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Cut the Snarky Fashion Judgement Crap

Published December 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Sigh… I am working on a rather epic piece about awesome women with tattoos and candy hair, which I was going to post for you today, but something else has caught my attention and really got my dander up, so I need to talk about that first.

This article went around my tweet stream this morning when I first woke up.  It’s title is “Leggings Are Not Pants and Other Values for Your Kids” – and that’s like waving a red flag at a bull to me.

Ok, yep, there are some great values in the piece to pass on to your kids, on the issues of same sex marriage (even if it is called “gay marriage” in this piece, which is problematic in itself), refugees, drink driving, environmental issues and sun smarts.  Sure, those are fantastic things to teach your kids.  But claiming you’re a feminist and sitting your 5 year old down for “the talk” about how leggings are not pants?

For fuck’s sake, are we still doing this?

Look, I know, I should have learned by now not to expect better from Mia Freedman, but I keep hoping that she’s listening, that people around her are helping her open her mind.  I know it’s supposed to be a joke, ha ha, leggings are not pants is as important as the other issues, how funny.

Only it’s not funny.  It’s body policing.  It’s classist, ableist, judgemental bullshit wrapped up in a fluff piece for a highly visible online women’s magazine.

I’ve talked before about how what other people wear is nobody’s business but their own.  Yeah I know, sometimes we have to work around that a bit, when it’s in the workplace, someone else’s home or event, or for safety reasons.  That’s part of negotiating being a decent human being.  But when it comes to getting all snarky about what other random people are wearing as they go about their lives, it’s none of our damn business.

So what if someone is wearing pajama pants at the grocery store, or has leggings on with a short top, or wears thongs to the office.  That’s their choice and their business.  How does it affect us as people around them?  If it offends ones eyes, don’t look.  Look at someone else.  Nobody says you have to wear the same things as them, and do you know what?  They’re not wearing those pj’s or leggings for YOU.  They’re wearing them because they want to or need to.

However, that’s not the really offensive part.

What is ignored that people wear leggings (or a lot of other things really) for a whole lot more reasons than how they look.  Let’s think about it.

Classism:

Leggings are cheap.  You can pick them up from Best & Less for $10, less if they’re on sale.  If you have a very limited clothing budget, then leggings are going to be good value for money.

Leggings are often seen as “tarty” or “cheap”.  This is about slut shaming, policing women’s sexuality and how they clothe their own bodies.

Sizeism:

Leggings are one of the few items of clothing that can ALWAYS be found to fit all sized bodies.  If you have a limited range of clothing options because of your size, leggings may be the only option you have.

Leggings are stretchy and have lots of give to fit any body shape.  Short or long legs, high or low waisted, thick or thin legs, no matter what the shape or size of your legs, thighs, knees, feet, ankles etc – most people can get leggings to fit them.

Leggings are far more accommodating to weight changes.  Leggings are forgiving when someone has lost or gained weight and can be worn easier if they’re not quite the correct size.

Ableism:

Leggings are soft, stretchy fabric.  They’re gentle against skin (particularly if it is tender or sore) and generally breathe pretty well.

Leggings have no buttons, zippers, hooks, clasps, ties or any other fiddly bits.  They can be pulled on by someone with reduced mobility, arthritis, reduced motor skills or low energy, and don’t have to be fastened or adjusted once on.  Pull ’em up, pull ’em down.

Leggings also allow other people to dress someone with relative ease.  If someone needs assistance dressing, leggings can be a good no-fuss option.

Leggings are flexible to bodies.  If someone is in a wheelchair, on crutches or a scooter, or has a body shape outside the norm, or perhaps wears incontinence pants or other medical aids, leggings may fit those things better than pants made of heavier, more structured fabrics and designs.

~~@~~

These are just a few reasons that we cannot just put down blanket rules on other people’s clothing choices without thinking about the implications of this kind of judgement. When we see someone in our day who is wearing something that we don’t approve of, we have no idea why they are wearing them, and it’s not any of our business anyway.  And to call oneself a feminist while engaging in this kind of judgemental wardrobe snark is just bullshit.

