self esteem

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No Fat Chicks

Published July 24, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Hey lovelies.  I’ve been quiet for a bit haven’t I?  Well something has brought me out of the woodwork today and steaming from the ears.  The lovely Em aka Boombands from Oh The Places You’ll Go drew my attention via her Twitter to a project this morning called Stop Dating Like a Fat Chick.  Em quite rightfully pointed out just how problematic the project was, and the author of it directed her to this page Who You Callin’ A Fat Chick?  When I read it, I can tell you, I felt kind of sick.

Firstly, most of you already know, I’m a fat chick.  I’m also a single fat chick.  Apparently, being a fat chick is a BAD THING.  The author of the blog/book, Adrienne Santos-Longhurst says that she is offering “the no BS guide to dating with confidence for the plus size girl” – so let me just get this right.  Being a plus size girl is ok, but being a fat chick is not.  Indeed, that is what she says at the top of the page… “If you let your size dictate how and who you date then YOU, my dear, are a Fat Chick.”

Sounds like Ms Santos-Longhurst is buying into the old “No Fat Chicks” bullshit that plenty of douchecanoes have been labelling women that they think they’re superior to for a long, long time.  We’re getting into some good fatty/bad fatty territory with this stuff.

Now that we’ve established that being a fat chick is a VERY BAD THING, and that to become a fat chick you only have to identify as fat and choose people to date and how you date them with relevence to your fatness.  So, that means that because I identify as a fat chick, and because I only date people who accept (and appreciate) my fatness and understand my self-identifying as fat, I “date like a fat chick”.  And that is a VERY BAD THING.

To be fair, I do everything like a fat chick.  I breathe like a fat chick.  I sleep like a fat chick.  I dress like a fat chick.  Because… I AM a fat chick!

According to Ms Santos-Longhurst, dating like a fat chick is a bad thing.  On her page, she outlines why this is a bad thing, because apparently fat chicks do the following:

always the best friend who chums around with a guy and even gives him advice about other women all while pining after him.

-the easy lay who has sex with any and everyone because they feel it’s the only way to get the affection and attention they crave.

- the needy and desperate woman who gets walked all over and jumps through hoops to keep a man in fear that no one else will want her.

-women who limit their dating to fat-friendly sites or even limit themselves to specific races who are said to prefer fat women because they fear they’ll be rejected by dating the “regular” way.

That’s a whole lot of assumptions to make about how fat chicks behave when dating.  Not to mention a whole lot of very negative assumptions.  Now, speaking for myself, that’s not really my method in the dating world, so it’s a pretty rich assumption to make about how we fat chicks date.  But hey, some fat chicks do date like that (so do a lot of thin chicks) and it’s a pretty hostile attitude to hold towards the way some women choose to date.  I’ll come back to that a bit later.

I understand that some of the underlying message Ms Santos-Longhurst is trying to get at is that many fat women suffer from confidence and self-esteem issues.  That no doubt comes from a genuine, good place of wanting to help.  But… this doesn’t help.  Shaming women, particularly fat women who are already shamed at every turn, for having low self-esteem and lacking confidence, is not going to help them.  Saying “Men treat you badly because you act like a doormat.” lays the blame at the feet of the victim, not the perpetrator.  It’s not anyone’s fault that someone treats them badly – ever.  If someone is treating you  like a doormat, then they are the one who are behaving badly and should be shamed, not you.  This is a very victim-blaming methodology that Ms Santos-Longhurst has adopted.

I also have a problem with the whole desperate/needy cliché.  Have you ever noticed how often the concept of desperate/needy are applied mostly to women?  That somehow, women when they have feelings for someone and want them reciprocated are desperate and needy, but when men do the same it’s coded as romantic, devoted, determined.  With a caveat – thin, pretty women are sometimes allowed to be romantic/devoted/determined.  But fat chicks – if we have feelings and want them reciprocated, ew gross, don’t be so needy!  Don’t be so desperate!

