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An Australian Day of Shame

Published July 20, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Today I need to talk about something off my usual topic.  Because something so unbelievably shameful has happened in my country in the past 24 hours and I need to speak up.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, announced a new “hardline approach” to refugees arriving by boat in Australia.  This new “hardline approach” means that people arriving by boat and without a visa will be sent to Australia’s Manus Island facility in Papua New Guinea for assessment and, if found to be refugees, they will be settled in Papua New Guinea.

I find it so hard to put into words the shame, disgust and despair I feel at this announcement.  Today I am deeply ashamed to be an Australian.  I’m ashamed that our political leaders would behave in such an inhumane manner to vulnerable people who have every right to seek asylum in Australia, vulnerable people who are fleeing for their lives.  I am ashamed of the lies that have been spread by both those in politics and the media around “boat people”.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is not some kind of rosy haven for people.  It is not a safe place for people who are already fleeing their own countries of origin for the very same reasons they are likely to be targeted in PNG.  Religion, gender, sexuality, political beliefs etc.  Our own government has issued a warning against travel to PNG because of the high level of crime, violence, disease and risk to women.  This is not some safe little nook we are tucking these already vulnerable people – it is a poverty and crime stricken third world country.  Australia even offers asylum to Papua New Guinean women because it is not safe there for many of them.

There have been so many lies spread about refugees in the media and by politicians.  Many of them are debunked here.  This slogan of “stop the boats” as played as a fight to end people smuggling, a dangerous and inhumane practice that preys on desperate people by charging them large amounts of money to be smuggled into Australia by boat.  I agree, people smuggling is a deplorable trade and needs to be addressed, because desperate people die at the hands of these people smugglers.  But don’t think for a minute that this is what “stop the boats” is really about.  It is not punishing the people smugglers who profit off of the desperation of refugees at all, it’s punishing the victims.  People who have nowhere else to turn and cannot remain where they are, who are forced into using people smuggling to attempt to get themselves and their families to the safety of Australia.  This does not stop people smuggling at all, it simply forces it further underground, makes it more dangerous for the refugees and makes more money for the people smugglers.

I am not fooled for one moment that this “stop the boats” rhetoric is about stopping people smuggling.  It’s a catchy dog whistle for the media and politicians to stir up the ignorant, the bigoted, the xenophobic of Australia.  The people who respond to the “stop the boats” dog-whistle don’t care for one moment about stopping people smugglers from profiting from refugees, they only want to keep people out of their country who they deem as unworthy.  They don’t care about stopping the thousands of people who simply don’t go home after having a holiday in Australia and decide to live here permanently because our quality of life is better than in their home country, because those people tend to be white people.  But those who are fleeing for their lives and are the tiny number that attempt to get here via people smugglers tend to be brown people, people of religions other than Christian and/or people who do not speak English.

Australia through most of my life has been known as The Lucky Country.  And yes, while we’re doing it tougher lately than we are used to, we are still extremely lucky.  We have weathered the global economic crisis better than almost anywhere else in the world.  We have a lot of privileges that many other places in the world doesn’t enjoy.  The climate is good and we enjoy most of the produce we need grown right here in our own country.

But we also have thousands of kilometres of empty space.  We are mostly affluent (though we could look after our own vulnerable people better, but that is a topic for another post) and we have political, religious and gender freedoms that many other places around the world do not have.

We also have an ageing population that cannot sustain itself.  The very people most complaining about the number of “immigrants” Australia has are those who are going to complain that there are not enough people doing the work that it requires to maintain the country.  We need more people with skills of every kind, and more people who will have children who can be given an education to grow into skills we need.

As I do every Saturday morning, I sat in my local park and had brunch.  I looked around at the people sharing the beautiful park.  I heard several languages floating across the green, coming from families feeding the ducks and turtles, showing their kids the eels swimming in the lagoon, enjoying coffee in the gazebo.  I saw every shade of skin and mode of dress I can think of enjoying that lovely park.  And I thought about all those people who were able to come here 10, 20, 30 years ago or beyond, who now live here and are part of our community.

I thought about my friends and colleagues who came here as refugees.  From Vietnam, Poland, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iraq, Croatia and many other places.  I thought about their kids, who I have watched grow up from littlies running around to be young adults today who are getting an education, or who are already in the workforce.  I thought about what lovely people these kids have grown up into, how they all have such strong values of family, work ethic, appreciation for what they have.  I thought about my friends and colleagues who have enriched my life with language, music, food, and other culture that they’ve introduced me to as I’ve known them over the years. I thought about the number of great artists, musicians, writers and thinkers that have come from refugee backgrounds.  I thought about these people who contribute to making Australia such a strong, prosperous nation.  I’ve worked along side so many hard working people who came here as refugees, or are the children of refugees, who have participated in building communities that support each other and better the world they are in.

