All posts in the experiment category

Stares, Sneers and Snickers

Published February 14, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

If you follow me on my Fat Heffalump Facebook page, you may have seen this article I posted yesterday.  Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has documented the reactions of people around her, a fat woman, in public.  If you go to Haley’s page, you will see the full suite of photographs called Wait Watchers as she documents people laughing at her, sneering, and generally just being douchey.

Now I don’t advocate reading the comments on PetaPixel articles (actually, on any articles about discrimination and bigotry for that matter), but I did, and I also saw them elsewhere, suggesting either that Haley just captured “general expressions” (not necessarily aimed at her) or that perhaps they weren’t deriding her because of her weight but because of the way she dressed (which is no different than most of the thin people around her – only fat people are considered “sloppy” in shorts and a top), her looks, or as one said “Those people aren’t looking at her because she’s fat! It’s because she’s doing x, y, z. But if she doesn’t want to be ridiculed in public, maybe she should lose some weight.”

Wait, what?

Regardless of the reason why people behaved like they did, they were behaving in a judgemental manner, and judging her negatively, which their expressions and behaviour showed.

Well, I can tell you now, I have further proof to add to Haley’s testimonial of the derisive surveillance fat people are under.  Because some time ago, I engaged in an experiment with Stocky Bodies photographer Isaac Brown, where I spent time in the Queen Street Mall here in Brisbane doing things that I am normally likely to do in public, as anyone else is (reading, using my phone, eating a salad, eating an ice-cream) and Isaac blended into the crowd and photographed people’s reactions to me.

Before anyone says “But it’s because you have bright pink hair!” let me address that.  Firstly, lots of people have bright coloured hair these days.  But many of them are not ridiculed in the street.  I am a fat woman with pink hair, I get a very different reaction from Jo Public than a thin woman with pink hair.  Secondly, I currently have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and I get the same treatment no matter what colour my hair is.  Just two days ago I spotted a guy on the opposite train platform to the one I was standing nudge the woman next to him, point me out (brown hair, tattoos covered up, wearing quite a conservative dress and plain ballet flats) and they both laughed at me.  When they realised I had seen them pointing me out and laughing, they both clearly knew they had been busted by me.

And finally, do people with pink hair or any other bright, bold appearance deserve to be ridiculed in the street?  No they do not.

Others suggest people stare because “You look awesome Kath!”  People do not scowl, laugh derisively, or have expressions of disgust at people they find awesome.  They do not nudge and point.  When people find me awesome, and yes, some do, they smile at me.  They pass and say “I love your hair!”  Their faces are open and friendly, not closed and hostile.  Believe it or not, fat people are emotionally intelligent enough to be able to distinguish between negative and positive reactions to them.

I asked Isaac to send me some of the photos he took, so that I could share them with you.  You will see quite clearly that these are not the expressions of people who are thinking “That pink haired, fat lady is awesome!”


Some people just stare.

Sometimes I'm stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Sometimes I’m stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

It's not just women that stare either.

It’s not just women that stare either.

Even "nice little old ladies" stare and grimace at me.

Even “nice little old ladies” stare and grimace at me.

Some don't even bother to hide their laughter.

Some don’t even bother to hide their laughter…

... until their companions stare too.

… until their companions stare too.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Even sunglasses don't hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

Even sunglasses don’t hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

As you can see, it’s not just a phenomena that Haley Morris-Cafiero experiences.  I do too, as do many other fat people who spend time in public places.

But what is most offensive is the routine denial of those experiences, as though we are either imagining the stares, disapproving/disgusted looks, the nudging and pointing and laughter, or they are somehow our fault.  Having our experiences dismissed is actually part of the systematic oppression of fat people.  Portraying us as overly sensitive, or imagining the way we are treated is also a form of abuse.   It labels us as “deluded” or emotionally damaged.  It is ironic, many of us do have emotional damage, not because we are fat, but because of the way society treats us as fat people, which includes the regular dismissal of our experiences.

The thing is, it’s not just me that notices the way people behave towards me in public.  It affects my relationships with others as well.  I have had a boyfriend leave me because he couldn’t handle being subjected to so much derision from strangers (yes, I am aware that I am better off without such a man!) and it often diminishes the enjoyment of time out with friends, because they see how people behave towards me and because they care about them, it upsets them and makes them angry, as they want to defend me and respond to the general shittiness of strangers behaviour.  Not to mention that even though I’m mostly pretty thick skinned about it, some days it gets too much for me and affects my mood – it’s hard to relax and have fun with your friends when you are being subjected to the kind of derision and judgement shown in the photographs above.

It is sadly just another example of the way fat people are viewed as inferior in our society.  Not only do we “deserve” the vilification, ridicule and judgement, but if we acknowledge it, we are viewed as irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.

If you are experiencing these things, you are NOT irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.  Your feelings and experiences are valid, and you are not alone.

Note: Any comments denying my or anyone else’s experience with judgement and ridicule in public will be marked as spam and have you blocked from commenting.  You are welcome to state that you are fortunate enough to have not experienced it, but DO NOT suggest that I or anyone else is imagining our experiences, as you will be doing exactly what I call out in this article.