Unrequited feelings are messy.  We’ve all been there.  But the answer is not deciding that you’re pathetic for having unrequited feelings.  The answer is realising that we’ve all been there, and that it is possible to get past those feelings and move on with your life.  The answer is going “Well, if you don’t like me, that’s your loss.” and not letting it smash your self-esteem even further.  It’s not hating yourself for those feelings.

The next thing that brings me to is the idea of women who limit their dating to fat-friendly sites or people who prefer fat women.  Let’s just note the inherent racism in the way Ms Santos-Longhurst has framed it too – she hasn’t named any particular race but most of us already know that very racist stereotype.  Some fat women do indeed stick to fat-friendly dating environments.  And that is perfectly acceptable.  There is nothing wrong with choosing to involve yourself in community and environments that accept you and understand you and are tailored for you.  I’m not saying that those environments aren’t fraught with issues, but let’s face it, who hasn’t been objectified or fetishised while walking down the street, or on some non-fat-focused website?   I also find it deeply problematic that she seems to exclude these environments from what she calls “dating the regular way”.  What is dating the regular way?  He comes over and is interrogated by your father first?  Writes in your dance card?  Takes you to for coffee the first date, dinner the second date, movies the third?  The assumption that there actually is some “regular” way to date in 2014 is pretty crappy.  People meet one another and date all kinds of different ways.  Sometimes they meet at work, or through friends, or on a dating site, through a kink club, or sometimes they fuck outside a nightclub and then realise that they’re meant for each other.  All of them are valid ways to date.  There is no “regular” way that is more acceptable than any other.

Which brings me to the thing that REALLY made me go “Oh hell no!”  Yes, that big old stinking pile of slut shaming there on point two.  That silly fat girl who is an “easy lay” – the dirty slut!  Here’s the thing folks.  Fuck any consenting adult you want to fuck, as many times as you want to fuck them.  Whether you think they’re the love of your life, or you just want to come and a cuddle.  Fuck a bunch of consenting adults if you want to.  So long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, fuck away to your heart’s content.  That doesn’t make you an “easy lay” and there’s nothing at all wrong with having a whole bunch of sex if that’s what you want to do.  There’s nothing wrong with having NO sex if that’s what you want.  There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of sex if that works for you too.  Darlings, you get to decide that.  Anyone who shames you for your sexuality when it is between consenting adults is a jerk.

Again, I get the underlying thing Ms Santos-Longhurst is getting at is about confidence and self-esteem, but unfortunately the way she is going about it is damaging to a whole lot of people’s confidence and self-esteem.  Instead of telling “fat chicks” that “you’re doing it wrong and it’s all your fault”, I believe the way to build women’s confidence is to point out just how valid their feelings are, to establish that we are the ones who have final say over our own lives and our own bodies, and the biggie – show them that other people’s shitty behaviour is not their fault.

If you’re a fat chick, and are finding the whole dating thing awkward and painful and embarrassing… guess what?  That’s normal!  Dating and relationships are weird and awkward and sometimes painful for everybody.  They’re also wonderful and rewarding and delicious sometimes too.  But they’re not perfect.  They’re work.  The fairytale is just that… a fairytale.

But here’s to all the fat chicks who live their lives like fat chicks.  Don’t let anyone shame you for being a fat chick.

Unruly Bodies

Published June 24, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Ever since I was born, my body has been unruly.  It has never done what bodies are “supposed” to do.  From a newborn, my body has always rebelled against the world around it.  From allergies to everyday baby items like soap, lambs wool, and lanolin which left my tender skin covered in eczema and hives to the big birthmark that graces my thigh, I was untidy from the get go.  Through childhood when more allergies had me a sneezy, snuffly, itchy hayfever sufferer.  I was never the kid that could run fast, it took me forever to learn to swim, I couldn’t catch a ball, and have always been a klutz.  Then puberty hit… and I became fat, the thing considered by society in general the unruliest thing of all for bodies to be.  As well as being fat, and allergic, and uncoordinated, I had a head full of enormous hair that has never done what I wanted it to.  I couldn’t afford cool clothes, but even if I could they are denied to fat people.

