All posts in the children category

Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I awoke to see a constant stream of retweets and shares for an article on a major Australian women’s online magazine (give you two guesses – I’m not naming or linking to it) about a woman who found a note in her 7 year old daughter’s bedroom, labelled “Diyet”[sic] and listing the food she ate (not much) and quite a considerable list of daily exercise.

Now yes, I agree, it is awful that a 7 year old child is making diet plans.  It is awful that a 7 year old child is obsessing over her body and diet and exercise already.  It shouldn’t be happening and I understand her mother being horrified that she would find this item in her child’s room, and despairing that her daughter is being influenced by this stuff already.  I find no fault at all with the author of the piece or the story she tells.

But seriously, for this particular online women’s magazine (let’s be honest, most online women’s magazines and most mainstream media) to be clutching their pearls over children dieting is a bit fucking hypocritical if you ask me.

This shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  These same media outlets publish story after story beating the “obesity epidemic” drum, and wringing their hands over “childhood obesity”, and then wonder why children obsess over their weight from a ridiculously early age?   These media outlets crap on about being “healthy”, which is just diet-talk reworded with no actual conscientious addressing of holistic health of all people, and then they get all up in arms about children dieting?  They allow the most hateful, bigoted crap about fat people to be published in the comments and call it “opinion”.  Not to mention that every single time I go to a mainstream media site, women’s or not, I am bombarded with ads for weight loss.  Where do they think kids, and their parents, get all of this stuff in the first place?

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dieting.  From as early as I can remember, there were stories in her magazines, and on the TV my father always had on, and in the Sunday paper, talking about the latest, greatest diets, the importance of being thin and how fat was “bad” (think of lazy, fat, beer drinking, old Norm in the Life: Be in It ad campaigns, fellow Aussies of a certain age).  Even if I hadn’t been told I was fat from my earliest memory (I wasn’t fat for most of my childhood) by my family, all I had to do was pick up one of the women’s magazines laying about the house, or sit and watch TV with my father and I was getting those messages.  Right from my earliest memories, I was hearing that fat is bad and that I should do ANYTHING to avoid being fat.

So what did I do?  I was put on my first diet at 11.  But I had already been experimenting with dieting and exercise regimes some years before that.  I was maybe 7 or 8 the first time I put myself on a “diet”.  I was very good at sneaking the various diet products that my mother had about the house, and I was an excellent reader, so I just read the magazines and followed the diets in those.  I was 13 the first time I was put on meal replacements (powdered shakes that were VILE).  Soon after I started engaging in purging after an older girl taught me how to do it.  I also started stealing laxatives and worming medicine because I’d heard those helped you lose weight too.  Once I got busted for stealing those out of the medicine cabinet at home, I started stealing them from the local chemist.  I can remember watching an article on one of those current affairs shows about childhood obesity when I was in Year 8, and this was in 1985 – long before the current obesity epidemic hysteria kicked off in the 90’s, which has magnified the situation hundredfold.

It has to stop.  The media are never going to take responsibility for the shit they publish, so we have to stop supporting the media that publishes shit.  Even when they do publish something that is worthy, like the story I mentioned above, we have to view it through the lens of the other stuff they publish as well and call them out on it.  We need to promote outlets that share the worthy stories without all of the fat shaming and stigma.  If we are worried about what our children are being exposed to, perhaps it’s best to start by examining what WE are exposed to.  Because if you think kids aren’t seeing this stuff, you’re seriously delusional.  Even if you don’t give it to them directly, if it is around, they find a way to get to it.  Or they hear a second-hand version from other kids at school.  We need to teach our kids critical thinking.  But first we have to learn it ourselves.  To question the source of information and to ask what their motives are.  We need to discuss these issues with kids and teenagers and each other, openly and critically.   We need to look at the ethics behind these outlets and their sponsors.

If these media outlets come up lacking, we need to stop supporting them.  We need to walk away and not give them clicks, not give them airtime, and not signal boost them.  Instead, find alternative outlets that take responsibility for the messages they are sending and don’t engage in hypocrisy.  Or that at least TRY.  If you know that an article that people are sharing from a media site is a cross post/re post from a blog (most of them say so somewhere on the article) – share the original version, not the re-post in the dodgy mainstream media.  We need to tell our stories and have them untainted by fat shaming that undoes the message that we are sending.  Want some suggestions?  Try here, here and here.  You’re welcome to share others in the comments that you like.

I dabbled myself with writing for mainstream media (was also offered a regular writing gig at several of them) and was burned more than once by them selling me out to some disgusting fat shaming story as a “follow up”, so I decided that I would rather tell my story here and keep it’s integrity than taint my readers with contradictory information.    It might mean I reach fewer people here and now, but the message gets through clearer and un-sullied by shaming to those it does get to.

The mainstream media is never going to change until we walk away from it and stop giving them the clicks, the reads, the purchases and the support.  Give that support to those who don’t perpetuate bigotry and hate while then decrying the state of the world that THEY created.

I Stand…

Published January 23, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

I’m sure you’ve all seen those horrible fat-shaming ads from Georgia, USA advocating the bullying of fat kids.  If you haven’t, have a look on Heather’s post at Fat Girl Posing (because I’ll be damned if I’m giving that campaign any link love).  It’s disgusting that anyone thinks that this kind of public shaming and bullying is acceptable.

