The Realities of Fat Activism

Published January 11, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

It’s time I spoke up about a little something that’s going on in the fatosphere at the moment.  I don’t have a very big platform in the scheme of things, I do have a loyal group that stick around and are very supportive, and I’m forever thankful and honoured by that.  But I don’t have access to being published on mainstream websites, nor do I have friends who are high profile people in activism circles.  I have worked very hard for over 5 years to get the little bit of following and media notice I have had, and I’m thankful that there are people who appreciate my work and signal boost it on a regular basis.

But I am SO done with people who write on mainstream websites (where one article gets more shares than I get hits on a post) whinging that they don’t have representation, and then holding up MY tiny patch of the internet as an example of how fat/size acceptance is “doin’ it wrong”. (No, I am not linking to it, most of you will know the piece I’m referring to.)

Firstly, I have said for years now that I do not identify as part of fat acceptance, size acceptance or body positive movements.  I am a proud fat activist who believes in fighting for the human rights of fat people to live their lives in dignity and respect, without discrimination or vilification.  I believe in the liberation of fat people from a society that has treated us as second class citizens for almost a century now.  I do not believe “acceptance” is enough.  Body positivity has long excluded very fat bodies like mine.  Nobody has the right to hold me up as an example of either fat/size acceptance or body positivity as I reject both of those movements myself.

Secondly, I have no place speaking for anyone but myself.  If you want representation, do not look to me to speak for you.  I can only speak for my experience – that of a very fat (I personally prefer the term “deathfat”) woman with chronic illness.  I am a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault.  I have lived through poverty.  These are the things I am qualified to speak on.  I can, and will not presume to speak for anyone other than myself, however, if other people identify with my experiences, I appreciate the connection with them.

Unfortunately, I get a lot of people criticising me (more often than not they’re just trolling) for not writing about how fat hate affects men, or disabled people, or women of colour, or LGBT* folk.  I am not qualified to speak on these perspectives as I do not belong to them myself.  It is not appropriate for me to write about other people’s experiences.

I am not running a media website.  I am not editing any collections or aggregating other people’s posts.  This blog is me.  JUST me.  I stopped allowing guest posts years ago, and I write about my experiences.

If you want to be represented in fat spaces, you need to speak up for yourself.  But you also need to be aware that visibility in the fatosphere is not something that is either automatic, or without serious issues.  I blogged here for two years before I started to get any audience outside of a small group of friends.  In that two years, I spent the equivalent time and effort of a full time job in research, outreach, discussion with other activists and self-promotion on growing my blog, my visibility and my audience.  Once I started to get established, I spent just as much time lobbying the media, academia,  businesses and other organisations asking to speak, to be interviewed and to be included in events to further my activism.  In fact, until last year, I worked a full time unpaid job in activism on top of the full time job I have that pays my rent.  It’s only when it began to take a toll on my health and stress levels that I cut way back on the activism work I was doing, for my own self care.  Consequently, my audience has shrunk again, but I am very grateful for those who are loyal enough to stick around for my more sporadic posts.

As well as being hard work to get any visibility as a fat activist, most of us have to deal with some pretty horrific abuse.  Abuse that is unrelenting – despite my reduction in activism, the abuse has not tailed off even mildly.  It is relentless, always waiting in my email, on my social media accounts, and sometimes in my “real life” spaces.  It will appear on this post, and I will have to get rid of some horrific stuff.

You need to be aware that while it may look like all fun events and free shit for a fat activist on the surface, many of us spend hours and hours dealing with hate groups discussing how they’d like to see us die and suffer, sending us death and rape threats, constant harassment by abusive emails, tweets, Tumblr asks etc, theft and vandalism of our photographs, violent images and horrific pornography sent to us, things that before I started blogging, I would never have believed that another human being would do or say to someone.  Not to mention that it spills over into offline life as well.  I have had people stalk me, death threats sent to my home, hate notes left in my mailbox, been signed up to “obesity clinics” and weight loss centres, had vexatious letters sent to my employer, people abuse me in the street, all manner of crap I’ve had to deal with.  And let’s not get started on the creepers that think we should be grateful for their “fat admiration”.  Sending me unsolicited dick pics is not “admiration”, it’s sexual harassment.

