Spilt Milk

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Keeping it Positive if it Kills Me!

Published November 20, 2010 by sleepydumpling

It’s been a bit of a rough week for me.  A stressful time at work with two huge projects about to hit their critical points, coupled with the most debilitating allergies (don’t let anyone tell you that allergies don’t have a high impact on your quality of life – they’ve never experienced them fully if they think so) have left my tolerance levels very low.  Where I would often ignore someone’s ignorant behaviour/attitude, I’ve just had no tolerance for that kind of shit this past week or so.

It all culminated in me making some decisions on how I use tools like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, which blogs I read and follow, and what kind of approach I want to have for the world at large last night.

I vowed this blog would be positive this month, so I’m going to put a positive spin on this past shitty week and talk about some of the awesome people who’ve stood up to the ignorant, the insensitive, the bigoted, the narrow-minded and the downright rude over the past couple of weeks.  I want to celebrate those who with their passion, eloquence, strength of character and articulate writing make a difference to the world we live in.

There has been some drama within the Fatosphere/Fat Acceptance world over the past couple of weeks with one blogger (whom I won’t name, y’all have encountered it) who has made some folks uncomfortable, and instead of listening when people tried to respectfully point out how they were making others uncomfortable, they did one of their now famous rant “teardown” posts, which then grew into a big mess on Tumblr.  I personally have been the subject of one of these teardown posts and it still smarts to this day that instead of talking to me directly, I was torn to shreds publicly.  Oh the author apologised, and I accepted that apology, but it doesn’t mean that it was right to do it in the first place.

Anyway, there were three writers who really amazed me with their responses to the anger and arguments coming at them and others.  The first I saw was from Simone Lovelace, who with grace and a whole lot more dignity that I had to offer, laid out the points of her argument over and over with such clarity that I can’t tell you how impressed I was.  I am without doubt that so many who would read along would learn so much from Simone’s writing and hopefully take it away to think over a bit before continuing on.  I know I have.

The next one that knocked my socks off was the fabulous Jessica of Tangled Up in Lace.  Her response to a very angry post on Tumblr was nothing short of fucking brilliant.  For me, I nearly fell off my chair with this quote:

But seriously my fingers are too fat to play the tiny violin for you….

Not only does Jessica have the ability to make an amazing argument, and express herself beautifully, but she’s such an entertaining read as well.  Her sense of humour and creativity in her writing is the stuff that will have you spraying your Reese’s Puffs all over your computer screen with laughter and general cheering .  Or is that just me?  Go read her stuff, plus she’s all glamorous too, so you get even more value from her work.

However, the writer who really knocked my socks off in the whole brouhaha was Elizabeth of Spilt Milk, who posted a response on her Tumblr (read it here, I can’t leave this one un-linked) that touched on so many points that are so deeply important to me, and did so in a manner that was nothing short of brilliant, that I shed a few tears and needed a few days to process my own feelings around the topic before I talked about here.  To my mind, Elizabeth is one of the best writers in the Fatosphere and indeed beyond.  I am constantly learning from her and expanding my own thoughts thanks to her writing.

What all three of these women did so beautifully, that I’ve struggled with a bit over the past couple of weeks, is stood up and spoke up when someone was behaving in a way that bothered them.  To be honest, the circumstances behind it don’t really matter, it was the fact that they did so, and did so in an eloquent and articulate manner.

I realised over the past few days that I censor myself a lot of the time.  Particularly when I’m outside of my immediate circle of supportive friends and the fabulous Fatosphere.  For example I have a Twitter account that I use for work purposes (mostly library stuff and librarians) that I found myself tolerating some really ignorant behaviour, until this week, when I wasn’t feeling well, and I decided to challenge someone who has troubled me with their ignorance about health/weight before.  Of course, this guy had gone unchallenged before, so he really didn’t like me pointing out that something he posted and his assessment of weight loss being “simple really” was highly patronising.  The hostility he responded with opened up quite a shit storm.

Then of course, it being White Ribbon Day this coming week, and there being extra campaign activity in the media, the indignant choruses of “But men suffer violence too!!” have started up.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, this is a topic very close to my heart and one that I have spoken out about before.  So I found it particularly offensive that some of the people around me STILL don’t get it, and that I have to take up that message again.

