criticism

All posts in the criticism category

Temporarily Rendered Speechless

Published September 20, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Yeah, only temporarily.

Ok Heffalumpies, I need to put my ranty pants on, so brace yourselves!

Y’all know I bought a Thermomix a month or so ago right?  Well I did, and it’s awesome.  I have a lasagne cooking in the oven right now that took me about 20 minutes to put together, INCLUDING cooking both the bolognaise and bechemel sauce from scratch.  That puppy is going to feed me for about a week.

Anyway, I’ve been following quite a few Thermomix blogs, forums and Facebook feeds since before I bought it, and so far they’ve been fantastic and very inclusive, with no judgment about weight or food or eating, but lots of great recipes, from the ultra efficient tummy fillers to delicious indulgent treats.  I’ve really loved that about the Thermomix community, that I’ve felt included even though I’m a big fat person!

Anyhoo, imagine my shock this afternoon when I see one of the prominent Australian Thermomix bloggers (who I am not going to name here, I don’t want to give them any traffic) post this horrible article to their Facebook page, with this comment: “Oh wow, these people need to find [redacted], the chocolate appetite suppressant…”

Trigger warning on that article lovelies, there’s a headless fatty on there and a whole bunch of fat hate. I’ve redacted the name of the “chocolate appetite suppressant” because I’m not giving that stuff any promotion.

So I left a comment and asked could they please keep it to cooking/Thermomix and not bigotry against fat people, because fat people both a) have Thermomixes and b) read their blog.  I also talked about my eating disorder past and how my Thermomix has been instrumental in helping me learn to eat competently and reclaim my right to enjoy cooking and food.

Said blogger then sent me a message saying that they hadn’t intended to offend (yeah right, by suggesting that “obese people” need a damn appetite suppressant), that they would remove the post, that they shared it because it would be “interesting for those who care about eating proper food” and could I please email them privately.  I did so, expanding on how my Thermomix and the online community has been fantastic for helping me in my recovery from an eating disorder, outlining the problem with the article they posted, and expanding on my highly disordered past with a history of abusing appetite suppressants and other diet products, both natural and chemical.  I even said, and I quote:

Fat people don’t need chocolate appetite suppressants, we need to be able to live our lives without stigmatisation and shaming, and to find the healthiest ways to feed and move our bodies as they are, and not hold off on life “until we lose weight”.

I also sent them a link to my earlier post about the topic.

Well, you can imagine how speechless I was to receive a response offering me a sample of the “chocolate appetite suppressant”!!

This is akin to offering a recovering alcoholic a drink, or a recovering drug addict a shot of heroin.  It is both irresponsible and tactless, and actually, it’s dangerous.  I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m well enough down the road of recovery that I can say no, and do so without being triggered horribly.

When I did a bit of research into the “chocolate appetite suppressant”, I discovered the active ingredient is Theobromine, a caffeine like stimulant (alkaloid).  It is the ingredient in chocolate that is harmful to cats and dogs.  It is not “entirely harmless” to humans, and can cause illness and even death if consumed in enough quantities.  From Wikipedia:

The first signs of theobromine poisoning are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination. These can progress to cardiac arrhythmias, epileptic seizures, internal bleeding, heart attacks, and eventually death.

Now if someone has admitted to you that they have a history of abusing appetite suppressants, are you going to suggest they try something that if abused, can lead to the above?  I should hope not.  It’s like handing an addict a loaded needle.

It goes to show that people shilling these products really don’t care.  They don’t do the research, they don’t listen to people and they don’t take responsibility for how their snake oils might be abused by vulnerable people.

How I didn’t tear them a new orifice in my response email, I don’t know.  My God, am I actually learning restraint???  Say it ain’t so Heffalumpies!

Needless to say, I’ve removed that particular blog from my RSS reader, unliked their page on Facebook and will be avoiding them like the plague.

We’ve Done Our Time

Published September 19, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

A little questionnaire for you all:

  1. How many years of your life did you put into trying to be thin?
  2. How much of your life did you put on hold while you tried to be thin?
  3. How old were you when you first remember being told you were fat?
  4. How many diets have you been on?
  5. How many exercise “plans” have you been on?
  6. How many years of your life have been taken up with eating disorders?
  7. How many people have told you that you are fat?
  8. How many people have treated you badly because you are fat?
  9. How many years did you spend counting calories, watching the number on the scale or the size label on your clothes?

Now tally the sum of all those years, all that time, all those diets, all those times you made yourself sick in the effort to get thin, all the punishing exercise regimes, all the hurtful experiences add all those numbers together.

Take that number, write it down, look at it for a minute, and ask yourself…

Don’t you think the fat haters should invest the equivalent amount of time, the same number of years, in trying as hard to be a decent human being, as we fat people invested in trying to be thin?

