criticism

All posts in the criticism category

It’s Easy… Just Starve

Published April 10, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Last night I was reading blog posts through Google Reader, and somewhere in my reading travels, I read a commenter I think, relating something a thin colleague of hers had said to her. (I’m sorry I can’t find where I read it, if anyone knows let me know and I’ll link it up)  It went something like this:

My doctor says that it’s easy to lose weight, all you have to do is stop putting anything in here. *Pointing to mouth*

I can’t quite express how it made me feel.  It HURT at first.  Then it made me unspeakably angry, the red mist really formed before my eyes.  Then sadness, and some more hurt.  Followed by a big old mix of rage and pain and sorrow that all came flooding at once.

Because it’s not the first time I’ve heard the opinion that fat people should simply stop eating, AT ALL.  I’ve had it directed at me personally time and time again.  Let me share with you a couple of instances that stick in my mind.

More than a decade ago.  I was severely depressed, dieting (actually, pretty much starving myself) and generally just hating myself for being fat.  I was at the local shopping centre and I was so hungry, I was close to tears.  I hadn’t eaten all day, and I decided I could let myself have a small tub of fruit salad.  I bought the fruit salad, and was sitting on a bench eating it, when an elderly couple came by, pushing a shopping trolley.  The woman nudged her husband to look at me and said, loud enough for me to hear, “Look at that!  People like that should never be allowed to eat.”

I simply lowered my head, and cried.

About five years ago.  I was out on a date with the guy I was seeing at the time.  We were having dinner in a cafe.  I had improved a lot with my eating disorder by this time, but was still “watching what I ate”.  I am eating my dinner, a chicken and mushroom thing with a side salad and a pineapple juice.  He is eating his dinner, a burger with the works, large chips, a strawberry milkshake and a large serve of deep fried, crumbed calamari.  He is tall and very lean, I am average height and very fat.  Two women walk into the cafe, see us and as my date leans over, kisses me and helps himself to some of the food off MY plate, one woman says to the other “That’s disgusting, how can she just sit there eating in front of him?”

My date didn’t hear, but I did.  I fought back tears, and could not enjoy the rest of my date.

It happens all the time, not just the “stop eating” but everyone seems to be an expert on what fat people should do with their bodies, without any real knowledge at all about those people, their health, their bodies, their lives.  Everyone out there is an expert on fatness, you only have to take a look at the hashtag that has been busy on Twitter today #thingsfatpeoplearetold We suffer people telling us how to diet and exercise, as though we have never considered it in the past.  We suffer people commenting on what we are eating, how much (or how little) we are eating, how we are eating, when we are eating and why we are eating.  We suffer people making snap judgements on our bodies simply based on what they see before them, and their own fucked up assumptions about fat.

There is this fucked up thinking that if fat people simply stopped eating, ceased consuming any food at all, they would no longer be fat and the problem would be solved.  How we’re supposed to do that, when you know, humans need food to live, to survive, I don’t know.

I think the assumption is that fat people can just “live off their fat”, that if we stop eating, our bodies will just consume the fat on them and go along as per usual, without any negative consequence.  But it simply doesn’t work like that.  Ketosis for one, can be highly damaging to a body that is consuming it’s own fat, particularly to the liver.  Bodies that are not receiving nutrition can quickly become malnourished and begin to break down their own muscle and other vital materials rather than the fats stored.  It raises the risk of osteoporosis later in life.  And most of all, starvation makes people lose their ability to function generally throughout the day.  One cannot think straight, focus, remember etc when one is starving.

But all of this is considered acceptable by some, if it means you’re losing weight.

The thing is, weight loss is not guaranteed with starvation dieting.  In fact, I’m living proof that it simply doesn’t work, in fact, makes you fatter.  I starved myself, for long periods, on and off from when I was in my teens to when I was in my 30’s.  I rarely lost weight.  Sometimes I lost some, only to have it come back, even without going off the starvation diet.

Of course, it’s really not about health at all.  It’s about the sight of fat bodies being offensive to some people.  Because no matter how healthy you are, if you’re still fat… well then you are not doing it right.  You must get rid of your fatness, or at least hide it.  Cease to be fat, and if you can’t do that, cease to be.

But what really bothers me is not so much the epic wrongness of these assumptions, but the sheer injustice of being expected to live a life of deprivation, starvation and unhappiness, simply because my body is fat.  That to these people, I am never allowed to taste anything, to celebrate with food, to spend time with friends, colleagues and family over a meal, to experience the world through it’s cuisine, to enjoy food and eating, and most importantly, I am not allowed to make my own choices when it comes to food and eating.

I get angry that there are people who believe that my fatness negates my human right to live my life as I choose to do so.  There are those who believe that simply because my body is fat, that they, or society, or someone, needs to intervene in my life to direct me in how to take care of myself.

Well fuck that shit.  We are grown adults.  We are not stupid, or lazy, or somehow morally corrupted by our fatness.  We are capable of making our own choices when it comes to food and eating, particularly if you let us do so without ramming diets, or general fat loathing in our faces.  When removed from all the hateful messages society shoves on us about food and fatness, we can even become competent eaters.

If you are concerned about fat people eating, then don’t be, because it’s none of your concern.  Be concerned about your own eating.  We don’t need you to be concerned about ours.  I promise you, if fat people are left alone to eat as they wish to, without your concern, they won’t eat everything and leave you nothing.  The world won’t end.  You won’t miss out on that delicious thing that you are craving.  The economy of the planet is not going to collapse.  Children won’t suddenly drop dead from heart attacks.  You’re not going to see human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

What will happen is that grown adults, regardless of their body size, will make up their own mind about food and eating, and that will be ok.

Getting it Right; Getting it Wrong

Published April 4, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

How can two companies, both owned by the same mega company, both basically in the same business, have such wildly polarised modes of customer service?   If you don’t know, Autograph Fashion and City Chic are owned by the same company, Specialty Fashion Group.  They’re like big sister and little sister of the same company.  Both are plus-size clothing retailers.  Both are Australian based companies.  Both have an online arm of their business, that will sell overseas.  I don’t know how cross pollinated their staff are (ie whether head office actually covers both brands), but you think there’d be at least some communication across the organisation.

But it seems not.

