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BADD 2011 – Fat and Disablism

Published May 1, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011

This is my first every foray into BADD, or Blogging Against Disablism Day.  I heard about it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be an excellent way for me to bring the topic of disablism to my blog, to begin a discussion over here.  I firmly believe that as a social justice movement, Fat Acceptance has a responsibility to address disablism within our sphere, which then I would hope, leads to further discussion about culture-wide disablism.

Please let me state very clearly that I very much consider myself a person of privilege in this area, and feel that I am constantly in a state of learning about the issues that surround disability discrimination, disablism or ableism.  I hope that in talking about this here, an opening up the discussion, I too can learn from those who live the experience.  I particularly look forward to reading as much as I can from the many other posts for BADD, and I urge you to read as many as you can too.

What I particularly wanted to talk about tonight is disablism in context of fatness, and how people with disabilities are often ignored or excluded by Fat Acceptance.  I think all too often we spend so much time trying to bust open the stereotypes of fat people being mobility impaired, suffering chronic illness and other health issues, that we completely ignore the experience of fat people who DO live with disabilities and illness.

As Brian over at Red No. 3 says, Fat Acceptance is for ALL Fat People, or at least it should be.  That includes those who happen to be within the range of the stereotypes placed upon fat people.  As far as I’m concerned, the fact that those who loathe and fear fat use people with disabilities or illness to heap their scorn upon all fat people is doubly insulting to those who live those experiences.  Not only are they reviled for their fatness, but they are then used yet again as cautionary tales, threats and ridicule for all other fat people as well.  If anything, we need to be standing up against that bullshit even more now than ever.

One of the things that I believe Fat Acceptance absolutely has to be about is the basic, fundamental human right of all people to live their lives with dignity and respect and without fear of being vilified for simply being who they are.  That’s why I believe that Fat Acceptance needs to benefit ALL fat people and that we have a responsibility to acknowledge those who regularly have their experiences erased because society has deemed that they embody what happens to fat people who don’t “take care of themselves”.

I think we need to call that shit out for what it actually is, which is double prejudice.  Instead of just defending our own health and ability, I think we need to call out the disablism as well.  When we get those threats of “Yeah well you’re gonna get diabetes/heart disease/end up with damaged knees/hips!” and so on from fat haters, we need to point out the sheer douchiness of using disability and illness as some kind of punishment for fatness, when people of all body shapes and sizes actually live with disability and illness, and should never be treated like they must have done something to “earn” it.

Besides, even if someone’s fatness somehow does contribute to illness or disability, this should never strip them of their right to live their lives with dignity and respect.

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We Were All N00bs Once

Published January 23, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I want to talk about n00bs today.  Or newbies.  Or greenhorns.  Or whatever you want to call people who are new to an idea, a concept, a community, a skill or job.

For those of you who don’t know what a n00b is, UrbanDictionary.com defines it as: A inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person.  It originated in gaming culture but is now used to refer to any person who fits those criteria.

I had a bit of a rail at Twitter late last night after reading two different people making fun of n00bs, actually not just making fun, but directly hating on them.  Ridiculing them publicly, without giving direct identifying details, but anyone who knows the people or the circles they travel in could probably work it out pretty quickly.

It really makes me angry, because we are all n00bs at some point, repeatedly across our lives.  Every single one of us has times in our life that we are learning a new skill, job or concept.  In fact, those of us who aren’t regularly n00bs are the ones who are stagnant, dull and unchallenged.

In the context of Fat Acceptance, I see the general disdain of n00bs quite a bit.  Over at Not Blue at All, there was a very good podcast with Brenda and Julie of the Busty Traveller on how n00bs are received in the community.  Now of course, nobody is talking of the willfully ignorant, those who come in just to troll, or who don’t want to hear thoughts and concepts different to those that are the status quo.  We all have to deal with those, and yeah, sometimes anger and disdain are the only tools you have left to deal with those.  But so often people come in to Fat Acceptance with questions and don’t fully understand what it is we’re talking about.

