On Stareable Bodies

Published June 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It has always happened, but it happens more now than it used to.  Or maybe I just notice it more than I once did.  But I think that my level of confidence and fairly good self esteem either contribute to, or highlight it more than when I was depressed and self-loathing.  Perhaps it’s because I now walk with my head held high, my gaze lifted and my shoulders back, where once I walked eyes downcast, trying desperately to minimise myself in the eyes of the world around me.

But whatever the reason behind it, one thing is very clear.  I have a stareable body.

Stareable bodies are those outside the very narrow band of what is culturally considered “normal”.  That can be for reasons that are because they don’t meet those standards (fat bodies, disabled bodies, visibly ill bodies, bodies that are dressed or marked in some way “different” to what is the acceptable norm for example) or it can be because the starers view those bodies as above the standards, particularly female bodies (exceptionally conventionally beautiful bodies, bodies with sexual features that are exaggerated etc).  But stareable bodies are those bodies that members of the general public feel the need to stare at and take extra notice of.

As a very fat woman, it happens to me all of the time.  Yesterday I was walking back to work from a quick jaunt to the nearest chemist on my morning tea break (I have a cold, ick), and as I passed an outdoor patio style cafe, I spotted a man at a table of about 6 men, nudge a couple of the other men, and they all turned and stared at me.  When I returned the first man’s gaze, he had the audacity to look angrily at me, as if I had done something to offend him.

Thing is, I had offended him.  I was a visibly very fat woman, passing in his view, that was my first offense.  I was also a visibly very fat woman who was walking with her head held high, with visible confidence  and his nudge and point routine failed to force me to lower my head and my gaze.  His pointing me out to his buddies failed to result in what he clearly expected it to, and that was my embarrassment and shame.  I had offended him deeply.

To be fair, it’s not just men.  Recently I went to an afternoon tea with friends, and while one friend and I waited in front of the cafe for the others to arrive, I noticed a woman say in a loud whisper to a younger woman sitting in front of her “Look, look at her!”  Unfortunately for her, the younger woman, looked the wrong way, and she was forced to desperately try to get her to turn her head towards me.  When the younger woman finally did, she saw that I could see and hear them, and looked embarrassed, but the older woman was going on “Oh my God!  Look at her!”  So I did what first came to my mind, and I leaned over as we walked past and said discreetly “Hi, would you like me to pose for a photo or something?”  The older woman had almost the same expression at this as the aforementioned man – she was clearly offended at my acknowledging her behaviour.  I was supposed to be embarrassed and ashamed, not confident and speaking up.

It’s not easy, speaking up, staring back.  Most of the time I’ve got better things to do with my time than confront some rude narrow-mind about their behaviour.  Sometimes I’m in a setting that isn’t conducive to making an example of someone’s bad behaviour, like at work or if I’m a guest of someone else.  Other times I just don’t want to and don’t feel that I should have to.

And I don’t have to.  Not if I don’t want to, I’m not under any obligation to fix other people’s bad behaviour, only my own.

But I’ve learnt that by challenging the starer, I regain something that is mine – my right to be in public, as I am, without apology.  I’ve also learnt that I place the negativity that the starer throws at me squarely back on their shoulders, where it belongs.  It is not mine to carry.  And most importantly, I’ve learnt that every time one of us with a stareable body challenges the cultural messages that it’s acceptable to single out, to make example of, to point and stare at those who are outside the narrow band of “acceptable”, we shift the status quo, just a tiny little bit.  I am reminded of this quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in Staring: How We Look that Margitte from Riots not Diets shared a little while back:

When people with stareable bodies […] enter into the public eye, when they no longer hide themselves or allow themselves to be hidden, the visual landscape enlarges. Their public presence can expand the range of bodies we expect to see and broaden the terrain where we expect to see such bodies.

[…] These encounters work to broaden the collective expectations of who can and should be seen in the public sphere and help create a richer and more diverse human community. This is what starees can show us all.

What it all boils down to for me, is that other people do not get to dictate whether or not you can be visible in public, and what is acceptable for you.  You do.

48 comments on “On Stareable Bodies

  • Funny that I should read this today. I have been out this morning, (albeit only sitting in the car) the first time in three weeks or more as my legs and knees have finally recovered.
    When we in one of the towns main streets and woman and a man were standing at the back of their car waiting to cross the road. Well the female clapped eyes on me as we pulled out and waited for a break in traffic to go. She full on stared at me, so uch so my hubby said outloud, but not loud enough for her to hear. “Do you want a bloody photo”. haha so when I read that it made me laugh.