And finally, the short lived Privilege Denying Dude (which has been closed down on Tumblr and pretty much taken over by privilege denying dudes on the meme generator – how meta!*) started out as a fantastic way to express just what the marginalised folk of the world are up against (and it’s ridiculous) but is now a neat little lesson in just how far those who wish to keep us marginalised will go to shut us up.  I believe there are threats of law suits against the creator/s of the meme who paid for and credited the image they used for the meme.  Yup, not even a silly internet meme is safe from the kind of person who thinks that nobody should speak out against the privilege denying dude!  I say keep making and sharing and reblogging the meme.

But what with all of the above things happening over the past week or so, I’ve seen a whole host of:

“You’re being too sensitive!”
“If you block or remove people who oppose your views, you’re just surrounding yourself with sycophants!”
“Feminists have no sense of humour.”
“Don’t be so paranoid!”
“You’re just censoring my freedom of speech.”

And my “favourite” of the week:

“Methinks somebody needs to take their meds.” (way to stigmatise mental illness and undermine other people’s realities hmm?)

What I want to get at with this post, the positive message I want you to take away, is that you don’t have to shut up and suffer through ignorance.  You are not censoring anyone, you’re not humourless, you’re not surrounding yourself with sycophants if you choose who you engage with, you are not too sensitive, and nobody ever has the right to question your fucking sanity or suggest anyone needs to be medicated.

These are all just tactics to shut us up when we speak up about ignorant attitudes and behaviour.  They’re passive-aggressive manoeuvres to put us on the back foot, to make us feel we have to explain why we are speaking up about their ignorance.

Keep speaking up.  Don’t let them undermine you by telling you that you’re too sensitive/paranoid/humourless.  Disengage whenever you need to, and cut them right out of your life if you want to and can.  Why should any of us waste our lives with people who treat us and others as though they are less than them?  Every minute you spend on someone who is disrespectful and wilfully ignorant, is one that you’re not able to spend with the wonderful people out there.  Every minute that I waste on trying to convince some patronising jerk on Twitter that he’s being ignorant is a minute that I could be spending talking to one of my awesome friends or reading the fantastic writing of people like those I have mentioned above.

Keep standing up.  Keep speaking out.  Disengage from those who would shut you up for calling out their ignorance and bigotry.

And in the words of Dr Seuss:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

*I just found out that Privilege Denying Dude was shut down on Tumblr, but has sprung up again on Blogger.  Linky linky!

Activism is Never Resignation

Published August 31, 2010 by sleepydumpling

I have another fantastic post to refer you all to.  This one is from the wonderful Spilt Milk, who writes on how Fat Acceptance is not about “giving up”.  Go read it now.  Go on, I’ll wait here while you do…

Did you read it?  Good.

See, isn’t it a fantastic post?  She writes that well all the time, blows my mind and inspires me no end.

Anyway, on to the topic that I want to talk about, which the Spilt Milk post led me to think about, is my experience around discovering Fat Acceptance (FA) and deciding that it was the philosophy on life and health and my body that I decided not only works for me personally, but is something that I need to be actively promoting.  That post got me thinking about how little “giving up” I personally have done when it comes to my health, happiness and body.  In fact, resignation is the furthest from the choice I made in taking to Fat Acceptance.

One of the things I think the critics of FA fail to grasp is that choosing a FA lifestyle is not something you just fall into, that you give up and then it happens to you.  It’s a conscious, intelligent choice that one makes.  It has been a lot of hard work, introspection and decision making that has led me to FA.  I didn’t just decide one day “Well I couldn’t be arsed any more with this whole business of trying to lose weight, I think I’ll become a Fat Acceptance activist.”  It took months and months of reading and thinking and journalling (later blogging) and even discussing my thoughts and beliefs with my counsellor.  The more I thought about it, the more I looked towards making a choice of how I wanted to live my life, the more Fat Acceptance began to fit me.

Then came the realisation that not only do I need to live this way, but I need to share it, to advocate it, to take part in activism for it.  That was a massive decision, because it’s a coming out of sorts – Fat Acceptance is confronting and challenging for most people, and to become an activist meant that I personally had to start confronting and challenging people, attitudes and beliefs.  This is so far from resignation to me that I can’t express it.

The very word “activist” means someone who intentionally takes action.  Action is never resignation.

Of course, there is the health/body side of things.  Yeah, we’ve all heard it.  By adopting a Fat Acceptance philosophy, we’re just giving up on taking care of ourselves, we’ve given up on our health, we’ve given up on trying to look good or be active.