Fat people are not the ones with the problem, or who are in denial.   Fat people are not in denial of being fat.  We know we are fat, and in choosing fat acceptance, we accept ourselves exactly as we are, and we accept others exactly as they are.

You can let go of all those numbers now.  Set yourself free of the pain that those numbers represent.  You’re off the hook – you’ve done your part.  Close your eyes and imagine that all those instances of trying to be thin, or being bullied and shamed for being fat are balloons, filled with helium.  Imagine them in your hand, bobbing above you, all different colours.  Now open your hand and let them all go.  You don’t have to carry them any more.

This isn’t giving up.  This is letting go and deciding that YOU control your life, not other people who feel they have the right to judge you.  This is about deciding to live your life to the fullest you can.

People who think that fat people are somehow worth less as human beings as thin people, that fat people deserve to be shamed, discredited, their experiences denied and generally just shamed and bullied for being fat are the ones who have the problem.  They just can’t get on with their lives and let people be who they are, as they are.

We are not the ones in denial, it is the fat haters that are in denial.

Denial that they are in fact… arseholes.

*Post inspired this post by Ragen of Dances with Fat.

 

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Anger

Published September 16, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before.  The old “Why are you so angry?”  Or “You’re such and angry, angry person!”  Any time we speak up about an injustice, or show passion for a cause, this is the accusation that comes at us to try to derail us from our objectives.

It’s an incredibly passive-aggressive method of derailing an argument.  Particularly when coupled with those concern-troll statements like “I worry about you.” or “I really hope you find peace.”  Oh vomit!  What they’re really implying when they pull the old “you’re angry” defense, is that you’re too emotional, or you’re too aggressive, or too simply “you’re right but I want to save face”.

What it also does is attempt to shame you for having emotional reactions to something, for being angry or passionate or outspoken.  Women are supposed to be “lady-like”, demure, not make a fuss, not get too emotional, keep their opinions to themselves.  People rarely criticise a man for being passionate about a topic, or about stating his opinions.  Men are supposed to be assertive.  But women who display these behaviours are scolded for not being “lady-like”.

What year are we living in?  1911?

Here’s the thing.  Anger is a perfectly valid emotion.  I know, shocking isn’t it?   And anger at things like injustice, loathing, bullying, stigmatisation and shaming is perfectly justified.  We have every right to be angry at the way the world treats fat people.  The same as any other marginalised group of people has every right to be angry at the oppression they suffer.  The idea of shaming people for anger at oppression isn’t new – after all, the trope of the “uppity negro” has been used for centuries.  Damn straight we’re angry at fat hatred!  I defy anyone to face that kind of outright loathing and bullying that fat people face every single day, and not be angry at it.

Sure, anger can consume you, and that’s not a good thing.  If something makes you so angry that you’re unable to function because of it, then yes, it can become a problem – particularly as prolonged anger is a form of stress, and we all know stress is damaging to the mind and body.  But anger is also a valid emotion that fuels action when channeled properly.  There is nothing at all wrong with using anger to propel yourself into action.  There is nothing wrong with expressing anger (only when expressing it with violence) at injustice and oppression.  In fact, I believe it’s vital to vent that anger.  Expressing anger doesn’t mean that someone is an angry person, or is in any way angry all the time.  I can get as foot stomping, table thumping angry as anyone but really I’m as happy as Larry generally speaking.  I’m an optimist with a goofy sense of humour, yet that doesn’t mean I’m never angry.

The only thing I don’t condone when it comes to anger is when people use anger to be violent.  There is never an excuse for violence, no matter how angry someone or something makes you.

But I also want to talk about other things that are conflated with anger.  Particularly passion and outspokenness, and especially in women.  It seems that the minute a woman is passionate or outspoken about a topic, it is assumed that she is angry.  Having strong opinions and voicing them is seen as somehow aggressive and irate and overly emotional in women, where usually it is seen as assertive and confident in men.  I’ve had people say to me “You’re pretty opinionated.” in a tone that clearly expresses their disapproval with that fact, as though I’m supposed to apologise for having an opinion or being passionate about things.

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen folks.

Passion is an awesome thing.  I love passionate people.  They inspire me.  I have no time for cynicism or complacency in my life.  It’s boring and counter-productive.  When I’m surrounded by passionate people, who fire my passions, there is nothing I cannot achieve.  Passion is what had me fighting my way through high school when I was expected to leave and get a full time job at 15, writing my first novel at 16 (damn I should try to get that thing published!), starting a radio station at 21 years of age, travelling around the US on my own, working my way into a job that I love and am constantly challenged by, and taking up fat activism.  Passion is what propels me through life with gusto.  I don’t want to be the kind of person who lives half-heartedly, without ever feeling any strong emotions.  That sounds as boring as batshit to me!