    I just looked the lady in the eye, not that I am experiencing my newly found confidence.🙂

    They can stare all they want, I am not going to hide my head in shame any longer. I have as much right as the next person to go about my life anywhere I please.
    But I do know what you mean about when you have people, like that group of blokes who were very bloody rude and senseless, in pointing you out and making a big issue out of something that is essentially their problem in that they can not accept the differences in people. Shame on them.

    Hugs to you

    • I am so happy to hear you stand up and say you’re not going to let other people shame you Jan. Good for you! Nobody has the right to shame you, or bully you, or ridicule you for just being you. You are an amazing woman as you are, and other people can just mind their own damn business!

  • I find I get stared at in airports a lot. It might be my size…not only am I a fat woman, but I’m 5’10”. I’m pretty imposing, I guess, and don’t blend in. And I’m a sharp dresser when I want to be. I choose to think that the starers are impressed. Because they damn well oughta be; I’m awesome. :o)

    But you’ve given me food for thought…I don’t hear comments much at all, but if I do, I think I will call them on it. I like how you handled it with class, even though they were totally uncouth!

    • Even if they are impressed Kristie – they have no right to gawp and gape and nudge one another at you as though you’re an object, not a person who is aware of their rudeness.

      I must admit though, I don’t always do it with class! Sometimes they get to meet my middle fingers!

  • While my body size is probably within the “normal” range (and don’t you just hate the term “normal”) I have a condition – neurofibromatosis – that means I have horrid fibrous lumps all over my torso. They’re starting to appear more on my hands and face.

    But if I go to the beach, for example, there is an expectation that people like me don’t dare expose their hideousness. Thankfully, nobody every explained this to me, so I never got to realise that I should hide myself away.

    My involvement with the “free beach” group in Wellington did wonders. Being immersed in a group for whom how you look has no meaning. How you **are** is what is important. I’ve had people laugh and point and stare, and while it still hurts, I just smile and stare straight back.

    It really does do wonders.

    • Gravey I have a friend with neurofibromatosis and have been with her when people have been UNBELIEVABLY rude, both staring at and commenting on her body/looks. Several times I have shot people filthy looks, or have said “Mind your own business!’ to people behaving rudely about her looks.

      I’m always absolutely gobsmacked at just how damn rude people can be.

      The “free beach” group sounds awesome, I wonder if there is anything like that local to me.

      • Just to make sure you know – the “Free Beach” movement is a naturist/nudist federation. I was introduced to it by a woman I met in the Coromandel.

        The group I hung out with (so to speak) had people of all shapes and sizes.

        When I first me this person in the Coromandel, and first took my clothes off in front of her, she was genuinely interested in the condition. And when I got back to Wellington, and joined the group, it simply was never an issue.

        Public nudity is not for everyone. But in that environment, the absolute lack of body-issues was amazing. And I do credit it with my change of self-image.

        I had been worried that my disfigurement meant nobody could love me. By the time my wife and I became intimate, she thought my lumps were fun – kept joking about “joining the dots” but did so in a loving way.

        My mother (from whom I got NF – but who developed it as a spontaneous genetic mutuation) has lumps everywhere, and it really doesn’t bother her. My brother has it too, far less than I do, and it traumatises him.

        There have been moments that made me feel good – one time I went out running and took my top off. As I passed a couple of young women, I heard one of them laugh (knowing it was at me) but heard the other admonish her (and heard what she said). Occasionally, people can be nice.

      • I am sorry if I am telling you what you already know, the nearest thing I found to a useful resourse is http://www.bodypositive.com/.

        Where’s Gok when you need him? I always love the way he tries to make people feel good about themselves, regardless of size, shape or anything people might consider “ugly”.

  • Hi,

    I had a good laugh at the “would you like a picture?” question to the rude bimbos. I’ve used this line before too and it also depends on my mood as to whether I respond or not

    I have similar experiences to you but from a different side of the spectrum. I’m an Aussie journalist from Sydney but based in the Mideast for work reasons. I’m very tall, very blonde and very slim and Swedish looking as my mom’s family was from Sweden.