Let’s call bullshit on that one too.  I don’t know about the rest of you FA folk, but I’m far more active in my health than I have ever been.  Instead of shutting out my body, I listen to it.  Instead of denying my physical feelings and the needs of my body, I use those feelings to tell me what my body needs, and I respond appropriately.  Not to mention that I have gone from someone who avoids doctors at all costs (because I couldn’t handle any more of the shaming from them) to one who actively sought out a good GP and now takes the time to know my body and work with my GP to be the healthiest I have ever been in my life.

Physical activity has also become something that I engage in far more than I ever did long term in my life.  My method of physical activity, or exercise (which I refuse to do these days, I don’t engage in exercise, I engage in activity that I enjoy) in my body loathing days was to exercise binge like a madwoman until I either collapsed from whatever illness I brought on myself from poor nutrition and overwork, or hit a wall of depression so big that it would literally cripple me.  Or I would be so ashamed of my body that I wouldn’t get out of the house, I’d hide away feeling hatred towards myself, too ashamed to be seen exercising.

These days, I do whatever I enjoy, as often as I feel like it, which is fairly damn regularly.  I walk, I cycle, I dance, I do yoga and anything else that pleases me at the time simply because it’s fun.  It feels good.  My body likes it when I keep active.

As Spilt Milk says, Fat Acceptance is anything but giving up.  It’s about improving your quality of life without waiting around for your body to change size (or shape) to do so.  It’s about embracing the here and now and living your life to the full.

There is no resignation in that.

Guest Post 2 – Enough is Enough by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published July 11, 2010 by sleepydumpling

I am more than thrilled to share with you the news that Dr Samantha Thomas, sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues, is back with another guest post here on Fat Heffalump.

I talk of the inflaters of the world, those people who raise people around them up rather than crushing them down, and for me, Samantha is one of the inflaters I have in my life, and I believe she inflates people all around her.

She joins us today to talk further on the double standards of several “Body Image Advocates” here in Australia, and to issue a call to arms for all who wish to change the climate of body shame not just here in Australia, but around the world.  Over to our guest:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Enough is Enough

I don’t often get away with my dudes to a place where I have total isolation from the media. The last 4 days have been a media free zone for us – no phones, no computers, no newspapers. It was HEAVEN.

Well you can run, but you can’t hide. And it was slightly amusing that literally a couple of minutes after arriving back home and picking up the Saturday paper I came across this article in the Courier Mail. Australia’s Next Top Model (ANTM) banned a 16 year old from the catwalk because, at a size 8, she was too fat. Now look, I don’t really have any opinions about ANTM. Sorry! I’ve never watched the Ozzie version, and I’m a bit smitten with Miss Jay and the dude with the white hair on the American version. So I’m declaring my conflict of interest and not commenting on the show.

But I WILL comment on the fact that once again a member of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group has been caught in another dodgy set of circumstances around the promotion of fat hate. Most of you will know that Mia Freedman, the Chair of the committee has also been criticized for the inconsistency between her role on the committee and the material she promotes on her website. This time it is Sarah Murdoch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sarah Murdoch she is a former model and host of ANTM. According to Minister Kate Ellis she chose Murdoch and Freedman, “for their work in their industry, not for their looks”.

And so I landed with a thud back from my holiday bliss. And you know what.

I’ve had enough of these inconsistencies.

I’ve had enough of people who are supposed to be advocating for body image declaring “it’s not like I hate fat people”. There is a reason you would have to declare that out loud at a press conference.

I’ve had enough of the confusing messages that are sent when our National Body Image Advisory Committee includes some high profile individuals who then actively promote that certain types of bodies are the beautiful ideal.

I’ve had enough of the new saviour that is obesity surgery. Because when you get an email from a 17 year old who tells you that her obesity surgeon told her to turn the heater off in the winter so that she would shiver and burn more energy thus losing more weight, you realize that this is a profit driven industry out to exploit, not care for people.

I’ve had enough of articles that say that fat stigma will be reduced if we find a cure for obesity. Or that we should tackle fat stigma because it will make it easier for people to engage in healthy activity – oh and lose weight.

I’ve had enough of the emails from people who have asked me if I have any ‘miracles’ because they have been told by their doctors that they have got themselves so fat that they should just give up and wait to die.

I’ve had enough of people being paid lots of money to promote the diet industry, which promises everything, and only delivers physical and emotional pain.

I’ve had enough of the stupidity that somehow has us believe that we will protect young people from eating disorders if we give a magazine a ‘tick’ for declaring its airbrushing practices, but that we still allow that same magazine to run ‘diet’ articles, and advertisements for the weight loss industry.