How this campaign could possibly be called “Strong 4 Life” – I have no idea.  Since when did shaming and bullying people make them strong?  I know what it will do for life for these kids – because I was a fat kid too.  It will be SHAME for life.  Low self worth for life.  Bullying for life.  Avoiding medical care for life.  Hating yourself for life.  It will not be strong, happy, healthy, empowered for life if we allow this to continue.

Well I’m happy to say that we’re not just letting this one slide.  A whole lot of fat activists have taken up the sword and are fighting this one in a whole lot of ways.  There is a website, called Stand 4 Kids, which is directly in response to the campaign, and is aggregating a lot of information on the campaign and ways to combat the shaming and bullying.  There is a petition on that you can sign to demand the end to weight stigma and the cessation of this campaign.  There is a facebook group you can request to join, to get information and share news on how to combat this horrible campaign.

But my favourite so far is the series of response posters Marilyn Wann is making that mimic the repulsive fat loathing propaganda from Strong 4 Life, but share a whole different message – one of positivity, respect, strong self esteem, dignity and kindness.  Here is Marilyn’s:

How fabulous is that?  There are a whole bunch of them, from fat activists of all shapes, sizes and walks of life.  Many of them you’ll find on Marilyn’s Tumblr.

Another favourite of mine is this one from Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size (which is currently on sale for $1.79 in Kindle version on Amazon – works on Kindle, and the Kindle app on iOS and Android):

Seriously – how awesome are these?  What fantastic messages to send out to ALL people about their bodies and optimising their health.

Well, you know, I couldn’t let this fantastic campaign go by without contributing myself.  So I sent Marilyn a photo and a statement, and she made one for me!

I’m totally chuffed with it.  I really wanted something joyous and happy – since those images from Strong 4 Life are so miserable and shamed.  I want people to find joy in their lives and joy in their bodies.

So, will you all stand with us?  Will you join us in standing against fat stigma and body shaming, especially for kids?  No matter how you choose to participate, every action helps and is welcome.

We can and ARE making a difference.

“Bad Foods” – Control, Punishment and Singling out the Fat Folk

Published May 19, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been thinking about the number of very public “health experts” that have been advocating total elimination of certain foods or food groups from the diet, either from the diets of children, or from those of fat adults.

There have been plenty over the years, but we’re seeing a rash of them here in Australia at the moment.  The most recent of which was Dr Kerryn Phelps, via her Twitter account.  Dr Samantha Thomas opened up a conversation about it on her blog, The Discourse, over the weekend.

I have also seen it from Michelle Bridges, physical trainer with The Australian Biggest Loser, who talks of guilt over eating “one or two chips”, and decries the consumption of white bread, a sentiment echoed by “non profit organisation” Obesity Prevention Australia.  Not that long ago I heard nutritionist Rosemary Stanton on the radio criticising the companies who make packet cake mixes for having photographs of children on the box, because she believes it sends the message to children that it’s OK to eat cake.  Uh-huh, you read correctly.

There have been others as well.

I want to talk about this method of “healthy eating” that advocates the complete elimination of foods because they are considered “junk”.  Junk food seems to be a fairly fuzzy concept in a lot of these cases, and can mean anything from highly processed foods with lots of added artificial ingredients, to anything containing sugar or fat, anything purchased from take-away vendors (prepared, cooked and/or served for you) to any kind of “bad” foodstuffs of the moment – these days, mostly carbohydrates.

These total elimination methods of supposed healthy eating seem to always be aimed at either children or fat adults.  It is rare to seem them recommended for all of society to practice.

It deeply concerns me to see these kinds of diets advocated for children and fat people, for anyone really.

The first thing that disturbs me is how disordered a behaviour it seems.  The connotations of fear, guilt, sin, bad behaviour, evil etc are all methods I know I employed myself while deeply entrenched in an eating disorder.  The idea that certain foods should never be eaten because they are fattening really bothers me.  Of course there will always be things like allergies and intolerances that will mean someone is unable to eat certain foods, not to mention simple dislikes, but the idea that a foodstuff should never pass someone’s lips because it is bad/junk/unhealthy is worrying, and particularly in children where variety is often an issue, and growing bodies have much broader nutritional needs.

Not to mention that it is simply impractical in our lives today to be hyper vigilant and attempt to completely eliminate the foods considered junk from most people’s eating.  The people like Phelps/Bridges/Stanton et al are proposing that children/fat people never be allowed to eat any of these foods.  That is certainly what is implied at least.

I was thinking about our eating history as a culture (and I’m speaking very generally as a white western person, as that is my personal experience – and most likely that of Phelps/Bridges/Stanton etc) and the social implications of total elimination of these foods.  Are these supposed health experts suggesting that a) children and fat people should never eat and b) that they themselves never eat or feed/have fed their children, any of the following:

  • Birthday cake, wedding cake, Christmas cake, or any other celebratory cake.
  • If they are Christians – no fish and chips on Fridays.
  • No birthday parties for children.  Either home catered or those hosted by fast food restaurants.
  • No cakes, biscuits or sweets made by their Mum, Gran, or any other loving family member (none for lunch boxes, none for special occasions, none for visitors)
  • No teenage parties or hanging out.  No pizza, chips, lollies, soft drinks, burgers etc EVER.
  • No food at the cinema.  No choc tops or popcorn.
  • No chocolate, hot cross buns or marshmallows at Easter.
  • No school dances (soft drink usually, sometimes snacks like chips)
  • No pie or hot-dog at the football/cricket/other sporting event.
  • No convenience food (pre or partially-pre made, or frozen, or take-away) for busy times.