Both retailers have a Facebook page (City Chic/Autograph), and post pictures of their up-coming stock to the page, where people comment on it.

However, how each company responds is vastly different.

When there were lots of women leaving comments on the Autograph page that they wanted sleeves, Autograph responded with a pre-run search link to all of their tops, tunics and dresses with sleeves.  When there were lots of women saying that they wished that Autograph would style their outfit shots more than to just put a model in the dress and photograph her in front of a white background, Autograph changed their images.

From this:

Lovely model, shows the dress, but a quite dull.  To this:

Styled hair, styled make-up, interesting background, nice lighting, some accessorising.

When the posters on Autographs page responded that they would like more fashionable, modern clothes, Autograph responded.  They introduced cute boots* (someone mentioned wide calf boots on their Facebook wall some time ago too), new styles, some more colour.

When I wrote a blog post critiquing the frumpy nature of a particular season’s clothes, Autograph contacted me, and as you probably know, have been amazing sending me products to review.  I know myself that in the past six months or so, I’ve gone from wearing Autograph clothes that look like this:

Which is from the first parcel of stuff they sent me, to this:


This is from their current stock, a lovely big parcel of such they sent me last week – both those boots and the top/dress I am wearing are available right now.  Let me just tell you, the boots are so bloody comfortable I tromped around in them all day (I haven’t worn ANY heel for almost two years) running through our biggest library with a vendor, walking up to the shops at lunch time, all over the place, and I wasn’t in any hurry to take them off when I got home.  And that top is lined in the bodice which makes it drape so beautifully, and is made of the lushest, soft, weighty knit fabric.  I’m not just saying that because they sent it to me for free either.  I promise, if they send me anything that sucks, I’ll tell you.

When people complained that their fabrics were thin, lost shape and clung in all the wrong ways, Autograph stopped stocking them and have moved to much nicer (and really soft) fabrics like the top above.

The list goes on.  Autograph are listening, they talk TO their customers (as best they can around the ones that one can never make happy at any time) and they make changes when people speak up.

Which brings us to City Chic.  I’ve never seen City Chic respond on Twitter to a negative comment.  They’ve only re-tweeted the positive ones.  City Chic post their stock on Facebook, and when people complain about their high prices… nothing is said.  When people say they’d like garments that they can wear a proper plus-sized bra of ugliness under without it being exposed, City Chic respond “Well, buy a shrug.” (I don’t want a shrug, I want a garment that fits my body and my underwear properly, and besides, I live in BRISBANE).  When customers said their prices were too high, they ignored it, and their prices have got even higher.

Well the straw that seems to have broken the camel’s back happened over the weekend.  When someone noticed on Friday that City Chic had quietly dropped any garments over a size 22 from their website, word travelled pretty quick.  By Friday night, there were several posts on their Facebook page exclaiming dismay at this.  They ignored it all weekend.  By this morning, a lot of people were talking about it, on their Facebook page, on Twitter, on Tumblr and various other places.  There were a lot of angry fatties out there, making it very clear that they were offended at City Chic removing the upper range of plus sizes.  Along with a lot that spoke up and said that their sizing was shoddy as it is, smaller than standard and a fit that doesn’t work for many bodies.

Instead of engaging with their customers quickly Friday afternoon, or even over the weekend (we just saw posts bragging about how they were off to London), they let it brew up, until this afternoon, when they responded with what I feel is a somewhat snarky post.  It’s long, and you can see it here. (You may have to “like” the page – it’s really long so I can’t share it here).  Basically it says that we considered our sizing and because you fatty fat fats didn’t buy enough of our stuff at full price, we cut out the upper sizing.  Perhaps City Chic need to have a wee think about just why people aren’t buying their stock at full price.  Perhaps full price is over priced.  Perhaps their sizing is wrong.  Perhaps their fits are wrong.  Perhaps the garment quality is not good enough (the three garments I bought from them some years ago when they still had some size 26 pieces fell apart very quickly).  Perhaps the styles can’t be worn successfully with a size 24 or above bra under them… the list goes on.

What really galled me is their admission that they use a size 16 fit model.  What??  A size 16 fit model for a range that was going up to size 24??  Ok, find someone who you know is a size 16.  Now look at my body in the picture above.  What the hell are they thinking to use a size 16 fit model for the upper range of plus sizes???  There is a positive plethora of differences of shape and proportion between a size 16 body and a size 26 body (and all sizes in between).  A smart company would have two fit models, or even three for plus sizes, because they vary so much more than straight sizes do.

I actually emailed them on Friday afternoon and left some constructive criticism (and an expression of dismay) at their cutting off their sizes at size 22, and how their clothes were poor construction/overpriced/cheap fabrics/sized strangely.  Guess what I got in response today?  The explanation that they posted on Facebook, cut and pasted into an email.

Great customer service huh?

All this, PLUS I discover that they go to size US28 (about a size 32Aus) and offer cheaper prices to customers in the US.  But customers in their own country don’t get that, oh no.

As I say to all plus-size retailers that I give criticism to – I want to give them my money.  I want to become a loyal customer who tells everyone how awesome they are.  I want to spend too much money on their clothes and complain I’m broke.  I want to hang about their shop on a twice weekly basis, annoying their staff asking when the new stock they’ve been advertising on Facebook comes in.  I want people to see me with their shopping bags, to ask me where I got that cute top/dress/boots/pants/skirt.  I want my straight sized friends to say “Damn, I wish those fit me!”  Again, I want to give them my money.  And lots of it.

But they don’t seem to want me to do those things.  They don’t want to size clothes to my body, they don’t want to provide clothes that last, or are of pleasant fabrics, and the certainly don’t want to offer a price that is reasonable for the product they are selling.  It is very, very clear they don’t want my  money.

So until they prove that they DO in fact want my money, I’m going to give that money, and praise, and word-of-mouth advertising to companies who do.  Like Autograph Fashion**.  Who LISTEN to their customers, make attempts to make them happy, and acknowledge that their customers include those who are very fat, and that they need to create clothes that adequately fit those very fat bodies.

City Chic – learn from your big sister.  She has much to teach you.