Once upon a time, every one of us was that n00b.  Every one of us came from the world of mainstream thinking on fat, where fat = bad, or unhealthy, and that fat should be removed no matter the cost.  We bought the magazines, we watched the television shows and media, we listened to what doctors told us about needing to lose weight to cure our ailments.  But something brought us to Fat Acceptance.  We saw something that made us look twice, that made us ask questions, read more blogs.

For me it was photos on Tumblr.  I followed a link, I asked a question or two, I commented on a few blogs.  These things all led me to become a Fat Acceptance activist.  Sometimes along the way, I made some mistakes.  I didn’t understand things.  I blundered when I tried to describe how I was feeling.  I used the wrong language.  Sadly, when I was a n00b, some people shat all over me and tried to bully me out of speaking.  But thankfully, there were those who just answered my question, or posted links that would help me.  If they didn’t want to engage, they didn’t have to, but they recognised that sometimes people are just new and don’t get it yet, that if they keep doing what they do, then they’re encouraging those n00bs to keep reading and keep questioning and keep expanding their horizons.

Yes, sometimes people just want to argue, they just want to push, they just want to shout you down.  This week I dealt with one on Twitter who seemed to decide that I was going to be a good person to goad repeatedly into an argument, and I had to disengage.  Nothing wrong with that.  I did attempt to give him some information and make my point, but there came a point where he just wasn’t going to get it, he just wanted to be pedantic, so I made the decision to let go.

Sometimes you just arc up out of frustration, or you’re having a bad day, someone was just mean to you, or some other reason.  It happens to all of us.  It happens to me a lot.

Now I’m not saying that you have to educate every person that comes by your blog or Twitter or whatever.  I’m not saying you have to devote your time to hand feeding every new person to come along to Fat Acceptance or whatever other area you’re skilled/informed in.  But when someone asks a question, and does so without ad hominem attacks, ask yourself if it is a legitimate question.  If it is, consider answering it.  You don’t have to, but if you can, and have the time, maybe do so from time to time.  Don’t lecture, don’t bully, don’t talk down.  Just answer it.  If you don’t want to, don’t.  Or provide a link/resource.

Whether you respond or not, realise that every one of us is a n00b at some point and the fact that someone is exploring new concepts, ideas and skills is an awesome thing. Remember how it felt when you were the n00b.  Do you want to treat someone the way you were treated?  If you think it’s ok for you to hate on a n00b, then perhaps it’s time for you to stretch yourself a bit and be a n00b at something yourself before you get stagnant.

But most importantly, when you next encounter a n00b, think of this:

Raise your hand if you’ve never made a mistake/got it wrong in your life.

Care to Contribute to Some Research?

Published November 13, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

A bit over a week ago I received a message on one of my posts asking if I would answer a few questions on a research project about fat acceptance and it’s influence on changing the consumer market.  I contacted the commenter and she sent me some information and questions.

Daiane Scaraboto is a Ph.D. candidate at York University, in Canada, and I have offered to share the questions here, so that you may answer them as well, as I would love to see some contributions from other bloggers, fatshionistas and anyone else interested in contributing, and I’m sure they would be of use to Daiane.  The more we speak up about what we want, how we think things are working and what else we can do to shift the market, the more influence we can have.

Here are the three questions Daiane sent me:

1)      Do you believe there have been recent changes in the public attitude or opinion in relation to people who are fat? TO WHAT EXTENT DO YOU THINK THE FAT ACCEPTANCE MOVEMENT MIGHT HAVE INFLUENCED PUBLIC ATTITUDES ON THIS MATTER?

2)      In your opinion, what impact has the Fat Acceptance movement had on the fashion and clothing industry (i.e. designers, manufacturers, brands, retailers, and consumers)?

3)      Have you noticed any recent changes in the market offerings available to people who are fat (in general, and specifically in relation to clothes/fashion)?

Please feel free to answer them in the comments below, I’ll send them on to Daiane, or you can send an email to this email address (linked to minimise spam).