These are just a few that have popped into my mind as I write this.  So if these supposed health experts are advocating that parents of children and fat people eliminate these things from their diet, can they say they’ve practiced what they preached themselves?  Particularly those that pride themselves on being thin, or having thin children?  Did they eliminate those things from their children’s diet?  What about when they were children themselves – did their parents eliminate those things from their diet?  Or are they only proposing that other people, particularly fat people and the parents of fat children, operate under such a strict regime?

But what really bothers me about this approach to “healthy eating” is that it is so steeped in control and punishment.  Particularly when it is solely applied to children and fat adults.  There is a sense of belief that every single morsel consumed by children and fat people should be controlled, sanctioned or approved.  It’s someowhat understandable to want to apply this thinking to children, because it is perceived that left to their own devices, children don’t have the skills to make reasonable eating choices yet.  I would dispute this however, most kids, when TRULY left to their own devices, tend to balance choices out if given plenty of options.  But it is particularly insulting to fat people.  It infantilises us, reduces us to being incompetent in making our own decisions in eating and food.

Fat people are seen as so incapable of making responsible food/eating choices that someone needs to intervene.  That we require policing in our food choices.  It also has an element of punishment.  “You have let yourself get so fat, you don’t deserve treats like everyone else.”  That fat people are bad/naughty/sinful so they don’t deserve anything “good”.

This moralising of fatness and food suggests to me that fat adults do not have the right or indeed capability of making decisions as to what they eat.  It makes our bodies and our lives public – when they are indeed private.  What an adult eats or does with their body is their own business and nobody else’s.

All in all, I think it’s high time that supposed health experts like the aforementioned stopped meddling directly in people’s lives and started focusing on real health issues, like adequate and affordable fresh foods for ALL, not just those of higher incomes, as well as safe and encouraging environments for physical activity for ALL, not just those who have the money or who look thin enough to be seen being active in public without offending bigoted people’s eyes.

Perhaps if they focused on these issues, they might actually make some real difference in public health, instead of simply moralising other people’s bodies.

Let’s Make it Better

Published October 7, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I want to talk about bullying.  But I’m struggling with it, because even now, when I am in a safe, happy place in my life, when I am bully free and strong, I still feel hurt and fear.  Just thinking about what I suffered at the hands of bullies plunges me back into all of those emotions, even though rationally I know that I am safe and strong.

But I HAVE to talk about it.  Because not only is it good for me personally to voice all of these demons that bother me, but because being open about it, putting out there into the world what people are suffering every single day, and calling it out for what it is, is needed to help battle the very deeply ingrained bully culture of our world.

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post.

Bullying is by no means a new thing.  It happened to me all my life and I’m 38 this month.  As a child, as a teen, and yes, even as an adult.  And I know it’s been happening for so long in history one couldn’t pinpoint an origin.  But I do think that it is particularly vicious in our time now.  I’m not saying it’s at it’s most vicious now, or that it we haven’t had equally/more vicious periods of bullying in our history.  I do think it comes and goes in cycles perhaps, as society finds excuses, until the inevitable backlash comes along.  It’s time for that backlash now.

I am of course, right now, spurred on by the It Gets Better project, which is in response to the suicide of several young gay men who were bullied to the point of losing all hope.  However, while I do want to send a message of support out to the young queer folk out there, and talk to them about the bullying they go through, I want to broaden this to anyone who has suffered, or is suffering at the hands of bullies.  Whether that be because you are GLBT, fat, shy, female, small, different, just an easy target… whatever reason the bullies have chosen you, I want to talk to you in this post.  And that goes to those of you who have been bullied in the past but are doing ok now.

So let’s start with my story.

As I mentioned, I was bullied my whole life.  I came from an abusive home, so perhaps I already had the mark on me of being a suitable victim.  I don’t know, but it definitely started before I got fat, so it’s not just my fatness that was the reason.  I can remember being pushed over at Kindergarten by a boy who was bigger than me on more than one occasion, for no good reason that I knew.  When I went to primary school, I got it there.  Menaced by bigger boys for any money I might have (which was very little if any), or my stuff, even if it was cheap and crappy.  I was made fun of for being poor, for being dirty, for being fat (even before I was fat), for being stupid (which I have never been), or just because I was available for bullying.  When I got a little older I would stand up to the bullies if they targeted my younger brother, but if I was just on my own, I seemed to lack the confidence to do so.   They would push me around, throw food or anything else gross they could think of at me, steal my school stuff and hide it or destroy it, make fun of how I looked or what I was wearing, or lie to teachers and get me in trouble when I hadn’t done anything.

But, in primary school I had friends, a couple of lovely teachers, and my beloved school library (complete with teacher-librarians who I still idolise today), so I survived.  It was much harder surviving what was being dished out at home than dealing with what was happening at school.

