assumptions

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Busting Myths About Fat Bodies

Published September 17, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been thinking a lot about the assumptions people make about living in a fat body.  It’s important to say living IN a fat body and not living WITH a fat body, because we don’t cohabit with our fat bodies, we inhabit them.  These thoughts have been spurred on by repeated statements I’ve read from people decrying how we must be so miserable, uncomfortable and in pain simply because we have fat bodies, that we are so unhealthy simply by having fat bodies, that our quality of life must be just terrible.

I want to break some of those erroneous assumptions about living in a fat body down.  I want to talk about how it feels to live in a fat body.  Of course, there will always be a certain subset of the population who will tell us that we are in denial, that we are lying or that we have no idea what it feels like to live in our own bodies.  They’re dickheads, and I don’t care what they think.  But I want to talk to you, fellow fats, about thinking about how you feel in your fat body,

Now I can only talk about how it feels in MY fat body, because this is the only body I have lived in.  How I feel in my fat body is influenced by my being a woman, by my whiteness, my cis-genderedness, my able-bodiedness, my heterosexualness and so on.  I don’t speak for anyone else’s body, but if I talk about how I feel in mine, I’m sure it will ring true for many other fatties and then you are all welcome to share your own perspectives in the comments (remembering the golden rules of this blog – no promoting weight loss, no general negativities about fat bodies and check your privilege).

So, what are a few of the commonly held assumptions about living in a fat body?  I’ll come up with the ones I can think of, and you’re welcome to add more in the comments for me to touch on in another post.  So here we go:

  1. In every fat body, there is a thin person trying to get out.

    No, no there’s not.  In every fat body there is a human being trying to live their life in dignity and peace, with general respect as a human being.  Many fat people will confuse this with a thin person, because thin people are usually awarded the privilege to live their life in dignity and peace, with general respect as a human being.  So they try to become thin to get that respect, dignity and peace, rather than demanding something that is already theirs as a human right.  Mostly because we’re led to believe that thinness is something that can be achieved, that it’s something within our control.  Attempting to become thin won’t solve the problem of fat stigma, but ending fat stigma certainly will.

  2. Having a fat body is like carrying around a 2o/50/100/whatever lb/kg sack of potatoes/dirt/lard whatever.

    Wait, the average adult skeletal structure weighs about 20lbs right?  So is having a skeleton like carrying around a 2olb weight?  No it’s not.  Fat bodies are not attached to us, like some kind of extra luggage – they ARE us.  Our whole bodies hold ourselves up – bones, muscle, organs, skin, fat, everything – it’s all part of a complex machine that propels us around our lives.  If you hand me 50lbs, I’m going to feel it’s weight, because it is not part of me.  But 50lbs of my own body weight (or whatever number you choose) is part of me, and it has it’s own function in my body.  The only time I’ve felt like I’m carrying a burden is when I believed I was worthless because I was fat.  That wasn’t the physical weight of my body, it was the weight of stigma.

  3. Fat bodies feel sloppy and gross.

    My fat body is soft and warm, thick and both firm and pliant.  There is a full firmness to my body, but at the same time, it gives and moves as I move and people or objects move against me.  To hug my body is to receive a hug of substance, or as a friend of mine’s toddler calls it, snugglehugs.  My ex used to refer to cuddling me as being “bosomy”.   My body is pleasant and anything but “gross”.

  4. Fat bodies are “weighed down” by gravity and it makes them unable to move properly.

    If this were true, none of us would be able to stand upright or move.  If there was some kind of pound by pound ratio to how gravity pulls a creature down… how do you explain elephants being able to walk and run?  Or something heavy but thin, like… a giraffe!  Giraffes weigh over 3000lbs.   Maybe it IS true and fat people have super-human strength.  I can jump, ride a bike, climb a ladder… I must be Super Fatty.