Look, I will admit, there was a time that I used to buy into this sort of stuff too.  Mostly because I hated my own body and it was a twisted form of self policing, but we’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time and I get it now.  Ages ago I was challenged by some awesome people about my thinking about the whole leggings as pants (and a lot of other things about judging the clothes other people wear) and I came to realise that it was so pointless and kind of douchey of me to be doing it.  Not only did I cut the people around me some slack about what they wear, but I became a whole lot more adventurous and bold in what I wear.

So now I am a proud leggings as pants wearing radical fat feminist.

Leggings as Pants Ahoy!

Defining My Identity

Published October 21, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m a little high on adrenaline tonight.  I’ve had some more work done on my left half sleeve tattoo today, which always gives me an adrenaline rush afterwards, but it was just an intense day all up.  I have mentioned before that I am working on a project with Dr Lauren Gurrieri of Griffith University, which I cannot share much about yet (I promise I will as soon as I can) other than it involves my being photographed around the subject of my identity.  Of course, a major part of my identity is my tattooed body, so it was obvious that was one of the events we needed to document.  I’m really pleased and honoured that my fabulous tattoo artist, Victoria R Lundberg of Wild at Heart Tattoo was willing to be photographed (and filmed) during my appointment.  She’s a good sport and a talented artist, is Victoria.

Anyway, my eventful day really started when I was sitting waiting for the bus to head into town to meet Lauren and documentary photographer Isaac Brown and head to my tattoo appointment.  I was sitting at the bus stop in the shade, minding my own business, reading twitter on my phone when a white tradie van pulled up on the opposite side of the street, and the guy driving lifted his iPhone, took a photo of me and then drove off.  I know, I know, I should have said something or flipped him the bird, or took his photo… but when shit like that happens you’re just so stunned that you can do more than give them an indignant look.

It just goes to demonstrate just how much surveillance we fat women (and it is a mixture of fatness and womanhood that draws the surveillance) are subjected to in our culture.  It is both surveillance and the policing of our bodies.  If a fat woman is too visible, doesn’t hide herself away in shame, dress in black and minimise herself, she is scrutinised, photographed, judged and harassed for it.  But fuck hiding away.  Fuck letting other people police what I wear, how I do my hair, what I look like in public.  I think I look pretty fucking awesome:

Anyway, it got better when I was in town, I was walking through the Myer Centre when a young woman reached out and touched my elbow and exclaimed “Cool hair!”  I find that people who are complimenting me or being cool are happy to do so to my face, not by sneaking photos or whispering about me.

So it was particularly apt that today was the day I was a) adding to my half sleeve tattoo, which is a celebration of my identity and b) being photographed for Lauren’s project.

I have to say, it was pretty daunting.  I’m not used to just relaxing and letting someone photograph me as I go about my business.  I’m so used to having my appearance judged, and of that old mode of scrutinising every photograph of myself because of self consciousness.  I only saw two of the hundreds of photographs taken today, one each from Lauren and Isaac, so I have no idea how any of them look.  To be honest, that does make me feel nervous.  It’s all a learning and growing process – after all, it wasn’t that many years ago that I never let anyone photograph me EVER.  That vulnerability is very hard to let go of.  But I’m determined to let go of those old feelings of self consciousness because I want there to be a photographic record of my life.  I regret those years I didn’t allow people to photograph me.

As well as feeling vulnerable, it was an incredibly empowering experience for me.  I trust Lauren and Isaac to give me the space I need to feel comfortable with the process, and enough say in the process that if I’m not feeling comfortable or happy, I can say so and they will respect that.  Besides, from what I’ve seen of Isaac’s work, he’s a talented photographer and who wouldn’t love to work with someone with that much talent?