You don’t see it because I don’t want to inflict it on others.  I don’t want to promote the bullying and hate.  I don’t want to give them the attention they crave.  And mostly because I just hit the delete button and get on with my life as best as I can.

Are you willing to deal with these things as a visible activist?  Are you willing to put in the work to get representation in fat spaces?  Are you willing to even acknowledge that these things unfortunately come with the territory of being a visible activist?

Does that mean that I don’t have privilege as a white woman?  No.  I am fully aware that as a white, heterosexual, mostly able-bodied, cis-woman who is lucky enough to currently have full time employment that I have advantages that other people don’t have.  Does it mean that nobody has privilege over me?  No it does not.

What I can, will and already do is signal boost those activists who are speaking up.  I am not trying to win any ally badges, or be given any ally cookies.  I want to promote those who are standing up and speaking out as best I can, because I know what it’s like to be under-represented.  I know what it is like to be on the margins.  Not to mention that I personally prefer to hear the perspectives of people outside of the median.  I can see a dime a dozen pretty, white, smaller fats with plenty of disposable income blogging about fat fashion.  But after a while, the shine wears off and I want to hear about the people who have also fought societal pressure like I have, for whatever reason, even if it is different to mine.  I want to see bodies that both look like mine, and bodies that don’t but are rarely seen anywhere else.  I have more in common with other marginalised people, despite our differences, than I do with the pretty white fatshion bloggers.  My social media platforms are all full of people on the outside, of various identities, because that’s where I have always been myself.

I wholeheartedly support the call for more diverse voices in fat activism.  I want them as much as anyone else does.  But I will not now or ever sit by in silence while someone on a far larger platform than I have access to passive-aggressively holds me up as someone who is “doing it wrong”.   If you don’t like how I dress, represent myself or engage in activism, you go out and do your own.

If you already follow my Facebook feed, my Twitter or my Tumblr, you will already have access to the activists I choose to signal boost.  But I will also do so here, because it seems this is where I garner the most criticism for a lack of representation.

I invite you to share your blogs/accounts and those you like in the comments below as well.  I know I could always use some more.

Note, these are in no particular order, and are not sorted into categories, they’re just as I dig them up from my bookmarks. And are only some of those I follow (I left out any that haven’t posted in a while).

*Unfortunately there are very few men blogging about fat issues, and some of those that are have been caught bullying, harassing and trolling fat women, so I will not support them.  A couple of very good fat blogging men have stopped blogging, which is a real shame.

**Note – please keep this comment thread to sharing links to non-mainstream fat activism and fatshion.  I am not entering into a discussion of whether I’m doing fat activism “right” or that it’s my job to speak for anyone other than myself and those that wish to identify with me.

37 comments on “The Realities of Fat Activism

  • First off i appladue this post. I reapect you, your stance and most everything your write (which i agree with). Second, as someone who foghts for fat activism i recently had reddit discover my tumblr and tear me apart.. Reading this post it helped me realize that i was visable even to these negative people and i shouldnt have deleted my tumblr bc of it because Iay have reached
    someone who needed it. I want to say thank you…and i will be creating a new tumblr🙂

    • Hales I am so sorry that the cesspit of the internet (reddit) crawled out of it’s hole and started in on you. These sad little creatures have nothing better to do with their lives than spend their time being hateful to complete strangers. I pity them.

      It isn’t easy and it can be really draining, but despite that, I’ve found some of the most awesome people of my life doing this. I hope you’ll let me know your Tumblr address!

  • Heyyyyyyyyy you linked Deena (Fat Girls Like Nice Clothes Too). I’ve known her for yeaaaaaaaaars, initially via flickr’s wardrobe_remix. She’s lovely and her Etsy shop is so awesome.

