have had to do so.  None of the questions that anyone presents me as a fat person about fat rights, fat stigma or even fat health are new ones for me, nor for most fat people you will meet.  We get this shit every day of our lives.  And we keep talking about it publicly, but again and again and again we’re still asked the same questions.

In fact, you can use the search engine on the top of this page to search just my blog and I’m sure you can plenty of information and instances where I’ve already answered your questions.  There are almost 400 posts here just on Fat Heffalump, I’m sure I’ve answered a lot of your questions already.

But!  I’m feeling generous today.  I’m going to help you with some resources, because as well as being tools for people to educate themselves, they are also fantastic resources for those of you who are fat and are looking for help with everything from clothing to health care to simply just standing up for your rights.

Some of these posts will be older ones, but they’re so good they’re worth keeping in an archive of resources.

Before we get into all subjects fat, it’s best that you understand privilege.

Let’s start with the piece that blew my world open, by Kate Harding for Shapely Prose:

The Fantasy of Being Thin

Then there is this brilliant post by Michelle aka The Fat Nutritionist:

Eat food. Stuff you like.  As much as you want.

In fact, while you’re at it, go read the entire back catalogue of The Fat Nutritionist.  Michelle’s work is amazing and she has helped SO many people get started on the road to healing a whole host of disordered behaviours around food.

Now, for those of you who have questions about health and fatness and all that malarkey, I cannot tell you how valuable Dr Linda Bacon’s book “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” is.  Here, have some free excepts:

Excerpts and Downloads: Health at Every Size

Don’t understand what fat activism is exactly?  Well, Dr Charlotte Cooper has you hooked up for that one:

What is a fat activist?

Another great place to get a whole lot of  101 on a whole host of fat topics is Melissa McEwen of Shakesville’s Fatsronauts 101 collection.  Pretty much everything Melissa has to say about fat is a valuable read.

The moralisation of health is a big issue for fat people, and Shannon over at Nudemuse has a recent post that sums it up beautifully.

Other useful links:

Brian at Red No. 3 is very good at getting right down to the nuts and bolts of fat hate.

Need an Australian Health Care Provider who is fat friendly?  Try the All Bodies Directory.

Marilyn Wann is like the first lady of fat.  Her book Fat! So? is a bit of a bible to many of us.

If you don’t understand thin privilege, this checklist is a good starting point.  Then move on to the This is Thin Privilege Tumblr.

There you have it.  A nice pile of resources to get you started on understanding fat activism, fat rights and fat stigma.  If anyone else has others, please feel free to drop them in the comments.

Fat Stigma, Healthism and Eating Disorders

Published May 23, 2013 by sleepydumpling

A little housekeeping first – the zine is still trucking along nicely, thank you to those of you who have already submitted contributions, (I’ll be in touch soon if I haven’t already) and to those of you thinking of submitting something, please do!  I particularly need artwork, even just small pieces to fill in around articles and break up the text.

Trigger warning on what follows: discussion of eating disorders, prejudice against fat eating disorder sufferers and rampant healthism.

Photo by Isaac Brown for Stocky Bodies.

Photo by Isaac Brown for Stocky Bodies.

Now, on to the actual topic of this post!  As you know, on Tuesday night I was proud to present at the UQ Women’s Collective Diversity Week event.  One of my fellow speakers was a representative from the Eating Disorders Association Inc (EDA) and she spoke on what eating disorders are, who is most likely to be affected by them, and what methods of treatments there are.  We had some robust discussion during the Q&A portion of the event in response to audience questions.  I only wish we could have answered more audience questions, but alas, we ran out of time.

Since then, I have had a LOT of thoughts swirling around my head around eating disorders and how they relate to fat people.  As you would have seen in my last post, I have been an eating disorder sufferer for most of my life, however I was in my 30′s before I was finally officially diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), which technically means an eating disorder that for some reason does not fit under Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder (which has only this week been classified officially as an eating disorder).  In personal terms, for me it means that I have an eating disorder… but I’m fat, so I am excluded from being diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia, despite meeting almost all of the other criteria.  Yes, just being fat disqualifies you from having anorexia or bulimia regardless of your meeting all or most of the other criteria.