This whole process has been quite cathartic to me, it’s had me thinking about how I identify myself, and how through things like my bright clothing, bold hair and tattoos, I reclaim my right to determine my own identity.  Because that’s the thing about identity, it’s our own to determine.  I read this wonderful quote from Chris Graham in relation to right wing… media personality (I cannot call him a journalist) Andrew Bolt’s policing of Aboriginal identity, that I think is an excellent universal statement about identity:

No-one, no matter how hard they might stamp their feet, gets to tell you how you should identify.

Just to give you a teaser, here are a few photos that Lauren took on my little compact camera.

Victoria getting into the detail.

It doesn’t hurt that bad, really! (Lauren has a photo of me wincing in pain, so that’s not entirely true!)

Here you go.  The work after today’s session.

Victoria made the outlines bolder, touched up some of the colour in spots that were patchy, coloured the moon and the owl’s belly/eyes and added the words on the spines of the books.  All in all I’m very pleased with the progress.

Everything about today was about identity for me.  From choosing what to wear (which today, was 100% for myself, unlike on days I work or go to events for other people), being photographed without my consent, having a stranger compliment my hair, being tattooed, and indeed the subjects of my tattoos, and being photographed in the process.

I wish for all of you to be given the space and the opportunity to be able to define and own your identity.  It feels powerful and cleansing, particularly after having it denied of me for most of my life.

Fatshion: Posing a Threat

Published August 22, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Clothing is one of the most visible ways we get to express ourselves.  Through the things we wear, and how we wear them, we tell the world something about ourselves.  Everything from our beliefs and personal standards, our taste in music, film and television, our sense of humour, our favourite colours, how confident we are (or aren’t) with our bodies, what kind of work we do, how we spend our leisure time, and indeed our personalities can be shown through the way we present ourselves with clothing.

For fat people, taking pride in dressing, developing style and dabbling in fashion are all radical acts.  We are constantly told we’re not allowed to enjoy dressing, fashion, style, shopping and expressing ourselves.  By being visible, we’re giving ourselves a presence and a voice in the world.  This is why fat people are regularly ridiculed for the way we dress, because we pose a threat to the status quo.

Which makes me think of this  hilarious video from Flight of the Conchords:

For fat people, our clothing options are severely limited.  We don’t have the vast choices that are available in straight sizes, nor do we have as many affordable options.  Thanks to the availability of online shopping and a lot of campaigning on behalf of fatshionistas in the US, UK and Australia (and many other places too), those options are starting to open up a little more, but they are nowhere near the level that are around for straight sizes.  You only have to look in department stores and compare the floor space given to straight sizes as opposed to those given to plus-sizes to see evidence of that.

Not to mention that fat people are expected to “flatter” their bodies in the way they dress.  These limits are placed upon us by people who are offended by seeing fat bodies, so we’re expected to minimise, disguise and cover our bodies with dark, shapeless clothing.  Baring skin, wearing bold or busy prints or bright or light colours and choosing form-fitting or “body-con” clothing is seen as “innapropriate” on a fat person when it’s found perfectly acceptable on a not-fat person.  Even our own clothing brands and providers constantly sell us ways to “flatter your figure” or “dress for your body type” – which I feel is shaming their own customers.  When are plus-size clothing companies going to realise that WE are their customers and WE don’t need to be shamed by them to buy their products?

So, how do we get around these factors to be able to dress ourselves in the way we want and need to?

The first way I think is to let go of what other people think of the way we look.  We are under no obligation to make our appearance pleasing to others.  Besides, we all know, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Instead, we need to be focusing on making ourselves happy and wearing the things that make us feel good.  If you are happiest in the kind of clothes you can just throw on and ignore for the rest of the day, then go for it.  If you prefer to dress in high fashion style, then go for it, no matter what anyone says you should or shouldn’t be wearing.  I’m personally somewhere in between – I don’t feel the need to be a slave to fashion, but I love developing my own personal style and love taking time to dress and present myself to the world.  I like being able to express myself through my clothing.