These are the kinds of people who we have just slammed the door in their faces.  Those who are fleeing their own horrors and looking for us to open our doors to them with compassion and humanity are the people who 10, 20, 30  years down the track will be contributing the way the refugees of the past are now.  These are the people whose children will get a decent education and become the doctors and nurses and teachers and engineers and librarians and farmers and architects and you name it along with Aussie born kids and make Australia strong and productive.  These are the people who will bring wonderful new foods, wonderful new art, music and writing, great thinking and learning with them.

Yet we as a nation have just slammed the door in their faces and told them that they are unworthy of joining us.  We have sent them off to further desperation and violence, yet we tell them they are not worthy of joining us.  How wrong we are.  We as a nation are the ones who are unworthy.

We need to make ourselves worthy of the greatness we have achieved, and have the potential to achieve again as Australians, regardless of whether we were born Australian or became Australian.  We MUST NOT be silent about this shameful declaration made by the Australian government yesterday.

I urge every one of you to speak up, no matter in what small way.  Whether it is sharing this post or other articles speaking up about the inhumanity of the government’s decision on your social media, participating in this campaign to contact your local Member of Parliament, writing your own post or letter to the media, participating in any of the rallies or walks that are springing up around the country, or simply just calling out the ignorance and lies being perpetuated by the people around you in your life.  If nothing else, put all of the political propaganda you receive in your junk mail in an envelope and send it to your local Member of Parliament marked STOP THE LIES.  Hell, even put it back in the post box (mark it “Return to Sender” in big bold letters) and let Australia Post deal with thousands of returned junk mail.  Even if they’re just recycling it, they have to report back to the political parties (who pay for them to distribute the propaganda) how much of the mailers “failed”.  Can you imagine the mess they’d have if we all did that?

You may think that you can’t make a difference.  But you can, and no action is too small.  The more of us who work together to speak up the more our voices accumulate volume.  Sign a petition.  Share some articles.  Tell people that you find xenophobia and ignorance unacceptable.  Just don’t be silent on this.  Silence tells politicians and the media that you agree with them.

Challenge “stop the boats” with STOP THE LIES.

Let’s Not Toss the Baby with the Bath Water

Published October 10, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

There has been a lot of talk today about how it’s all well and good for Prime Minister Gillard to stand up in parliament and call out the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, for his hypocrisy about misogyny*, but many claim her own conduct/policies on other matters render her speech redundant.

While I agree, that Prime Minister Gillard (who I am no great fan of generally speaking) has a lot of work to do on issues like equal marriage rights, refugees, indigenous affairs, social support for single parents, and other issues, I think dismissing her speech yesterday undermines just how important the topic of misogyny from our political leaders is to the women of Australia.  Indeed, the women of the world.

We as a nation have watched our first woman Prime Minister treated in a manner that no male politician would ever be be subjected to, both in parliament and in the media.  We as a nation have heard the man who wants to lead our country, suggest that half of the population, women, are less adapted to exercise authority or to issue command.  We have heard this man suggest time and time again that women are somehow inferior to men.  Again, he is referring to half of the population of the country, whom he expects to vote for him to lead them.  On a regular basis, this man and the politicians he leads have referred to any woman in the Labor party as “the handbag hit squad”.  This is the man that said in an interview (therefore on the public record) “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…”

Misogyny and sexism are rife in daily life in Australia, and when the man holding the highest position in the political opposition in this country AND who expects the Australian people to vote for him to lead the country, makes statements like those Prime Minister Gillard quoted, and I have shared here, is it any wonder?

Prime Minister Gillard has a responsibility in her role, not only as the Prime Minister but as a woman in such a position of high rank, to represent the women of Australia.  Yes, she represents all Australians, but being a woman herself, and being the example of a woman in public life and power, how she allows herself to be treated, reflects on how she allows all Australian women to be treated.

Yesterday, she stood up and said “Enough.”  She stood up and spoke out against an issue that affects half of the population of her country directly, and the rest indirectly, whether they wish to admit it or not.  This is not some trifling matter to be thrown away because other policies and positions she holds do not come up to standard.  If you are a woman in this country, and you expect to be treated with basic respect as a human being, then the speech Prime Minister Gillard made yesterday should matter to you.  It should be significant to you and to this country, regardless of whether or not you align yourself with the Labor party or Prime Minister Gillard herself.

Yes, we need to keep pressuring Prime Minister Gillard on other issues.  We need to make it clear that there is still much work for her and the Labor party and indeed parliament to do to earn our votes and to successfully lead this country.

But we also must remember that in one regard at least, she has taken a significant stand for the women of Australia.  In her words:

the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.