  5. Fat bodies are always in pain from carrying around extra weight.

    No.  I am very fat and I feel no pain except when I do something stupid, like lifting stuff at work with my back and not my legs, or kicking at a ball of paper and missing, giving myself that awful over-extended kneecap pain thing. (Yeah I know, I’ll cop to being fairly unco-ordinated!)  I don’t suffer back pain, but I have a friend who is half my weight and he has suffered back pain since his mid-20’s.  Fat people who are in pain usually suffer pain because they have an illness or an injury, just like thin people who suffer pain.  Nobody bats an eye at some thin guy with a bad back, he’s just unfortunate, but if a fatty complains of any type of ache, oh it’s because you’re a big fat lardy arse.  All of us will suffer illness or injury at some point in our lives, it’s part of living, and part of getting older.  People of all sizes deal with back pain, sore hips, knees and ankles.  (Another friend of mine is TINY and has the dodgiest hips I’ve ever encountered – she’s always sore.)  As I get older, I am less flexible and take a bit longer to heal an injury than I did in my youth, but who doesn’t?

  6. Fat people just sit around eating all the time.

    God I wish!  I’d love to be able to stop still a bit more.  But between work, socialising, my activism, and generally just living my life, I’m on the go most of the time.  I’d love more time to sit and read, or catch up on the growing mountain of DVD’s beside my computer, or just snooze on my balcony.  I have lived in my new home for over 4 months and I’m yet to have spent time sitting on my balcony reading, something I LONG to do.  Most fatties I know (and I know a lot of fatties these days) are equally busy.  After all, try organising a get together for fatties – I can never get us all in the one place at the same time.  As for the eating all the time – it has been proven that fat people eat no more than thin people.  We are not just stomachs with mouths – despite the mass media portraying us that way.

  7. Fat must be burnt off the body.

    This one bothers me the most.  My fat flesh is not something to be burned or cut off of my body, as though it is a parasite or an infection.  It IS my body.  It is part of who I am.  It is as much part of me as my brain, my heart, my bones, my eyes.  It is not excess.  There is exactly as much of me as there needs to be.

These are just a few of the assumptions about fat people that I’ve been thinking about lately.  So what myth about fatness bothers you?  What myth are you carrying around that you could let go of?

Be Your Own Expert

Published June 1, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

You know what really shits me?

Every time I see an “opinion” piece on “obesity”, weight discrimination and stigma, weight and health or any other subject relating to fatness, it is almost always authored by someone who is not fat.  And more alarmingly, quite often authored by someone who has no expertise or experience in the fields of fat, health or stigma/discrimination.

Many of you will remember the piece written by Phil the Marketing Dude on The Hoopla a few months ago – an article published on a mainstream online magazine giving an opinion on weight and fat stigma by someone who works in marketing.  Someone who has no connection to fat studies or health studies or medicine and isn’t even fat himself, published as though he has the right to broadcast his opinion on a subject that he has absolutely no connection to.

I saw another one this week in The Conversation – another online journal, this one touting themselves as having “Academic rigour, journalistic flair” by a lecturer in politics of all things (no, I’m not going to link it, it’s the biggest pile of steaming crap I’ve ever read – plus it’s accompanied by a hateful photograph, ) giving his opinion about discrimination against fat people.  Of course, he starts by saying that he doesn’t believe that fat people should be stigmatised, and then goes on to do just that and to encourage other people to do it as well.

Over and over again, people who have absolutely no connection to weight or health get to spew their opinions in highly public forums, without regard to how their words affect the real lives of fat people.  It seems the only thing that makes one an authority on fatness in many publications is to be not-fat, and be vocal about it.  Or sometimes they will publish someone who was “successful” in weight loss, without examining just how long that “success” has been achieved (usually less than 2 years) or how that person’s life/resources or body may be at an advantage to those of long term fat people.

Even if it’s a positive bent to fatness – many publications will publish the opinions of thin people far before they will actually talk to fat people about their experiences, their history and their realities.  Not-fat authors are also more likely to be given a sympathetic/empathetic ear over those of us who are actually fat.  More often than not, fat people who speak up about stigmatisation and discrimination are accused of being angry, aggressive or too demanding.  As though if we just were “nice enough” we’d deserve to be treated like human beings.