    While the majority of people here are lovely, there is a sizable minority that have made being in public very hard because I look so different and because with many women it’s a jealousy issue while with the men it’s a sexual issue.

    I’m in a fairly progressive part of the Mideast where women have certain freedoms and are not legally obliged to cover their hair but the society is still pretty conservative. I used to always walk around with very loose clothing and my arms covered even in the miserably hot weather. Now that I’ve decided to wear skinny jeans and tank tops etc. I’m catching a lot of flak from women whose status in society depends on landing a good man and men who are sexually frustrated. I will point out that I’m not showing any breasts or cleavage and neither are my pants that tight. In fact many of the women here wear more revealing clothing and inches of thick pancake makeup but they cover their hair!

    I’ve been given loads of dirty looks; had a ciggie butt thrown at me; lewd comments made; called a whore and a cunt; and been ridiculed and pointed at on a regular basis. I had one woman abusing me in the street and trying to touch my arm. I ignored her, hit her arm away and marched on. Like you I have days where I feel too fragile to leave my hotel for all this shit, others days where I give it back and days where these people mean less than shit to me.

    To be fair, however, many people are fine with me and extremely warm, helpful and generous. So I do know what it’s like to go what you go through but from a different angle and thought it would be interesting to drop you a note. And yes I enjoy looking good and being cool in hot weather and part of me will not be “disciplined” by anybody.

    • I travelled around the Middle East last year (Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel) and I have to agree the harassment is really quite terrible. I’m a deathfatz and wore very ‘respectful’ clothing throughout the trip and in Syria and Egypt particularly, and was expecting some amount of anonymity but I constantly had people say crude things or try to grope me and I’m certainly not tall, blonde or thin. It’s not even about attractiveness (or perceived attractiveness). I remember a study a few years back quoting 98% of female respondents in Egypt experience daily harassment, which included a significant portion of those that where the hijab and burka. Elderly women are hounded as well, so it’s not a case of looking Swedish that makes them harass you, it’s having a vagina.

  • *hugs*

    I really take my hat off to you, and to Jan (commenter above me). You’ve both allowed yourself the right to stare back and refused to be ashamed and that is really awesome!

    I’m not quite there yet, I’m still in the hunched shoulders “for the love of god don’t look at me” phase. I swing from proud fatty to horrified fatty several times a day.

    • So do I hon. It’s not a 100% thing. Sometimes I’ll slip back into that zone, and afterwards I’ll be all like “Why did I let them shame me?!” Rationally I know it’s redundant and stupid to allow people to do that, but it just happens sometimes.

      You will get there, step by step. We all work together!

  • I feel sorry for the miserable starers. What sort of life must they have to bring them to such action? I think a smile and maybe blowing them a kiss might add a bit of cheer to their otherwise wretched lives.

    • I’ve always thought that people behave like that – being nasty or abusive, bringing other people down – because of their own lack of self-esteem or self-respect. That they can find no other way of getting their own sense of worth than by bringing everyone else down.

      That is of course no excuse, but it sometimes makes me pity them more than be angry with them.

      One of the worst places to visit would have to be comments sections on articles and opinion pieces in the mainstream media. Because the MSM tends to be full of idiots who can’t see past their own prejudices. And the anonymity of commenting online gives these cowards added power.

      There is a discussion on a blog about transport issues in Auckland, NZ. I seriously wonder if these people would have the guts to say these things to the faces of the people they are denigrating.

  • I’ve also been surprised how much staring right back at people works. They can dish it out, but they can’t take it! I can’t say I’ve ever asked them if they want a photo, though – that’s awesome!

    • Yup, it’s very effective. So is the return “body check”. I catch people body checking me all the time, you know, that up and down look and then they don’t catch the look of disgust before it appears on their face. I either simply stare right back at them, or I give them a body check in return, see how they like it.

  • I will definitely stare back and sometimes with a quizzical look on my face. To see if they question the ridiculousness of drawing their attention to me just for the size of my body. Only fair really.

    I have and will continue to call out people who do it, sometimes verbally. Letting them know that I am nobodies punchline and if they were smarter maybe their humour would actually be clever.

