Falsely Filling in the Story

Published January 19, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Firstly I want to share the amazing work of Rachele aka The Nearsighted Owl with you.  Rachele has been doing a series of “shame loss” artworks, which I think are absolutely brilliant.  You can check them out on her blog, or you can find them on her Tumblr.  I want you to go and look at them on her sites, so I’m only going to share the one with you all now, because I want to talk about it.  It is this take on the crappy Special K ad:

Image courtesy of Rachele of The Nearsighted Owl

Image courtesy of Rachele of The Nearsighted Owl

Isn’t it fabulous?  I am loving that Rachele is creating lots of intersectional images of fat folk – people of colour, people with disibility, across gender and of varying shapes and sizes.  Some of them are naked, some are clothed, the variety so far has been great and I look forward to the others she comes up with – I really do hope she comes up with more!

The reason I’m singling out this piece is because of the horrific healthism and ableism that has come out of people responding to the artwork.  Most predominantly, that this fat woman “did it to herself” because she must have diabetes and has had a leg amputated because of it.  I know, can you believe just how fucked in the head the thinking is around the image of a fat woman with a prosthetic leg that they’ve invented a whole fucking scenario for her… from a drawing!

Let’s ignore the logic of the whole thing that she’s clearly a young woman and people who suffer amputation due to diabetes are almost always elderly and it takes many years of suffering from vascular issues before things get as drastic as amputation.  Not to mention that it’s a drawing, not a fucking photograph of an actual person.  Logic clearly doesn’t come into play with these people.

Let’s focus on the bullshit attitude that somehow because she is a fat woman she “did it to herself”.

Let’s imagine that the image is exactly the same, only she is thin. What scenario do you think these people would dream up for her prosthetic leg then?

Car accident?  Well let’s ask if the car accident was her fault?  Did she “do it to herself” then?

How about through some kind of extreme sport/thrill accident?  An accident base- jumping?  Mountain climbing?  Snowboarding?  Surfing in shark infested waters?  Would that come under “did it to herself”?

How about some of the cancers that are caused by lifestyle?  Did she sunbathe?  Smoke cigarettes?  Live somewhere near radioactive material?  Does that come under “did it to herself”?

I could go on.  But what I’m really getting at is that if this was a picture of a thin woman with a prosthetic leg, there would be no question of “she did it to herself” and the image would not be met with the disgust and dreamed-up diabetes amputation scenario that came with it as it is above.  There still would have no doubt been ableism, but the “fat chick did it to herself” people would have asked how a thin woman came to have a prosthetic leg, or assumed it was congenital, or some “tragic” circumstance

Only fat people get accused of “doing it to themselves” when it comes to disability or illness.  Fat people are never allowed to have tragic circumstances, accidents, congenital illnesses or any other reason for their disabilities, no, it’s assumed that we must be unhealthy and have “done it to ourselves”.  Even with NO information other than the person in the picture is fat and has a prosthetic leg, fat haters invent their own story for the person laying the “blame” on them.  As Amanda at Fat Body Politics says on her post Speaking Hypothetically:

Attacking a drawing, that doesn’t depict a real person, gives people who are blinded by their own prejudice an ability to try and remove their own responsibility that is connected to the harm their words cause. The issue really isn’t that they are reading a drawing of a person that was meant to be positive, but that they are trying to negate the reality that their words have been said about real people, with real bodies that live in reality. Their lives and body should never be used as a hypothetical situation.

But what REALLY pisses me is that regardless of body shape or size, what if it was a picture of someone who had an amputation because of diabetes? (Since thin people get diabetes too – ie, my paternal uncles)  It is disgustingly healthist and ableist to suggest that they “deserve” to be treated poorly.  Every single human being, regardless of level of health, physical ability, size or general quality of life, deserves to live their lives in peace and dignity, without being vilified and bullied because of their bodies.

I don’t care if someone is the fattest person on the planet and they cut their own leg off for kicks, they still deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity, and to see themselves represented and accommodated in society – fat, with a disability and any other identifying features – as valid human beings.