This is why when mainstream media approach me for my input, I jump at the chance, even though I know the piece won’t be perfectly fat-positive, and is likely to contain the opinions of aforementioned “experts”.  Because so rarely do actual fat people, who live in fat bodies and face the realities of being fat in a society that openly loathes fatness actually get to be seen or heard.   Not to mention that when we are seen, we are portrayed as sad, lonely, depressed, dirty, lazy, gluttonous, smelly etc – almost always objects of ridicule.  For someone to open a magazine and click on a link and see a fat person who is happy and confident, and who is articulating the realities that fat people experience – it is a radical discovery.  I remember that it wasn’t too many years ago that I myself was completely blown away by a photograph of Kelli Jean Drinkwater being fat, powerful and confident.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was discovering writers like Lesley Kinzel, Bri King, Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby.

I think we need to call out publications that use people who have no connection or expertise to fatness for opinion pieces on fat.  We need to contact their editors, leave comments and ask questions as to why they’re publishing pieces by people who have no qualification to speak on the subject.  We need to keep telling our own stories and sharing our own experiences.  It’s bloody hard work – as well as having to find the time to do it, one has to have the sanity points to deal with those who think they know your body, your life better than you do, and those who believe that simply by measure of your body, they have the right to treat you as less than human.

That said, I don’t believe it has to be as political or even as wordy as the method I choose, which I think a lot of people assume that fat activism must be.  Being a fat person who lives their lives to the full is a radical, radical act in a culture that so openly loathes us.  Being a visible fat person – be it through fat fashion, art, prose and poetry, hobbies and sport, or generally just getting out there and enjoying life – your job, your family, your friends, etc.  If you can be a proud fat person living your life and sharing it online or anywhere else, without ever mentioning the more political side of fat activism.  When someone who has long believed that they are worthless because they have a fat body sees a picture of a fab fatty in a cute outfit, or a proud fatty talking about the job she loves, or her family, or a fatty having fun at the pool, in a dance class, at the park with her kids… their world is opened up to a whole new possibility.  It shows a completely different paradigm to the mainstream presentation of life as a fat person.

You are the expert on your life.  WE are the experts on life as fat people.

So get out there I say.  Live your life.  Have fun.  Love those in your life who are special to you.  Dress in ways that make you feel good.  Document your life – blog about your passions/share your photos/make videos/be artistic.

But most of all, in whatever way you can, tell your story.  YOU tell it – don’t let a fat loathing society tell it for you.

We Don’t Imagine It, We See It

Published March 26, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

I noticed the old woman at the table beside me first. Watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth with a look of disgust on her face.

Then I notice the two guys in high vis vests, their hard hats on seats beside them, nudge each other and look my way.

So I sit back and start to observe people around me.

I’m sitting in the food court of a large suburban shopping centre, somewhere I rarely visit, on my lunch break from work. We’re working on a big new project due to open this week, which is a high pressure, messy environment, that I thought I’d take some time away from over my lunch break.

As I look around me, I would estimate that at least 90%, possibly more of the people here are not fat. There are a handful of we fatties, dotted around the place.

At the nearby McDonalds, there are about 20 people lined up. Only one of them is a fat person. Not an eyelash is batted at the not-fat people lined up, ordering their burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and shakes. However the fat man is attracting sneers and giggles, all eyes glance over him and none of them bother to hide their disgust, disdain or their ridicule. Even the people ordering burgers and shakes themselves are staring and sneering at the man, lined up at the very same fast food restaurant as they are.

This scrutiny and public judgement is nothing unusual for those of who live in fat bodies. Most of us are used to it, many of us ignore it, simply because it is nothing unusual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Quite often we are told “You’re just too sensitive.” or “I think you imagine it.” On the rare occasion that someone who is not fat notices, they respond like its an anomaly, just the occasional rude jerk one encounters. Or they say “Just ignore it.” as if it is the singular occurrence of the day.

In my own case, I’m told that people sneer and stare because of my brightly coloured hair, tattoos and clothing. As if that is somehow a suitable excuse for their behaviour. But I can assure you that I got the stares and sneers back when I was a fat brown mouse, doing everything I could to be invisible to the world.