When I got to high school, things changed.  I got fat.  Puberty hit at the end of primary school so I was far more developed than my peers.  Added to the mark I already seemed to have on me labelling me as a perfect bully victim, it equaled 5 years of living hell.  For the first time, the girls started in on me.  Say what you like, boys might be rougher and bigger, but girls are far, far more vicious bullies.  There was one girl who had a pair of twin sisters as friends.  Think of the two oafs that Draco Malfoy has as his henchmen in Harry Potter… Crabbe and Goyle.  That’s what these two twins were like.  Twice my size, mind numbingly stupid, but would do anything that the Malfoyesque girl told them to do.  They beat the shit out of me.  They burnt my stuff.  They followed me home (across the street from the high school, fucking great huh?) and stood there on the corner for hours on end, menacing me.  They told the older boys that I liked them and that I’d sleep with them for money.  They rang the school pretending to be a concerned parent and dobbed on me for doing things I didn’t do.  They told my violent father that they caught me smoking.  They stole my lunch and ground it in the dirt.  They cornered me in the girls toilets and forced me to stick my fingers down my throat until I vomited, and told me that I had to do that after every meal because I was so fat and disgusting.  They found a boy to piss on me, which he would do every couple of days.  They got other boys to ring my house and ask me out, and then laugh at me no matter what reaction I had.  They spat on me, they stole my school books, they tore my school uniforms, they just never fucking stopped.  All the while the main girl just told them what to do, and spewed hateful words at me.

One day when I was about 14, something snapped.  I lashed out with a steel ruler that I happened to have in my arms with my school books, and hit the main girl across the face with it.  I was horrified but I had just snapped.  The deputy principal took me into his office and said “I know you’re not that girl, you’re not violent.  But I know what goes on at home, and that you don’t want to be that person.  Don’t ever come back into my office for this reason again.”

They never bothered me again.  In fact, even the oaf twins gave me a wide berth.

But the bullying didn’t stop.  Older kids stepped in.  Boys got worse.  They grabbed my breasts, forced me into corners and grabbed my crotch.  They pulled down my pants.  They asked me out and then screamed with laughter at the mere thought of dating me.  They spat on me, pissed on me, threw dog shit at me, you name it.

I changed schools in my Senior year because my mother moved us to a new town.  The bullying happened there too, just with different kids.  But they could have been the same kids.  They looked and sounded like the same kids to me.

Teachers never helped.  They told me not to be so sensitive, not to engage with the bullies, not to take things so seriously, to mind my own business, to get a hobby, to lose weight, to apply myself better in school.  My parents didn’t care, they were too busy fighting each other and bullying me themselves.

By the time I was 16, I wanted to die.  It was the only way I could see an end to it.  But for some reason, I never did it.  I just wanted dying to happen, I couldn’t do it myself.

After I left school, there were some good years, but soon after more bullies found me.  One of my first full time bosses bullied me for fun.  A neighbour bullied me.  I had some more good years.  Then a colleague bullied me for a couple of years that were absolutely hellish, and which only stopped when a bullying complaint was filed on my behalf (when I simply asked for help) and while that complaint was dismissed because of a technicality, for some reason the bullying stopped too.

I got help with my self esteem and the depression issues (which I believe are part chemical, part result of constant abuse and bullying my whole life).  Things are good for me now, and I know I would never, ever take the shit that I once used to tolerate.  But in those bad years, time and time again I wished for death to claim me, a few times I got to the point of attempting it myself.

So I know, oh believe me I know how it feels.

Now, to those of you who are young and think it never ends.  It does.  You are not what they say you are.  You are not worthless, ugly, disgusting, gross, nothing.  You will survive this.  And it WILL get better.  Please, please don’t give up.  Talk to someone.  Call or email something like The Trevor Project, or Kids Helpline, or Lifeline, or something else in your state/country along those lines (anyone who knows any services, please share links in the comments).  But hang in there.  Hold your head up and know that you DO deserve better.

And I promise you this.  I am working to MAKE it better.  It’s not fair of people to just say “Hang in there, it will get better.” without doing anything to make it better.  You shouldn’t have to just ride it out and tolerate being bullied.  But if you can hang on, I and a lot of other people who care, will work to make it better, to change things.  I will fight to change the cultural attitude of permitting bullying, or excusing it.  I will ask others to stand beside me in that fight.  It has to change.

Now to those of you who are adults and have suffered bullying in the past.  Or those of you who maybe have or know kids you’re worried about when it comes to bullying.  I need to talk to all of you.

It’s not right that we ask kids to hang on, to suffer through the bullying with the vague promise that “it gets better”.  We need to MAKE it better.  We need to teach our own children, and all of those around us, that bullying is never, ever acceptable.  I’ve seen posts over the past couple of days saying that bullies do so because they hate themselves, or because they’re the victims of abuse at home themselves, and a myriad of other reasons.  I’m here to say that while I care that people feel this way, I DO NOT ACCEPT THOSE EXCUSES.

I hated myself my whole life, until I was past 35.  I came from a violent, abusive home.  Lot’s of us did/do.  Lots of us have things in our lives that made/make us miserable, but do we turn to bullying to deal with that?  No.  Because we know it’s just a very pathetic excuse to be a cretin.

