Dr Samantha Thomas

All posts in the Dr Samantha Thomas category

On “Letting Yourself” Get Unhealthy

Published June 7, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I read this post from Dr Samantha Thomas over at The Discourse and I must say, while I’m absolutely disgusted at the way Amanda Bell has been treated, sadly I am not actually surprised.  Because most of us who live in fat bodies know all too well that respectful, dignified health care is not something we can find easily, and that part of the reason so many of us find ourselves ill is because we avoid going anywhere near medical providers due to the amount of shame and bullying that is heaped on us when we do.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic illness that comes with a whole host of it’s own shaming, which is compounded when it is suffered by someone who is fat.  I am lucky, I have a GP who is supportive, sympathetic and treats me with respect and dignity.  She also listens to me.  However I was in my 30’s before I found my beloved Doc Jo.  But I dread the thought of needing a specialist of any kind, because it is fresh in my mind the horror of having to deal with fat shaming and the general disrespect of fat-hostile medical professionals (and I use the term “professional” loosely).

But as I have read more and more on the topic of T2 diabetes, all I have found is further fat-shaming from both health care professionals and from every “expert” member of the media and the public who profess to have an opinion on a chronic illness that they neither suffer nor have studied.  The most common message is that T2 diabetics, or to be specific, fat T2 diabetics, have “brought it upon themselves” and are now “clogging up our health care system on something they did to themselves.”  Somehow thin T2 diabetics escape this criticism and are often heaped with sympathy and disbelief on how they should get a disease that the commenter believes is something that only “unhealthy fat people” get.

And just tonight, on Twitter I have had some two-bit television doctor from the UK dismissing me as “being silly” when I tried to speak to him about the disrespect and shaming that fat people suffer at the hands of medical professionals.  Clearly he fails to see that a patronising tone is not an adequate argument.

What I want to talk about today is the commonly held belief that fat people do not deserve respectful, caring medical attention and are unable to advocate for their own health.  Now, let’s pretend, for just a moment, that all the evidence we have found about there being no causal links between fatness and disease, only correlation, and we’ll pretend, just for a moment, that there are no healthy fat people, nor unhealthy thin people, and we’ll even pretend for a moment that 95% of diets and weight loss regimes do not fail over the long term.  So if we ignore all of that evidence, and pretend, just for a moment, that fat really is something that can be controlled and eradicated by diet and exercise.

Let’s just pretend for a minute (bear with me).

If that’s the case, wouldn’t that mean that EVERYBODY who engages in risky behaviour or does things that are detrimental to their own health should be shamed, bullied, intervened into and vilified for their behaviours?  Wouldn’t that mean that ANYONE who is not in 100% tip-top physical form through some kind of activity or behaviour that may possibly do damage to the human body should be held fully financially responsible (without any support from private or public health care) for their illnesses and injuries?

Let’s think about that.

Do you tan/sunbathe/expose ANY of your skin to the sun?  Well, that counts you out for respectful health care, because you’ve let yourself get skin cancer.  Do you drink alcohol?  No respectful health care for you, if you let yourself get cirrhosis, stomach ulcers or alcohol related illnesses.  How about anyone who plays sport?  If you let yourself get injured on the field/course/track/court – no respectful health care for you.  Have you ever had sexual intercourse in your life? Well if you get any of the long list of illnesses and diseases that can be contracted from just one sexual encounter, then it’s your fault, you are also exempt from respectful health care.  Do you drive a car?   If you have an accident, you let it happen, so off the list you go too.  Take public transport to commute to and from work?  Well, if the bus has an accident, or you get the flu from other people on your train – you let that happen by engaging in behaviour that has risks, so you’re off the list there.  Choose to get pregnant?  Well, all those things that can happen during pregnancy and childbirth – you let those happen by exposing yourself to that risk, so nope, no respectful health care for you either.

We could go on like this for ever.  Because every single action we do in our lives, can and does have health risks.  Not to mention that we humans do a lot of very stupid things to ourselves and end up sick or injured because of it.  We drive big metal and glass vehicles at high speeds, we perch atop small things with wheels on them and hurtle along roads, down hills and around car-parks in the name of fun or transport.  We hurl balls, sticks, spears, discs and other projectiles at each other in the name of sport.  We jump out of planes, strap huge cans of air to our backs and dive to the bottom of the ocean with big creatures that have teeth that and see us as food, we go places where there are things that can bite, sting, spear and poison us.  We have sex with all kinds of people and things, we use mind-altering substances and we engage in all kinds of purely cosmetic procedures that can go wrong.  In the name of entertainment, pleasure or convenience, we do hundreds of things that are not entirely necessary, and carry risks to our health.