From my teens I started doing all sorts of things to myself to try to get thin, which my body rebelled against even further.  Years of disordered eating, exercise bingeing and ridiculous diets wreaked havoc on my body.  In my 20’s I went through stages of self harm.  Everything I did to myself to try to make my body conform to what I was told it should be, just made the problem worse.  Yo-yo dieting gave me stretch marks.  Purging damaged my teeth and my skin.  I scarred myself as punishment for being fat and unworthy and to escape the emotional pain.   The more I fought my body to be tidy, neat, contained, the more my body fought back.

Of course, by the time that one is 35, most people see the signs of aging.  The body continues to be unruly.   Hair starts to go grey.  Wrinkles and lines appear.  Collagen reduces allowing gravity to do it’s job.  So the body continues to be unruly.  And again, I’m still fat – the unruliest thing of all.

It wasn’t until I was 35 that I stopped fighting my body.  I found fat liberation and feminism, and realised that my value is not in my appearance, that it is in who I am as a person, and no matter what a person looks like, they are worthy of dignity and respect.

Part of fat liberation is finding the way to appreciate the unruliness of your body.  It is finding the power in your body.  It is seeing the unruliness as the history book of your body.  I look at my body now and the very things that I once loathed are the things that I am finding are my strengths.  The soft warmth of my round, generous body.  A small child once called me “The huggiest lady in the world!” because she enjoyed cuddling up to my big body.  The strength that I have at my disposal just by putting my weight into movement.  The space I take up, full and abundant.  I see smile lines, scars that tell of great adventures, stretchmarks that tell of changes I have lived through.  Soft skin that is a canvas for beautiful art.  Even my enormous, untameable hair is a pleasure now – I just dye it hot pink and let it go crazy.  Sure I’d love to get rid of the allergies – but they are a small price to pay for a big, soft, warm, bountiful body that carries me through life.

But another thing happened… I started to notice that while I had all these things about my body that were unruly, untidy, awkward, there are also a lot of things about my body that are amazing and have always been there, I just never appreciated them when I was spending so much time focusing on the things I couldn’t change.   I never could run fast, but I’ve always had phenomenal endurance.  It took me ages to learn to swim, but once I did, I could swim long distances with ease.  I might not have been able to catch a ball, but I have a shot like a cannon and can split tennis balls and golf balls with my strength.  While my hair may be big and wild, it’s also thick and shiny.  My body is fat, but it’s also soft and warm.  I may have allergies, but I’ve also got a fine sense of smell and taste.

I learnt that instead of focusing on what my body is not, I need to focus on what it IS.  And what it is, is wonderous.  Flawed and weird yes, as are ALL bodies, but also amazing.

Why must women be small, tidy, contained, unobtrusive?  Why must we spend our lives trying to disappear, be invisible, to not take up any space, to keep out of everyone’s way?  Why can’t we inhabit our bodies as they are, find comfort and joy in them?

Let’s start here.  Before we go further, I want you to sit up straight, or as straight as you can.  Put your shoulders back.   Lift your head up and look straight forward.  Take a deep breath and expand your lungs, and then let that breath out.  Take up the space you inhabit.  Now think about the things your body CAN do.

What are the things that are amazing about your body?

More on That Louie Scene

Published May 25, 2014 by sleepydumpling

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find these criticisms extremely problematic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Sucks to be a Fat Woman

Published May 17, 2014 by sleepydumpling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sucks to be a fat woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sucks to be a fat woman.

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

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

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

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

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

Unapologetically Ugly

Published May 1, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Every day, when I open my email, there are a plethora of emails detailing how ugly I am.  Every day, someone leaves a comment here on this blog, or sends me an email, or trolls my Tumblr, deeply intent on declaring me the ugliest person they’ve ever seen.  They equate me to pigs, whales, elephants, hippos, manatees and all manner of animals, all of which I personally find awesome and absolutely adorable.

Once upon a time, this would have hurt me deeply.  I would have been terribly upset, it probably would have made me self harm, or driven me to isolate myself more, or stopped me from dressing the way I love to dress.