I do not accept any justification for bullying.  I am not going to give bullies sympathy and hugs.  Not until they stop bullying.  If and when anyone chooses to be a good human being, and to treat others with basic respect, then I will encourage them and support them until the ends of the earth.  But so long as someone is bullying others there need to be decent repercussions for that behaviour.  We need to stop making excuses and enabling bullies.  We need to speak up and say it is unacceptable, over and over and over again.  We need to tell our friends, our families, our colleagues that bullying behaviour is not acceptable.  We need to work to make it better for the kids that are coming up behind us.  We cannot let the same injustices happen over and over again.

It’s time we stood up and said loud and clear that bullying is NEVER acceptable. Change takes time, but we have to stand up and start making that change.  The kids of today will join us down the track, and more and more after them.

Let’s not expect young people to just suffer through bullying.  Let’s make a difference.

Men Who Make a Difference

Published April 18, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

It’s not secret that I love Craig Ferguson.  Not only is he cute and funny, I love how intelligent, opinionated, passionate and articulate he is.  I bookmark a stack of videos, pics, quotes and things about him each week and usually Sunday is my internet catch up day, where I go back and take a look at all the bits and bobs I’ve saved for later.

I found this video via Tumblr.  Take a look, especially for the bit at the end, from around the 7:11 mark:

I knew what the subject matter was in that bit, in fact I’d seen a transcript of his comments on the Rhianna/Chris Brown thing, but what I didn’t expect was my reaction.

I fully expected to cheer a bit, say “YES!” and basically be impressed that Craig has had the guts to say something about it.

What I didn’t expect, was to quietly start crying.

Even though I have been safely removed from my abuser for over 15 years, there is still pain.  Even though I know now that the abuse wasn’t my fault, it still hits somewhere deeply when I think of what I and other women have suffered and are suffering.

A lot of good men say it doesn’t matter if they say anything against domestic violence.  They think that their voice against such abuse is pointless and doesn’t change anything.  I know it feels that way, in the face of “smack the bitch around” jokes and comments about how women just get to men so much that there is nothing they can do in retaliation but become abusive.  I know that it feels like it makes a man powerless to speak up, or that it’s pointless.

I am here to say that it is not pointless.  It does matter.  You are not powerless in speaking up against men who are abusive towards women and children.

It matters most to those of us who have suffered and are still suffering.  To hear a man say that hitting women is not acceptable means more than I can put into words.  It gives us heart that there are men out there who would never dream of hurting the people that they love.  Especially when being hurt by the person who is supposed to love you the most is all some women and children know.  It gives us hope that someone is speaking up with those of us who are victims and survivors.

Most importantly, it gives power to women and children who are being abused by the men in their lives to make a change and get out of that situation.

So the next time you hear of a case of domestic abuse dear good men, and I now know you are out there, in the past 15+ years I’ve been fortunate to have many of you come into my life as friends, colleagues, and even romantic interests, do speak up.  Say something.  Say something publicly.

Because you DO make a difference, it does matter.  I thank those of you who do.

On Childhood Obesity and Healthy Kids

Published April 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

There’s a lot of talk these days on “childhood obesity” and what we need to be doing about it as a culture.  It’s getting some very high profile names and faces attached to it, and appearing regularly in mainstream media.  In the US, first lady Michelle Obama has taken up the “cause”.  As has Jamie Oliver again, after his campaign in the UK, he’s headed over to the US to teach folks over there a lesson.  Even here in Australia, names like Mia Freedman are weighing in (ok, yes, I did intend that pun, shut up) on the subject.

In my opinion, there’s are two very vital points these famous folk are missing.

Firstly, by demonising obesity in children, they are creating a “class” of children to be bullied, ridiculed, harassed and discriminated against.

Secondly, by focusing on fat kids, they’re totally ignoring the rest of the kids out there who are eating just as shitty food and living sedentary lives but are normal or thin bodied.

There is an assumption oft made about the fat acceptance movement that we are against healthy eating and exercise.  This is not true.  Many of us are against dieting and weight loss, but this does not mean that we are suggesting that healthy living is a bad thing.  We believe that diet and weight loss ARE NOT conducive to healthy living.

As an adult who was not a fat child, but became a fat teenager, I can remember a lot of the messages I got both in my childhood before I really did become fat, and as a teenager when I was.

In primary school (let’s call it BF – before fat), I was never very good at speed or agility when it came to sports.  When we had things like races or anything that required me to move quickly and deftly, I was always at the back of the pack.  However, in life BF, and AF (after fat) as well, I have always had strength and endurance that far outstrips my peers, and in many cases, a lot of men.

In primary school, I can remember at the beginning of every physical education class, we were told to do a lap of the oval.  The kids that came first, were always picked for teams by the teacher, or asked to “demonstrate how things are done”.  Those of us who didn’t do so well, or in my case, came last, were ignored, or told “You will have to do better if you don’t want to be fat.”

I can remember trying and trying to be faster, be more agile and athletic, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it.  So consequently I missed out on being on sports teams and was usually told to run more laps, or do some other kind of boring, repetitive activity, while the other kids “played games” on teams of soccer, softball, volleyball, cricket, you name it.

The irony is, in later years when I had a go at things myself, I found that I have a soccer kick like a cannon, can spike a volleyball with force and deadly accuracy, and am able to hit a ball with such force that I can break it.  Yes, I can split a golf ball with a single hit, the same for a tennis ball.  My mother has the same force when it comes to playing golf, I’ve seen her hit off the men’s tee and send a ball considerably farther than any of the men can.

