self reflection

All posts in the self reflection category

Reflections of the Self

Published November 23, 2013 by sleepydumpling

So y’all probably heard the hullaballoo yesterday about the anti-selfie post on that bastion of white-lady fauxmenism, Jezebel.  No, I’m not going to link to it, it’s a big stinky pile of poo poo written by a privileged thin, white, able-bodied, cis-het woman who seems to think it’s only acceptable to post pics of yourself online if you’re flashing how you’ve bought new shit (not that I have a problem with people sharing pics of stuff they’ve bought – I do it myself, it was just her attitude, ya know?)  and that if you do post pics of yourself online, it’s a “cry for help”.  Yeah I know, puke-city right?  If you really must see it, you can go find it on Jezebel.

So born from the backlash to that awful Jezzie piece was a Twitter hashtag #FeministSelfie born of this twitter conversation between @convergecollide and @thewayoftheid:

Not only did the hashtag inspire a plethora of awesome selfies by women all over the world, from all walks of life (most notably a lot of marginalised women awesomely self representing – PROPER diversity!) but there have been some very good posts about how selfies are important and how women should not be shamed for sharing selfies.  I’ll post some links at the bottom of this post, and please share any others that you know of.

I wrote about the power of selfies back in June (what can I say, I’m a visionary :-P) but I was thinking about how I’ve grown since I started posting selfies, and I got to wondering what my first selfie was.  I went back through all of my digital photos this morning to see what I could find.  The first thing I discovered is that I have digital photos going back to my first digital camera, which was 2001.  My first phone camera kicks in about 2003.  However, my first selfie doesn’t happen until December 2009!  Which tells you just how long it took me to be comfortable with a) willingly having my photograph taken, and b) posting a self portrait of myself online.

Here’s my first ever selfie:

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December 2009

I remember just why I took this photograph.  I was trying to capture in my camera how my hair looked at the back with my awesome new colour (thus the mirror behind me) and I snapped this photo.  For the first time ever, I liked a photo of myself.  My hair was an awesome colour.  I looked comfortable and happy.  I was learning to be comfortable in my fat body (I had started blogging about being fat about six months before) and I wanted to share this photo to show my friends my new hair colour, especially my friends overseas.

Forward through to last week, and a countless number of selfies since, and here one of my most recent selfies:

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November 2013

Snapped while I was sitting up the back of a meeting room, waiting for my turn to give a presentation to a bunch of my colleagues.  I see something very different in myself and in my expression in comparison to the first sefie.  My confidence is stronger.  I gaze into the lens far more relaxed than in the first photograph, and I didn’t bother to try to make the angle “flattering”, just tried to get the shot composed with good light and not chop half my face off.  Even in my choice of hair style and glasses tells me how I’ve changed over the years.  My style is now for me, not to appease others.  I scrape my hair back off my face to keep me cool and comfortable instead of using it to try to “hide” my fatness.  My glasses say “We’re here!” not “I want to disappear.”  I let my double chin be seen.

This didn’t happen by magic.  It happened because I took selfies and got used to seeing myself from all different angles, and more importantly, I saw other women’s selfies.  I saw women represented by themselves who are NEVER represented in the media.  I saw women of different ages, races, sizes, ability, gender presentation, level of income and sexuality.  I saw some women who looked like me, and many who didn’t.  I saw women who didn’t look like those I saw in magazines and on television or at the movies.  I saw women who are fat, or had wrinkles, scars, or pimples, or are hairy.  I saw women who had no makeup on, and those who use their makeup as expressionist art.

I still love seeing selfies and I love taking them.  I love capturing my moods and moments in selfies.  I like seeing selfies of all the people around the world I talk to but have never met, so I can get to know them a little better.  I even like stranger’s selfies, because I get to see lots of different types of people, and how they choose to present themselves to the world.  Best of all, I love seeing my friends change and grow in their selfies.   I love watching them grow into themselves and into confidence.

The idea that selfies are a “cry for help” or purely attention seeking behaviour is complete bullshit.  Yes, sometimes they might be.  But the overwhelming majority of them are self reflection and self representation.  They are pictorial questions to ourselves, asking “Who am I right now?”  They are snippets of communication about who we are, and how we want the world to see us.

And there is absolutely no shame in that.

Other selfie posts:

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.

 

Unlearning

Published August 20, 2012 by sleepydumpling

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

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

So, on to today’s topic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fortunate Ones

Published June 14, 2012 by sleepydumpling

One of the corollaries of talking to the media repeatedly about the same concepts over and over again is that you do a lot of self reflection on topics, constantly honing and shaping how your activism works and how it applies to your life and your self perception.  Mostly, this is a good thing – evolution is a healthy process, though one does have to take care not to internalise and dwell on the negative.

The best part though, is that sometimes you have a real “Aha!” moment, where a light goes on in your mind and something is clarified for you.

I had one of those moments yesterday while talking to a journalist from the Sunday Mail (Brisbane).  She had asked me what I thought the difference was between how other people see me, and how I see myself.  My response was that it was twofold – people who know me, even through this blog or other social media have one perception of me, and then there is the average punter on the street, who sees me just as an anonymous fat woman somewhere in public.

What I really wanted to focus on is how fat people in general are perceived, rather than me personally, and I was talking about how culturally, fat people are either viewed with disgust, as lazy/dirty/gluttonous etc, or we’re viewed with pity, as though we’re sad/depressed/lonely and so on.  I was talking about how neither of those perceptions were valid for me personally, and for most fat people I know in fact, when a light went on in my head and I said “Really, what I am is lucky.”

I didn’t mean that I am lucky to be fat, but that I’m lucky in that I stumbled across fat acceptance, and that I have been able to take up fat activism myself.  On reflection, I believe that we are the lucky fatties, those of us who have found something outside of the dominant paradigm.  Not just the luck of stumbling across whatever blog or resource we did, but also we’re lucky in that we’ve found an alternative to the cycle of self loathing, punishment to our bodies with diets and other damaging weight loss schemes, emotional self-flagellation and general misery of hating our bodies for being something other than thin.  It’s not an easy process, but at least we have it, unlike those who still believe that their bodies are bad/failures/broken.

Of course, personally speaking I’m very fortunate.  One of the benefits of spending so much time doing this is that I get a lot of really awesome opportunities.  They don’t come without hard work and effort, but their value is not diminished by the work it takes for them to happen.

No matter how far down this road of self acceptance and fat positivity I get, I cannot forget what it felt like before I found my way to this road.  I cannot forget the crippling depression, the constant anxiety, the physical pain of torturing my body with ridiculous exercise regimes, starvation and purging.  I cannot forget how lonely and lost I felt.  Most of all I cannot forget the fear.  Fear that I would never be good enough.  Fear that I would never find happiness, love, joy… peace.  Even fear that I would die.  No matter how far away I get from those years, I still remember those feelings.  They are marked on me in indelible ink, as much a permanent part of me as the tattoos I have adorned myself with since.

To be honest, I don’t want to forget those feelings, because they remind me of just how lucky I am as a fat woman to have found an alternative, to be able to opt out of that paradigm.  They also remind me that these were not feelings I came to on my own – they were placed on my shoulders like a mantle by a culture that repeatedly berates fat people as being worthless, broken, bad.

But when you look at it, aren’t we the lucky ones?  Aren’t we the ones who have moved forward and started to reclaim our lives and our bodies?  Don’t we have to resources, skills and community to fill our lives with joy and positivity, instead of self-loathing and fear?  Aren’t we the lucky ones for finding this strength within ourselves, and I believe that fighting the cultural norm about fatness takes great strength of character, and building on it?

Have you thought of your life pre and post FA?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

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