And just for interest’s sake, here are my responses:

1. I actually can see two changes over the past few years.  Firstly in the general public, I have seen a growing panic about the “obesity epidemic”, mostly fuelled by the mainstream media.  I think that the term “obesity epidemic” is being thrown about more liberally than it has been before.  But just recently, say over the past six months, I am starting to see another change.  Mainstream media outlets are asking for response from a) academics in fat studies  b) fat acceptance activists and c) real life fat people.  As a consequence of this, and coupled with years of hard work from fat acceptance activists which I believe has driven this change to start happening in the mainstream media, some of the average population, especially those who have suffered at the hands of obesity panic and fat loathing are starting to question the status quo.  Average Joe’s and Joanne’s are starting to speak up albeit still tentatively at this stage.

2.  I feel that the Fat Acceptance movement is just starting to make some inroads in changing the fashion and clothing industry.  We’re still pushing uphill, but there are inklings of change.  Some progressive retailers are easing up on the euphemisms (“real women”, curvy, etc) and just refer to their clothes as “plus-size”.  They’re not using the word fat yet, but at least a few are starting to get rid of the euphemisms and realise that their customer is generally quite aware that she is plus-sized.  We’re also seeing a few retailers utilising the word-of-mouth of visible Fat Acceptance activists, be they Fatshionistas or otherwise, to promote their wares.  I also believe the Beth Ditto line is a direct result of the retailer listening to those in Fat Acceptance talk about wanting actual fashionable, on-trend plus-size clothing at a comparable price to straight sizes.  Fat Acceptance is also opening doors for many fat women (and indeed fat men too) to enjoy dressing, take pride in fashion and style where they once would have felt shame and a lack of confidence.  The number of plus-sized bloggers sharing their styling is growing rapidly at the moment.

3. As I mentioned in Q2, there are some changes filtering through.  Not a huge amount, but some.  The aforementioned Beth Ditto line from Evans is a good example.  Online retailers are those who are getting on board first with treating their plus-sized customers the same way that they would treat a straight-sized customers.  More brick and mortar retailers are offering an online option to those who are not able, or don’t wish to, shop in store as well.  Not all of them with a lot of success, but the fact they’re offering it is significant.  However I think we have a long, long way to get the brick and mortar stores changing their game much when it comes to what they offer in store and how they present their marketing.

Discussing Depression

Published July 10, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I’m suffering through a bout of the black dog at the moment.  Depression has crept up on me over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling really yuck.  I know I talk a lot about living positively and not letting shit get you down, but there are times even now that I find that creeping black cloud hovering over me, and life gets hard again.

This is usually the time I go quiet when it comes to blogging.  I figure nobody wants to hear depressed me talking, because it’s such a downer.  But this afternoon, while lolling on the sofa playing Animal Crossing for the 6th hour (catching bugs and planting flowers is so much nicer than listening to my own head when I’m like this), I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.

Everyone goes quiet when depression is biting them on the arse.  Nobody talks about how they feel, what they’re doing to try to get past it, and why it might be kicking in.  While nobody is talking about it, everyone is feeling alone in what they’re going through when it comes to depression.

I have to admit, I am one of the lucky ones.  My depression has been diagnosed for some time, and I am well supported both by friends and my health care providers.  I’m lucky enough to have had about 5 years treatment on mine, and I’ve moved out of that scary, bleak, seemingly endless phase that is untreated depression.

Thanks go excellent mental health care, I no longer let depression take it’s toll on my self esteem.  Once a bout of depression would have had me tearing down all of the mirrors, starving myself, wearing baggy, black clothes and basically believing that I was worthless and the cause of all of the worlds ills.  This is not how I suffer any more, though I do have moments that reflect on that, where I can’t bear to see myself in a mirror or I start thinking stupid negative thoughts about myself.  The difference is now that I recognise those thoughts for what they are, my depression talking.

But that is not to say that suffering a bout of depression is any less awful now than it once was.  Instead now I just feel bleak, like nothing matters and everything is grey and drab.  I usually get physical symptoms with it, like headaches and fatigue, aches and pains.  Also, I get sensitive to light and sounds, all I want is to sit somewhere silent and dark – any bright light physically hurts and I find most sounds annoying.

The worst thing is I’m unable to laugh.  I love to laugh, I do it every day and it’s the thing people know me for the most.  But when the black dog of depression has it’s teeth in my bum, the laugh just isn’t there, and it feels really horrible.