The truth is, in this “anti-obesity” culture, people are taught to sneer, stare and ridicule. They are taught that people like me are a scourge on society, that we are burden to humanity. You only need to look at the comments on my recent piece in The Hoopla (if you have the sanity points) to see someone refer to me (and people like me) as revolting, using up the public health system, slothful, idle and an overeater. Despite knowing nothing more about me than I have a fat body (though one claimed to know all about me from this blog, my twitter, though I think it’s my photos of myself as a fat woman she is judging me on) the judgement has been passed on my value as a human being.

Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgement is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say that physically, I do not feel limited or as if I need to struggle to do anything in my fat body. But the pressure of being under constant scrutiny and subjected to the assumptions and judgements of complete strangers is a burden to bear. I am quite sure however that I am not the only one who feels like this.

What really bothers me are the double standards. Thin people who eat fast food are considered “lucky” that they are “naturally thin”, yet no matter what a fat person eats, by default they must be lazy and greedy, with denial and stupidity thrown in for extra measure. Nobody ever suggests that inverse to the lucky/naturally thin that humans can be unlucky/naturally fat. Nobody demands thin people who are sedentary and/or eat fast food (or a lot of food) change their lives and “get healthy” because they are “costing us money with their unhealthy habits” – quite the opposite, they’re cheered on for their habits. Two people, both living the same lifestyle, can have vastly different life experiences if one is thin and the other is fat.

These double standards and snap judgements of people’s value based on their body size don’t help anyone. They don’t make fat people thin, they don’t encourage healthy behaviours and they certainly don’t change the number of people needing health care in our society.

All they do is allow some people to feel superior to others, which to me, is a pretty screwed up way to look at the world.

Genuine Concern vs Concern Trolling

Published January 4, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Quick housekeeping – I’ve started a Tumblr for all of the troll comments I get here on Fat Heffalump.  Behold – Trollapalooza.  Be warned though, you may find it triggering, as there is an awful lot of fat hatred, threats of violence, healthist bullshit and general nastiness that comes my way.

Now, on to today’s post!

I think it’s time to talk about concern.  I’ve noticed a phenomenon, one where people don’t seem to recognise what is legitimate concern for someone’s wellbeing, and what is concern trolling for the sake of sticking your nose up in someone’s business, or using it as an excuse to shame them or make oneself feel superior.

So let’s talk about it, and learn to recognise what is genuine concern, and what is concern trolling.

Genuine concern is ok.  In fact, it’s part of what bonds us as social beings.  When someone we care about, a family member or friend, or even a colleague, is not their usual selves, when something just doesn’t seem right, or when we actually know they are unwell, and we are worried about them, we are genuinely concerned about them.  That friend who seems to have lost their energy, the colleague who has gone from calm and productive to stressed and struggling, the family member who just isn’t their usual self.  Or someone you know who is actually suffering illness (because they’ve told you they are).  It’s perfectly acceptable to ask after their wellbeing.  Things like:

  • Are you ok?
  • You don’t seem like your usual self, is everything alright?
  • Can I help with anything?
  • If you want to talk, you know I’m available for you ok?
  • How are you coping with [insert illness or injury they have told you about here]?

Do know, that you shouldn’t do it because you’re curious, but because you genuinely want to help.  And also know, that if someone says they’re fine, the answer is not to nag them about it, but to say “Please know that I’m here to listen/help if you need it ok?”  Sure, sometimes “I’m fine.” is a way to fob you off when someone doesn’t want to bother you, or because they’re ashamed/embarrassed about needing help, but sometimes it’s also just “I’m fine.”

However, it is not ok to suggest someone has an illness, or that they might get an illness due to their behaviour or body.  It’s not ok to say to that friend eating a donut “Be careful, you’ll get diabetes.” or any other illness or injury.  Even if you know someone has an illness or injury, unless they have spoken directly about it in your presence, it’s not ok to question them on it.  For example, I can’t tell you the number of people who have actually asked me what my blood sugar readings are like since they found out I am diabetic.  NONE OF YOUR FUCKIN’ BUSINESS PAL!