Most of all, I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy that surrounds the body image/obesity/health debate in this country. And that includes everyone being allowed to be an expert on fat… oh except fat people.

I don’t think there is one person that is reading this that at one time or another hasn’t disliked what they saw in the mirror (or on the scales). I also don’t think that there is one person who is reading this that hasn’t been made to feel bad about their body by someone else. Some of you reading this will encounter this much more than others. And I am standing up and applauding you for the amazing strength and resilience that you show in the face of such a negative public gaze for what your bodies look like, and how they got to be how they are. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

But I do want to let you know that I am with you.  Standing side by side until we sort out this ridiculous situation that we have gotten ourselves into with ‘weight’.

And I will continue to advocate with you for change.  Because when we stand together, we are a very powerful voice indeed.

A voice that is getting stronger.

A voice that is becoming an amazing tool for highlighting the hypocrisy that exists around body acceptance, weight and health in Australia.

Let me give you a great example of the power of that voice in action.

Last week Herald Sun columnist Susie O’Brien weighed in (again) on the obesity debate. But before I write about that, lets have a little recap of some of the things Susie O’Brien has written about body image in the past. First up, in January, when supermodel Jen Hawkins bared all for body image acceptance, Susie wrote:

“I have written so many articles about body image… I have told women to be proud of themselves and told men to adore the flaws.”

She goes on to write.

“We are never going to have genuine body acceptance until people start getting used to seeing real, average, beautiful bodies.”

Now obviously I have issues with these statements. But I could see where she was coming from.  Not helpful, but a little bit heading in the right direction (even in the lets all strip off and show each other we don’t look like Jen Hawkins love fest that we all seemed to be going through at the beginning of the year).

So how then, just a few months later, can Susie O’Brien write this?

“Yes, it’s important that young people feel good about themselves. But it’s also important that young people have the best chance of living a long, healthy life without the serious life-threatening illnesses that come with obesity. Not to mention the teasing and bullying and low self-esteem that many fat kids face. So I want to know what’s being done to help young people who need to lose weight, and who need to get motivated to change their unhealthy bodies, rather than accept them as they are.”

Once again, the same old rhetoric emerges. Lets accept everyone’s real, beautiful bodies, flaws and all.

UNLESS YOU ARE FAT.

But what’s worse is that somehow it’s okay to then invite a bunch of people to participate in a live hate fest on fatties. That fat individuals are lazy. That fat parents were in essence abusing their children. That we should all aspire to be like Susie because her kids ask for broccoli when they get home from daycare.

Now every cloud has a silver lining. And the day that Susie chose to have that live blog was one of the most silver lined clouds I have seen for a while. Because not just one, or two, or three but at least TEN of us joined that live blog to SMASH HOLES in Susie’s arguments. We very clearly and rationally outlined our arguments, and in the process absolutely discredited what she and a bunch of others had to say. We all brought a slightly different perspective to the table, and I know I felt a whole lot better about being in the discussion because I knew others were there with me.

It’s not easy to be a lone voice. I have learnt that the hard way. And I guess that is the point of this post. If we want change, we have to start acting together. There is no doubt that the critics are there. I was on Catalyst about obesity surgery for kids a couple of weeks back and ABC journalist Melanie Tait (who has had a lapband) took it upon herself to very publically try to discredit me. And so many of you jumped in and supported me. And I cannot tell you what a difference that made.

Speaking out also brings emails like this.

“We’ve never met but I recently read your piece ‘Mama Mia and Body Image’ and it was a lifesaver. A total no holds barred lifesaver. Finally someone clearly explaining that I shouldn’t have to hide my body to make it acceptable to others. And that while there is nothing wrong with promoting physical health in the right context, mental health is equally important, and the guilt and shame brought about by being told in a /body image/ setting that you are freaky and need fixing (read here 5 foot 1 and size 20) is incredibly damaging. You have helped me reframe my thinking about this and regain some much needed sanity and perspective. I have sent copies of your piece to my women friends who are all shapes and sizes.”

This is why we do what we do. And why we need to work together. All of us will be able to contribute in different ways. Some of us will want to be on the front line. Others will want to join the discussion in safer spaces. Some might just want to listen and perhaps share pieces with their friends and family members. Some might want to offer a shoulder to lean on (or some much needed spell check skills!!). Everyone has a role to play in creating change.

So who is in? !!!!

By the way. Keep your emails coming. I love them really.  Or follow me on Twitter @samanthastweets

Oh and I reckon Susie is a shoe in for the next vacancy on the National Body Image Advisory Committee! What do you think?

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