But it hasn’t done that for a long time.

Now before you deny my ugliness, which is a lovely thought of you, I want to say, it’s OK.  I’m not writing this to have people dispute the accusation.  You don’t need to tell me I’m not ugly, or even that I’m beautiful, to undo the shitty things that some people say to me.  Because other than some irritation at having to deal with continued abuse and harassment, the actual words themselves don’t hurt me at all.

I realised why today when I responded to an email that was actually lovely (not abuse, I don’t respond to those) from a woman who had always felt ugly and she told me about her journey to find her own beauty.  I got to thinking about that need to be beautiful, and I realised I don’t have that need myself. Not that I have any problem with other people needing to feel beautiful, but it’s just not there for me.

I feel absolutely no obligation to be aesthetically pleasing to others.  Oh don’t get me wrong, it is always nice when someone refers to me as beautiful, but I don’t feel it defines me or adds any value to me as a person.   Now admittedly, mostly women are expected to be beautiful, or at least aspire to beauty.  Women are often seen as prizes or trophies measured by their beauty.  I want more from my life than being aesthetically pleasing.

My having beauty does not define all of the important things in my life.  It doesn’t diminish my intellect, my humour, my compassion, my dedication, my enthusiasm, my strength, my ability to love.  These are, for me anyway, the yardsticks which I measure my success as a human being – not beauty.

Let’s not forget, beauty is entirely subjective anyway.  As much as there is a societal beauty ideal, it is not the default of what all people actually find beautiful.  People find all types of features beautiful – for every single feature of appearance there is, someone out there will find it beautiful – even the very things we ourselves might find deeply unattractive.  We can also find polar opposites of features beautiful – you can be attracted to more than one body type, or more than one eye colour, or more than one skin tone, and so on.  I know I am.  Think about the famous people that are seen as beautiful.  One movie star or pop singer may be deeply desirable to one person, and then completely off putting to the next.  Except perhaps for Tom Hiddleston, it seems EVERYONE finds him deeply desirable!

Personally, I’m attracted to people for more than just their physical beauty.  A person can be physically stunning, but deeply repulsive to me.  I can think of several famous actors who are lauded as being the “sexiest men alive” yet I find them very unattractive because I know that they have been violent towards previous partners, or have bigoted political beliefs, or are ignorant.  What I find attractive in a person extends much further than external appearance.  For example I am attracted to an infectious laugh, gentle hands, quick wit, deep intellect… I also like crooked teeth, skinny legs, smile wrinkles, hairy bodies, big feet, fat bellies… all things that other people would consider very unattractive.  A person doesn’t have to have all of those things for me to find them attractive, but I notice them on people and am attracted to them, particularly when accompanied by those non-physical attributes that I like.

That said, I don’t expect every person on the planet to meet my aesthetic.  I’m not personally offended by encountering someone that I do not find attractive.  There seems to be this mentality in men in particular that if a woman fails to be sexually attractive to him, it is a personal insult to him.  I’ve heard it referred to as The Boner Principle.  Any woman who “fails” to inspire an erection in a man loses her right to basic human respect by default.  It is the most unbelievably conceited attitude to think that you are owed attraction by every woman you encounter.

I’ve got no intention of buying into that bullshit.  My life is worth far more than being a pretty ornament that pleases others.  If people think I’m ugly, I offer no apology and feel no shame.  For some time my personal motto has been:

I’m not here to decorate the world, I’m here to change it.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Published March 8, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Yes, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate/acknowledge it, I’d like to talk about just how life has changed for me as a woman, and with women over the years.

IWD

All my life, I felt like I wasn’t “girlie” enough.  When I was small it was because I was poor and didn’t have the pretty clothes and things that other girls had, and because I was repeatedly told I was fat.  I felt like being a girl was a competition, and because I couldn’t compete, I wasn’t “girlie”.  Then along came puberty and I really did become fat.  Add hairy and spotty into the equation, that made me feel like I had even less of a right to girlhood.  As I passed through my teens and into adulthood, I still believed that because I didn’t fit what the media, my family, and men in general told me a woman should be, I still didn’t feel like I belonged to womanhood.