Now, on to what constitutes concern trolling – a little 101 on how to prove yourself nothing but a trolling douchebag who doesn’t give a shit about anyone’s health but wants to shame people for their weight:

  • Stating that someone being fat is unhealthy – and then suggesting they kill themselves to save us all money.
  • Stating that someone being fat is unhealthy – and then bitching about how much it costs the taxpayer money.
  • Stating that someone being fat is unhealthy – and then diagnosing by looking at them (or a photograph of them) that they are going to explode from hernias, high blood pressure, heart attacks, arthritis and any other number of illnesses often correlated (but never causally linked to) fat.
  • Shaming someone for suffering any injury or illness by pointing out that they “caused” it because they are fat.
  • Stating “I’m concerned about your health!” without knowing ANYTHING about that person other than they have a fat body.
  • Attributing laziness or gluttony to someone just because they have a fat body.
  • Accusing someone of being irresponsible about their health because they have a fat body.
  • Demanding people prove their health, or give you information about their health and wellbeing.
  • Claiming people are “in denial” about their health, or their future health.
  • Insisting that you know about their health better than they do.

If you do any of the things that I’ve just listed above, you are nothing more than a bully and a troll.  There, I’m saying it out loud and clear.  I’ll say it again:

If you engage in any of the behaviours in the list above, you are a bully and a troll and you need to stop that shit right now.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I have to keep saying it over and over and over again – If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.

It’s not a difficult concept.

Next time you feel like commenting on or judging someone’s health or wellbeing, ask yourself “Is it my body?”  If the answer is no, then shut the fuck up and mind your own business.

Fatties – the next time someone tries to concern troll you, just ask them – “Is it your body?” Again, if the answer is no, tell them to shut the fuck up and mind their own business.

You don’t have to be nice, be polite, be pleasing, to anyone who concern trolls you.  You don’t have to tolerate their behaviour.  You don’t have to “respect their opinion”.  You don’t have to “not rock the boat”, or “don’t take it seriously”.  If someone is up in your business telling you what to do with your body and your health, rock the damn boat all you like, and take it as seriously as you feel you need to.  It’s YOUR body, YOUR health and YOUR life.  You get to choose what you do with it, and who you allow to have any interaction with it.

Take no fucking prisoners!

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!

Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

Published September 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Let’s get something REALLY clear.

When someone says they “respect your choices” as a fat person, but continues to publicly vilify fat people in general… they actually DO NOT respect anything about you.

I know!  It’s a bit of a bombshell, isn’t it?

But this is the same thing I come up against every time I or anyone else in the Fatosphere (or our allies) challenge someone who speaks publicly about the fat stigma they are spreading.  It almost always goes like this:

  1. Public persona is published in the media talking about how unhealthy/sedentary/uncontrollable/irresponsible/costing the taxpayer fat people are and how society needs to take control/shame/tax fat people to make them “wise up” to the ZOMGBESITY CRISIS!
  2. Fatosphere says “Other people’s bodies are none of your business, and what you are saying stigmatises fat people.”
  3. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But everyone knows fat = unhealthy!”
  4. Fatosphere says “Health is not a moral imperative, and you cannot judge someone’s health by their size.  Shaming or hating someone for their own good doesn’t help.”
  5. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!”
  6. Fatosphere says “Help them by reducing fat stigma, and allowing them to advocate for themselves.”
  7. Public persona says “But I respect your choices!  I just wanna help those who need help!”
  8. Fatosphere says “By vilifying fat people in the media, you are not helping them, you are shaming them.”
  9. Public persona says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!  I respect their choices!”

See where I’m going with this?

I’ve said before, the problem we have here is that these people are not listening to us.  Oh they might be hearing the words, but they are not actually listening to what we are saying.  They’re not hearing that their words and actions are harming people.  They’re not hearing that they are hindering us, not helping us.  Whether this is because they don’t want to hear these things, or that they just cannot fathom that there is a disconnect between what they are pushing and reality or it is because they’re too horrified at the thought that they might have to be responsible for the things they say that harm people, I don’t know.  But I do know that when we see this pattern over and over and over, it is because we are not being listened to.