So it’s probably no surprise to any of you that I have issues with how the health care industry, most eating disorder support organisations and the general community of eating disorder sufferers treat fat people.  Particularly as it is mostly assumed that fat = binge eating disorder, which is nothing short of bullshit.  Can I put that in any plainer terms for anyone?  BULLSHIT.  Fat people are assumed to just be overeaters or binge eaters by way of being fat.  It is often believed that it is impossible for a fat person to have a restrictive or purging eating disorder, or to be involved in disordered exercise behaviours.  Even as much research (and anecdotal evidence/lived experience) there is out there showing how many fat people have engaged in these forms of disordered eating/activity, the medical profession and most eating disorder organisations still do not recognise it in fat people, and instead suggest that “denial” is one of our symptoms of what must be binge eating disorder.

What regularly happens to fat people who present with all of the markers of restrictive/purging/exercise mania is that we are told to “keep up the good work” instead of having our illnesses recognised.  Behaviours which are widely recognised as destructive, disordered behaviour in thin people, are considered a “positive lifestyle change” in fat people and actively encouraged.  It certainly was for many, many years through my suffering.

And it seems that hasn’t changed much.

So fat people are being failed by most eating disorder support organisations, the medical/health care industry and the general eating disorder community still.

The first question to the panel on Tuesday night was asking how we respond to the “But what about your health?!” demands.  As the fattest person in the room, it meant a lot to me to make it clear that my health, and in fact anyone’s individual health, is nobody’s business but their own.  That it’s not a subject up for discussion unless the person themselves wish it to be so.  You know, the “If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.” mantra.

The representative from EDA then added that she saw the situation differently, and while she started positively with stating that the same health messages should be given to all people, regardless of their body shape or size (which I agree with), it soon devolved into a lot of deeply healthist and fat stigmatising rhetoric about bell curves of mortality rates in body sizes, BMI, “obesity epidemic” and “weight risk factors”.  I was at pains to point out that as someone at one end of that “bell curve”, most of this rhetoric is deeply problematic as it has a risk of demonising and othering those of us who fall at either end of that bell curve.  It also implies that we require intervention into our health, and ignores the fact that “risk” in no way equals “certainty”.  It perpetuates an assumption that people at the ends of the bell curve are by default defective, rather than just the natural extremes of a diverse spectrum of body types.  It also perpetuates the assumption that very fat people or very thin people by default are inevitably going to suffer health issues and/or shorter lifespans that they are only statistically “at risk” for.  This is not an accurate assumption nor is it a helpful one.

I was grateful that it was also raised by someone in the audience (kudos to Amy if you’re reading this) that BMI is both an inaccurate and ineffectual measure of anything (other than ratio of weight to height) and that it is deeply triggering to not just fat people but also to eating disorder sufferers in general (which was many of the audience – since it was an eating disorders event).  BMI is often the stick that people with poor self esteem and body image, and eating disorders beat themselves over the head with.

Unfortunately, I have found healthist rhetoric like this is alarmingly common from eating disorder support organisations, and while they may be well intentioned, are causing the exclusion of many people based on body shape and size, as well as level of health.  The reality is, many eating disorder sufferers have other health issues or may be people with disabilities as well as those caused by or part of their eating disorders, and these already vulnerable people are often made to feel that they do not deserve compassionate treatment and support because they’re hearing the message that health is the most important factor in treatment and support.

We need to keep repeating the message that not only is health completely and utterly arbitrary, but it is not a moral obligation either.  Moralising health is a deeply ableist attitude.  We need to keep fighting for our personal agency in health care as well.  Yes, occasionally there are people who are genuinely unable to advocate for themselves, these are in the vast minority and most importantly, that cannot be determined by either their weight or their actual physical health.  I believe the ONLY way to assess the inability to self advocate is through thorough and compassionate psychological assessment.

As long as we as a culture continue to define wellbeing and human worth by weight and/or arbitrary health measures, we are engaging in both ableism and fat stigma, neither of which actually help people build better wellbeing.  And it’s not just fat people/people with disabilities who are affected by this.   The fear of fat and stigmatising, ableist messages about health trigger damaging behaviours in people of all sizes and levels of physical health/ability.  As long as people are afraid of being fat or place moral obligation on health, they will be engaging in damaging and indeed unhealthy behaviours to avoid being fat or unhealthy.  It is a vicious cycle of direct cause and effect that we have to break for any progress to be made, and that needs to start with the very organisations who are in place to help break disordered behaviours.