Because we have so few options, the next thing I think we get really good at doing is “making it work”.  I know myself, I love clothes that have colour and vibrancy, but so much of plus-sized clothing is black and plain.  I’ve had to build a collection of colour and work out ways to accessorise to bring colour and vibrancy into my wardrobe.  And you know what they say, nobody accessorises like a fat gal!

Part of making things work is being able to doctor your wardrobe as well.  Adding embellishments, shaping things to fit your body, letting them out, a little tweak here, and a little tweak there.

But finally, the most important thing is to work on loving your body.  When you start to love your body, you begin to look at dressing differently.  You don’t see that red stop sign of “shouldn’t” when you go shopping and look at garments.  When you start to be unapologetic about your body, the range of clothing you can wear greatly expands.  You give up the whole list of “I can’t…” clothes.  No more “I can’t wear sleeveless.” or “I can’t wear skirts/dresses.” or “I can’t wear form fitted clothing.” and that opens up your options so much wider than when you had those restrictions.  Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight.  Maybe you start with a dress when you’ve always worn pants.  Or you whip that shrug or cardie off when you get too warm.  But slowly, when you immerse yourself in body positivity and work on learning to love your body, you find yourself taking more and more risks… and things that seemed risky once, no longer seem so.

I think I will hand over to the amazing Virgie Tovar, with her video on how to FatDazzle your wardrobe:

So, tell me how you work your own personal style?  What kind of clothes and accessories do you love?  How do you “make things work”?  And what about your changing view of your body – have you seen your clothing style change with it?  And how?  Let’s have a discussion!

Your Body is not Voldemort

Published July 28, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

One of the lovely, but slightly scary, things about blogging and having your blog audience grow to a fair size is that people start asking your advice about all kinds of things.  It’s lovely and awesome, to be seen as some kind of fairy fat-mother, but in the same time, it’s kind of scary.  I mean, I’m not an expert on anything by any stretch of the imagination, and in my day job, I’m an IT librarian.  I want to get things right for you guys when you ask my advice, I want to help.  But I am a human being and I can only give my own thoughts/opinions and hopefully that helps.

I get a lot of questions from people who hate their bodies.  Or they hate something about their body or appearance.  I get a lot of questions about people (usually young cis-women) who are ashamed of something about their bodies/appearance, and don’t know how to change that.  Or want to know how to hide the thing they’re ashamed of, or who to talk to about that shame.  Sometimes it’s about being too embarrassed or ashamed to go to the doctor to talk about something that worries them.

Mostly, it’s a whole lot of shame and fear about their appearance.

Every time I get a question like this, there are two things I want to do.  Firstly, I want to hug that person and tell them that they’re perfectly ok as they are.  But I also want to give them something to set them free of that shame and fear.  I don’t quite know what that is yet though!

One thing I do know, is that fear and shame often make the issue seem a whole lot bigger than it is.  That’s the nature of fear and shame – it festers away in our heads growing bigger and bigger and bigger by feeding off itself and each other.  Think about when you were a kid, and someone told you a scary story, or you watched a scary movie.  It was terrifying, wasn’t it?  But then when you go back and watch it as an adult, often it looks silly and cheesy, rather than scary.

Fear makes the wolf look bigger.

Source unknown*

Well it’s the same with our bodies and our appearance.  That scar we obsess over, those stretchmarks, the wobbly arms we hide away, the round bellies, the hairy legs… whatever it is we attach shame and fear to.  We stare at them in the mirror, or poke and prod at them as we get dressed or bathe… and we look at them in every minute detail.  You’ll never know a body as intimately as you know your own.  We practically go over ourselves with a magnifying glass, looking so closely at our supposed flaws that we are afraid other people will see, that we usually fear those flaws far bigger, far uglier and far more dramatic than they actually are.

Sometimes douchey people pick up on those things, and they use our fears and shame against us.  They are perceptive of our vulnerabilities, so they will hone in on that and ridicule or point out those things because they know they can hurt us with  it.  Thus the person who has that ridiculous habit of bellowing “You’re so fat!” or something else about our appearance, or in my case, posting troll comments about how I’m fat, hairy or ugly.