If something makes you angry, and you want to express that anger, then vent that anger (non-violently of course).  If someone pisses you off, and you are in a position that you can do so… then say so!  We all have to bite our tongues from time to time, but learning to vent your anger appropriately is so powerful, especially when you refuse to be shamed for it.  Build a network of people you can trust, and who understand that your venting anger is in no way a commentary on them, and let rip!  Be there for those people when they  need a good old vent too.

If you have an opinion on something, make yourself a space somewhere (be it a blog, a letter to the editor, your Facebook or Twitter) and share that opinion.  Sometimes people will have different opinions to you.  That’s ok.  Sometimes you will find yourself shifting your opinion when you listen to other people, sometimes their opinions will shift when they listen to yours.  Other times you each will strengthen your own opinions and always differ… and guess what, the world doesn’t end.  Sometimes if it is something truly important to you, you find yourself having to move away from that person.  But other people, who feel the same way you do, will come into your life.

But most of all, please, please, please celebrate your passions.  Share your passions.  Live your passions.  And by doing so, you inspire those of us who are not afraid of passion.

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?

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Shame

Published August 20, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I talk about fat stigma a lot here on Fat Heffalump.  It’s the biggest problem fat people face and clearly the most damaging.  Far more damaging than being fat is, that’s for sure.  I want to start breaking down some of the components of fat stigma and talking about strategies to overcome those as a fat person.  Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of posts along this theme.

Tonight I want to talk about shame.  For me at least, and I know my experience is not universal but I am sure there are plenty of you who feel the same way, the shame placed on me as a fat person has been the most painful aspect of fat stigma, the hardest to overcome, and very much the one that has done the most damage to me.

Fat people are shamed at every turn.  We are shamed for being fat.  We are shamed for not being healthy enough (regardless of how healthy we actually are).  We are shamed for not being active enough, but if we are publicly active, we are shamed for that too.  We are shamed for being sloppy dressers, but if we do manage to find nice clothes and take pride in our appearance, we are shamed for that as well.  We are shamed for wearing shapeless sacks, and we are shamed if we wear anything that reveals any skin.  We are shamed for eating “junk” food, but should we be seen eating “healthy” food we are shamed for that as well (I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that “It will take more than salad to fix you, fat bitch.”)  We are shamed if we hide ourselves away from the world, and we are shamed if we appear in public.  We are shamed if we do not work, and then we are shamed if we dare to want a career and be treated the same as everyone else.  We are shamed for needing health care (and it is implied that we require more than others), but often we are shamed once we get health care for not getting it sooner.  We are shamed if we make no mention of our fatness, and yet if we do, if we are proud of ourselves and own our fatness, we are shamed for that as well.

No matter which way we turn, there is always someone waiting to heap shame on our shoulders.  Many people will say that they’re “Telling it like it is.” or somehow trying to help us when they put shame on us.  But there is one stark fact that we know for sure:

You cannot shame someone for their own good.

You just can’t.  Shaming someone has absolutely no benefit for them at all, just damage.  And shaming someone isn’t about helping them, it’s about making them feel bad, shutting them up, oppressing them and quite often, making the shamer feel better about themselves.

But what does help people, is letting go of shame.  Is empowering them to advocate for themselves, and to feel like they are able to deal with whatever life throws their way.  Empowering them to live their lives to the fullest, within their personal circumstances, that they can.

Every day of our lives, we hear, over and over, that fat people should be ashamed of themselves, for a myriad of reasons.  When you hear so many stories of fat people who are unhappy with their lives, it is so often because they feel worthless, ashamed of themselves because they are fat.  They loathe themselves because the world around them has told them they should.

People who feel worthless and unhappy don’t take care of themselves as well as they can.  When someone hates their body, they’re not going to treat it well and care for it the best they can.  Instead they are going to punish themselves, deprive themselves and look for ways to change who they are.

However, when someone has strong self esteem, and doesn’t carry that forced shame on their shoulders, they are able to do so much more for themselves in their lives.  They cope better with adversity in their lives (which none of us can avoid, we all go through tough times), they are able to focus better on their work and other life matters, they feed themselves better, are more likely to be active and to seek out quality health care.

So, as people who have shame heaped on us from every quarter at any opportunity, what can we fat people do to let go of that shame, and not carry a burden that is not ours to carry?

I can only share what has worked for me, but perhaps some of you have strategies and methods that you would like to share as well.  For me, surrounding myself with positivity helps.  Be it online or in reality.  I have found that the people I have in my life now are far more positive and progressive than when I was in that dark place of shame and self loathing.  I read different things and watch different movies/television shows.  I don’t read magazines or newspapers that indulge in shaming any more, and I am far more selective about which movies and TV shows I watch.  When it comes to my online reading, I find things that build my self esteem and confidence, rather than tear it down.  The same goes for the friends I surround myself with.  When I look back now, I was the whipping girl for so many of the people I called “friend”.  I was the fat girl they used to make themselves feel better.  That’s not a friendship, that’s abuse.