My response to that was to internalise misogyny.  I started to tell myself that “I’m not like other girls” and consequently I couldn’t be friends with women or girls.  I surrounded myself with male friends, denounced anything that read as “feminine”, shaved my head and wore big clunky boots and a lot of flannel.  I thought if I couldn’t “compete” with women, I didn’t want to be like one.

You see that’s what misogyny is.  It’s the myth of “femininity”.  The myth that womanhood fits one narrow band of features and behaviours, and that womanhood is a competition between the female of our species to appeal to male of our species, and only those that “win” the attention of men are allowed to consider themselves “feminine”.  Femininity is measured by how pleasing a woman is to men – by her appearance, her voice, her behaviour and her sexual availability.

Not to mention that fat women are so othered by society in so many ways that rob them of the things that are supposed to mark femininity – society sets the standards of femininity and then denies them to fat women.  When you cannot buy the clothes that are considered acceptable, when you are not seen represented by marketing and the media, when you are treated as sub-human, you cannot participate in society as a peer.  When you are led to believe that life is a competition, and that you are not a peer of the population in general, you tend to opt out.

There is no wonder that so many fat women (as well as other marginalised women) internalise the misogyny that is continually poured on us.

But for me, somewhere about the same time as fat liberation, I found feminism.  I started to question the way women are treated in our culture, and I started to see just how girls and women are forced into competition with each other to prove this thing called “femininity”, to prove their worthiness as human beings.  I learned to value myself not only as a woman, but as a fat woman.  I learned that girlhood and womanhood are far more diverse than society leads us to believe, and that there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a woman a woman.

I also began to see just how badly many of the men in my life, those who I believed were my friends, were treating me.  I began to recognise just how many of them dismissed my opinion, ridiculed my feelings, refused to respect my physical boundaries and generally just treated me with disrespect.  I finally put an end to the friendship with the man who was supposed to be my best friend, but had been repeatedly sexually assaulting me for the entire span of our 15 year friendship – assault which I had been groomed to believe was my fault and that I deserved it, and that I was silly for feeling uncomfortable and upset about.  I began to expect better of the men in my life.  Which meant that many of the ones I already had in my life either left or had to be removed, but it meant that there was room in my life for good men (y’all know who you are fellas) who treat me with respect.  The men I have in my life these days are amazing, and I’m honoured to know them.

Another factor that changed for me on discovering feminism and fat activism is that I’ve enjoyed participating in things that are coded as “feminine”, where I did not before.  I wear dresses.  I love anything pink.  I enjoy having my nails done and growing my hair long so that I can pin flowers and bows in it.  These things are not any indicator of womanhood, but are things usually denied to women who are seen as unacceptable.  It’s nice to have the option to participate in things that are seen as traditionally feminine.

That doesn’t mean you have to perform “femininity” to be a woman, after all “femininity” is a social construct.   What  it means is that you give yourself permission to enjoy those things that are coded as feminine regardless of whether you fit society’s narrow definitions of womanhood.

I’ve realised that how others judge me is not indicative of my womanhood.  My womanhood is my identity, not for others to bestow upon me if they deem me worthy.

However the greatest benefit of feminism and fat activism for me has been the discovery that now that I don’t feel in any way competitive towards other women, I’ve discovered I really like women.  I’ve made far more women friends and they in turn have enriched my life in more ways than I can express.  I enjoy the company of other women immensely and found that we have more in common than we have in difference.

So this is for you, all of the women in my life, all of the women who read my blog and all of the women who have been convinced by others that they’re not good enough, not “feminine” enough, that they don’t belong to womanhood.  YOU determine your womanhood, not others.

Here’s to the women of the world.  May you see your own value.

Strengthening Self Esteem

Published February 4, 2014 by sleepydumpling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because you are a worthy human being.  YOU are.