These days I know what my triggers are too.  Hormones.  Stress.  Frustration at not being able to change things.  Illness. Exhaustion.

So, what do you do when depression hits?

I used to spiral worse, because I’d let myself think all of the stupid negative things, I’d hate on myself and I’d usually make myself physically sick on top of that.  Again, I’m lucky to have had some fantastic treatment for my depression, and now I know what to do when it hits.

I stop.  That’s the first thing.  At the very moment I realise that I’m depressed again, I have to stop whatever I’m doing, sit down and just acknowledge that I’m suffering a bout of depression.  That’s the first step for me and none of the other stuff can follow until I do that.

The next step is to take care of myself.  Eat well and regularly, get sleep, relax, get fresh air and sunshine if the weather isn’t too hot, have long showers and pamper myself, and generally just do all of the things that make me feel healthy and fresh.  As much as I want to crawl off into bed and starve myself, I know that this isn’t the thing to do, it only makes the problem worse.

Another crucial step is to only surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself.  The inflaters in my world.  That goes for online too – if I can’t read blogs or talk to people on social media that make me feel good about myself, then I need to steer clear of those places.  I have to keep away from triggers that upset me or stress me out.  No reading about politics, keeping away from articles, stories and blogs about the injustices of the world, only watching things on YouTube or on DVD’s (I don’t watch television or read papers any more, they are just too full of rubbish and negativity) that are positive.

And finally, give it time.  It will pass.  I know I won’t always feel this way.

So, what about you, dear readers?  What are your remedies for getting through a bout of depression?  Do you know what your triggers are?  Let’s talk about the black dog, it’s the best way to build a set of tools to help you deal with it when he comes to visit.

But I just want to leave you with something that has made me feel better tonight:

Bodies with Needs

Published June 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Interesting discussion had today at a library conference I attended.  The theme was teen and young adult services for public libraries.  One of the excellent papers was presented by Denise Barker of the Disability Services Commission in Western Australia, about libraries working with young people with disabilities.  I got some fabulous snaps while listening to Denise’s paper.

Firstly, when you make your library (and for that matter any other public space) accessible and useable for people with disabilities, it benefits everybody in the community.  Ramps are also good for people with walkers or prams, or small children who are yet unable to negotiate stairs.  Taps and door handles etc with levers instead of knobs, or automatic sensors are easier on people with arthritis or Parkinson’s, or people who have temporary injuries or repetitive strain injuries.  They’re also more hygienic in bathrooms because there is less contact with the fittings.

Creating an inviting space for people with disabilities encourages socialising with a wider group of people, not just for the folks with disabilities, but also for the able-bodied, which promotes compassion, understanding and empathy, and frankly enriches everybody’s experiences.

You don’t always know if someone has a disability, and they may not tell you, even if they are having difficulties using your library.  Hooray!  It’s so good to hear someone acknowledging “invisible” disabilities.  You cannot tell just by looking at someone what their body is able to do, or not able to do, or requires assistance to do.

People with intellectual disabilities need to be welcome in our libraries too.  They need to feel comfortable and included.

Young people with disabilities don’t want to be special cases, they want to be included.  They want access to the same things as everyone else, not “special” things.  Sometimes they just need tools to be able to do so.  Treat those items as tools for those people, not “special”.

And not to forget mental health issues either.  As for everyone else, libraries need to be safe and welcoming for sufferers of mental health issues.

Mostly I guess the core message was about a) being inclusive and b) the benefits to all of the community.

All in all it was great to hear some thoughtful talk about the needs of young people (12 – 24) with disabilities in libraries.  I know so often it gets overlooked.

Guest Post by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published June 9, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Regular readers of this blog will remember the episode surrounding Mia Freedman and her blog, Mama Mia some weeks ago.  One of the repeated messages that I, and my fellow Fat Acceptance activists kept getting was that we are  intent on “picking on” and “slandering” Ms Freedman.  Despite trying to engage in intelligent, respectful discussion, we repeatedly were accused of being “angry fatties” who should just shut up, stop eating donuts and get some exercise.