We are entitled to a better standard than this.  All women, everywhere are entitled to a better standard than they are currently receiving, all over the world.  And to that, I say thank you Prime Minister Gillard, for finally standing up on one of the most important issues facing Australian women, all women of the world, today.

* a transcript of the entire speech can be found here.

Guest Post 2 – Enough is Enough by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published July 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I am more than thrilled to share with you the news that Dr Samantha Thomas, sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues, is back with another guest post here on Fat Heffalump.

I talk of the inflaters of the world, those people who raise people around them up rather than crushing them down, and for me, Samantha is one of the inflaters I have in my life, and I believe she inflates people all around her.

She joins us today to talk further on the double standards of several “Body Image Advocates” here in Australia, and to issue a call to arms for all who wish to change the climate of body shame not just here in Australia, but around the world.  Over to our guest:


Enough is Enough

I don’t often get away with my dudes to a place where I have total isolation from the media. The last 4 days have been a media free zone for us – no phones, no computers, no newspapers. It was HEAVEN.

Well you can run, but you can’t hide. And it was slightly amusing that literally a couple of minutes after arriving back home and picking up the Saturday paper I came across this article in the Courier Mail. Australia’s Next Top Model (ANTM) banned a 16 year old from the catwalk because, at a size 8, she was too fat. Now look, I don’t really have any opinions about ANTM. Sorry! I’ve never watched the Ozzie version, and I’m a bit smitten with Miss Jay and the dude with the white hair on the American version. So I’m declaring my conflict of interest and not commenting on the show.

But I WILL comment on the fact that once again a member of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group has been caught in another dodgy set of circumstances around the promotion of fat hate. Most of you will know that Mia Freedman, the Chair of the committee has also been criticized for the inconsistency between her role on the committee and the material she promotes on her website. This time it is Sarah Murdoch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sarah Murdoch she is a former model and host of ANTM. According to Minister Kate Ellis she chose Murdoch and Freedman, “for their work in their industry, not for their looks”.

And so I landed with a thud back from my holiday bliss. And you know what.

I’ve had enough of these inconsistencies.

I’ve had enough of people who are supposed to be advocating for body image declaring “it’s not like I hate fat people”. There is a reason you would have to declare that out loud at a press conference.

I’ve had enough of the confusing messages that are sent when our National Body Image Advisory Committee includes some high profile individuals who then actively promote that certain types of bodies are the beautiful ideal.

I’ve had enough of the new saviour that is obesity surgery. Because when you get an email from a 17 year old who tells you that her obesity surgeon told her to turn the heater off in the winter so that she would shiver and burn more energy thus losing more weight, you realize that this is a profit driven industry out to exploit, not care for people.

I’ve had enough of articles that say that fat stigma will be reduced if we find a cure for obesity. Or that we should tackle fat stigma because it will make it easier for people to engage in healthy activity – oh and lose weight.

I’ve had enough of the emails from people who have asked me if I have any ‘miracles’ because they have been told by their doctors that they have got themselves so fat that they should just give up and wait to die.

I’ve had enough of people being paid lots of money to promote the diet industry, which promises everything, and only delivers physical and emotional pain.

I’ve had enough of the stupidity that somehow has us believe that we will protect young people from eating disorders if we give a magazine a ‘tick’ for declaring its airbrushing practices, but that we still allow that same magazine to run ‘diet’ articles, and advertisements for the weight loss industry.

Most of all, I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy that surrounds the body image/obesity/health debate in this country. And that includes everyone being allowed to be an expert on fat… oh except fat people.

I don’t think there is one person that is reading this that at one time or another hasn’t disliked what they saw in the mirror (or on the scales). I also don’t think that there is one person who is reading this that hasn’t been made to feel bad about their body by someone else. Some of you reading this will encounter this much more than others. And I am standing up and applauding you for the amazing strength and resilience that you show in the face of such a negative public gaze for what your bodies look like, and how they got to be how they are. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

But I do want to let you know that I am with you.  Standing side by side until we sort out this ridiculous situation that we have gotten ourselves into with ‘weight’.

And I will continue to advocate with you for change.  Because when we stand together, we are a very powerful voice indeed.

A voice that is getting stronger.

A voice that is becoming an amazing tool for highlighting the hypocrisy that exists around body acceptance, weight and health in Australia.

Let me give you a great example of the power of that voice in action.

Last week Herald Sun columnist Susie O’Brien weighed in (again) on the obesity debate. But before I write about that, lets have a little recap of some of the things Susie O’Brien has written about body image in the past. First up, in January, when supermodel Jen Hawkins bared all for body image acceptance, Susie wrote:

“I have written so many articles about body image… I have told women to be proud of themselves and told men to adore the flaws.”

She goes on to write.