Fat and Ugly? Maybe. Fabulous? You Better Believe It!

Published December 15, 2013 by sleepydumpling

*eyeroll*

In the past 24 hours, there has been a metric shitload of trolling coming in my direction, all of it telling me that I’m fat and ugly, hideous, gross, and a bunch of other variants on the theme of my appearance.  Because *wah wah* I don’t give them a boner.

*another eyeroll*

I mean seriously, as if I care whether some random internet loser gets a boner over me.

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I don’t know where they are coming from, or whether they are just one person or several (I think several, if it’s one person they have WAY too much time on their hands!)  I actually don’t care whether it is one or it is several.  There was probably a Reddit loser party this weekend or something.  It doesn’t make a difference to me, trolling sucks no matter who or where it comes from, and anyone who trolls has my contempt.

What I do care about is that there might be others out there on the receiving end of this douchebaggery, and they may not be able to dismiss this kind of hate so easily.  I remember what that was like.  Where I tried constantly to be what other people wanted me to be.  When I cared whether or not complete strangers found me attractive or not.  It’s scary and painful and bloody difficult feeling like that.

My lovelies, screw what anyone else thinks about you.  Find your inner fabulous.  How your fabulous manifests itself might be different to the way mine does, but it’s there.  Whether it’s through attitude, or the clothes you love, or the colours you surround yourself with, or how you decorate your house or even the stuff you like to read/watch/listen to… you have fabulous in you.  All you have to do is harness it.

I was faffing about with Aviary on Flickr and I made a thing.  Because it’s the truth:

Fabulous

I love this dress.  It always helps me harness my fabulous.  It’s a gorgeous colour, such a fantastic cut and I feel totally comfortable in it.  Clothes that I love are my way of expressing my fabulous.  It has taken me forever to build up a wardrobe of clothes that truly express who I am, but I now know that I can open my wardrobe and put on a frock and feel it communicates just how fabulous I feel.

How do you harness your fabulous?  If you’re struggling with harnessing your fabulous… how would you LIKE to do so?

*Original photo of me by Mark Calleja.
**And the dress is a Leona+ by Leona Edmiston for Myer

Broken…

Published October 9, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I was feeling like crud.  Stomping my way in to work this morning, really fighting with the black dog of depression, feeling like dirt.  And there she was.  An angel in a floral skirt and cream top.  The young woman I had been standing beside at the lights about 10 minutes before – I had been staring at the print of her skirt trying to grasp the one thing that was nice in my brain at just that moment – a pretty pink floral.  I was walking back towards my office having stopped off in the markets to pick up some breakfast, when  she stopped me on the street and told me that she really loved my blog, and that even though I hadn’t posted in a while she still hoped I would.  She complimented my taste in clothes, mentioned that we had the same dress (the hot pink one from Autograph) and that she loved my fatshion reviews.  I was a bit flabbergasted and I forgot to ask her name, which I always do, because it always takes me by surprise.  She made me smile, she thanked me and touch my arm, and we parted.

Five minutes later I was sobbing in the ladies room at work, finally able to feel something.  That’s what depression does to you, it robs your ability to feel.   You might walk around talking and even smiling and laughing, but you don’t really feel it, instead you’re kind of just going through the motions, performing as yourself instead of being yourself.  At least that’s what it does to me.  I wasn’t crying because something had upset me, I was crying because I’d finally felt something (surprise, pleasure, even a glimmer of joy) and that caused the floodgates of all the feelings I haven’t been able to feel for weeks to open and let them all out.  The crying was a good thing.  Embarrassing and uncomfortable, but ultimately good for me.

The past months have been hellish for me with my depression creeping up stronger than it has for some time.  It isn’t just the usual chemical stuff either, usually brought on by hormones and stress, I began to recognise it a few weeks ago.  It was emotional burnout.  It had all got too much for me.  My job is a bigger workload than it has ever been (it’s that way for everyone at my work these days) and I feel like Sisyphus, having to roll the same boulder up the hill every day only to have it roll down again.  (If only it was like Loki, burdened with glorious purpose.)