Such is life.  Simply being conceived, gestated and born is the riskiest thing any human being can do – all the stuff afterwards is just the icing on the risk cake.

So why is it that fatness is singled out?  Why is it that there is this general perception that fat people aren’t capable of making informed, conscious choices about our own lives and the risks associated?  Why is it believed that we need to be shamed for our own good?

Because it’s not about health.  It has never been about health.  It is about appearance and moral superiority.  A fat person offends the eye of a fat hater (and fat hatred is encouraged in our society), so they need to be shamed and bullied until they are either thin, or hidden away where the fat hater cannot see them.  Or better still, eradicated.  And our culture encourages people to feel moral superiority over others, so as we are encouraged to hate fat, who better to claim moral superiority over to make ourselves feel better than the fatties?

Yet so many people still can’t understand why fat people avoid going to the doctor…

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I’m Not Convinced the Leopard Has Changed It’s Spots

Published March 8, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Today over on The Discourse, Dr Samantha Thomas announced a MAJOR win on her behalf for the fight against the stigmatisation of fat people, when she shared that Obesity Prevention Australia had removed all images and references equating childhood obesity to child abuse. I am incredibly impressed that Samantha, and all others who spoke out against these disturbing messages and images, were able to have them removed and the collection tins bearing them recalled by Obesity Prevention Australia (OPA), and major kudos go to Samantha for spearheading it.

However, I’m not letting OPA off the hook that easily.  While I think it is excellent that they have removed this ignorant tripe from their site, and recalled those highly offensive collection tins from circulation, I still have lots and lots, and LOTS of problems with them.  Let’s make a list shall we?

  • In the response from Levi Walz, the CEO of OPA, he said “Firstly, I would like to issue my deepest apologies to anyone who has been offended by our awareness slogan.”  Well there’s your first problem.  There is no apology for the actual offense, merely a “sorry you’re offended”.  Which is a false apology – the onus is placed back on those who are offended rather than OPA for engaging in offensive behaviour.
  • Secondly, Mr Walz states “this upsetting feedback is truly new for us however, as since OPA’s inception the response we have received nationwide has been nothing short of completely positive (governments, health professionals, schools, program participants, other organisations, local business etc).”  All this illustrates to me is that fat hatred is deeply entrenched and OPA are actually contributing to it by adding their offensive campaigns to the already hostile environment for fat people.
  • Mr Walz then says “I have felt sick in my stomach at how our organisation has been interpreted by your readers”.  There is no “interpretation” of fat stigmatisation, by equating childhood obesity with child abuse, OPA were directly accusing parents of fat children of abusing those children.
  • He then states that he also feels sick in his stomach at “and how many of the people we aim to help have been hurt.”  The assumption that a) fat people either want or need any help from an organisation like OPA is both patronising and dismissive of the experiences of fat people at the hands of those who insist on stigmatising fatness as dangerous, deadly or abusive.
  • He then says “maybe people have been offended prior, however have just kept it to themselves” which makes me wonder if there has been any thought by he and the OPA into just how shaming, bullying and stigmatising fat people silences them.  Have they put any consideration into how much courage it must take for someone to stand up to a large organisation who are promoting the idea that “Childhood obesity is childhood abuse.”?

So that’s the response that we have seen with regards to this immediate matter.  I have noticed a general change in tone to the website since the piece by Dr Samantha Thomas (and she has lots of screenshots on this piece), which is a good start.

However, there is still a whole lot of wrong with the site, the organisation and the messages it sends out.  So let’s have a go at those too:

  • The name.  Obesity Prevention Australia.  As though obesity is a) something that can be prevented, b) something that should be prevented and c) something that is “other” than a human being.  “Preventing” obesity implies that one has control over one’s body size, which is erroneous to start with, and implies that obesity is someones fault.  Well, we’ve already seen them imply that obesity is the fault of parents.  Obesity isn’t a thing or a disease, it is a medicalisation of the state of being a fat PERSON.  I feel that naming your organisation “Obesity Prevention Australia” implies the eradication of fat people.  Be it through fat reduction by any means, or simply removing fat people from our culture.
  • While we’re on the topic of this being an organisation, I am wondering why they are using a .com.au web domain, which by law in Australia can only be registered by a registered BUSINESS (not organisation) with an ABN and the domain name must have some connection to the name, or the business type, of that registered business.  Surely a non-profit organisation should have a .org.au domain name, which are reserved for registered non-profit organisations?
  • Let’s talk about Shannon Ponton’s involvement with OPA.  Why is a physical trainer who works on a television show famous for bullying, shaming and humiliating fat people for entertainment, while promoting unhealthy extreme dieting and exercise practices, in a “lose weight at any cost” mentality, a member of an organisation that is supposedly concerned with the health of Australians, unless to add to the message of fat stigmatisation in a highly public manner?
  • How about OPA’s statement that they are an organisation “committed to reversing the obesity and inactivity epidemic that is debilitating our nation.”  Have they got any evidence of this supposed debilitating epidemic?  I can’t seem to see them citing any references anywhere on their site to go with their statistics and claims.
  • Actually have a look around the site at all of the “statistics” and claims.  I am unable to find any of them reference to anything.  They could be made up for all we know.
  • If you delve into their “Who we help” pages, they claim that “It is estimated that if current trends continue, close to 70% of all Australian adults will be overweight or obese by 2020!” – can we have some kind of evidence to this claim please?  They even follow that sentence up with “(If this does not scare you please read it again).”  This is meant to aid in healthfulness of  ALL Australians how?  It sounds far more like an “OMG THE FAT IS CATCHING AND IT’S GONNA GET YOU!!” than a positive message of raising health in Australia.
  • I’m rather impressed by how many ways they suggest that you can give them money.

I could go on, and on, and on with the ways in which this “organisation” make me question their intentions, their fund-trails and those who are involved with the project.  But I have to get up and go to work tomorrow and to be honest, the fat shaming on the site is starting to wear me down.  I invite anyone else reading to wade into the website if you have the spoons to do so (I will warn that it is full of fear mongering with little to no sources of information cited, that may be triggering to some) and add some more points of concern into the comments if you wish.

While I am very pleased that Obesity Prevention Australia INC (the INC is only mentioned in their prospectus page) has listened and removed the “Childhood Obesity is Childhood Abuse” propaganda, and some of the more disturbing images that were featured on The Discourse in response to Dr Samantha Thomas’ fantastic exposé on their methods, I am not ready to believe that they have the best interests of fat Australians at heart.  So long as they use the name “Obesity Prevention Australia”, spout unfounded death threats and continue to focus on and stigmatise fatness, they are doing more harm than good.   It is going to take some RADICAL changes of their entire organisation to rectify this, and I will be watching to see if this actually happens.

If they truly wish to improve the health of Australians, their focus needs to be on the availability of health education and resources for ALL Australians, not just the ones who don’t pass as “thin enough”.

So… We Just “Sit”?

Published February 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Yeah I know, I shouldn’t bite.  But I did.  On Facebook of all places.  I jumped on into the debate about “Obesity in Australia” set up by the Triple J Hack programme.  Frances from Corpulent/Hey Fat Chick and Dr Samantha Thomas (love you two!) were both on the radio programme yesterday afternoon (did an amazing job, go listen) talking about the stigmatisation of fat people.

So I won’t go into all the deets about the discussion, it’s mostly the same “But what about your health!!??” malarkey that we always get.  However, I do want to talk about a repeat message or sterotype that I kept seeing from those who were vehemently anti-fat.

That repeat message?  That fat people just sit around all day eating.

It seems that is the exact image that many people have of fat people.  We just sit around all the time, doing nothing but eating, and usually eating something laden with sugar or fat.  There is also an assumption that fat people have never ever heard of dieting, have no knowledge of nutrition, and don’t know anything about exercising.

It’s not just in this particular case either.  I see it come up over and over and over.  It came up during the John Birmingham thing.  I was reading an article on ABC the Drum some months back about “obesity stigma” and a commenter said “I feel sorry for fat people, their lives must be so boring, all they do is just SIT.”

Where on earth to these people get these ideas about fat people?  Well, television and movies mostly.  The fat character is almost always portrayed as some lonely fatty, at home shoving food in their face.  Then there’s the headless fatty footage of fatties sitting on park benches or in fast food joints.  The print media sell that image too.

I don’t know about you, but getting the luxury of time to “just sit” is pretty bloody rare in my life.  Even while I’m on holiday at the moment, I’m keeping pretty busy, when I really should be spending time “just sitting” a little more.

So how do we go about changing this perception of fat people?  How do we get the message out that fat people are no different to anyone else?  That we live our lives the same as anyone else?  We work, we go to school, we care for families, we spend time with friends, we shop, we laugh, we have hobbies, we play sports, we dance, we actually live full lives that are the same as non-fat people live.  The only difference is that our bodies are fat.