It makes me think of a friend of mine who is a school teacher, and she would say to her very small students “Now, do we all have our listening ears on?”

Just this week I’ve been reading the most beautiful book, Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.  It is peppered with the most wonderful quotes about oppression, justice and personal experience.  I particularly fell in love with this quote, that just fits perfectly with the post I am writing tonight:

The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name, and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.

Is that not the most beautiful paragraph?

I am struck with the thought that despite this being the words of an African woman sold into slavery over 200 years ago, it rings true for many marginalised people even today.  How many people SAY that they consider us their equal, be we women, fat people, people of colour, people with disabilities, queer people or any other marginalised people, but  yet they do not hear what we are saying, and cannot even identify us individually?  To how many people are we still the obese, the disabled, the homosexual, the blacks, etc, rather than people, their true equals?

While I would never compare my life to that of the character of Aminata Diallo from Someone Knows My Name, I too have long loved the written word, and understand it’s power.  I too believe that while people are not listening to us now, we can write our stories, share our experiences and talk about how we are affected by the behaviour of those who see us as “other”.  The more of us who do so, who put down our stories somewhere for others to read it, those stories accumulate and grow in power.  And they will also provide a record in later times, when people start to understand the damage being done now.  That while there may be many who do not listen to us now, we are reaching those who do, and by telling our stories we reach even more, and leave a legacy to those who follow us.

After all, marginalised people have spent their whole lives listening to those who oppress them.  We’ve had no choice but to do so.

Shame from Within

Published September 14, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I need me a good vent!  And you, dear Heffalumpies, you’re gonna hear it.

There’s something that really pisses me off.  It’s the amount of body shaming and general snark that goes on wherever plus-size clothing retailers share their product.  Be that on blogs, Twitter, their Facebook page or anywhere else their supposed customers can comment on their stock and catalogues.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe very strongly in giving businesses feedback, and if they treat their customers like shit, I’m going to say so.  What I’m talking about is the body shaming and snark that goes on between the customers, about other fat bodies.

Now I completely understand wanting to be able to find clothing of certain cuts, and not being able to wear some styles.  For example, I can’t wear anything that buttons through the front.  Simply because I feel uncomfortable in it and they pull and gape over my magnificent giant boobs.  I also don’t wear anything with high or crew necklines, because I feel like they are choking me.  So if a company posts a picture of something with one of those features for their customers to view and give feedback, I’m going to ask if they have something that has a scoop or v-neckline perhaps, or simply leave feedback that I’m unable to wear button through garments myself.

What I am NOT going to do is suggest that they should not produce any garments with high necklines or button through fronts.  Because that defeats the whole purpose of trying to get plus-size companies to listen to us.  We need MORE options, not less.  Besides, it would be pretty bloody arrogant of me to assume because I don’t want something, nobody does.

The other thing that REALLY shits me, is the way people comment with body shame.  Instead of saying “I prefer not to go sleeveless.” or asking if there are any options with sleeves because they’re not comfortable going sleevless, we see “DON’T YOU KNOW FAT WOMEN CAN’T GO SLEEVELESS???!!!”  Or “That’s just not flattering!”  Sometimes they even say things like “You clearly don’t know how to dress fat women.”  They assume that because they want to hide their bodies away, and that because they loathe their own fat bodies, that everyone should.

To my mind, plus-size clothing threads should be the ONE place we can escape from body snark and bitchiness.  It should be the place we go to talk about fabulous clothes, to share the things we need and want while making sure these companies know what works and what doesn’t.  After all, we’re all in the same boat – we’re all fat, we all need plus-sized clothing and we all have a vast lack of options (some of us less than others), so we should be working together.  That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, just that we work together to get plus-size clothing companies to produce a variety of things in a suitable quality, price and sizing.

It’s so frustrating to have so much shaming coming from my fellow fatties.  I know that’s because society tells fat women that they should hide themselves away, and be ashamed of themselves, but surely we have enough experiences with being shamed by non-fat people that we’d avoid shaming our fellow fatties.

All I want is to be able to talk about plus-size clothing options without seeing body shame!  Is it that hard?

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.