Add to that the fact that I’d been doing fat activism for over four years, 95% of it for free, out of my own time, pocket, talent and energy only to be constantly bombarded both by general hate as a random fat person on this earth, and deeply targeted hate from really fucked up people out there who cannot bear the thought of an unapologetic and even proud fat woman existing on the planet.  Even still, even though I haven’t posted in months, there are days when I get over 4000 hits via a Reddit hate forum alone, filled with people who spend hours and hours of their lives hating on me and other visible fat people for a hobby.  They dig up old posts, they steal the photos from this blog (and my Tumblr or Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook), they spend hours and hours and hours discussing my life in minutiae… as a hobby.

One nutter even keeps a dossier on every food post I ever make online and keeps tabs on what I eat (or at least the bits I post online) and then crops up on old articles about me, or anything I comment on online to try to “discredit” me by “proving” that I’m a “liar” because of how “unhealthy” I am using the posts about food as “evidence”.  They send me long, rambling emails detailing how many calories are in every item of food I post, and how each morsel is hardening my arteries and sending me to my grave.   Who has time in their life to do this shit?

As much as I block, spam and filter all of that hate, it still gets through.  I still see bits of it.  I still see the referring links on my dashboard of my blog posts, all coming from a Reddit fat hate forum.  I still see old blog posts targeted by thousands and thousands of people in one day.  I still see the hate comments that I have to delete, block as spam, report as abuse.  As much as I rationally know that their hate is not about me, it’s no reflection of me and my worth, it’s still toxic.  I’m still being bathed in this venom all the time.  Some of it has got to sink through my skin.  I am a human being, I do have feelings and I’m not made of steel.  People can hurt me.  This shit eventually does hurt me.  There is no shame in my being human, and vulnerable.

However, that wasn’t the worst of it.  The worst of it was that all that hate and harassment robbed me of the one thing that is most precious to me – my ability to write.  It did EXACTLY what they wanted it to do, it silenced me.  I was so battle scarred by all of that shit that the minute I started to write anything, instinctively I shut down, as a protection mode.  My brain would simply block any flow of thought, any language out of sheer self-protection against the rightly anticipated onslaught of hate and harassment.  I had the worst case of writers block I have ever had, because it wasn’t just fatigue or lack of creativity, it was like a great big door slamming shut in my brain and locking all the good stuff in to where I could not reach it, and to further the torture, I knew it was still in there but it was out of my grasp.  This is what caused me to spiral further and further into depression.  The more I couldn’t write, the more depressed I got, and the more I felt like I had abandoned my activism, and the more it made me depressed, which then blocked me from writing… and so on.

Yet today, a living angel pops into my life and reminds me just why I became a fat activist.  Who reminded me that what I do matters to more than just me.   Who jolted me out of the bleak headspace and reminded me that by letting all the shit that the haters heap on me STAY on me, they don’t win – nobody with that much hate in themselves actually wins anything, but WE lose.  We lose community, we lose our voice, we lose visibility and we lose strength.   This is how they wear us down, by attacking and attacking individually until we individually can’t bear it any more, which breaks our collective strength.  They can’t break us as a collective, so they work on breaking each us one by one.  You are my strength, my fellow fat community.  You folk are why I stand up and say “I’m not taking this shit any more.”

Individually, it’s really hard being strong in the face of all that hatred spewing in our direction.  But collectively, I believe we are unstoppable.  I believe we are all heroes for each other, even if it is only in tiny ways.  A friendly smile, a kind word, a gesture of support.

By giving a spontaneous moment of kindness, this lovely woman jolted me back from a dark, painful place.  It let me get out all the anger and hurt and frustration.  It’s like her kindness broke the crust of hate that had formed from all of the abuse I’d received over the years.  Which means I sit here in my morning tea break (and again in my lunch break) with all of this stuff pouring out of me at last, onto the page, finally able to write again. I can’t say I’m back to my old standards, but I have taken that first step, and it feels like a huge one.