  • Hello, for all it’s worth, I’d like to thank you for all the work you do. I’m sorry that you have had to be on the receiving end of all that hatred because you choose to speak your truth. I’d like to remind you that there are people who support you and appreciate what you do. I look forward to all the pieces you write. Also, thanks for the links. I also follow you on Facebook and always like the articles you choose to report.

  • Thank you for this list, and thank you for the awesomeness you put out into the world. You’ve helped me a lot to start feeling as though I am a person who deserves love and fun and respect and good things NOW, not “once I lose this weight.” You are a shining star, and I hope your year is full of wonderful, awesome things!

  • I’m glad to see you are allowing comments for the time being. I can only imagine the strength it takes to persevere. This is my personal favorite blog. Thanks for sharing the links.

  • Hey Kath,

    This post is timely, as I was realizing this morning that reading your blog (and others) who are just trying to be themselves has helped me be myself. Not just accepting of my body (which, while thinner than yours, still doesn’t fit the stereotypical hourglass shape and made me feel bad) but learning to allow myself to be myself, instead of trying to be what I think others want me to be.

    Am I all the way there? Hell no. I’m just far enough along to recognize the change and to start taking advantage of it.

    Where will this lead? I have no idea, but if it at least lets me feel less guilty because I feel like I am letting someone else down for not living up to their expectations, I will take it.

    So THANK YOU. Thank you for blogging. Thank you for wading through crap. Thank you for being you. If you wanted to give even one other person a little bit of help, you have. *HUGS*

    On to the fashion part. Two Big Blondes is a consignment shop in Seattle that I have found some very nice clothes from.

    Here is the link to their shop: http://www.twobigblondes.com/

    They also periodically put some of their really nice stuff online, so I wanted to pass that link along as well: http://stores.ebay.com/twobigblondes

    I know you are way down under, but if any of your readers are in the area, I encourage them to check out the store. And if not local, check the ebay link. I think it is empty right now because they are planning a sale in February.

    • Thanks for the links LSTROUT, it’s always good to find new suppliers.

      One thing though – you don’t need to point out that you’re thinner than someone. Honestly, the only time it’s relevant is when you’re acknowledging your privilege and otherwise it comes across as kind of shitty to say “I’m thinner than you” in any other context.

      • Sorry Kath. It was my clumsy way of trying to acknowledge my privilege before someone got ticked that I don’t get the same level of crap as someone who has even fewer clothing options and abuse from strangers and yet still complain about my problems.

        I’ve had the ‘you don’t have it as bad as others’ hurled at me for other reasons, so I’m kind of hypersensitive about it. I should have realized you wouldn’t ever even think of playing that game, and likely nobody who reads this blog would either.

        Now I and my insecurities are going to clean the litterbox.🙂

        • Apology accepted lsstrout. I did understand what you were trying to say, but it just isn’t nice for anyone to hear “I’m thinner than you” in this already fat phobic environment, you know? It’s much better to day “I realise I have privilege over others, but I still experience…”

          Thanks for understanding.

  • I have always admired the unflinching honesty in your writing & your determination to be yourself and no one else. The reference to you in that piece was flat-out bizarre and frankly not consistent with a supposed call to practice FA 201. I’m full of appreciation and love for you & your work, as always❤

    • Thank you Caro.

      Very little about that piece made sense. In one breath she complained about not being represented, in the next she says she couldn’t be bothered blogging herself because it took too much effort. She demanded safe space and then demanded that WLS and dieting be included. It just didn’t make any sense – if you can’t follow a 101 level, calling for a 201 level is pretty redundant.

  • Kath – thank you for what you ARE able to do. You’re only one person, and you can only do so much. Sometimes, I know for myself – it’s easy to see how much there is to do out there and get overwhelmed. So, it’s smart for you to know what you’re capable of doing at this point and sticking to it. If people are so concerned about what you’re NOT doing, maybe they should pitch in and lend a hand. It shouldn’t be all up to you alone!