I do understand those fears and the shame though.  I lived with them my whole life until just a few years ago.  I’m fat and hairy.  I’m kind of a tall hobbit really.  I tried EVERYTHING to hide my fat, hairy self.  I avoided those topics in conversation.  I wore clothes that I thought disguised me.  And worst of all, for many years I let so many people hurt me so deeply by pointing out how fat and hairy I am.  Sometimes the barbs still sting for a second, but not like they used to, and it’s rare that it does actually sting any more.  Because it’s a pretty sad person that has to highlight other people’s supposed faults or belittle someone because of their appearance to make themselves feel better.  Seriously… it’s a bit hard to give them any power to hurt you when you stop and think just how pathetic that is!

What we do, is turn our flaws into Voldemort.  Yes, I am a Potterfile, stick with me here.  Through most of the Harry Potter series, everyone is SO afraid to even think about “The Dark Lord”, they can’t even name him.  He is You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  Even the name Lord Voldemort isn’t really his name, it’s the name he’s given himself to appear even more frightening, because he knows that not speaking the real name of something you fear, keeps the fear growing.

J.K. Rowling actually said it in the first Harry Potter book:

Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997.

We do that.  We speak of fatness in hushed tones.  We don’t mention being hairy, or having acne, or stretchmarks, or skin problems, for fear of uttering those names will conjure them up in front of us, or put a huge neon sign over those “flaws” we have.

When really, most of the time these things aren’t Lord Voldemort, they’re just boring old Tom Riddle, and can be defeated, or at least reduced to something so much easier to deal with, simply by not fearing them any more.

Letting go of that fear and shame is not easy.  But that’s the hardest bit – letting go.  Taking that first step.  Opening the door.  Once you take that step, and set off, it really does get a whole lot easier.  That doesn’t mean you never stumble, or you never have the overwhelming urge to run back in and slam the door shut behind you.  That still happens.  But I think once you’ve taken that first big step, you can often recognise the fear and shame for what it is.  You’ve given it it’s real name, rather than hiding away and never mentioning it.

So… how do you feel about fear and shame in the context of your body and/or appearance?  Is there something you think you could let go of to make the wolf look smaller?  To lessen the grip that fear and shame have on you?

Or have you been able to give something it’s real name and chase that fear and shame away?

*I’m unable to find a source/credit for this awesome grafitti/photo – if you can provide one please let me know and I’ll update with full credit.

On Flattering and Fat

Published July 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It seems I have a rather large influx of new people viewing Fat Heffalump again all of a sudden.  Welcome!  Anyone want to tell me where you’re all being referred from?

Firstly, a little bit of housekeeping, just for the new folks (long termers, bear with me for a minute loves!)

There are rules for commenting on this blog – they can be found here.  This blog is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship, and I am the (sometimes) benevolent dictator.  It’s my blog, so I make the rules and do whatever I like with it.  That’s the thing with blogging – your blog is your space and you get to do with it as you wish, and you set the boundaries.  If you want things to be different then they are here, I’m always open to suggestion, but when I put the foot down and say no, then the answer is no.

The other important thing to know about this blog is that it is about being fat.  Fat is not an insult in this space, it is a description.  It’s not self-denigrating of me to call myself fat.  I am a size 26 and somewhere around the 300lb mark (not sure where, I don’t weigh) and have a big belly, big boobs, multiple chins, thick thighs, big hips, wobbly arms… I am FAT.  I’m not chunky, fluffy, curvy, voluptuous, zaftig, big, large, plus-sized, chubby, hefty or any other euphemism that implies that fat is a dirty word.  I am FAT.  And I’m proud of who I am.

Here we refer to ourselves as fat without shame, without apology and without fear.  Fat is where it’s at baby!