As a child I also loved riding my bike, and could do so for hours, yet couldn’t win a race on the damn thing, and from about 12, discovered that I had a slow but powerful and enduring swimming stroke that I could plough away at for hours.

Yet I was never given the opportunity to exhibit these in PE classes as a child.  Instead I was shamed and told that I was slow and lazy.

I also got the same messages at home.  I remember being told by my parents that I was lazy and that I had “lead in my arse” because I was slow.  I can remember being told that I was fat from a very early age (kindergarten is the first I can consciously remember) when I now know that I was a normal size and shape kid.  I have blogged on this before.

Then of course, puberty hit and so did the fat.  So I went from slow and poor agility to fat with slow and poor agility.  PE classes in late primary school and then high school included lessons on losing weight, nutrition lessons, in which I and other fat kids were made examples of when talking about “bad” food choices and aerobics classes (it was the 80’s remember) for any kids that were considered fat because they needed the extra “help.  Of course, that meant I was ridiculed, bullied and humiliated by the other kids because I was a Fatty McFattersons and they weren’t.

So you can see why it didn’t take me long to shun PE classes, can’t you?

However, I also remember kids who were not fat coming to school with copious amounts of tuckshop money, buying chips, ice-creams, pies, pizza, lollies and soft drinks and digging in happily.  We rarely got tuckshop because we were always broke, and almost all of my high school life I just didn’t eat lunch.  Nobody rode those kids who weren’t fat to diet and exercise did they?  Nope, they were just left to their own devices.

What happened is it created two unhealthy groups.  Those kids who were fat, learned to obsess about food and weight, many developed eating disorders and distorted views of their bodies, and had their self esteem and confidence trampled into the ground.  Those kids who were not fat, were taught that it’s ok to eat crap and sit around so long as you’re thin.  They were not taught healthy eating and movement, and were abusing their bodies through the neglect they had been taught was acceptable, so long as they were thin.  Many of those became fat at a later date, or are still living sedentary, poor nutrition lifestyles that are making them sick.

Instead of focusing on “childhood obesity” how about we focus on positive health for all kids.

Teach them that their bodies will tell them when they are truly hungry and about good natural foods and how to prepare and cook them deliciously (this is one part of Jamie Oliver’s campaign that I actually think is bang on).

Encourage them to be active in whatever activity they enjoy.  I recently read about a school that has a “play before you eat” policy for lunch times, where the kids go out and play for half an hour, in any way they like, in the school playground, before they have their lunch.  This helps them build up an appetite so that they actually eat their lunch and burns off some of the energy stored up from sitting around in a classroom all morning, while also getting them active.  Work towards their strengths – if they’re fast and high energy, get them out there burning that off.  If they’re strong and have endurance, encourage that instead.

But most of all, we need to get rid of the arbitrary judgement of kid’s health and abilities based on the size, shape and weight of their bodies.

Portrait of a Blogger

Published April 8, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Just a quick post tonight, it’s been a nutty week and while I have a lot of things I want to talk about, time is at a premium just now.

But I wanted to share this photograph with you all:


Isn’t it fabulous?

This is a portrait of me, done by 6 year old Tatiana.  It is also one of the greatest compliments I have ever received.  You will note the bright, colourful outfit, the big smile on my face and the small fuzzy chicken attached to my hand.  The small, fuzzy chicken I am told represents my owl handbag, which I know Tatiana loves.

See – owl handbag:


The drawing is part of a beautiful Easter card Tat and her big sister Ellie (aged 8, sorry, ALMOST 9) made for me.  I was very honoured to receive it.  Tatiana and Ellie are stylish girls, and I believe they have excellent taste.  So I’m thrilled that they think I’m pretty cool.  Ellie announced to me a few weeks ago that she loves my tattoos.

It’s really good for the self esteem to have young girls think of me as awesome and cool, even though I don’t fit the mold of what is usually role models for young girls.  Even though I’m a Super Fatty, I have weird coloured hair and tattoos, dress in loud clothes and love outlandish accessories, two little girls, the daughters of good friends, think I’m cool.

It gives me hope that kids do have a chance in the future of getting past all the negative body image and anti-women bullshit in the world, and forming positive, female friendly attitudes about themselves.

The Woman I Want to Be

Published March 23, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I had some giggles on Sunday.  I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend of mine, when I noticed these three little girls, aged about 7 or 8 years old, making passes of our table and whispering.  I realised they were trying to sneak looks at the tattoos on my feet, which are flowers on the top of each foot (lotus on the left, pansy on the right).  After about the 5th pass, as they got close enough to our table, I turned over my left arm and said “Here, look at this one.” and showed them the bluebird tattoo on the inside of my left arm.

Their eyes were like saucers, and the little blonde poppet that was the one who was showing her friends my foot tattoos said “WHOA!!  AWESOME!!”

It was a delight to see them so impressed by my ink.

A few weeks earlier, another friend of mine had a barbecue, and as I don’t drive and he lives all the way on the other side of town, he offered to come and pick me up.  He and his two wee daughters (I think they’re 6 and 8) came to get me, and we drove the 45 or so minute drive back to his place.  When we got out of the car at his house, the younger of the two girls came up to me and said “Excuse me…?” in that cute way little kids have.  I replied “Yes honey?” to which she gave a huge sigh and said “I LOVE tattoos!”  Every now and then she and her sister would come up to me and investigate one or more of my tattoos, and at one point the older of the two announced to me that she loved purple hair.  Yes, I have purple hair as well as tattoos.