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34 comments on “Falsely Filling in the Story

  • Amen. Very well stated, Kath. I am a fat disabled person. My disability is cerebral palsy & I was born with it. I am also 63, so I am now becoming a somewhat ‘invisible’ older woman. I have used canes to help with my bad balance for a few years now, & last summer, after a bad fall, I got a rolling walker, which is a tremendous help & allows me to do my usual walking all over town with more safety. I am sure that a lot of the people who see me walk, who see me limping obviously & using a walker, jump to the conclusion that I am in poor health, which I never have been actually, & also that I am disabled because I am fat. That does seem to be the message we are sent in modern culture, the idea reinforced by the media & all of the fat haters who get so much publicity. If a person is fat & is anything less than 100% able-bodied or healthy, then the fat MUST have caused the disability & the fat person obviously ‘did it to herself.’ Even from people who KNOW me, I have many times in my life gotten the message that I should ‘watch my weight’ because my legs are not ‘able to carry that much weight.’ This is despite the fact that I have walked around 65,000 miles in much life, spent years working out 4 hours per day & damaging my joints doing so, & the fact that most of my family is fat so the genetic link should be obvious. However, I am supposed to be able to do something most able-bodied people are unable to do & lose weight & keep it off because it is not good for my legs. And if I become more disabled with age (& my balance is definitely worse all the time), it will be assumed that I brought it on myself by being fat.

    The culture in which we live seems to grow worse daily about ascribing every negative thing in the world to fat. Apparently, the world would be perfect & there would be no problems if there were just no fat people & of course we ‘did it to ourselves’, so we deserve anything we get.

    • That’s just the thing Patsy… it’s not about quality of life at all, is it? It’s all about punishing you for daring to be a fat woman, especially a fat woman with a disability. It’s yet another stick to bash us over the head with, rather than allowing us to have positive representation and accommodation in the world.

  • Thanks for introducing me to the Nearsighted Owl!
    I’m now going to rail a bit about one of my favorite pet peeves.
    NOT ALL FAT PEOPLE ARE DIABETIC!!!
    AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!
    And if they are diabetic, it has nothing to do with their size and everything to do with their pancreas. It’s primarily genetic.
    Again, AAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!
    My new slogan for Special K is “Tastes Just Like the Box it Came In.”

    • Ain’t that the truth!

      I’m very, very fat and I don’t have diabetes. Mr. Twistie is quite fat, though not as fat as I am, and got the diabetes diagnosis just shy of twenty years ago.

      I hope he never has to go through amputation. But if he ever does, the first person to tell him it’s all his fault and he brought it on himself by being fat is going to have a hell of a time extricating my foot from his/her rectum!

      Diabetes is a disease, not a waist circumference.

      As for the art, Kath, I think I’m in love. I would absolutely put that on my wall in the prettiest frame I could find. Now I need to go check out everything else Nearsighted Owl has done. Also, I love, love, love her handle!

        • (scoffs) Like you could get me off your team if you tried!

          I so want t-shirts and prints of Rachele’s work. This stuff needs to be out in the world being seen by a wide audience.

  • Every single human being, regardless of level of health, physical ability, size or general quality of life, deserves to live their lives in peace and dignity, without being vilified and bullied because of their bodies.

    This, so much. While it still fills me with all kinds of rage that any time anyone sees a fat person with an amputated limb they automatically assume that it’s because they’re diabetic, and the larger meme that any fat person who has any illness or disability must have “done it to themselves” just by being fat, I’ve heard it so much and so often that the rage doesn’t usually manifest as screaming, but more as a facepalm and a muttered, “Goddammit”.

    • It’s such a simple concept I never understand why people don’t get it. I think the greatest scourge of our culture is the assumption that some people are superior to others.

  • I believe that the latest numbers I have read show that, in the United States, 88-90% of fat people are not diabetic & about 75% never will be. There is also, of course, the evidence that people who are somewhat fat live longer than thin ones & that, among fat people who do have an issue such as diabetes or heart disease, fat people are usually able to manage the diseases better & live longer with them, as well as heal from surgeries & recover from illnesses faster than the average thin person. Type II is indeed as genetic as Type I & no one’s ‘fault’ & I believe that, with today’s treatment, people who care for themselves well usually no longer lose limbs because of diabetes, or, if they do, as someone else said, it happens to very old people or to those who did not manage their illness…alcoholics, homeless people, someone like that.

    We are living perfectly normal lives, our health is no worse than most thin people, we are not the boogie man, & if we do get sick, it is no more our fault than it is when thin people get sick, but so many people are willfully ignorant & full of hatred & willing to believe just about anything bad regarding fat people.

    I think I forgot to mention in my first post, I love the art. And the idiots can go fuck themselves. We do not owe them justification, proof of our worth as human beings, & we damn sure do not owe them any apologies.

    • As a fat diabetic, I want us to be very careful about getting into healthist denials of stereotype.

      The crux of the message is that there ARE fat diabetics and they deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity too.

  • Thank you for sharing the collective wisdom of others like yourself! As important as it is to create “meaningful” pictures that make a point, I think there should be more pictures like the one you have here on this page. Whether or not you’re an attractive woman is matter of personal opinion, but you are INDISPUTABLY beautiful in a way that cannot be imitated by someone who’s no more than just pretty.