Today I would like to present to you a guest blog post by someone who is definitely not an “angry fatty”.  Fat Acceptance is not just about being fat or even promoting fat, but it is about promoting positive body image and respect for all body shapes, sizes and types.  One of our most compassionate and intelligent allies in Fat Acceptance is Dr Samantha Thomas, a sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues.

We have been coaxing Samantha to guest post for us on several Fat Acceptance blogs, and I am pleased to say she has written a post on the topic of Mama Mia and positive Body Image, which I am publishing here for you, and will also be posted over on Spilt Milk today as well.

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Mama Mia and Body Image

Dr Samantha Thomas

Mia Freedman’s appointment as Chair of the Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group is one of life’s very strange ironies.

Let me pose a question. How does someone that writes a blog like Mamamia become the Chair of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group?

How? Does? That? Happen?

For me, this is a fundamentally important question to ask if we are going to take Body Image initiatives seriously in Australia. It is a question which will help us to understand what ‘Body Image’ means, the boundaries that have been set up in the Body Image advocacy space, who is included and more importantly who is being left out.

As an academic, what I deal with, day in, day out is evidence. As dull as that may seem, my life is about facts. Those facts come in different shapes and sizes. The facts I deal with are predominantly qualitative. They are about people’s views, their experiences, their attitudes and opinions. And, as an excellent Professor once told me, academics should always be prepared to change their mind in light of new evidence. Let me tell you that my mind has been changed on more than a few occasions because the evidence was just so compelling (climate change and fat are great examples of this!).

So in thinking this through I have looked in great detail at the Mamamia blog. I’m not going to link the blog here. You can search for it if you like. But I’m not going to proactively encourage you to go there.

For me, this blog, given who it is written by, and the position she also holds as Chair of the National Body Image Advisory Group is supremely problematic. Mamamia (which I’m assuming is a business) creates an interesting dilemma for the National Body Image Advisory Group. Because it is not what Body Image is about. In fact, is probably as far removed from it as you could possibly get.

At the most basic level, this is the definition of Body Image:

“The way a person thinks about his or her body and how it looks to others”

So for me, initiatives which seek to foster positive Body Image (note that this is different from Body Image, and people get them confused all the time which does my head in) should simply be about activities which:

“help all individuals to think positively about their bodies” Full Stop.

Now in light of these definitions, I had a good look at Mamamia, particularly under the Body Image section.  And here is my take on what I saw.

  1. Body image is predominantly framed as being about ‘healthy’ weight. And because of this, there is an abundance of derogatory weight based language that occurs on the site, both in the blog posts and in the comments sections.

There is a convenient assumption that is made throughout the site, that ‘curvy’ is okay (as long as you are also drop dead beautiful see the posts about Layne Bryant and Christina Hendricks). That being a little bit above or below ‘average’ is acceptable too. But being too fat or too thin is not (as are encapsulated in the Gainer and Skinny Girls are Liars posts). And this is where we get into this strange notion that Body Image is about promoting ‘real women’ (who seem to only be a size 10-14). That a few more of these ‘real’ women on catwalks or in magazines are a really helpful thing for creating en masse self esteem in women.

So if we go back to the definitions about Body Image, and how to create positive Body Image, is this a helpful approach? Nope. It’s not even close.

  1. That ‘being fat’ is still a bad thing, as is gaining weight. That is it associated with a fundamental character flaw of being ‘naughty’ ‘self indulgent’ ‘undisciplined’ (I could go on and on and on…)

And here we get a multitude of damaging posts – like the one where the bloke calls her chubby and she goes into a monumental meltdown and hours of chick debriefing to get over it. Or the one where her kid says that a size 12 fairy at a play was ‘fat’ and she spends a whole angst ridden car trip trying to reassure her kid that the fairy wasn’t fat (because obviously calling someone fat is a REALLY bad thing to do….. because having a quick discussion about the values of people being different shapes and sizes would have been very destructive – my words not hers). Or my favourite one which also appeared in this weekend’s paper – the time when she went on an overseas holiday and OMG had a really awful relationship with food because she put on 11 kilos and 20 years later still seems ridden with guilt about it.  Or the one where she says that women are facing a dilemma because a “good ass” requires a low % of body fat but a “good face” requires a high one.