 

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.

Australian Fat Studies Conference: Thank You

Published September 12, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Here I sit, home from Sydney and the Australian Fat Studies conference, and there is just so much buzzing around in my head that I want to share with you all, but I’m still processing it all and dealing with some emotional stuff of my own that has been borne of thinking about all of this stuff in detail for a few days.  So I’ll let a lot of it burble until it’s ready to be shared with everyone.

What I want to do tonight is thank the amazing, incredible women who enrich my lives immensely, that I was able to meet this weekend.  So I’m going to thank you all individually right here.  Let’s try the order that I met each of you (except one I’m going to save until last).

Bri of Fat Lot of Good – Thank you Bri for being a strong, intelligent woman with a massive heart.  Thank you for standing up as a proud fat woman and speaking out against fat hate.  Thank you for sharing your story with us in your conference paper, for moving us all to tears as we ached for you, and ached for ourselves with the similarities in our own stories.  Thank you for welcoming me with a hug.   Thank you for making me laugh, for making me think, for making me strong.  You are such a beautiful person.

Dr Samantha Thomas (her blog, The Discourse) – Thank you for your empathy and your heart.  Thank you for caring about the quality of life of fat people.  Thank you for fighting for us in the face of so much opposition, so much aggression, so much bullshit.  Thank you for feeling as deeply as you do.  Thank you for your passion and energy.  Thank you for bringing a voice of reason and intelligence to a field so full of bias, disrespect and dehumanisation.  Thank you for envying my boobs.  Thank you for treating me as an equal even though I don’t have a jot of the education you have.  Thank you for your encouragement and support.  Thank you for just being the delightful person you are.

Frances of Corpulent – you are pure sunshine.  You are so full of joy that it radiates out of you and shines on everyone around you.  Thank you for that joy.  Thank you for your sweetness.  Thank you for being the first person to show me that bodies that looked like mine were beautiful.   Thank you for being bold and colourful and vibrant.  Thank you for your humour and magnificent smile.  Thank you for just being the joyous, beautiful woman you are.

Dr Cat Pausé of Massey University in New Zealand – we have only just met, but thank you for coming out as a proud, fat feminist, and giving me the courage to do the same.  Thank you for your warmth this weekend, I was drawn to your company immediately.

Scarlett O Claire – another woman I have just met – thank you so much for sharing your story, it hit so many common points for me.  Thank you for putting yourself out there as a beautiful performer, for bravely sharing things that still hit emotional buttons for you, and simply for being present in the world, just as you are.

Kelli Jean Drinkwater – we also just met, but thank you for being fucking amazing!  Thank you for being proud of your body, the first body that looks anything remotely like mine that I have seen portrayed positively.  Thank you for being visible as a fat woman.  Thank you for your sense of humour, your friendliness and your fabulous style.

Charlotte Cooper (view Charlotte’s blog, Obesity Timebomb here) – I know you are deeply embarrassed by the fangirl thing Charlotte, and it’s not really like that (we’re not the FA equivalent of Bieber Fever).  But what you do, your words, your art, your ideas, are so significant to me and I know many others.  What you do in fat activism is so very important to me, and has changed my life in so many positive ways, that I can’t help but be thrilled to have the opportunity to meet you and hear you speak.  Thank you so much for the work that you do, thank you for coming here to participate in this conference and thank you for kicking out the jams.

Finally, last but in no way least, thank you so much to the amazing, incredible, awesome Dr Sam Murray.  I do not have enough words to tell you what this conference, the space you created there and the dialogues that you are creating and encouraging mean to me.  I literally don’t have the words, I’m still processing!  This weekend has been a life changing event for me.  You did that.  With your dedication, with your passion and a whole lot of damn hard work.  And what a delightful soul you are.  You are utterly adorable in so many ways.  You have made me laugh, cry, think, and most of all, believe.  The only words I can find right now for you are simply: Thank you so very, very much.

And to all who attended and participated, thank all of you too, for being part of an event that has meant so much to me.  For those of you who couldn’t come, check out the companion site, Fat Dialogue

Guest Post 2 – Enough is Enough by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published July 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

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Enough is Enough

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

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

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

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

I’ve had enough of these inconsistencies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A voice that is getting stronger.

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

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

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

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

She goes on to write.

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

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

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

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

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

UNLESS YOU ARE FAT.

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

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

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

Speaking out also brings emails like this.

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

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

So who is in? !!!!

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

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

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.