    The way that you radiate joy and humor and color (while still somehow withholding any disposition that could be construed as a given fuck) is not only inspiring to women who want to love themselves, it no doubt INFURIATES your “oppressors.” I don’t remember who it was that said the best revenge is a life well lived, but I’m sure they’d agree that you’re stomping some serious ass in that department.

    Again, I’m not saying that poignant art like “Fuck Diets” isn’t beautiful and powerful and inspiring. It absolutely is and I would love to see more of her unique talent. However, in the war against fat-haters, it frankly makes for a rather poor weapon. Metaphorically, it’s more like a bandage for the wounded and demoralized. A bandage heals and comforts, to be sure, but it also gives your enemy the satisfaction of the damage they do. The leg thing illustrates this rather bleakly, I think. Our enemies were HAPPY to see a lost limb and fantasize about diabetes and imagine our legs rotting off from being “too fat to get any blood through,” which most likely is NOT how circulatory issues arise. (I admit that the only medical understanding I have of diabetic limb loss is that NOBODY ever “deserves” it.)

    The problem here is not that fat-haters are unaware of the damage and misery their behavior inflicts. What they refuse to see is the suffering you DON’T endure and that’s where beauty and confidence like yours becomes a formidable weapon. Being offended, humiliated, angry, and depressed about the situation only reinforces their self-righteous assertion that fat is a bad thing which only leads to shame and misery. In any event, you already know all this – I just wanted to say kudos to you for lighting up the air around you. You are beautiful, you are brave, and you are brilliant. I imagine that the battles you fight every day have left you clownshit crazy, but isn’t sanity just so boring and overrated? Have your voices call my voices sometime and we’ll do lunch!

    I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes, which is often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela. It was actually Marianne Williamson who articulated the following incomparable wisdom:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    • However, in the war against fat-haters, it frankly makes for a rather poor weapon.

      That’s a terrible standard to judge it by. Not every piece of fat-positive work — written, drawn, acted, whatever — has to be a “weapon” at all. And since it isn’t meant to be, why would you judge it by whether or not it is?

      We get to have things that are just to make us feel good.

    • Jenna… firstly, there is no “war against fat haters”. Fat liberation and fat activism isn’t about making war with others. It is about making peace with ourselves. Fat haters aren’t worth waging war, they’re not even worth speaking to. Fat haters may wage “war on obesity” but it is our power to opt out of fighting that war and to make peace with ourselves and our bodies. Fat haters know every bit of the damage they inflict, but fat liberation is about opting out of allowing them to shame us for our weight, our bodies, even those of us who have illness or disability.

      And I find it incredibly and offensively ableist that you feel that an image of a fat woman with disability is to be used as a “weapon” or should be something that is not the subject of fat positive art. Disabled women deserve positive representation just as much as fat women. And guess what, fat disabled women do too. The same as any other marginalised person deserves to be represented positively

      The way you say “The leg thing” is also disgustingly offensive. It’s not a THING, it’s a prosthetic leg. People have prosthetic legs, and they shouldn’t be hidden away as shameful. Your attitude towards people with disability as being “negative” (as opposed to the supposed “positive” colourful and confident – who says that a disabled fat woman isn’t colourful and confident too?) is frankly disgusting.

      Every image of fat women doesn’t have to be some heavily made-up, staged photoshoot. Fuck being forced to perform at some kind of major level all the time to be a “weapon”. Fuck always having to be “on show” or “at our best”. A fat woman with a prosthetic leg is just as powerful and beautiful and bold as any other woman.

      Only ableism, fat hate and healthism would suggest that the artwork above is not powerful and positive.

      This artwork is not for them, it’s not for fat haters, the ableist and healthist . It’s for me. It’s for women like me. It’s for all the women who are considered wrong/broken/damaged/inferior. Fat women, fat disabled women. Fat women of colour. Fat queer women. Fat trans people. All of us.

      Fuck anyone who says we must hide away anything that fat haters want to shame us for. We need to celebrate diversity, hiding it away in shame is nothing short of bigotry.

      • I’m sorry I offended you, Kath. I’ll spend some more time reading and thinking about the things you’ve said.

      • Almost immediately, I’m humbled by the realization that it’s wrong of me to think about the issues of ignorance and discrimination as a “war.” I can see how that implies an expectation that people should have to “fight back” against being treated like garbage. Nobody should have to fight to be left alone and respected. I just get so damned angry about some of the things people say and do that it makes me belligerent and hostile… something I shouldn’t be projecting onto others.

        Also, I’m completely horrified at how I sounded when I mentioned the prosthetic leg! I didn’t mean to refer to anyone’s handicap as a “thing,” and it wasn’t the thing I was talking about. It was the snide comments I was referring to, but I should have been less curt and worded that more clearly. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings or piss them off. Fat acceptance is a learning process for me and I’m still trying to work out the best way not only to love my own “overweight” body, but also to empower others to do the same.