  • I once saw a psychologist who told me that I was being aggressive by staring back at those who would stare at me, because of my size. I never went back. It took me a long time to work out that calling people on their rude behaviour embarrasses them, and empowers me.
    Having said that, though, I just got back from Bali, where I was pretty much considered a one woman freak show by the locals, and also by the Japanese tourists as well. If I had tried to return all the stares and comments I got over there, I would have twisted my head off! Was glad to get home where at least some people have a little decorum🙂

    • Katie I’m glad you never went back. I have had doctors and therapists tell me that I’m imagining how people stare, or that I invite their staring, or that I’m overly sensitive about their staring. Fuck that noise I say!

      • Yep, the psychologist said I was imagining it too, that he never stares at overweight people in public or makes assumptions about their intelligence, after I mentioned that people must think I’m stupid if they believe they need to tell me how big I am and what I should be doing about it.
        Funnily enough, he’s just proven my point – that he feels I’m not mentally viable enough to be able to tell when I am being stared at unneccessarily and judged. Jesus, they really have no clue, do they?

  • I’m glad that i read this today………a while back i went to one of those man made beaches …… I am a big girl with alot of confidence, i was sporting a one piece bathing suit without the lil dress at the bottom that people usually wear to hide extra parts of their bodies because i hate how i feel when i swim with those and while my body istn the “acceptable” size i go to the beach to swim and have fun on MY terms and no one elses. Well i was with my friend who is also plus sized and we were walking towards her car when I looked over and saw these two girls taking pictures of us and giggling, they were openly taking pictures from across the beach and I turned to look at them with my hands on my hips and they laughed and walked quickly away….all I could think was DAMNIT they are going to put my picture up on the internet and use me as an example of someone who should be ashamed to go out in public and THATS NOT HOW I FEEL. I dont want anyone looking at me and saying oh wow she should be embarrassed or ashamed of herself….i wish i would have had the presence of mind to SAY something to them….my friend was completely oblivious and i didnt share it with her because it would have hurt her deeply…..I guess my point in telling this story is that i find myself to be a fat sexy gorgeous girl….there are seldom days where i feel anything less than that, and if people want to stare at me than its almost my duty to stare back, to respond in a way that they dont expect…not only to break the myth that I should be embarrassed because of someone else’s prejudice but also so the attitude that someone else has toward people my size is not one that I internalize…….thats what I got from your story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ugh, the advent of a culture that condones stealing photographs of people in public for the purpose of snarking over them makes me sick. I too have had my photograph taken in public (it happens fairly regularly actually) without my consent, and actually have found one on a website devoted to ridiculing anonymous snapshots of strangers on the internet. It is DEVASTATING, particularly as in my case, a co-worker found it and told me about it, and it was before my discovery of fat acceptance.

      I’m still astonished that ANYONE would find that kind of behaviour acceptable, and that is one thing that I will call my friends out on any time I find them doing it. I have an absolute zero tolerance on that shitweaselry.

  • Before I moved to Vegas, I was visiting, staying at the Vegas Club, downtown. A Japanese man who spoke very little English, not only stared at the big American woman driving a rented mobility scooter, he pointed at his camera and motioned that he wanted my picture. He called a friend over and we had our picture taken just outside my room (he was staying across the hall). This was about 6 months after our book was published and I had sumo buttons from the cover. I motioned I had something for him and went into the room and retrieved a button for him. The only word spoken that we both understood was “Sumosan” and he was very excited to get the button. I’m not sure to this day if I was a freak show and this was admiration, but every time he and his friends saw me over the next two days, I was their rock star. They pointed and bowed to me no matter where they saw me. It was fun and more than a little weird. I’ve speculated that my Sumo button may have led them to believe that I was some sort of retired wrestler🙂

  • ““Hi, would you like me to pose for a photo or something?””

    HAHAHAHA!

    Great post, with excellent points. Be visible, take up space. Thanks.

    • A couple of months ago I was walking through a shopping centre when a table full of guys started doing the nudge and stare. I walked RIGHT up to their table and said “Can I help you fellas?” You should have seen how interesting they found their lunches after that! Not one of them would look up at me!

  • I often start conversations with them. It defuses the situation. I act like they must be looking at me because they want to start a conversation with me. It’s funny and make the people staring act awkward.

  • I often get stared at in public, and it gets a lot more blatant when I’m out with my sister, who is also fat. Especially if we dare to do something like eat out in restaurant. I’ve only been able to work up the nerve to confront people who stare a couple of times–usually by blowing kisses or winking. It’s great to put the discomfort back on them, and you have inspired me to continue.