“We are never going to have genuine body acceptance until people start getting used to seeing real, average, beautiful bodies.”

Now obviously I have issues with these statements. But I could see where she was coming from.  Not helpful, but a little bit heading in the right direction (even in the lets all strip off and show each other we don’t look like Jen Hawkins love fest that we all seemed to be going through at the beginning of the year).

So how then, just a few months later, can Susie O’Brien write this?

“Yes, it’s important that young people feel good about themselves. But it’s also important that young people have the best chance of living a long, healthy life without the serious life-threatening illnesses that come with obesity. Not to mention the teasing and bullying and low self-esteem that many fat kids face. So I want to know what’s being done to help young people who need to lose weight, and who need to get motivated to change their unhealthy bodies, rather than accept them as they are.”

Once again, the same old rhetoric emerges. Lets accept everyone’s real, beautiful bodies, flaws and all.


But what’s worse is that somehow it’s okay to then invite a bunch of people to participate in a live hate fest on fatties. That fat individuals are lazy. That fat parents were in essence abusing their children. That we should all aspire to be like Susie because her kids ask for broccoli when they get home from daycare.

Now every cloud has a silver lining. And the day that Susie chose to have that live blog was one of the most silver lined clouds I have seen for a while. Because not just one, or two, or three but at least TEN of us joined that live blog to SMASH HOLES in Susie’s arguments. We very clearly and rationally outlined our arguments, and in the process absolutely discredited what she and a bunch of others had to say. We all brought a slightly different perspective to the table, and I know I felt a whole lot better about being in the discussion because I knew others were there with me.

It’s not easy to be a lone voice. I have learnt that the hard way. And I guess that is the point of this post. If we want change, we have to start acting together. There is no doubt that the critics are there. I was on Catalyst about obesity surgery for kids a couple of weeks back and ABC journalist Melanie Tait (who has had a lapband) took it upon herself to very publically try to discredit me. And so many of you jumped in and supported me. And I cannot tell you what a difference that made.

Speaking out also brings emails like this.

“We’ve never met but I recently read your piece ‘Mama Mia and Body Image’ and it was a lifesaver. A total no holds barred lifesaver. Finally someone clearly explaining that I shouldn’t have to hide my body to make it acceptable to others. And that while there is nothing wrong with promoting physical health in the right context, mental health is equally important, and the guilt and shame brought about by being told in a /body image/ setting that you are freaky and need fixing (read here 5 foot 1 and size 20) is incredibly damaging. You have helped me reframe my thinking about this and regain some much needed sanity and perspective. I have sent copies of your piece to my women friends who are all shapes and sizes.”

This is why we do what we do. And why we need to work together. All of us will be able to contribute in different ways. Some of us will want to be on the front line. Others will want to join the discussion in safer spaces. Some might just want to listen and perhaps share pieces with their friends and family members. Some might want to offer a shoulder to lean on (or some much needed spell check skills!!). Everyone has a role to play in creating change.

So who is in? !!!!

By the way. Keep your emails coming. I love them really.  Or follow me on Twitter @samanthastweets

Oh and I reckon Susie is a shoe in for the next vacancy on the National Body Image Advisory Committee! What do you think?

Australian Fatties – Here is Your Opportunity

Published October 25, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

With thanks to Fat-o-matic I have been introduced to the new initiative by the Australian Government yourHealth.  It is an initiative on behalf of the Department of Health and Ageing to give Australians a voice on their health care.  I’m not sure how much they’re actually planning to listen to it, but needless to say, it’s a very good idea to get on board and actually have a say.

I believe that we need as many Australians from the fatosphere to get on board and speak up about our health.  We are entitled to a voice as much as any other Australian, and it’s important that we speak up right now that we have this opportunity.

In particular, there is a blog post over there called How should governments, industry and community groups work together to help us combat obesity? Personally, I don’t believe obesity needs to be combatted.  Fat does not need to be fought, like it is some kind of enemy.  But it’s very important that we take the time to go to this blog and in a clear, open, and rational manner, have our say with regards to our  health.  Because this whole subject of “combatting obesity” is talking about our health, not everyone else in Australia.  We’ve been asking for our voices to be heard, we’ve been looking to change people’s perceptions of weight and health, so let’s not waste this opportunity to do so.

If you are Australian and you are reading this, please click on the link to yourHealth and go and register.  It does require an email verification, but it’s pretty straight forward.  Then click on the link above to the post about combatting obesity, and go and leave your comment there.  You can leave up to 5000 words, which is plenty to articulate why it is important for the concept of health to be independent of weight and body shape/size.

It’s a good chance to share the concept of Health at Any Size and combat that whole OOGA-BOOGA obesity crisis mentality.

Let’s not let this opportunity slide by.