Fat Positive Manatee (Click on the image for the Tumblr)

But now we’ve got that out of the way, mostly we’re here to talk about being fat and all the issues that go around it.

Which leads me on to the topic that I want to talk about again today, and that’s the topic of “flattering” and in particular, commenting on other people’s clothing/appearance.

There is a thing I notice a lot on blogs, and even more so on comment threads on plus-size clothing sites (this includes Facebook sites for brands), and that is body shaming by using the term “flattering”.  Whether the commenter is shaming their own body, by saying things like “I can’t wear that top, it doesn’t flatter my arms/belly/insert other feature here.” or worse, when they’re shaming other people’s bodies, either directly “Can’t you find something that is more flattering to your shape?” or indirectly “Don’t you know fat women shouldn’t wear bold prints, they don’t flatter!” – it’s all still body shaming.

I have a very strict rule here on Fat Heffalump that I won’t stand for body shaming – not even when someone says they “Don’t intend it that way.”  Intent is not quite enough to excuse the behaviour – when someone says not to do something in their space (as Fat Heffalump is my space), then don’t do it.  Don’t say that you didn’t intend it a certain way, or that you were only trying to make a suggestion.  Either apologise, or just walk away.  It’s not your territory, so you don’t get to make the rules.

That’s really bolshy of me, I know.  But I’m a bolshy woman, and this is my space.  It doesn’t mean you can’t call me out if I’ve said something problematic, but when it comes to the rules I’ve set about body shaming and appearance based judgment, I’m just not negotiable.  I want every one of you to be able to come here knowing that you will not be shamed for your bodies, no matter what shape, size, colour, physical ability or appearance you might have.

But back to the topic of flattering.  I vehemently reject the concept of dressing to “flatter” myself and I believe nobody has the right to suggest/demand that people change how they dress to “flatter” their bodies.  That doesn’t mean you can’t choose to highlight certain features yourself – because it’s your body and you know how you like to look.  It’s when other people come along and say “That’s not very flattering” – it’s the height of rudeness and a prime example of being judgmental about other people’s appearances.  Not even should they sell it as “suggesting you highlight your good points” – because by default, it’s also suggesting you should “lowlight” other parts of yourself because they are less/not acceptable.

I get very angry at those who crop up on plus-size clothing blogs and company pages etc and start talking about how “larger/big” women should dress.  We should all dress in a way that makes us happy ourselves.  It’s different for you than it is for me, than it is for the next person, but to cast our standards onto other people is simply rude.  However time and time again, I see people rudely leaving comments that say “Big women shouldn’t go sleeveless!”  or “Larger ladies need dark clothes, not bright colours!”  It’s just unbelievably rude to cast your own body hang-ups and judgement on other people.

That doesn’t mean you have to wear sleeveless tops and hot pink yourself.  Or even LIKE those things.  What it means is that instead of announcing what other people “should” do, you say “I’m not comfortable wearing sleeveless tops.” or perhaps “Bright colours aren’t really my thing.”  Then the statement is about you, not other people’s bodies/appearance.

Even saying that something is “flattering” on someone else is body shaming.  It implies that the outfit they are wearing that shows their shape a certain way, or changes their shape is better than something that shows them as they are.

Just don’t use the word flattering.  Instead, compliment someone straight up.  A simple “I like your outfit.” is far less loaded with body judgement than “That outfit really flatters you.”  If you don’t like a garment because you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it then say so.  Don’t ascribe shame to it by implying that other people shouldn’t wear it because you don’t.

There is enough body shame in the world today.  We get bombarded with it in magazines, newspapers, television, movies, fashion, advertising and a whole lot of other blogs.  Don’t contribute to it yourself, make a small change to your thinking and your language, and you contribute to making a big change to the world.

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.

Stop that Shit

Published April 30, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

When I think back, I’m embarrassed at how I used to behave and think. I used to do it all the time, without giving it a second thought. I assumed that “Everyone does it, it’s fine.” I never did it publicly, or to anyone’s face, as if that made it excusable, ok. If I ever did it out loud, it was only to trusted friends, the people who also thought it was ok.