The Right of Self Advocacy

Published July 13, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m going to talk about another recurring theme of the kind of comments we see on (and in) articles about fatness (whether they be in the mainstream media as “obesity” articles or  here in the fatosphere ), and that is the theme that fat people should not, or cannot advocate for themselves.  That somehow, by measure of our fatness, we render ourselves incapable of making decisions as an adult about our own lives.

There is a common sentiment that fat people need intervention in their lives.  Be it from those in the medical profession, our families and friends, or complete strangers, either on the internet or in public.  Entire conferences are held by medical professionals into “obesity interventions and prevention”, without any input from actual fat people.  Doctors prescribe restrictive diets, food substitutes, weight loss therapy and at the most extreme, surgical gastric mutilation, without any further investigation than measuring a patients BMI, which in itself is a flawed system of measurement.  Our friends, families and even colleagues feel it is acceptable to “let us know” that we are fat and that we should “do something about it”.  And strangers, be they on the street or online, feel free to advise us, without invitation, without knowing anything about us, and often despite our protests, on what we should be doing with our bodies and our lives.

This of course is presented to fat people as “concern for your health“, but what it really is, at it’s core, is the infantilisation of fat people and stripping of the basic adult right to make ones own decisions.

It reduces fat people to a child-like state of requiring management to function in the basics like eating and physical activity.  It says “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself, so we need to step in and do it for you.”  Usually, it is done without any consultation at all with the fat person in question, and even if the fat person does attempt to explain that they do not require management or intervention, they are often dismissed as being overly emotional or in denial.  No matter what argument a fat person presents to advocate for themselves, the response is dismissive and patronising.

The other main outcome of this kind of behaviour is the othering of fat people.  It reduces fat people to sub-normal beings, as less-than-human others, as though they are animals that require husbandry, a kind of domestic management.  It strips fat people of the fundamental human right to advocate for themselves and make their own life decisions.  This is the kind of personal reduction that we have seen with other marginalised people throughout history and in our current time.  It is the act of reducing fat people (and other marginalised people) as somehow less than the normative.

One of the first things I think we need to be focusing on as a movement is the basic right to advocate for ourselves as adults.  It’s not easy, I know all too well.  Even now I still have trouble standing up for myself, particularly to medical professionals and saying “This is not what I want.” or “That is not my experience.” or even “You are not listening to me.”  Even now, as I get more and more bolshy about my fat activism, I still find myself daunted in the face of the kind of dismissive responses we often get.  Mostly it is born of frustration for me, that even at almost 38 years of age, I am unable to be heard as the capable adult that I am while people only focus on my fatness, rather than the facts, my experiences and my own wishes.

That’s it really.  The problem does not lie with our communication of these things, but with other people hearing them.

But that said, I know I have to keep doing it.  I have to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep demanding.  Because, like any other human being, we have the right to advocate for ourselves as adults.

No matter what size our bodies are, no matter what status our health is.

The Old “But Fatties are Costing Us Money!” Argument

Published July 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Reading the comments on Rebecca Sparrow’s excellent post on Mamamia about fat discrimination (in particular Stephanie Payne’s story of abuse on public transport) has had my face meeting my palm a few times today.  It’s the same old tropes that are trotted out on every single article about the “obesity epidemic” and anything else to do with fatness – you know the ones:

“But that’s not healthy!”

“Well nobody should be bullied but being THAT heavy/fat/obese is just wrong.”

“If they don’t want to be bullied, they should just lose weight.”

“Well there’s fat and then there’s just obese, that’s disgusting.”

“I’m not fat but I work really hard at staying thin, so they’re just lazy.”

“If you take up more space then you should pay for two seats.”

And even this one bothers me:

“Well you don’t know if they’re doing something to lose weight or not, so you shouldn’t risk bullying them.” (As if people who are not being “good fatties” and losing weight don’t deserve the same respect and fairness as everyone else.)

Blah blah blah blah blah!  I know, we’ve all heard them a million times over, as if they justify fat people being treated as though they are sub-human.

I want to focus on one I keep seeing repeated tonight.  Are we ready?

 

“But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!!”