* City Chic have almost the same boots as the tall riding boot from Autograph.  Autograph’s cost $99.99.  City Chic have them at, wait for it… $299.95
**I hate having to add this caveat, but there has been a very vocal claim that I am “selling out” by praising Autograph because they send me free products.  If Autograph get it wrong, I am going to say so, free products or not.  Just as loudly as I call City Chic out here.

The Questions that Need to be Asked

Published April 1, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Dear Thin, White Women of the Media*,

I have to know.  Why are you so threatened by the idea of it being ok for fat people to just be themselves, as they are?

Why do you feel that it is your place to speak for fat people, to intervene in our lives?  What is so abhorrent about the idea of leaving us alone to advocate for ourselves?  Why are you so determined to make fat people the scourge of society?  Why do you feel the need to discredit us, denounce our ability to advocate for our own lives, our own health, our own standards of living?  Why do you feel the need to post articles that only draw more fat stimga to us, without ever moderating the comments so that we are subjected to even more loathing than we already suffer?  Why do you feel the need to make jokes about fatness, without any care or concern what the fallout of those jokes might be?  Why do you feel that our bodies need to be publicly discussed and criticised, when you are outraged when your body is treated this way?  Why do you say you are concerned for our health, when you know absolutely nothing about any of us, how healthy we are, what our histories are, and what it feels like to live in our bodies?  Why do you think it is acceptable to draw attention to extreme behaviour from some fat people, as though all of us live the same way, that we are all somehow “freaks” that should be pointed at, as though you’re shouting “Look!  Look at that fatty over there!  She’s WEIRD!”

Why do you talk so much about positive body image, but make it clear that fat people are to be excluded from positive body image?  Why do you speak about how as a society we should be talking about obesity, but the minute a fat person speaks, you shut them down, tell them they are not allowed to give criticism, not allowed to give their perspectives and discredit their experiences?  Why do you feel the need to imply that fat people are of a lower class by referring to the correlation of class and weight, without any acknowledgement of how society as a whole pushes fat people further down the class ladder by denying them employment, equal wages, clothing, and general social status.  Why would you do that unless as a way to highlight that fat people are somehow inferior to others?  Why do you fail to engage with any fat people unless it is on your terms?

Why do you feel the need to speak about us, to label us, to put words in our mouths, without ever listening to what we have to say, or asking us what we are really saying?  Why do you feel the need to twist what we are saying to make us look like a flock of fat harpies, intent on swooping down to peck at your bones?

Why are you interested in us at all?  Why aren’t you living your own lives, merrily on your way, but are instead so intent on denouncing us as unattractive, unhealthy, unworthy, the crux of all societies problems?  Don’t you have full lives that you have to live, to focus on?

Do we make you feel threatened, thin, white women of the media?

Are you worried that you might get fat if you don’t denounce us, denigrate us, demonise us?  Are you concerned that if you let your guard down for just one minute, the fatness might creep up on you?  Are you concerned that fatness is contagious?

Do you feel that if you have to “work so hard” to keep yourselves thin, that everyone should have to?  That if someone out there dares to accept their fatness, they are some how cheating at the game of life?  Do you feel resentment at the thought that there might be fat women out there not agonising over their bodies, not loathing themselves when you feel you should for any fat on your body?  Is it that you feel that if you have to spend your life watching your weight, that it’s only fair that everyone should have to?

Do you worry that if fat people are allowed to advocate for themselves, you might miss out on something?  That they might get something that you don’t?  Does it worry you that if someone is left to look after their own health, and health needs, that they might get a little more medical attention, or a little more time in a doctor’s office (instead of being told to lose weight and shunted out the door, with no addressing of their actual health issues) than you do?

Is it just about attention itself?  Are you concerned that if someone is paying positive attention to the fatties, they may not pay positive attention to you?

Or is it more sinister than that?  Do you feel that if someone is paying attention to fat women for something other than to demonise their fatness, that they might stop paying attention to you?  Are you concerned that if society in general stops judging women by how well they fit into a size 8 pair of jeans, and focuses on their wit, intelligence, style, kindness and skills, that you will lose that superior edge that being thin affords you over fat people?

I would genuinely like to know just what it is that brings you to the point in your life that you have to denounce, discredit, demonise other human beings just for existing as they are.  After all, the Fat Acceptance activists you are so quick to shout down don’t harbour any desire for thin people to go away, to cease to exist, to shut up, to be eradicated, to be cured of their thinness, like you desire of fat people.  Instead what we desire is a world where people of all body types, fat, thin and in between, can be left alone to find their own peace, their own health, their own happiness without being vilified for existing in the forms their bodies naturally take.  Where people all body types are valued for who they are, not what they look like.  Where people are allowed to be just that, people, not a symptom, a shape, a size, a number.

We don’t take up fat activism because we’re unhappy with our lives, we take it up because we want to reclaim our lives from those who would have us shut down, disappear, cease to live our lives to the fullest.  We take up fat activism because we want the same rights afforded to all others.  We are activists to celebrate our lives, not demonise the lives of others.

What is it that brings you to marginalising and vilifying other people based on their bodies?  What is happening (or perhaps not happening) in your lives that makes this a cause you take up?

Yours sincerely

Kath aka Fat Heffalump

*And before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, I am not referring to ALL thin, white women of the media, just those who spend time vilifying fat people.  If you don’t do that, it’s not about you.  I am addressing those who spend quite considerable amounts of time doing all of the above, and this past week we have seen quite a bit of them.  I have tagged the main culprits if you wish to know EXACTLY who I am referring to.

Who Died and Made You the Judge?

Published February 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I think the Universe is trying to nudge me to talk about something.

Earlier today I saw some snark on Twitter about women supposedly trying to “recapture their teen years” with pink accessories (ie mobile phones and laptops).  A little later in the day, a comment was made by an acquaintance about another friend dressing “inappropriately for her age”.

Sigh… are we still buying into this?  That there is some kind of “rule” on how women should dress, or what their tastes should be?

Look, I understand venue/environment appropriateness.  A bikini isn’t suitable for a corporate environment.  Thongs (flip flops for those of you who think thongs are the undies that go between your butt cheeks) aren’t suitable for a building site.  There are plenty of examples of where clothes aren’t appropriate for a venue/environment.  I get that.  For safety reasons, because there is a level of formality, for hygiene, or cultural sensitivity.  I understand that completely.