    • @Fantine, I love the blowing kisses/winking. I can make the eye contact with people who stare, but will have to try the wink if/when I notice the idle-curiosity staring. Oooh, the eyebrow waggle will work as well!

      @Sleepydun, thanks for the post. Was linked here by elsenet in the fatosphere, having a browse through.
      Ta!

  • Nobody has the right to stare at anybody. It’s rude, and we all should have been taught as children that it’s rude. Depending on the mood I’m in, I’ll either glare at them or use the old chestnut “why don’t you take a f*ckin’ picture, it will last longer.”

  • Nail on the head! You have such a way with words and I’m so glad you share your talent with us here! This is exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate the last few days and now I have this post to reference for anyone who I can share! I’ve been stared at for many things and you’re right! When you give them back the stare they gave you it makes Them uneasy instead of you and that is a wonderful thing.❤

    • Thanks hon, it really makes me keep doing what I’m doing to hear that I’m giving something that works and that it can be used to spread the word further. It really does.

  • I not only agree with what everyone here is saying, but…

    …how does the way I look in public affect some random dumbass? What massive impact does me being a tattooed fat woman minding my own business have on them?

    But you know that old adage, “Little things affect little minds.”

  • Wow! Good stuff! My issue is my unusually large arms. Even my coworkers feel free to have conversations with me staring at my arms. How to handle!!!??

    • I also have disproportionately big (and soft and sensitive!) upper arms and part of my job involves retail. Apparently my upper arms are irresistible to elderly men – I have become adept at dodging the grabby hands! One 92-year-old customer complained to the boss that I was “running away from him”! (The boss is also a fat woman, so she was sympathetic to me!)

      If they’re just staring and not grabbing, I find taking a step to the side (or more than one) so they have to either shuffle around or look at my face to be quite effective without a direct workplace confrontation.

    • Deb, I don’t know if you have as much “smart arse” vibe as I do, but I know what I’d do if people were talking to my arms (or any other part of my body other than my face)… I’d say “Eyes up here sunshine!”

  • I wish I had read this post yesterday. I might have done better at dealing with being stared at yesterday evening.

    Let me start out by saying I’m a 55 year old woman. I ‘m 5’3″ and I weigh somewhere around 400 pounds. I live in Southern California. Trust me, that puts me in the stareable catagory out here where it is a mega duty to be thin, tanned and fashoinable at all costs.

    I went out to dinner with my husband last night. It was a buffet as it happens. So there I was, Eating While Fat in a buffet: the perfect stereotype. I noticed a woman staring at me. And not just a casual glance ot twho. All through the meal she just STARED at me. I don’t know if it was the fact that she was eating all vegetables and I was eating mostly fish. Maybe it was my bright tie dye blouse. But I coudln’t help but think it was because I am a supersized woman.

    What upsets me most is that I let her staring affect me. It actually affected the foods and quantity of foods I selected after I noticed I had an audience. I thought I had gotten beyond that and was stronger now.

    I still take that I was in a bright blouse and actually at the restaurants to be wins, but stil… I feel like she won.

    • I am so sorry that you have had to go through this darkazaeda. It affects you because it sucks. Don’t let anyone make you feel shamed, even for being affected by someone else’s behaviour. You don’t have to apologise for other people’s shitty behaviour.

  • I’m a bit of an ectomorph. 3 months of cycling 150 miles a week are turning me into something other. Oddly, I have no ‘preferences’ physically. A woman looks beautiful *because* of *who* she is. It takes time to get to that distinction and precludes nobody.

    • That’s interesting, but I don’t feel that someone’s attractiveness should come into play. Whether you personally find them attractive or not should never determine whether they are deserving of respect.

  • This post reminded me of a bit from an Edy Izzard show (cannot remember from which show, but it’s one that’s on instant watch on Netflix) where he’s talking about this group of idiot men who nudge each other and point and laugh at people passing by. And when Eddy walked by, one of them ran after him calling out “Bloke in a dress! Bloke in a dress!” Eddy turned around and said “Yeah. What of it?” and the guy got all flustered and hurried back to his buddies.

    I’m sure I’ve messed up a number of the details of that story, but I liked the example he gave of putting the bullies off by blatantly accepting the thing about which they intend to tease you.

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