Time for an Experiment

Published December 7, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It’s that time of year again Heffalumpies.  You know, the silly season.  For those of you in the northern hemisphere, you’ve already started with your Halloween and Thanksgiving and stuff.  The “holiday season” is really hitting it’s straps now that it’s December, there is Christmas schlock in all the shops, the carols are already worming their way into my brain and I’m seeing everyone’s stress levels steadily climb, what with family stuff, trying to find the perfect gifts for everyone and going to all the holiday events that happen at this time of year.  Not to mention how expensive this time of year can be.

Unfortunately, all of that stress and running around tends to mean that we let our self care slip by, because we’re too busy to really focus on making sure we are ok ourselves.  Often we drink a bit too much, eat a whole different way to the rest of the year (all that rich holiday food) and don’t get enough sleep.  Not to mention the self esteem crushing that can often happen when one is visiting family.  The exact reason I DON’T visit my biological family, this time of year or any other!

It’s a tough time of year for a lot of reasons and our self esteem is usually the first thing to get battered and bashed in the process.

So how about a little experiment?  Are you all up for trying something fairly unobtrusive but that I believe is pretty powerful, to keep that self esteem ticking along strongly for the rest of December and into the new year?

It’s pretty simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy.  I’ve had to learn it myself, and it did take some time to pick up.  What is it, you ask?  Well, just this:

Every day, for the rest of December, whenever you talk to someone in your day, find something about their outfit or their personality or actions that you like, and compliment them on it.   Everyone.  From the people at your bus stop, to the folks at your work, to waiters or servers in cafes and restaurants, even if it’s someone making you a sandwich or selling you a drink.  Your colleagues, your family, your friends, anyone that you encounter during your day.  If you find yourself sitting next to someone on public transport, or in an elevator with someone, have a go at finding something for them too.

I know, I know, it sounds kind of cheesy and Pollyanna-ish when you write it down, but I have noticed something.  It started with a woman I work with, who every time she speaks to me, compliments something about me.  It might be as simple as my earrings, or my shoes, or my dress.  Other times it might be a task I did at work, or how I handled a situation.  Or sometimes it’s just something about me – my laugh, my knowledge of trivia, my phone manner.  Every single day, without fail, Wendy finds something to compliment me on.  I started taking more notice, and discovered that she does it to everyone around her.  Every single person in the office.  Anyone who comes in for a meeting.  People she encounters during her day, no matter how brief.  If she speaks to them, she compliments them on something.

At the same time I was noticing that she always complimented people, I noticed that she is one of the calmest, most joyful people I know.  She is joyful of countenance and seems to cope better with stress than almost anyone I know.  This is not simply because she looks for positives, but also because by just being who she is, she makes people feel good, and they like working with her.  They return the joy she puts out into the world.

So I started trying to do the same.  It was really hard at first, because I either felt so hard on myself I cast that onto other people, or I was too scared I’d make a fool of myself.  I started with friends and people I felt comfortable with.  Every time I see them, I pay them a compliment.  Then I progressed to just finding things that I could compliment other people with, even though I was too scared to voice it yet.  I’d think to myself “Her earrings are so cute!” or “He always makes me laugh.”  Eventually it became habit, second nature to find things about people that I liked.

Then something interesting happened.  As I paid more attention to the positives in other people, I started to pay more attention to the positives about MYSELF.  I started to feel more confident, and yep, my self esteem went up and my stress levels went down.  I started voicing those compliments to more and more people.  The more I did it, the more I noticed people’s demeanor changed around me.  I noticed more smiles.  The general stress levels dropped in everyone, not just myself.

I’ve even started doing it to strangers.  If someone at the bus stop or in the elevator has a nice dress or shoes, I’ll say “I like your shoes.” or “That is such a cute dress.”  It’s amazing how someone lights up when you pay them a compliment, and it’s amazing how good it feels to light someone up like that.

Of course, there are some caveats to this exercise.  Let’s see…

  • Keep away from comments about anyone’s bodies, since I have found it’s rarely (if ever) acceptable to comment on someone’s body, and besides generally speaking, ones body is deeply private anyway.  Remember our motto here at Fat Heffalump: If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.
  • Be genuine.  If you genuinely can’t find anything about someone, then skip it.
  • There will be times you forget, or you’re in a crappy mood or you just have other things on your mind.  That’s ok.
  • If someone is a douchecanoe – don’t waste your time on them.  Move on to someone else.
  • Don’t load your compliments with baggage.  Instead of saying “That dress highlights your shape.”, say “What a beautiful dress.”  Don’t load the compliment so that it casts judgement on someone’s appearance and it can imply that they aren’t as “worthy” other times.  Just keep it simple –  I love your earrings.  You handled that difficult customer so well.  Cute shoes!  Your laugh is so infectious.  Fab handbag, where did you get it?
  • If you aren’t bold enough to say it, think it.  Start with the people who are close to you that you feel comfortable with.  Challenge yourself to add another person each day.

So, do you think you’d like to give this a try for the rest of December?  Are you up for an experiment?