Accepting of people for who they are? A healthy approach to encouraging EVERYONE to feel good about their bodies? I don’t think so.

  1. That it is still okay to judge people for what they choose to wear, or choose to have done to their bodies (aka tattoos and plastic surgery).

Obviously this blog represents some pretty mainstream fashion views. That’s okay and there is nothing particularly wrong with that. This probably is as good a place as any to declare that I love a bit of Saturday morning mummy fashion from Country Road. But the problem is that the blog posts constantly compare what is ‘hot’ with what is ‘not’. The ‘best’ with the ‘worst’. And it is that comparison that is extremely dangerous in a Body Image context.  It’s even dangerous when you put up fashion posts which are all about how a colour makes you look (like the black doesn’t make you look skinny but it can make you look older post). Or her video blogs about what fashions we should be buying this winter. Or denigrating people for having plastic surgery. The positive Body Image take on plastic surgery would be to look at why women feel pressured to have boob jobs, botox, whatever. Not to write OMG YOU IDIOT posts about women who make choices about what they do with their own bodies. There is a big difference.

Because that DOES NOT encourage all individuals to feel positively about their bodies – which includes being able to wear things that they love and that they personally feel good in. Because it creates a sense that you should worry about what others think of you. Which is really really wrong!

Let me share a little secret with you.

Positive Body Image is not about creating an acceptable body ‘norm’ or about trying to make yourself look thinner, more beautiful, younger, or whatever. It’s not about trying to ‘hide’ or ‘make the best of’ who you are. That is called “Marketing”.

Because where bodies are concerned, there is no norm. Because we ARE ALL DIFFERENT! Which is what makes us REAL. And celebrating that difference is what positive Body Image is about.

The sad thing is that the content on Mamamia probably represents the views of sizable minority of people in Australia. And it means that the blog also provides a voice for that sizable minority. And that voice has at sometimes been very critical of people who have tried to raise some sensible debate about Body Image and what it means. That’s a shame. Because it doesn’t help to create a space which is about promoting positive Body Image for all Australians (and that includes our blokes too!). Or in creating an important cultural change in the way we perceive beauty, self worth or body acceptance.

I know some people who read this will disagree with what I have written. That is important, and I really welcome the feedback. Because it is through these very discussions that we will hopefully create change, and end up in a place where we come together to listen to and understand each others perspectives about this important issue.

History has shown us that popularity doesn’t necessarily make for the most fair, just and sensible leaders. Maybe this is just a case of history repeating itself (again).  But I know that there is an amazing positive Body Image revolution is on its way! It’s coming from the grassroots. And it will have a bigger impact than any government taskforce could ever have.

And that is just too exciting for words!

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If you wish to revisit the entire Mama Mia back story, a good place to start would be my post here, posts by Bri on A Fat Lot of Good here and here and those by Spilt Milk here and here.

Just a Quickie: Two Whole Cakes Fatcast

Published May 4, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Haven’t got a lot of blog time tonight, but I really, really wanted to share something with you all.

Marianne Kirby of The Rotund and Leslie Kinzel of Fatshionista have got together and started podcasting with Two Whole Cakes: Fatcast.

I have listened to the first two so far and can highly recommend them for those of you within the fatosphere and those of you who want to know more about the fatosphere and fat acceptance, be you a Fatty McFatterson yourself or not.

Marianne and Leslie get right down into it quick sticks, and talk about the politics of fat acceptance, their experiences and their thoughts on where the movement is going and in fact has been.  But they do so with bucketloads of fun, good grace and humour.  I have discovered that I can’t listen to the podcasts on the bus because people stare at the giggling fat lady!  Yet I also found myself nodding along in agreement and a few lightbulbs going off as the ladies articulate things I have been unable to.

If you follow this link, you will be able to download the podcasts or subscribe via iTunes, and can see the notes and links the ladies have mentioned in the podcasts as well.

Well, what are you waiting for?