So thank you to the lovely young woman on George Street (do leave a comment and identify yourself, I won’t publish it if you don’t want me to!) in the floral skirt and cream top – you can’t know just how important you are right now!

A Study of the Self

Published June 7, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Well hello!  Welcome to the plethora of new readers I have gained recently.  It’s so good to see that there are more people out there ready to think outside the dominant paradigm when it comes to bodies and weight.

Before I go on any further, a quick zine update – it’s shaping up nicely.  I’m just waiting on a few artworks to come through, and then I can finish work on the layout, with production following after that.  I shall continue to keep you all posted.

So today I want to talk about selfies.  For those of you who don’t know, the word “selfie” is colloquialism for a self portrait, mostly these days taken by smart phone and uploaded to social media, like Facebook or Instagram.  With cameras ubiquitous in phones, especially now that many have front facing cameras, and most of us having connectivity to the internet, selfies have become something of an everyday occurrence.  I’m sure you’ve all seen one.  If you haven’t, here’s one I took yesterday:

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Freshly pink haired.

Selfies get a lot of criticism.  They’re considered vain, posing or childish.  They’re ridiculed, especially selfies of women, and in particular selfies of fat women.  I know mine get stolen off my various social media sites and posted other places for ridicule, because “OMG look at the gross fatty, she thinks she’s people!!1!”

But that’s not going to stop me doing it.  People have been taking self portraits of themselves for centuries – be they photographic or other media.  Do I need to list some names of some famous self portrait creators?  Frida Kahlo.  Van Gogh.  Rembrandt.  Da Vinci.  Warhol.  Basquiat. Vivian Maier.  The list goes on and on, and right back through history.  Have a bit of a Google around and you’ll see everything from the brutally critical to the utterly whimsical.

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Self portaits and self examination are important and powerful.  There are several reasons why I take and share selfies.

  1. Until a few years ago, I never allowed anyone to take photos of me.  I was so used to being shamed by people for my weight that I believed I wasn’t worthy enough to be seen in photographs.  Now I’m proud of who I am and am happy to participate in photographs (with my consent – taking photographs of me or anyone else without our consent is douchey, don’t do it) and part of that is from playing around with taking photos of myself.
  2. I don’t see people who look like me in the media.  Fat women are not represented in the media, unless it’s to vilify us.  We’re not represented anywhere in a positive light unless we represent ourselves.  As Junot Diaz wrote “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”*  If posting my selfie on my Tumblr or Twitter or blog gives someone like me some representation, as a fat woman, then it’s worth it.
  3. Looking at yourself a lot from different angles and in different lights and colours helps you remove self criticism.  If you never see yourself, you never see yourself as “normal” (because as my dear friend Ian always says, “Normal is what you are.”), so seeing yourself helps you get used to yourself.  I’ve found I’m far less self critical since I’ve been taking selfies than I was before.
  4. My friends near and far like to see me.  They like to see what my new glasses look like, or what colour I’ve dyed my hair, or just to see my face.  Just like I love to see them.
  5. It’s valuable to have a record of yourself through your life.  It’s healthy to look at how you change and grow through your life.  I look back at old selfies and I realise how far I have progressed in life, both externally, in things like my job and where I live and things like that, but also internally, how I feel about myself and how I present myself to the world.  Selfies tell my story.
  6. Because I discovered, on regular self examination in my self portraits, I’m kinda fucking awesome.

Self portraits, be they taken seriously with skill and care, or a spur of the moment capture of yourself for fun, are part of being human.  Since we first worked out how to scratch on a rock face or in the dirt while looking at our reflections in water, we humans have been taking self portraits to tell our stories, to examine ourselves, to share with our loved ones, or just for fun.  It’s not vanity to want to see yourself represented, either just for yourself, for those around you or in the world at large.  It’s part of marking that you are a member of humankind.

Have fun.  Pose.  Share them with your friends or share them with the world.  Get used to seeing yourself.  Find your own awesomeness.

*Thanks Lonie for posting this one on FB this morning and reminding me of an awesome quote.

 

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