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?

On the Telly!

Published May 29, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Just a quickie for those who haven’t seen it, I did a piece for news and pop culture show “The Feed” on SBS which aired on Monday night.  They kindly put it on YouTube, so I can share it with you here!

Enjoy!  It’s my first ever telly appearance! (Well, except for the time that news crew filmed me outside my work and used me as a headless fatty.)

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.

Sell Us the Clothes – Don’t Judge Us On Them

Published April 22, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Ugh, when are these plus-size retailers going to get it?  Check out these screen shots I took from a post Autograph Fashion made today:

photo 1

photo 2

Now I *LOVE* Autograph.  I really do.  They’re one of the few brands that actually cater to my size (26AU) and I love that they’re presenting a lot of great colours, prints and styles that aren’t your usual black and boring boxy fare.  They’ve come so far in the past few years, from when they used to be full of peasant tops and capri pants and nothing else, to a range that is bold, colourful and full of variety.  In fact I’d pretty much wear that outfit above as is (maybe not the black tank, too many layers for Brisbane!)  I’m currently wearing an outfit entirely made up of Autograph pieces, including a pair of their leggings, which I am wearing as pants, and rocking the sh!t out of!

But when I saw this post today, I saw RED.

My objections?  Two things.  Firstly, the statement that “leggings are not pants”.  I’ve spoken about this before.  Leggings are pants if that’s what you wear them as, and none of us need anyone else, particularly not a retailer who is supposed to be marketing to us, lecturing us on how to wear clothes.  We’re fat, we’re not babies.  We’re able to determine what we want to wear and how we wish to wear it.

Secondly, a constant bugbear of mine in plus-size fashion – all the rhetoric about how to “hide” or “flatter” our “problem areas”.  I’ve actually been in store, browsing the products at Autograph, when a staff member remarked on a top I had picked up “Oh that’s lovely, it will hide all your bad bits.”  I responded very firmly “Excuse me?  I do not have any “bad bits”, thank you very much!”  It’s so entrenched in plus-size women’s wear, that it’s seen as acceptable for a sales person to actually say something like that to their customer and not think for a second that it would be offensive.

The assumption that every customer of a plus-size retailer must by default wanting to hide, disguise or minimise any parts of their bodies simply because they are fat women, has to stop.  The assumption that we even HAVE any “bad bits” or “problem areas” has to stop.  We don’t pay these retailers for body shaming and lectures about how we should dress to “flatter” our bodies.  We pay these companies for clothes, not body shaming.

For too long, this kind of marketing has been used to try to get us to purchase their products, and they wonder why it doesn’t work.  Women who feel bad about themselves are not going to spend money on themselves.  All it does is create more arbitrary policing of how fat women dress.

Now I’m not saying that they can’t give style advice.  Definitely tell us what pieces look great together, how to layer for changing weather and what colours and prints are hot this season.  This is helpful information, and all part of good marketing.  I love to hear new ways of wearing things, and it helps me think of outfit ideas that I may not have thought of before.  The thing is, it’s not difficult to keep body shaming and judgement out of marketing copy.  Look, I’ll have a go:

“The Printed Legging

A  hot trend this season is the Printed Legging, no matter what size or shape there’s a style for you.  The trick to wearing leggings is to ensure you have the right fit, so that they hug your body.  The right fit will ensure your leggings are comfortable,  not see through or do not roll or bunch at the knees or ankles.

Printed leggings look fantastic with block colours, and we have a range of fabulous tunic tops that work perfectly.  Pair this seasons animal prints in black and white with bold purple, and add some silver jewellery for extra punch.  This asymmetrical tunic in royal purple looks great and is floaty and feminine.  If you want to add layers for cooler weather, a black tank can be worn underneath, or add a long line cardi or jacket for those chillier days.

Give them  a try today!”

But time and time again we see the same old loaded copy, full of body shaming and judgement.  Is it any wonder the comments threads are full of “But big women shouldn’t….!”  In fact, right after my comment a woman declared apropos of nothing that women with big thighs “shouldn’t wear stripes” – as though what other people wear on their bodies is anyone’s business but their own.  This is the kind of attitude that the negative marketing creates.

If you make women feel good about themselves, empowered and positive, they are very likely to spend money on nice clothes for themselves.  I know that’s when I spend the most money – when I’m feeling fantastic.  I want more nice stuff when I feel good.  When I feel crap, there’s no way I’m going to spend money on clothes.  It is not that fat women don’t want to buy clothes, it’s that we are so often made feel bad in the marketing, that it puts us off buying them.  So many plus-size clothing companies shoot themselves in the foot by using such negative marketing.

What I’d like to see from a plus-size clothing company is positive marketing that shows off their product with pride, and says “We love our product and you’d look great in it!”

Your job is to provide us with great clothes, it’s not to tell us that we should be hiding, minimising or disguising our bodies as though there is something wrong with them.

I Can’t Say it Any Better…

Published April 18, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Beautifully simple piece by xkcd.  So many people do not understand the concept of free speech.  Sometimes, you don’t get to march into a space and say whatever you like.

This is very important in fat activism community, regardless of the form it takes.  The rules may vary from space to space, but the owner of the space gets to decide what is hosted in that space, and what is not.  There is a whole internet out there for people to say what they like, they can create their own space or go to spaces that are open to their opinion.

But as a general rule, in fat activist spaces, steer clear, unless explicitly stated that it is ok, from the following topics:

  • diets
  • intentional weight loss/weight loss proselytising
  • moralising food (look for descriptors like good, bad, sinful, junk, healthy, clean, wholesome, naughty etc)
  • suggesting health is mandatory or anyone’s business but a person themselves.
  • “the last acceptable prejudice” (it’s not)
  • suggestions of “real women are/have…”
  • the “O” words – obese, overweight.
  • twee euphemisms for fat like curvy/big/chubby/voluptuous etc.  If the host refers to themselves as fat, you should too. (unless describing yourself, it is understandable that not everyone is comfortable with referring to themselves as fat.)
  • justifying your body/food choices/physical activity
  • suggesting the author should “just ignore them” or questioning their perception.  Trust people to know how they feel and how they read a situation.
  • Confusing YOUR experiences for those had by the author.

That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with someone.  I think a lot of people don’t know how to disagree with people without being a jerk about it.  If you’re in someone else’s space, remember your “I/Me/My” statements.  Don’t march in and say “You’re wrong/full of shit/you suck.” because then you’re being an asshole.  It doesn’t hurt to say “I disagree because I feel/believe…” or “It has been my experience that…”  Or you can go and disagree in YOUR space, where you can say whatever you damn well like.

Generally it’s just a good idea when you’re on someone else’s website/blog/social media page to remember that you’re on their turf.  That’s their house online.  I don’t go marching onto your turf and start lecturing you, I’m as sure as shit not going to take anyone coming in to mine to do that.  If I go to your space online, I am going to follow your rules.  If I don’t like them, then I will make the decision to leave and not come back.  I’m not going to hang around and be an arsehole.

It’s important to remember that while you are entitled to your opinion, you’re not entitled to that opinion with out responsibility and repercussions for your behaviour.

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