What we need an entire cultural change around health and weight and I believe that eating disorder support organisations and groups need to be at the front of this cultural change, not being dragged along by those of us on the margins.  They have a responsibility to make effort to include and support those of us who are most vulnerable to stigma and bigotry, not marginalise us further.

Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by sleepydumpling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Space We Need

Published December 17, 2012 by sleepydumpling

There’s a new book about fat on the block, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy (ask your local library if they’ve got it, if not, ask them if they can get it in for you) and having a read.  It is Fat by Deborah Lupton.

IMG_3630

It’s not perfect, there’s quite a bit of privilege denial (ugh, thin privilege) and she completely misses the point about much of fat activism a fair bit, but it has been giving me some real food for thought.

One of the things it has triggered a lot of thinking about lately is how those of us with fat bodies negotiate our way through the physical spaces of the world.  I got to thinking about just how conscious I am of the space my body takes up, and how I have to negotiate my body in a world that marks me as “abnormal”.  The more I paid attention to it, the more I noticed that almost every aspect of my life is framed around this process of moving my body around in the world.

People with thin privilege do not see that as well as the general stigma and shaming around having a fat body, the act of simply existing in a fat body is something that constantly has to be monitored so as to minimise further shaming and stigma.

Even at home it starts…

The first thing I do in the morning is jump in the shower.  In my flat, the shower stall is quite small, smaller than the one I had in my previous home.  As I get in to the shower, the glass door sometimes swings wide open as I bump it, which means water sprays out onto the bathroom floor.  After my shower I get dressed in clothes that I have had a lot of difficulty to find (correct fit but also clothes that I like and reflect how I wish to dress, and are suitable for the place I intend to wear them).  Once dressed and shod and ready to leave the house, I grab my handbag, which I had some difficulty finding one with a long enough shoulder strap that it would fit cross body, so that I could have my hands free.  As I leave my building I squeeze through a space between the stairwell and the garden edge, that is cut to narrower than my body.

I walk to the train station, often facing abuse that early from cars that pass me, or if nothing else stares when I get to the train station.   I sit down on the benches on the platform.  People usually avoid sitting next to me, and often make it clear that they find me repulsive.  I wait for the train, usually catching up with Twitter while I wait.  Once I get on the train, I am lucky enough to get on at the second station so there are usually plenty of seats.  I sit on one facing the direction of travel, move close to the window and put my bag on my lap or between my feet.  My body, while very large, does not take up more than one seat width, though my shoulders do a little.  I usually read while commuting.  I make my body take up as little space as possible.  As people get on the train, and it begins to fill, I notice them looking for seats anywhere but me.  Some of them sigh or tsk as they pass me.  Many would rather stand, or sit next to a man with his legs widely spread and his newspaper out open than sit next to me, as though my fat is contagious.  I see them staring (I wear sunglasses which hide my eyes so they don’t know which way I am looking) sometimes they nudge the person they are travelling with and not-so-subtly point me out.  Semi-regularly I catch someone photographing me on their smartphone.  Occasionally if I don’t have my iPod on, I hear someone say something like “If it wasn’t for fatso there, we would have more seats.”

When I get to my destination, I leave the train and walk through the station.  I walk down the stairs to the subway, no slower than most other people, but there is always someone who huffs and puffs behind me like I am holding them up.  Usually my speed is determined by the people in front of me, but the eyes on me say “Fatty you’re holding people up.”  Sometimes people even say this out loud.  As I line up for the GoCard gates, I am acutely aware that my body only just fits through the gates, and when I am wearing my bag across my body I have to adjust it to be in front of me so that I fit.

I walk to work, still facing comments, nudges and stares from strangers.  As I walk into my building and get into the elevator, often people eye me up and down, sigh or tsk as if they’re offended at the amount of space I take up in the lift.  When I get to my desk, the standard office chairs are not wide enough between the arms for me to sit comfortably, in fact, they’re not wide enough for MOST people to sit comfortably, almost everyone in the office has a different brand chair to the “standard” but as the fattest woman I’m the one looked at askew for using a different chair.

Anywhere I walk in public I constantly have to be aware of the space I am taking up.  I am expected to apologise for not fitting between groups of people crowding a walkway, or through the gaps in chairs in the building’s food court area if I go to buy a coffee or my lunch.  Furniture is arranged so that it is too narrow for my body to pass through, and I often have to move chairs, squeeze sideways or ask people to move because I don’t fit the designated space for a body.  Bathroom stalls are narrow, the sanitary bins often dig into my side if they are not far back enough.  Meeting anyone in a doorway means that I must again apologise for my size, because we won’t both fit through at the same time.