I’m in yr restaurant/house, corrupting yr children.

One of my friends who is over a decade younger than myself and I were talking about the whole thing of women we admired when we were kids, or were younger women, and it got me thinking about the fact that now, in my late 30’s, I am of the age group that can be of influence to other young girls and women.  It led me to think about the women who I admired when I was a young.  I remember that I loved any woman who was “different”.  I loved artistic women, or outspoken women, alternative women.  Still do.  I admired women who were smart, outspoken, kind, funny, well travelled, well read, individual women.  I wasn’t inspired by the picture perfect supermodel (after all, I was a teen in the golden age of supermodels), but was inspired by the quirky women, the ones who were more than just famous or known for being beautiful.

The first woman I idolised was my childhood teacher librarian, Miss Stubbs.  I thought she was fabulous, and what I remember is how smart and well read she was.  The first famous woman I remember being inspired by was Barbra Streisand.  I loved her in comedic roles when I was a small kid.  Hello, Dolly!, The Owl and the Pussycat, Funny Girl.  She was funny and loud and talked really fast, and she looked beautiful, but in her own way – not like all the other women I saw on TV or in the magazines.  As I got older, the women that influenced me were the same – strong, confident, outspoken, talented women.  In my own life, famous women and fictional women.  Annie Lennox, two more school librarians (the latter of the two was a formidable little woman, intelligent, fierce and outspoken, with a huge booming voice that didn’t seem to fit her tiny stature), a schoolfriend’s mother who had a loud laugh and a cheeky sense of humour, Aretha Franklin, Tank Girl, Sarah from Labyrinth, Anne of Green Gables, Tori Amos, k d lang, Dolly Parton, the saucy, 65+ woman in Florida who I befriended online over a common adoration of William McInnes…  All women who are outside of the box as far as traditional values for women are concerned.

Sometimes, being a fat, outspoken, feminist, intelligent, tattooed and (currently) purple haired woman is difficult.  I’m told I’m not feminine, too emotional, too argumentative, think too much, talk too much/loud, laugh to loud, too passionate am too outlandish, too wild… a freak.  Sometimes the criticism gets so loud that I have a moment where I think it would be easier to try to fit into the mold of what women are expected to be – pretty, quiet, compliant, not too outlandish or different, pleasing.  I get worn down by the fight, and think it would be easier to give up.

But then a little girl in a restaurant thinks I’m awesome because I’m different.  Or a younger girlfriend tells me that the fact that I am accepting of myself, despite my body that isn’t what bodies are supposed to look like makes her feel better about herself.  Or I meet an older woman who says “I wish I had the courage to speak up like you do.”  A friend’s daughter learns from me that happiness is not about being compliant, being pleasing, being quiet.

These moments happen, and I remember that as I grow older and stronger and more confident in myself, I am an example for other women.  In my own way, I can show other women and girls that they are valuable, valid human beings with much to contribute to the world.  I think about where I would be if I didn’t have women who were outside of the norm, who took that criticism and were themselves anyway, despite the heat they got for it.

That’s the woman I want to be.

Nurture or Nature

Published December 27, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

I had a pleasant surprise today.  A little moment of delight that gave me warm fuzzies, but also has me thinking.

I was sitting in a cafe, having a coffee before I went off to meet a friend for a lunch and movie date (we saw Avatar in 3D, it was AWESOME!) when I noticed this cute little boy of about 3 years old staring at me intently.

Fearing that I was going to have another one of those “Mummy, look at the fat lady!” moments, I mentally braced myself, only for the little monkey to pipe up very loudly:

“Mummy!  I LOVE pink hair!!”

Yes, I have hot pink hair at the moment.

It was such a delightful thing for the little guy to say, and he said it with such adoration and feeling, I knew he really did love my pink hair, and that’s all he was noticing about me.

What it got me thinking about, is how much of when children say things that are rude or hurtful, how much of it is nature and how much is nurture – that they have been taught.

I’m sure any and all fatties who are reading this, or friends of fatties, have heard that child’s voice pipe up somewhere really public and embarrassing with “Whoa!  Look at that FAT lady over there Mummy!”  Or been asked by a child “Why are you so fat?”  Then there is my “favourite” – “My Mummy says you need to go on a diet, you’re too fat!”

This little guy today was pretty small, about 3 years old, four at the absolute most.   I’d love to think he had awesome parents who were teaching him not to point people out in a negative way that are different, but that I don’t know.  Maybe  he was just too young to have got those messages from our culture that fat = bad.

Of course, kids don’t just pipe up with these things about fat people.  Recently I read a blog where a Mum talked about her young son coming home from school upset because the other kids had commented on his brown skin.  I’ve seen kids making fun of people who look different to them in a lot of ways.

But of course, for me, I’ve had the fat comments ever since I was a kid myself.  It used to bother me terribly, I would get very upset, but since I found fat acceptance and my self esteem and confidence, it’s a mere sting, rather than a deep seated pain like it used to be, when it happens.

So what do we do about it?  We start with our own kids and kids in our lives I guess.  Giving them positive body messages and teaching them to think about how others might feel about things they say.  Those close to us are the easy ones to work with.