What I’m talking about are the fashion police.  Those who say that someone is “too old to dress like that”.  The ones who suggest women over 30 shouldn’t lighten their hair to blonde.  Or women over 50 shouldn’t have long hair.  The folks that suggest that the colour pink should only be worn by girls, not women.

I want to say “Surely by 2011 we should be beyond policing what women wear.”, but I know, there are folks still trying to police what we do with our reproductive organs.

I am not sure how it harms anyone if a woman wears her hair in pigtails.  Does it cause a hurricanes in the Southern Atlantic if a woman has a pink mobile phone case?  Are children kept out of school if a woman over 50 grows her hair past her collar?  Does international banking crash if a woman dyes her hair lime green?  When a woman wears black and orange striped socks to work, does it cause mass employee redundancies?

I have to admit, I am very lucky.  I can shave my head, have visible tattoos and wear bright colours to work in my corporate environment.  My workplace is very supportive of diversity and accepts me as I am, and I also respect things that would not be considered appropriate (I wear sleeves over my latest tattoo because it is of a naked woman.)  But I know other workplaces don’t approve of dressing outside of some kind of arbitrary measure of appropriate.  There is some sense of a “professional image”.

The thing I want to know is how someone’s appearance makes them any less professional?  The colour or length of ones hair doesn’t render one incapable of making professional decisions.  Having a pink iPhone cover doesn’t render one inable to think like an adult.  Wearing colour instead of black does not impact negatively on someone’s productivity.  In fact, I would challenge that it’s quite the opposite.  When someone feels good about themselves, they are far more productive than when they do not.

As for age appropriateness, who gets to decide what is appropriate for someone’s age?  Who was the person who deemed that women over 50 should have short hair?  Who made someone the boss of what colour accessories women should have when they become adults?  Who was the special person who deemed it unacceptable for grown-ups to wear lots of colour, or have a backpack shaped like a monkey, or any other fun/kitsch accessory?

Of course, then comes the body snark too.  Someone’s arms are too fat, their legs too short, their belly too round, their butt too flat and yadda yadda yadda to wear that.

There are times I just want to say “Who died and made you the judge?” when I hear people criticising women (well, anyone really) for their fashion choices.

What I really think it boils down to is more controlling of women in general.  More “women are supposed to” attitudes.  Keeping women concerned about meeting rules about their appearance means that they don’t have time to worry about the big picture, like the attempts to control women’s bodies, their incomes, their health, their sexuality, their education and so on.  So long as there are all these arbitrary rules about how a woman is supposed to look and behave, then there are lots of excuses to discriminate against a woman.  She’s too loud, too outlandish, too childish, too rough, too dramatic, too innapropriate – those things are all there as excuses to sanction the dismissal of and discrimination against women who don’t toe the line, conform, behave.

Some years ago, a colleague gave me a drink coaster for my desk.  It says:

“Well behaved women rarely make history.”

And the artwork on it is three brightly coloured cartoon women (one with pink hair, one with blonde, one with purple), dancing under the stars.

I still have it, sitting on my desk at work, right where I can see it.  It’s a daily reminder to me that by being different, by being me, it’s an act of defiance against a cultural standard of “well behaved”, just to dress and style myself in the way that makes me happy, rather than how women are told they should appear.

Not Quite Superwoman

Published January 30, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

So I was watching Glee yesterday.  Yeah yeah, I know, lots of you hate Glee.  I’ve heard it, I’ve watched the show, and made my own choices.  If you hate Glee, and can’t bear someone else talking about something that was spurred by an episode, you can skip this post.

But I want to use a moment I saw in the show to illustrate something.

So, I was watching Glee yesterday.  It was the episode where the boys are using mental images of Coach Beiste (played by the wonderful Dot Jones) to, ahem… cool their mood, when things are getting heated while making out.  Mr Schuester finds out about it, and tells the guys off for being jerks, because it’s a really hateful thing to do.  He actually says something to the boys about “How do you think Coach Beiste would feel if she found out.”  Shortly after she actually confronts Mr Schue and asks what is going on, and rather stupidly I thought, he tells her.  He tries to be sensitive about it, but he tells her this horrible thing the boys have been doing.

When she is visibly upset, he tells her to “Not take it personally, they’re just being kids.” to which she responds quietly and tearfully “I do take it personally Will.  I take it very, very personally.” and leaves.  It soon transpires that she is quitting her job at the school because of this.

Will confronts her as she is packing and she tells him “I know I can be a little intimidating at times, but deep down inside, where no-one can see, I’m just a girl.  Am I nuts that I just want to be reminded of that sometimes?”

I can tell you, I was in floods of tears at that moment.  Absolute floods.  Because I can totally identify with it.

As a proud fat activist, it’s often assumed that being ballsy enough to call out fat hatred, to speak up when others aren’t able to, and to live one’s life large despite the fat hatred that is just rampant in our culture, means that we’re strong and confident and impervious to the bullshit that gets flung our way.  As an extroverted woman, who has made a conscious decision not to buy into the cultural ideal that women should confirm to a certain look, that we should be meek and dainty and not do anything to make ourselves look different to the “norm”, it’s assumed that I am able to just ignore the hatred that comes my way for being different (and I know I’m not the only woman who feels this way).

Those of us who step out of the stream, who rock the boat, who accept ourselves for who we are in the face of vitriol, bullying and shaming, are assumed to be these confident warrior women, who can just shrug off all the negativity that is hurled our way.  And boy do we get it hurled our way.  Usually because people just assume we can “handle it”

Friends, family, online followers and all kinds of people in our lives say “But you’re so confident!  You’re so ballsy!  You take no shit!”  This may be absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean that we are made of steel.  It doesn’t mean that nothing hurts us, that we are unfeeling to pain, hurt, shame, sorrow or any other negative emotion.

I can tell you that pretty much every time I have ever tried to express hurt, or shame, or sorrow and so on, the person I’ve been trying to express it to says something like “But you’re so confident!  You don’t listen to that shit!” or “You’re a strong woman Kath, why would you let that get to you?”

The answer is, for the same reasons that anyone else does.  Because sometimes, the things people say and do are hurtful.  Because we are human beings.  And because like every other human being, we just want love, and kindness, and care, and respect.