But it’s not ok.

What am I talking about? What was the shameful behaviour that I used to engage in? It’s judging other people by their appearance, be it the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, or the shape of their bodies.

We have ALL done it.  A lot of us still think it’s ok to do it, so long as you don’t do it to someone’s face, so long as they don’t know.

But it’s not ok.  Ever.

Take this quote from Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Screw Inner Beauty*:

“At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably walked into a party and felt a frisson of relief upon discovering at least one woman there who was fatter, uglier, and/or dressed more inappropriately than you. We sure have. But if you want to have any hope of making peace with your own body, you need to knock that shit off.”

You’ve totally done that, haven’t you?  I know I have.

And here’s the real kicker, I still do.  There are still times I catch myself doing it.  But knowing it’s not ok has me doing something else.  Thanks to people like Kate and Marianne, and others who’ve shown me just how fucked up it is, not just because it’s nasty, but because it does me damage in the long run too, something else happens now when my mind goes to those thoughts.  A second thought tacks right on to that judgmental one, and it’s “Stop that shit.”  It’s becoming automatic now, the minute the synapses trigger in my brain that give me that kind of judgey thought, the next ones are “Stop that shit.”

Why?  Because I know it’s bullshit.  I know that every single person in this world should have the right to look, dress, and appear however suits them.  I also know that I have absolutely no right at all to judge another human being on their appearance.  And finally, I know that it only poisons me in the long run anyway.  More from Kate and Marianne:

“We’re not even telling you to stop just because it’s nasty, petty, and beneath you to judge other women so harshly; it is, but because you’re not a saint, and neither are we. We’re telling you to stop because it’s actually in your own self-interest to stop being such a bitch. ‘Cause you know what happens when you quit saying that crap about other women? You magically stop saying it about yourself so much, too.

Judging other women negatively creates a constant stream of nasty thoughts in your head. It is inevitable that you will end up applying those same standards to yourself. We think we’re building ourselves up when we do this but, really, we’re just tearing other people down to our level. And we hate to go all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on you, but tearing other people down isn’t really productive. It leaves you in the same place you started, which is full of loathing for your own body.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But most of all, I know I hate it when people do it to me.  When people judge me on the size/shape of my body, the choice of clothes I make, the colour/style of my hair, whatever, it really hurts.  So why the hell would it be ok for me to do it to someone else?

I still see it though, and done overtly too.  From people who consider themselves liberal, progressive, campaigners for social justice.  People who call themselves feminist.  Others who will fight against body politics in one arena, but then snark about someone’s hair, or clothing style soon after.  I even saw someone who calls themselves feminist post a photo they’d taken of a couple of strangers in a car park simply to snark at how those people looked.  And don’t get me started on the appearance-based snark that went on with the UK Royal wedding last night.  How can that be considered ok?

It doesn’t matter how weird, ugly, dorky, strange or just plain “gross” someone looks to you.  So what if someone dresses strange, or doesn’t hide their body as society rules they should, or even how you think they should.  So what if someone is “weird” or “dorky”.  So what if someone’s appearance or hair is outdated, unfashionable.    How are they hurting you or anyone else in any way, just for looking the way they do?

Nobody has the right to judge another on their appearance.  Assess people based on their behaviour, their attitudes, but appearance is arbitrary and gives no indication of the person behind it.  And ask yourself, how do you feel when someone judges you on your appearance?  When someone deems you “gross” because you’re fat. When someone suggests you’re low class because you don’t have the same fashionable clothes as they think you should.  When you’re judged on your appearance simply because you’re a woman, when a man doesn’t have to meet the same standards.  How does that make you feel?

If you’re going to fight for the right of people to be treated with respect and dignity in one arena, then you have to accept that you have to treat all human beings with respect and dignity in all other arenas, regardless of their appearance.

*Australian title.  International title is “Lessons from the Fatosphere“.