When it does happen, don’t get angry at the child.  If they’re a big kid, or a teenager, fair enough.  But under 10… they are almost always parroting what they have heard from adults.  The little ones usually respond to warmth.  When I was working in child care, when kids would make comments about my being fat, I used to simply say “You know, fat gives the best cuddles.”  Most of the time that would change their tune.

However, if you can’t respond, and turn the situation, don’t wear it on your soul as pain.  I know it hurts – as I said, it still stings for me now.  Remember that the child is just parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere.  That most times, if the child really got the chance to interact with you, fat becomes invisible to them.  They don’t care about body shape until they’ve been bombarded with the body image messages for some time.  Usually they just care for approval, attention and love.

If you’ve got kids, especially if you’re not a fatty and you’re reading this, it’s important that you teach them that size is not reflective of who a person is.  After all, do you want your child growing up with bad body image?  Do you want your child facing hurt and heartbreak over the shape and size of their body?

Or you can do what I do.  Dye your hair hot pink.  Kids LOVE it!

Be Good to Your Daughters… And Your Sons Too

Published July 21, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Well here I am, back at Fat Heffalump. Tonight I want to talk a bit about the messages we give to young girls about their bodies, and weight. And while I’m at it, you’re going to get to see some photos of me when I was a munchkin.

Let’s start with this one:
I think I’m about 7 years old in this one.
I can remember, from a very early age – about 5 or 6 is my first memory of it, being told by my parents that I was fat. I was called porky, told I had “lead in my arse” because I was “so heavy” and couldn’t run fast, and of course I’ve mentioned earlier my brother’s taunts of “fat heffalump” and “tub of lard”.
I did have a barrel shape (no waist at all), but how many girls before puberty do have waists?
And consequently, I believed it. All my life. I believed it right up until I found the photo above, about six months ago in a box of old photo albums.
Can I ask you something. Is that little girl there fat? Does the child in the photo above look fat to you?
What about this one?
I think I’m about 9 or 10 in this one. Would you say fat there?
Here I am just before puberty hit me:
Age 11. Just before my 12th birthday. Jesus look at those legs. Fat legs? I don’t think so.
So what are people telling girls that look like this, that they’re fat? Why was a girl of this body shape, being led to believe that there was something wrong with her? Maybe it was in jest. Maybe it was a way to “keep her in her place” and not let her get “too many tickets on herself.” But I think it’s a seriously sad reflection on people’s attitudes that anyone could think a girl with this body could be considered fat.
In that last photograph, I was taller than my aunt, who is 5’2″. Very tall for an 11 year old girl. I towered all of my classmates. I stopped growing in height by the time I was 13, and I’m 5’6″ now. I was the tallest girl in my class for a long time, until the others caught up later on in their teens. Consequently, I needed women’s sized clothing, from a very young age, otherwise I’d have been exposing what was at the top of those long legs! If I remember correctly, that school uniform was a women’s size 10 (Australian), a bit loose around the middle and under the arms, yet that’s pretty proportionate for a 5’2″ female body about to sprout boobs and stuff.
Yet I remember my mother complaining in shops that I shouldn’t be in women’s clothing. Girls in school made fun of me because I shopped in the ladies wear section. I was referred to as a “big girl”. However I look at those photos and I don’t think I was big at all. Tall yes, but certainly not big or fat.
But of course, I did get fat. Puberty hit just after my 12th birthday, and boy did it hit hard. Within 12 months of that last photo above, I actually was a fat girl. A fat girl with all sorts of hormonal shit going on (I won’t go into the gory details but let’s just say that I know now that it wasn’t normal). I also had D cup breasts by the time I was 13 and they weren’t just fat. Even in my late teens when I dropped a lot of weight, I still had huge breasts.
Consequently, I don’t have any photos of me in my teens. There is the odd school class photo, but until I turned 18, there really weren’t any photos taken of me. I wouldn’t allow it. And there were huge chunks of my life since then that I wouldn’t allow photos to be taken of me, because I believed I was hideous and didn’t want any record. Those were also the years that I was sticking my fingers down my throat to purge anything I ate.
Nowdays, I relish having my photo taken. I love to have those reminders of the times in my life, the outfits I wear, the laughs that I have. Here I am today (well, ok, a couple of weeks ago, smart arses):
Me - 2009
Oh yes, I am a fat lady. By many labels, I am “morbidly obese” – do I look morbid to you? I am probably at the fattest I have ever been (give or take a bit!) but I’m also at the happiest I have ever been, because my worth is no longer measured by the number on a set of scales, the tag on my clothing, or the size of my body.
My worth is measured by the size of my heart, the number of beloved people in my life, the use of my brain, the strength of my laugh and the depth of my respect for others and myself.
We need to think about what we say to our children. Not just the girls, but they do cop the double whammy because of the whole sexualisation thing, as well as body image. Even if they are fatter than their peers, instead of crushing them down with criticisms, we should be building them up with encouragement and strong self esteem. I can’t say I wouldn’t be fat if I hadn’t been criticised so much as a child (remember those hormonal problems I mentioned), but I can say I wouldn’t have done so much damage to my body with crash diets and eating disorders. I can say I wouldn’t have wasted so many years hating myself, and would have achieved so much more in life had I been allowed to believe in myself.