To have that negated by the “But you’re so confident!” response can actually make the hurt cut twice as deep.  It’s almost like we’re not allowed to express pain, that we have to keep “being strong”.

The truth is, like anyone else, even the most confident, extroverted, outgoing person has feelings.

I’ve really experienced it this past week.  Yeah, I shaved all my hair off and got a big fat positive tattoo.  Pretty out there things to do.  But that has needed some processing on my part.  I look in the mirror and I look different.  People react to me differently.  Yes, I chose to do this because, well firstly to raise some money, but secondly to challenge people’s attitudes about a woman’s appearance.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t need to carefully process the changes myself, and that I don’t feel when people are hurtful about it.  However, when I did need a little bit of processing time, and then fell over a bit emotionally, triggered by another event, it was  a great shock to people in my life, and several of them were quite incredulous that I should need my self esteem boosted a bit to give me a push, or that I should need a bit of tenderness when I am hurt.

No matter who the person is;  be it your extroverted, confident friend, a rad fatty that you admire on the interwebs, or anyone else who you think is strong, confident, extroverted, awesome… remember that they are still a person.  That sometimes that extroversion and confidence is the face they give to the world to protect the soft stuff underneath.  That they sometimes need some tenderness shown to them, a moment of acknowledgement of their feelings, or some time to process what they’ve just done when it comes to an act of defiance.  Unlike Superwoman, they’re not made of steel.

Just like Coach Beiste said in Glee…

“I know I can be a little intimidating at times, but deep down inside, where no-one can see, I’m just a girl.  Am I nuts that I just want to be reminded of that sometimes?”

 

Double-Standard Dressing

Published January 9, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I bought the cutest dress from Evans.  I wore it on Christmas Day, you might have seen my earlier post about that outfit.  I just love this dress, it’s so soft and comfortable, and I feel great in it.

On Wednesday this week, I wore it again, but instead of wearing leggings underneath, I wore a pair of rust coloured opaque tights from We Love Colors, and my cute new olive coloured Mary-Janes from Rivers.  It felt so cute and fun and I really felt good in it.

But when I got to work, someone who works on the same floor as I do, made a little comment about how short my dress was.  Just a little statement of “That’s very short, lucky you’ve got tights on.”  The tone was just disapproving enough for me to pick up on it.

The following day, I wore another new outfit, with an above the knee skirt, almost as short as the dress, again with tights.  Same person, sees me in the hall, and says “You’re really getting into wearing these short skirts, aren’t you?  Bit short perhaps?”

Strangely enough, I heard her the afternoon before say to another young woman who works on the same floor, who was wearing a much, much shorter skirt than mine “Oh, look at you with your cute legs!”  No tone of disapproval there.

The difference is, I’m a mega fat woman.  The other woman is thin.  Petite in fact, perhaps a size 6 or 8.

This is a very good example of the double standards fat women face when dressing for work, or even other events.  Clothes that are considered appropriate for thin women, are suddenly deemed inappropriate when worn by fat women.  As much as our bodies are desexualised because of our fatness, they are also hypersexualised.  We literally have more breasts, more butt, more flesh that may be seen.  The same amount of exposed cleavage that is appropriate for a thin woman is deemed inappropriate on a fat woman, simply because she has more breast tissue behind it.

This double standard also stems from people who find fat flesh offensive.  It’s perfectly socially acceptable for a thin woman to wear a sleeveless dress or top, or something with spaghetti straps, or strapless, but for a fat woman to wear it, and expose her “back fat” or “bingo wings”, it suddenly becomes offensive.

It’s difficult enough when we have to suffer through disapproving comments on our clothing choices that other’s don’t have to tolerate, but it can even translate into real discrimination in the workplace.

I’m one of the lucky ones, in that I don’t have to deal with that in my workplace, well… other than from narrow-minded people who work nearby.  But many people are not as fortunate as I am.

Appearance based discrimination is a very real issue and even particularly so for fat women.  Fat women are considered lazy, gluttonous, less intelligent, messy, unprofessional and disorganised, simply because of their body shape and size.  When someone who is less qualified gets a job because they are thinner/more attractive than the other applicant, despite qualifications, this is discrimination.

Even once they have a job, fat women are passed over for promotion, pay rises, are treated less equitably than their teammates, and are expected to dress and perform to a different standard than their thin colleagues.  Fat women are even held to a different standard than fat men.

Body policing and size discrimination are not something that we imagine.  Whether it’s just commentary from people we encounter on a day-to-day basis, or out-and-out workplace discrimination, it’s real and anyone with a fat body is open to it.

So what do we do about taking it on?  How do we change it?

Food Judgement or The Post in Which I Make too Many Bad Food Puns

Published December 20, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Ahh food, we fatties just can’t get enough of it, can we?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with food.  Being someone who is highly sensory (particularly tactile, taste and smell) means that food can give me a whole lot of pleasure.  But being a fat woman, in a body that she has fought against for most of her life, food has also been fraught with peril for me in my past.  Food was the enemy for most of my life until recently.  I still have some serious issues with it, but I’m working through those.  It’s no secret that I have a lifetime of eating disorders behind me, with yo-yo dieting, starvation periods and a lot of food demonisation.  Food for me was the bad guy.  Either food in general or specific foods, for the bulk of my life, I’ve had some beef with food (see what I did there?)

While I still struggle with the food demons, they don’t win any more.  They pop up, give me some curry (oh lawdy I did it again!) and I chase them away with a whole bunch of strategies I have built up over time.  I might even blog about those later.

Today though, I want to talk about a few particular issues I have with the way a whole lot of people, including myself in the past, think about food.  So let’s get into it huh?

This *insert food* is so sinful.

Oh that old chestnut (somebody stop me!)  Here’s the thing.  Food has no moral value.  It doesn’t think, it doesn’t do or behave or respond.  It’s just food.  You actually aren’t going to go to hell if you eat it.  Or if you don’t eat it for that matter.  Nor is the world going to stop spinning, the oceans boil over or a lightning bolt hit you from the sky.  Food is either of use to you (because it fills your belly, or tastes good, or gives you nutrients, or makes you feel good, or whatever other use it may carry out) or it isn’t.  Either eat it, or don’t.  But don’t moralise or demonise it because all that does is cast judgement on those who do eat it.