The kitchen and bathroom basins in our office building force me to lean over them and my belly gets wet from water people have slopped there beforehand and not cleaned up.  If I go into shops, I have to manoeuvre my way around racks, displays and other people who are all closer together than fits my body.  Chairs provided in public spaces are either too narrow for me, or too flimsy or both.  If I go to the movies, the chairs there are uncomfortable, older theatres have narrow seats with inflexible arm rests that dig into my sides, and again I face the constant tsks of disapproval from strangers for sitting in chairs near where they want to sit, even though none of me protrudes out to other chairs except my shoulders, which would be the same if I were thin.  The same goes for restaurants and other places with public seating – either seats are uncomfortable for me, or I get shamed for taking up too much space.

If I want to eat in public, I have to decide whether I have the sanity points to deal with comments people make, or more stares and nudges.  Often some of the rudest comments or behaviour comes from the staff of the place I am purchasing food.  I quickly work out the places I can go where they won’t shame me for buying any food, and never return to those that do, if I have a choice.  In supermarkets, people stare into my trolley/basket and don’t hide their disapproval at finding food in there.  Sometimes they make comments about foods I have chosen, either chastising me if they deem it unhealthy, patronising me if they decide it is healthy.  I have even had people remove food from my trolley, scolding me that I “don’t need it”.  I always use the self checkout units at the supermarket, even if there are cashiers free, because it’s not worth putting up with the comments the cashiers make, or the scrutiny of the shoppers behind me.

It even affects my friendships and relationships.  One ex-boyfriend left me because he couldn’t tolerate the stares and nudges in public.  Several of my friends have told me that they find themselves getting angry when they are out with me, because they see how people behave.  I find myself getting angry after a few hours in a public place like a shopping centre, because I’m sick of being stared at and openly judged, which ruins my enjoyment of time out with my friends.

When I take a walk or a bike ride along the beautiful waterfront parklands near my house, I get more stares, more comments.  People stop me to make patronising comments “encouraging” weight loss.  One afternoon I had stopped at a picnic table to rummage through my bag for my purse when a woman came up to me, indicated I should take my earbuds out and then said “You are doing SO well, keep going and you will lose ALL that weight.”  She didn’t like it when I responded “Mind your own business, I’m quite happy with my body, now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go buy fish and chips for dinner.”   In the heat of the past few weeks I have packed a salad in a lunch box and taken it down to the waterfront picnic tables to eat in the sea breeze, much more pleasant than the heat of my home.  People stare and make comments about “people like that eating”.

Most people parrot “Well just lose weight then!” with no actual experience in what it is like to try to make a fat body smaller, or no true knowledge of how a fat person lives.  They believe the stereotypical myth of fat people rather than take the time to actually know what a fat person’s experiences are, what it is like to live in a fat body or to even believe not just fat people, but science that tells us that 95% of people can not lose weight permanently.  Instead of making the world variable enough to fit all of us, they insist that we make ourselves fit the world.

This is why when someone says for the millionth time “But what about your health!?!” I get angry.  What about our health?  Do people really think that stigma and shaming, and a world that is deeply uncomfortable for fat people is actually good for anyone’s health?  Do they really think that by not allowing us to live our lives in peace and dignity, we’re going to suddenly go “Oh wait!  I should get thin!” as if we have never tried it?  It is also why when people parrot the old “Just put down the cheeseburger and get off the couch” bullshit, I get angry.  Every morsel we eat is policed, and every moment in public is too.  Do they really think that this helps us live full, happy lives?  Do they really believe that they have the RIGHT to intervene in our lives?

There is not a day goes by without these micro-aggressions coming my way, as they do for  most very fat people.  I don’t share these things so that people feel sorry for me, that’s not what I want at all.  I want to highlight just how fat stigma and shaming forces fat people to spend their whole lives mitigating unpleasant, embarrassing or painful incidents caused by a culture that refuses to share its space with them.  There IS plenty of space for all of us, big or small, on this planet.  The problem is that fatness has been so demonised, so dehumanised that everyday people feel they have the right to be police AND judge, jury and executioner for fat people in the world.

I never feel discomfort because of my fat body.  I constantly feel discomfort because of the way the world treats me and refuses to accommodate me  because of my fat body.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,919 other followers