 

Let’s just think about that shall we?

Firstly, the implication is that fat people are nothing but a drain on the public infrastructure.  That somehow, fatness means that one can never have a job, pay taxes, engage in volunteer work, support a family (either children or elderly parents or any other members of family), have an education, be creative, be nurturing, be intelligent, be passionate, be hard-working or devoted.

Because all fat people do is sit on the sofa and eat cheeseburgers amirite?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’d love a little more leisure time to sit on the sofa and I wish cheeseburgers didn’t give me reflux!

Funnily enough, fat people go to work just like anyone else.  They work hard (if not harder, because of the amount of discrimination against fatness in the workplace) and pay taxes.  I work in a capital city, and I see fat people coming and going from their places of employment every day.  I am served in shops by fat people, waited on in cafes and restaurants by fat people, see fat bus drivers and fat cleaners and fat lawyers and fat doctors and fat police and fat tradies.  In my own job, I have fat colleagues and fat vendors and fat suppliers that I work with, and they’re all hard working people who do their part to help me do my job.  They do so just the same as the thin people I work with, and the in-between people I work with.  Body size has absolutely no bearing on how people do their job.  Well, unless you’re a window cleaner, and I don’t know about you, but the thought of dangling down the side of a building as the wind whistles by has absolutely no appeal for me, whether I was fat OR thin!

Secondly, let’s address the “driving up the cost” aspect.  This of course implies that the only people that are utilising health care/insurance are fat people.  Or at best, that fat people are using up more than “their fare share”.  So where are we with smokers, drinkers, drug users, those who engage in violence to themselves or others, sports people who sustain illness or injury due to their sport, DIY-ers who injure themselves while cutting/hammering/demolishing etc, people who drive cars and cause accidents, people who spend too much time in the sun and get sunstroke or severe sunburn, folks who get into trouble at the beach/pool/other waterway and need rescuing and subsequent medical attention… the list could go on and on of people who engage in behaviour that causes them to require medical attention.

And of course we have no concrete proof that fatness is because of any behaviour, can be controlled or reversed in any way, but I’m giving the “But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!” crew the benefit of the doubt here.

Finally, let’s talk about the whole thing about taxes, levies, rates, tariffs and other public funding.  Part of being an adult in our society is that you are required to contribute a share of your livelihood in taxes and other public fees.

Ok, so you pay those monies, but you don’t want any of that money to go towards the fatties getting this perceived “extra” health care, because you’re not fat right?  So you shouldn’t be letting anyone else have “extra” that you don’t need right?

Well… do you have children?  Because if not, your money is going towards education, which you might not directly reap the benefits of.  How about drive a car, do you do that?  Because if you don’t, your taxes etc are going towards roads, bridges, highways and street-lights, the oil industry, and all the other infrastructure required to for motoring on, that you may not directly benefit from.  Do you use public transport at all?  If not, your tax dollars are going towards buses, trains, ferries, taxis and trams, not to mention cycle paths and walkways that you might not directly use yourself.  Do you go to the library?  Your rates and taxes go towards them too – how dare all those horrible people use your tax dollars to borrow books, enjoy story time, use the library space and take computer classes at your expense!

The reality is, we pay taxes and other public fees to go towards a pool of funds that are used to build the very infrastructure of our world.  To pay for roads and schools and libraries and parks and yes, even health care, among many other things.  If you want to quibble where your tax dollars go, how about you take a look at politicians pay packets.  Or how  much money goes into the military every year.  Believe me, it’s far more dollars that go to those two than go to health care for any people, let alone just the fat ones.

If you want to talk about things that drive the cost of private health insurance up, let’s look at the profit margins of health insurance companies.  Or better still, the pay packets of their CEO’s!  Let’s just say that these CEO’s aren’t going to be lining up for public health care with the rest of us any time soon.

In short, it’s a pretty redundant argument to say that fat people are driving up the costs of health insurance/taxes.  Health insurance is an industry created to make a profit for their shareholders, and taxes are a public pool of money that we all benefit from in various different ways.

And every single one of us has the same rights as the other, regardless of our body size, or our health.