Oh *insert food* can barely be called food.

Really?  Is it edible?  Then it’s food.  You don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.  But you don’t need to judge other people for eating it.

Cooking for yourself and your family is showing them love.

This one really gets to me too.  Yes, cooking for people, including yourself, can be showing them love and affection.  But if someone doesn’t cook, for whatever reasons, perhaps they don’t know how or don’t have time, or just hate it, doesn’t mean they don’t love their family or themselves.

Do you really need that *insert food*?

No, I don’t.  I just want it.  Or maybe I do need it.  Either way, it’s none of your damn business.

Tsk!  Can you believe people still eat/feed their kids McDonalds/KFC/*insert fast food brand*?

Yes I can.  It’s cheap.  It fills you up.  It tastes good.  It’s easy to obtain with no preparation needed.  IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Everybody knows that raw/whole foods are so much more nutritionally valuable/taste better.

No they don’t.  Just because you’ve read that, doesn’t mean everyone else has.  Maybe they don’t have access to the internet or fancy cable TV programmes.  Maybe they don’t have time to watch Jamie Oliver or Michael Pollan or any other food “educator”.  Perhaps they do know, but they don’t have raw/whole available to them.  Perhaps they don’t like the taste.  Perhaps all of their friends and family eat processed food, and they’ve never tasted anything else.  Perhaps they just prefer the damn box of Mac ‘n Cheese to the organically and locally grown beets, hormone-free chicken and raw milk.  Wait for it… wait for it… IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!

Sugar/High Fructose Corn Syrup/any other food for that matter is poison.

Maybe.  But so is parsley.  Just ask a chicken.  Or onions.  Ask a dog.  Or lettuce.  Ask me.  If it makes you sick, don’t eat it.  But don’t judge other people for choosing to eat it.

I’ve been good all week, so I can have that piece of *insert food here*.

So are you saying those people who haven’t done as much exercise or avoided eating certain foods can’t have a piece?  Remember, your measurement of “deserving” isn’t the same as other peoples.  Just have the food or don’t, there’s no need to put moral value on it.

Oh no thanks, I’ll just watch you eat it.

This one really, really burns my bread (stop it Kath, just stop it).  Not only is it rude, it’s really insensitive.  Having people watch me eat is really triggering and puts me off my food in a matter of moments.  Even when they’re not intentionally doing it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Many people, especially those with eating disorders in their past, have had their eating scrutinised to the nth degree and don’t need someone sitting there ogling them while they eat.  Leave them alone and let them eat in peace.  Either you enjoy their company and be damned what they eat, or leave them alone.

I ate SOOOOO much!  I’m such a pig!

Way to cast indirect judgement on what others eat as well.  Ok so you ate too much, it happens, maybe now you feel sick/bloaty/uncomfortable.  But keep the judgement out of it.  You’re not a pig, nor is anyone else who eats too much.

Locally grown food is so much cheaper than anything else, you just have to make effort to get it.  Don’t be lazy.