    • Thanks DizzyD. It is in no way up to me all alone, but I don’t believe it’s right to point out people who are “doin’ it wrong” when someone is not willing to step up themselves. Especially if they have access to a large platform.

      The beauty is that every little bit helps. Whether it’s blogging, or sharing fat positive pictures and quotes, or posting outfit pics, or selfies or whatever. Just refusing to be shamed for your body is activism.

  • I think you are fabulous and if I was to see you walking down the sidewalks would go out of my way to give you a big hug. I have only been receiving your blog for a while but it has made me feel like I am not alone out there and am not alone with the feelings I have. Thanks for your work.

  • I just wanted to say that this was one of the most honest and badass pieces of writing I’ve ever seen in the blogosphere. Great job and keep it up.

  • I don’t get this either Kath. We can only speak to issues that we personally deal with ourselves. You speak from your own experiences, I speak from mine, etc. In my opinion, that doesn’t mean that any one experience is more valuable or deserves more discussion than any other. If you have 5 POC speaking about their experiences and 500 white people speaking about their experiences, it just stands to reason that there will be more exposure to the white experience. Does that invalidate anyone’s experiences? No. Why does it always turn into a competition?

    • Rosie don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that we need more diversity in the fatosphere. That part I agree with 100%. The imbalance of numbers is not ok – it really isn’t OK that white/cis/heterosexual/able-bodied/affluent/smaller people are far over represented in the fatosphere. That’s not about competition, it’s about privilege, which is a very real thing.

      What I’m getting at, is that it’s not possible for me to counter that imbalance personally, since I am not running a multi-person platform of any kind. It’s just me. And it’s not fair to hold my blog up as an example of “doing it wrong”, when I am not purporting to speak for others, only myself – especially when the person doing so is in a position of power over me.

      I hope that clarifies my piece.

  • Hi Kath,
    Thanks for your writing and all the work you do. One thing I like about your work over some other blogs I read is that you never shy away from showing anger. It seems like so many (mostly women, especially women in marginalized communities) are conditioned to stifle or downplay how angry their oppression bbbmakes them. I applaud you for your honesty. And I read that article – it was counterproductive of her to single out so many bloggers and activists, to say the least – if she gets to speak her truth, she ought not to whinge about others speaking theirs. And I think a point the article missed was.that what looks like fragmentation in a movement can just be increased diversification, which is a great thing, not a bad one. There’s a reason the LGBTQIA social justice movement keeps adding letters!

    • Thanks Kersten. I think too many women either hide their anger or they tamp it down, pretend they’re not angry. I don’t blame them, women have been taught to do that from the moment they are born, just like men are taught not to show any other emotion other than anger. But learning to own our anger, and to express it in a constructive way is a very good thing IMO!

  • You’ve addressed a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about recently, especially about harassment and diversity in the FA movement. The lack of diversity was exactly why I wasn’t keen to participate in FA communities. And a huge part of my work as a fat activist is to create spaces for underrepresented fatties. Your perspective has given me more to mull over and is definitely helping me process the things that have been happening to me lately. You are wonderful. Thank you for all that you do. x

    • Rachelle your good opinion of me means SO much, since you are one of the women I admire most and I really love the way you do what you do. Thank YOU!

      I love that you’re able to create spaces for underrepresented fatties of all types. I love that you are so intent on doing that. You’re amazing.

  • thanks for the list of blogs! I need to check out the ones I haven’t seen before!
    I blog a bit about things related to being a fat woman, and in particular a queer fat woman with (invisible) disabilities (chronic illnesses). Most of my blog is related to fitness and HAES topics, sparked mainly by my experiences and frustrations in fitness spaces with fat hatred.
    I also write strictly from my own experiences- fat but low end of plus sizing, queer, disabled (but invisible disabilities), white… whatever other boxes I fall into.
    But I have some posts about being fat and queer and especially a fat, queer, femme woman (femme being relevant because it seems like fat queer women are typically associated with being butch and femme is associated with being thin.)

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