Self care is really important too.  Making sure that I take time to look after myself, be it just a pampering in a nice hot shower, time to read or relax some other way, making myself a nutritious meal, or just finding a way to de-stress when things get a bit much for me.

What also works for me is thinking of the shame as a metaphor.  Mine is kind of gross, but I like to think of the shame people try to hand me about my fat body as a big steaming turd.  I didn’t make that turd, and it’s not mine to carry.  When people try to hand me that steaming turd of shame, I metaphorically hand it right back to them and think to myself “That is yours to carry.”  Sometimes you might get a bit on yourself and have to take some time to clean up with some self care, but it’s still not yours to carry.

I know, it’s gross, but the metaphor works for me!

So how do you work your way through shame?  Has letting go of shame about your body helped you in any way?  Or are you still carrying around some that you need help shedding?

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.

No Doing – Just Being

Published June 18, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Sorry it’s been quiet on the blog front my lovelies, I’ve been sideswiped with a cold that went down into a chest infection this past week and a bit.  Damn bug raged through the office a couple of weeks ago and I assumed I was spared the infection… but it got me after all.  Thankfully I’m starting to see some improvement at last, hopefully this means I can get all the ideas that have been burbling around my head this past week or so (I’ve read so much, no energy to do anything else while coughing until I saw stars) together and start some discussions here.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the haters and trolls and general disbelievers we fat activists get.  Mostly spurred on by a concerted attack on one young woman on Tumblr that I could see was deeply upsetting her, simply because a group of people think they have the right to bully and belittle someone simply because she is fat and doesn’t meet some arbitrary standard of attractiveness.

I get my fair share of trolls, haters and general disbelievers and troublemakers, both here and on my other social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Formspring etc).  Once upon a time they used to bother me, but nowadays, I mostly pity them.  Or find them funny.   Mostly because they have this inflated sense of their power over me by thinking that by posting something hateful on my Tumblr, or trolling this blog, they can shut me up and chase me off the internet.  It’s pretty hilarious that someone would see such importance in themselves.

Of course, it has the opposite effect to the one they intended – it makes me more argumentative, more obnoxious and a whole lot more outspoken.

It’s very timely then that Ragen over at Dances with Fat would write her recent post “The Trouble with Proving It“.  Ragen highlights that every time some narrow-mind bellows “Prove it!” at her, and she does, over and over and over, they are still disbelieving of her reality.  No matter how much evidence she shares, it’s never going to be enough for these people.

I’m often called to do the same thing (for different reasons) and I have seen many other fat activists attempting to prove their own existence and realities over and over and over again.

Reading Ragen’s post reminded me of something very important.  I am not doing this fat activism to “convert” other people, to answer the haters criticism or to shout down the trolls.  Those things are not important.  I, and all other fat activists, and fat people and fat allies have no need to DO anything.  We are in debt to no-one.

What we need is to simply BE.

Simply being ourselves is a radical act in this fat-phobic culture we have found ourselves in.  Being alive, being happy, being active, being confident, being self-loving, being outspoken, being fashionable, being talented, being funny, being awesome… no matter what you as a fat person are being, simply being you is AMAZING.

For those of us who choose to spend time online sharing our lives, our thoughts, our opinions, our fashion, our images, the important part of that is being visible, being audible, being tangible.  In a world where fat people are silenced, discredited and openly loathed, being visible as a happy, confident fat person is a powerful message to send out into the world.

As I said to Ragen on her post, if it hadn’t been for my stumbling into the fatosphere, I probably wouldn’t be here today.  The people who took up fat activism before me and went public with it, being all the amazing things they are, really rescued me in a dark time of self-loathing and shame.  Just by being visible, they showed me that there was an alternative for me, that I didn’t have to spend my life buying into the fat-phobic lies that our culture perpetuates.  They showed me that I can be happy, have fun, live my life to the full and most importantly, that I, and all other human beings, have value and deserve respect.

That’s why I’m here, and why I do what I do.  I want to give that back to the world.  I want to show other people who are in the dark, frightening place that I once was, that it doesn’t have to be that way.  And that they too are awesome, radical beings, without DOING anything.  To simply live ones life happy and full is the most radical act you can possibly engage in.

And best of all… it really pisses the haters off.

“That’s the best revenge of all: happiness.  Nothing drives people crazier than seeing someone have a good fucking life.” 

Chuck Palahniuk

“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.

Stop that Shit

Published April 30, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

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

But it’s not ok.

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

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

But it’s not ok.  Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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