        I appreciate that you took the time to point out what was wrong with my perspective and I hope I’m welcome to share my misconceptions in the future. I have nothing but the UTMOST respect for who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish – I’d like to learn everything you’re willing to teach me. Again, I’m sorry I offended.

        • Anger is perfectly valid Jenna, but it’s always important to remember that other people need not be trampled by our anger. I’m all for getting angry, but I’ve had to learn to think about what I’m saying in my anger and examine my own attitudes. It’s hard work but it is SO worth it. Get angry and channel that anger to a powerful place!

          I’m glad you’re willing to learn and grow. It’s good for all of us to do so.

          • As to the whole “war” concept, I don’t know if things are different in Australia but here in the States, the media AND government have officially declared a “War on Obesity.” Not a war on heart disease or diabetes or high blood pressure, but just a war on being fat. Almost every day, we see news stories screaming, “New Studies Link Obesity with [insert scary fate here]” brought to you by McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. In this maddening economy, people have found a way to profit both from making people fat and vilifying them for it.

            Between the systematic profiting from both sides of the situation and the petty cruelty of hate-mongering douchecanoes, it’s hard for me to know where to even direct my anger, much less how to focus and channel it into something positive. Where does one even begin?

      • Thank you for calling out the disablism (however un-intended) in that comment. Fwiw, I prefer “disablism” to “ableism” (mainly for these reasons http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/node/68 though I don’t have the head spoons to be sure I agree with everything on that post/the Lisybabe post linked in it). But anyway. Why the fuck can’t a disabled woman be included in this series of pictures? I’d like to see far more representation of disabled people in general, and am glad that (at least parts of) the FA community (is that the right term? sorry, brain very floaty right now, and am trying to make dinner!) are trying to be inclusive in this way. I am fat, I am disabled (fibromyalgia, walk with a stick, also have mental health problems and ADD) – should I hide my disability to be a more acceptable fatty/magically lose weight to be a more acceptable crip? Bollocks to either of those, neither of which is feasible beyond in the very short term, if that, and even if I were to attempt either, it would make my health worse in no time.

        • Hi anwenwenwenwen – great username!

          Thanks for letting me know about your preference of term. It’s difficult because if I use ableism, some say they prefer disablism, if I switch it over others prefer ableism. I think I’ll just mix it up and use both at different times.

          And yes, I agree, disabled people should be included in representations of fat activism. Otherwise we’re buying into the whole “good fatty/bad fatty” bullshit!

          • Oh, I completely understand that! I think that’s probably the best solution :) (I certainly wasn’t trying to tell you what you should say, just explaining why I prefer disablism as a term :) )

      • Fat, mentally ill women (me–bipolar, borderline personality, OCD.)
        I write and do photoshop manipulations as I suck at actually drawing. A lot of the stuff I write is extremely raw, and I’m not prone to sharing it because other people tend not to get it. But when one has a lot of pain inside, I think it’s one’s right to find a healthy outlet for it such as writing, drawing, music, whatever.
        I love the Nearsighted Owl’s artwork. To me this piece simply says, here is a person, who is a young heavyset woman, and she has a prosthetic leg. And she’s going to do her thing regardless of what others think. Cool!

  • Thank you for this!! I know I have commented on this before but it doesn’t go away so here I go again….I am sooooooo tired of people thinking that if I wasn’t so fat, the MS I have been living with for 11 years now will be magically cured. IF ONLY!!

    • Deb, I feel you. I’ve been fat and dealing with the prejudice that goes with that my entire life. I was diagnosed with MS about a year and a half ago (after more than four years of doctors referring me to nutritionists and bariatric surgeons instead of, you know, actually listening to me and trying to figure out the cause of my symptoms). My father had MS. Given the generally progressive nature of the disease, I’ve come to think of myself as “currently abled” because I know that’s bound to change with time. And I’m terrified of what’s going to happen if I, a fat woman who swore off dieting many years ago, end up using a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair to assist with mobility…

  • I looked at the picture and thought it was beautiful – as some who will happily interpret anything, I am still completely stunned that “she did this to herself” is what some people came up with. WTF.

  • It is beautiful & powerful & uplifting, reassuring to those of us who do have disabilities that we are still beautiful, worthy, that we matter as much as able-bodied people. And we do not need weapons, as you say, we do this for us, not for them, because whatever we do, those who hate us & who believe fat is the worst thing a person can be & an automatic guarantee of poor health & early death will continue to believe that. And, yes, fat diabetics do matter & do deserve respect & dignity.

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