Not everyone is able to spare the time, energy and effort to source locally grown food.  Perhaps they work long hours.  Maybe they don’t have transport.  Perhaps parking is expensive.  Maybe they can’t stand crowded places.  Or perhaps they just prefer the stuff they can get at their local major supermarket.  That doesn’t mean they’re lazy or deserve judgement for choosing to do so.

~~~@@~~~

These are just a few of the food judgements that really drive me nuts.  And yet I used to indulge in them myself.  Some of them still sneak up on me occasionally, when I’m tired or upset or stressed or my self esteem is wavering.  But doing them to oneself is one thing.  Casting these judgements on others is a whole different kettle of fish (oh look, it happened again) and people who do this just have to butt the hell out of other people’s lives.  As I’ve said several times above, what other people eat or don’t eat is not any of your damn business.  If you want to restrict, eliminate, diet, whatever, go for it.  It’s your body and you get to choose how you feed it.  I believe strongly in body autonomy and don’t believe I have any right to tell people how to eat (or not eat).

It’s when those choices are touted as the “right” way to eat that gets my hackles up.  There is no right or wrong way.  There is your way, sometimes it matches others’ way, sometimes it doesn’t.  Keep your judgement and moralising out of other people’s lives and bodies.

What are your pet peeves with the food police and privileged “foodies”?  Do you have any strategies for responding to them or cutting out the judgement that is placed on food?  Share in the comments below.

It’s OK to be “Weird”

Published December 12, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

The universe is trying to tell me something.

Over the past few days, I’ve had a few little stings at my self esteem, some a bit bigger, particularly when it comes to my core beliefs.  I’ve had a few reminders that the fatosphere and feminism circles I choose to surround myself with are not how a lot of people think and behave.

From the “friend” who told me I “aim too high” when it comes to men (she’d seen my Crush) to the moment I pissed off a colleague by pulling him up for repeatedly and erroneously telling people that I could be “bribed by chocolate” by saying “Actually chocolate isn’t that important to me, but I know how you could assume that by my being a fat woman and all.”  From being told to “cheer up” when I was taking a quiet moment out after a stressful morning to gather my thoughts and recharge my batteries to a friend taking offense when I declined to play one of the traditional “girly” games about men.  I just seem to be getting constant reminders that the values that I hold dear, and that in a lot of ways, I’m outside of the norm.  That I’m considered “political” (despite the fact that I couldn’t give a shit about politics per se) or just “weird”.

Whenever that happens, I find myself rethinking why I do what I do, why I am who I am, and why the the way I think and behave seem so radical to so many other people.  Sometimes the old self esteem takes a bit of a battering (it has this week) and sometimes it makes me question a lot of my core values.  Which is not a bad thing, but sometimes I feel it sets me back in growing and learning, because I have to go back over old ground, you know?

But the thing is, as my therapist is fond of reminding me, not everyone unpacks how and what they think.  Not everyone asks questions about the world around them.  Not everyone believes that there is always growing and changing that can be done.  However, just because many people don’t do it, doesn’t mean those of us who can and do should ever feel like we’re weird for doing so.

What I want to do is to reach out to those of you who have felt this way, and let you know that you’re not alone.  And by doing so, I remind myself that my “weirdness” amongst general folk isn’t unique to me, but that there are plenty of people out there who want to evolve and question and challenge.

It’s ok to challenge people’s thinking (respectfully of course).  After all, if someone hadn’t challenged our thinking along the line somewhere, wouldn’t we still be plodding along with the masses?

It’s ok to be different.  You don’t have to apologise for not following the same thought patterns and processes as everyone else.

Just because “Everybody knows/thinks/believes/does” doesn’t mean you have to as well.  Everybody thought the earth was flat once.

It’s ok to be different.  Just because “society” says that you should look a certain way, or behave a certain way, because you’re a woman or you’re of a particular age, or because you’re fat, doesn’t mean you have to.  Social rules are not the law.

It’s ok to disengage if you need to.  If someone isn’t responding with respect, or you feel that they’re never going to get the message you’re trying to impart, you can disengage.  That isn’t admitting defeat, it’s letting go of a pointless argument.  Sometimes you just have better things to do with your time.

It’s ok to process.  If you need time to think about something, or sort out how you feel, or just recharge your batteries, then take it, and don’t let anyone tell you to “cheer up” or suggest you’re sulking.  Even if you do what I do – find a quiet corner somewhere, (I’ve even used the ladies room for this if I had nowhere else) and take some time out.  You can do that.

You don’t have to tolerate shitty behaviour from someone because they are your friend or family.  If someone doesn’t treat you with respect and dignity, you’re well within your rights to walk away from them.  Literally and figuratively.

And most of all, find the people who do support you, who hold the same values and behave in a way that you admire and surround yourself with them.  They are the ones who will get you through the tough times, who will celebrate the most when you are happy and encourage you in your endeavors.  If you need to step back inside the bubble for awhile to soak up the wisdom and fabulousness of the people who inspire and amaze you, do it.  It’s good for you.

American Apparel Marketing and the Objectification of Women

Published December 4, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

*Heads up:  This post is going to have several photographs of women in little to no clothing, in poses that may represent sexual acts.  If you feel you may find these photographs offensive, triggering or upsetting, please do not continue reading this post.  This post also may not be considered safe for work, children or your Grandma.  Come back and have a look when you’re at home/they’re not watching.

I need to write the post that others failed when they wrote about American Apparel’s marketing and promotions.  It’s been a big week for me, with another big week coming, and I wasn’t sure I would have the spoons to blog about this topic yet, but I can’t leave it alone.

I won’t link to other posts.  You really don’t need to read them, they’re full of slut shaming (the misogynistic  judgement of women for having/displaying any sexuality), denial of female sexuality and general loathing towards women who they deem outside the “nice girl” box.  There is the use of words like slutification, pornification and sexualisation.  All of which conflate female sexuality with objectification, which is not helpful at all in taking on the negative stereotypes of women that are perpetuated in marketing and media.  Plus there is a rather massive dose of bullying and mean girl behaviour going on with most of them too.

Instead, I want to talk about American Apparel and the objectification of women that they perpetuate with their marketing.

I don’t know if any of you have seen any of American Apparel’s marketing.  Here’s an example:

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Now American Apparel make a whole bunch of Lycra/Spandex/Elastane stuff that you would consider as dance wear, gym wear, sports wear etc.  So yeah, it’s the kind of thing you expect to see dancers in, and it’s body fitting, because that’s what those kinds of garments are meant to do.  Tights, leotards, socks and similar things aren’t meant to be baggy and body hiding.

However, American Apparel seem to really think that women should always be presented in sexual positions in their marketing.  Legs open, bent over with bared buttocks, sexually available and open.  Often you won’t see the woman’s face, but if you do, she’s expressionless, vacant, compliant, submissive.  There is often alcohol involved which to me implies a removal of control from the women depicted as well.  Often the female models are splayed out in beds, sometimes with other clothing partially removed or yanked down to expose buttocks and genital areas.  Here are a few more examples:

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Very provocative stuff, as you can see.  Women in American Apparel marketing are treated as objects, laid out and available for the viewer to have whatever they like of them.

I’m not sure who this is marketing too.  Is it the women who would wear these items of clothing?  Would they respond favourably to this kind of imagery and go out and buy these products?  Or are the marketing images aimed at someone else?  Are they designed to create buzz in their controversy?

If you do a Google Image search for American Apparel, you will find they also sell men’s garments too, as well as some children’s pieces.  I noticed that the imagery for men and children are far, far less objectified than those for women.  The male models chosen always seem to be older looking than the women they use for their marketing too.  And they seem to opt for white men and children yet with a lot of the marketing images of women, they choose a high proportion of very young looking Asian and Latin American women.

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Personally I find the objectification of women in American Apparel’s marketing highly offensive.  Women are almost always shown in their images with either their legs spread or on all fours, regularly headless or at least expressionless.  Cameras are focused on genitals or the buttocks, even when the model’s face appears in the photograph.  The models are presented like sex dolls, completely devoid of any humanity in most cases.  Women are treated as objects for the gratification of others, rather than as human beings or of having emotions, thoughts, or intelligence of their own.  This is not about the sexualisation of women, it’s actually about a woman’s sexuality being removed from her, and her being nothing more than an object to be used.

In fact, American Apparel make it very clear that they don’t want a whole person when it comes to women.  They only want body parts:

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As you can see – they only want your backside, or there’s some breast there that they are willing to accept as well.

American Apparel’s marketing is very much aimed at young people.  It sends the message to the young people who view these marketing images that women are nothing more than parts to be used, ogled, spread out.  It’s not about the women in the ads being “slutty” or pornographic, it’s about the removal of humanity from the female subjects in the marketing.

Don’t buy from American Apparel.  Tell your friends and family not to buy from American Apparel.  Tell American Apparel that their marketing is offensive and unacceptable.  But don’t attach terms like slut, porn or sexuality to these marketing images.  They are dehumanised and objectified, not sexualised/slutified/pornified.

*Dr Samantha Thomas has also posted a great piece about the concept of “slutification”.  It’s well worth reading, go here to read it.

Keeping it Positive if it Kills Me!

Published November 20, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

It’s been a bit of a rough week for me.  A stressful time at work with two huge projects about to hit their critical points, coupled with the most debilitating allergies (don’t let anyone tell you that allergies don’t have a high impact on your quality of life – they’ve never experienced them fully if they think so) have left my tolerance levels very low.  Where I would often ignore someone’s ignorant behaviour/attitude, I’ve just had no tolerance for that kind of shit this past week or so.

It all culminated in me making some decisions on how I use tools like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook, which blogs I read and follow, and what kind of approach I want to have for the world at large last night.

I vowed this blog would be positive this month, so I’m going to put a positive spin on this past shitty week and talk about some of the awesome people who’ve stood up to the ignorant, the insensitive, the bigoted, the narrow-minded and the downright rude over the past couple of weeks.  I want to celebrate those who with their passion, eloquence, strength of character and articulate writing make a difference to the world we live in.

There has been some drama within the Fatosphere/Fat Acceptance world over the past couple of weeks with one blogger (whom I won’t name, y’all have encountered it) who has made some folks uncomfortable, and instead of listening when people tried to respectfully point out how they were making others uncomfortable, they did one of their now famous rant “teardown” posts, which then grew into a big mess on Tumblr.  I personally have been the subject of one of these teardown posts and it still smarts to this day that instead of talking to me directly, I was torn to shreds publicly.  Oh the author apologised, and I accepted that apology, but it doesn’t mean that it was right to do it in the first place.

Anyway, there were three writers who really amazed me with their responses to the anger and arguments coming at them and others.  The first I saw was from Simone Lovelace, who with grace and a whole lot more dignity that I had to offer, laid out the points of her argument over and over with such clarity that I can’t tell you how impressed I was.  I am without doubt that so many who would read along would learn so much from Simone’s writing and hopefully take it away to think over a bit before continuing on.  I know I have.

The next one that knocked my socks off was the fabulous Jessica of Tangled Up in Lace.  Her response to a very angry post on Tumblr was nothing short of fucking brilliant.  For me, I nearly fell off my chair with this quote:

But seriously my fingers are too fat to play the tiny violin for you….

Not only does Jessica have the ability to make an amazing argument, and express herself beautifully, but she’s such an entertaining read as well.  Her sense of humour and creativity in her writing is the stuff that will have you spraying your Reese’s Puffs all over your computer screen with laughter and general cheering .  Or is that just me?  Go read her stuff, plus she’s all glamorous too, so you get even more value from her work.

However, the writer who really knocked my socks off in the whole brouhaha was Elizabeth of Spilt Milk, who posted a response on her Tumblr (read it here, I can’t leave this one un-linked) that touched on so many points that are so deeply important to me, and did so in a manner that was nothing short of brilliant, that I shed a few tears and needed a few days to process my own feelings around the topic before I talked about here.  To my mind, Elizabeth is one of the best writers in the Fatosphere and indeed beyond.  I am constantly learning from her and expanding my own thoughts thanks to her writing.

What all three of these women did so beautifully, that I’ve struggled with a bit over the past couple of weeks, is stood up and spoke up when someone was behaving in a way that bothered them.  To be honest, the circumstances behind it don’t really matter, it was the fact that they did so, and did so in an eloquent and articulate manner.

I realised over the past few days that I censor myself a lot of the time.  Particularly when I’m outside of my immediate circle of supportive friends and the fabulous Fatosphere.  For example I have a Twitter account that I use for work purposes (mostly library stuff and librarians) that I found myself tolerating some really ignorant behaviour, until this week, when I wasn’t feeling well, and I decided to challenge someone who has troubled me with their ignorance about health/weight before.  Of course, this guy had gone unchallenged before, so he really didn’t like me pointing out that something he posted and his assessment of weight loss being “simple really” was highly patronising.  The hostility he responded with opened up quite a shit storm.

Then of course, it being White Ribbon Day this coming week, and there being extra campaign activity in the media, the indignant choruses of “But men suffer violence too!!” have started up.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, this is a topic very close to my heart and one that I have spoken out about before.  So I found it particularly offensive that some of the people around me STILL don’t get it, and that I have to take up that message again.

And finally, the short lived Privilege Denying Dude (which has been closed down on Tumblr and pretty much taken over by privilege denying dudes on the meme generator – how meta!*) started out as a fantastic way to express just what the marginalised folk of the world are up against (and it’s ridiculous) but is now a neat little lesson in just how far those who wish to keep us marginalised will go to shut us up.  I believe there are threats of law suits against the creator/s of the meme who paid for and credited the image they used for the meme.  Yup, not even a silly internet meme is safe from the kind of person who thinks that nobody should speak out against the privilege denying dude!  I say keep making and sharing and reblogging the meme.

But what with all of the above things happening over the past week or so, I’ve seen a whole host of:

“You’re being too sensitive!”
“If you block or remove people who oppose your views, you’re just surrounding yourself with sycophants!”
“Feminists have no sense of humour.”
“Don’t be so paranoid!”
“You’re just censoring my freedom of speech.”

And my “favourite” of the week:

“Methinks somebody needs to take their meds.” (way to stigmatise mental illness and undermine other people’s realities hmm?)

What I want to get at with this post, the positive message I want you to take away, is that you don’t have to shut up and suffer through ignorance.  You are not censoring anyone, you’re not humourless, you’re not surrounding yourself with sycophants if you choose who you engage with, you are not too sensitive, and nobody ever has the right to question your fucking sanity or suggest anyone needs to be medicated.

These are all just tactics to shut us up when we speak up about ignorant attitudes and behaviour.  They’re passive-aggressive manoeuvres to put us on the back foot, to make us feel we have to explain why we are speaking up about their ignorance.

Keep speaking up.  Don’t let them undermine you by telling you that you’re too sensitive/paranoid/humourless.  Disengage whenever you need to, and cut them right out of your life if you want to and can.  Why should any of us waste our lives with people who treat us and others as though they are less than them?  Every minute you spend on someone who is disrespectful and wilfully ignorant, is one that you’re not able to spend with the wonderful people out there.  Every minute that I waste on trying to convince some patronising jerk on Twitter that he’s being ignorant is a minute that I could be spending talking to one of my awesome friends or reading the fantastic writing of people like those I have mentioned above.

Keep standing up.  Keep speaking out.  Disengage from those who would shut you up for calling out their ignorance and bigotry.

And in the words of Dr Seuss:

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.

*I just found out that Privilege Denying Dude was shut down on Tumblr, but has sprung up again on Blogger.  Linky linky!