fat liberation

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Unruly Bodies

Published June 24, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

Ever since I was born, my body has been unruly.  It has never done what bodies are “supposed” to do.  From a newborn, my body has always rebelled against the world around it.  From allergies to everyday baby items like soap, lambs wool, and lanolin which left my tender skin covered in eczema and hives to the big birthmark that graces my thigh, I was untidy from the get go.  Through childhood when more allergies had me a sneezy, snuffly, itchy hayfever sufferer.  I was never the kid that could run fast, it took me forever to learn to swim, I couldn’t catch a ball, and have always been a klutz.  Then puberty hit… and I became fat, the thing considered by society in general the unruliest thing of all for bodies to be.  As well as being fat, and allergic, and uncoordinated, I had a head full of enormous hair that has never done what I wanted it to.  I couldn’t afford cool clothes, but even if I could they are denied to fat people.

From my teens I started doing all sorts of things to myself to try to get thin, which my body rebelled against even further.  Years of disordered eating, exercise bingeing and ridiculous diets wreaked havoc on my body.  In my 20’s I went through stages of self harm.  Everything I did to myself to try to make my body conform to what I was told it should be, just made the problem worse.  Yo-yo dieting gave me stretch marks.  Purging damaged my teeth and my skin.  I scarred myself as punishment for being fat and unworthy and to escape the emotional pain.   The more I fought my body to be tidy, neat, contained, the more my body fought back.

Of course, by the time that one is 35, most people see the signs of aging.  The body continues to be unruly.   Hair starts to go grey.  Wrinkles and lines appear.  Collagen reduces allowing gravity to do it’s job.  So the body continues to be unruly.  And again, I’m still fat – the unruliest thing of all.

It wasn’t until I was 35 that I stopped fighting my body.  I found fat liberation and feminism, and realised that my value is not in my appearance, that it is in who I am as a person, and no matter what a person looks like, they are worthy of dignity and respect.

Part of fat liberation is finding the way to appreciate the unruliness of your body.  It is finding the power in your body.  It is seeing the unruliness as the history book of your body.  I look at my body now and the very things that I once loathed are the things that I am finding are my strengths.  The soft warmth of my round, generous body.  A small child once called me “The huggiest lady in the world!” because she enjoyed cuddling up to my big body.  The strength that I have at my disposal just by putting my weight into movement.  The space I take up, full and abundant.  I see smile lines, scars that tell of great adventures, stretchmarks that tell of changes I have lived through.  Soft skin that is a canvas for beautiful art.  Even my enormous, untameable hair is a pleasure now – I just dye it hot pink and let it go crazy.  Sure I’d love to get rid of the allergies – but they are a small price to pay for a big, soft, warm, bountiful body that carries me through life.

But another thing happened… I started to notice that while I had all these things about my body that were unruly, untidy, awkward, there are also a lot of things about my body that are amazing and have always been there, I just never appreciated them when I was spending so much time focusing on the things I couldn’t change.   I never could run fast, but I’ve always had phenomenal endurance.  It took me ages to learn to swim, but once I did, I could swim long distances with ease.  I might not have been able to catch a ball, but I have a shot like a cannon and can split tennis balls and golf balls with my strength.  While my hair may be big and wild, it’s also thick and shiny.  My body is fat, but it’s also soft and warm.  I may have allergies, but I’ve also got a fine sense of smell and taste.

I learnt that instead of focusing on what my body is not, I need to focus on what it IS.  And what it is, is wonderous.  Flawed and weird yes, as are ALL bodies, but also amazing.

Why must women be small, tidy, contained, unobtrusive?  Why must we spend our lives trying to disappear, be invisible, to not take up any space, to keep out of everyone’s way?  Why can’t we inhabit our bodies as they are, find comfort and joy in them?

Let’s start here.  Before we go further, I want you to sit up straight, or as straight as you can.  Put your shoulders back.   Lift your head up and look straight forward.  Take a deep breath and expand your lungs, and then let that breath out.  Take up the space you inhabit.  Now think about the things your body CAN do.

What are the things that are amazing about your body?

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More on That Louie Scene

Published May 25, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

I had intended to run this post a few days ago, but the working week got the better of me (the crescendo of the financial year is always so intense), and I’m a little bit later than planned.  But it’s still important and I know some of you want to expand the discussion more from the previous post – thank you for your patience and keeping in topic!

So last post I was talking about the scene from Louie with the rather amazing Sarah Barker giving a stellar performance as a fat girl on a date.  My last post was a response to the criticisms of her statement that it sucks to be a fat woman were not a win for fat activism.  If you still haven’t seen the scene, or need a refresher, you can check it out here.

It’s important to note that I do have issues with Louis CK and his TV show.  But I’m not talking about those here.

Today I want to respond to some of the fatosphere criticisms of the scene with regards to dating and relationships.

The major criticisms that I have seen that bother me are:

  • She is begging for attention/to have her hand held.
  • That plenty of hot men want to date fat women, why did she go out with one that was reluctant to date her/be seen with her.
  • Men don’t want to date her because she is whiny and annoying, not because she’s fat.
  • It portrays single fat women as “pathetic” or desperate.
  • She’s “settling” when she says she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a husband.
  • Why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?

I find these criticisms extremely problematic.

The first thing that I have a problem with is the way that many perceive her as begging/whining/annoying.  I think that reaction actually reflects the point she makes to Louis about the double standard between when men and women talk about how hard it is to date while being fat – how he can get up on stage and joke about being single and a fat guy and people think it’s adorable, but if she tries to talk about how hard it is for her, people call the suicide hotline.  To me, suggesting she is begging/whining is deeply misogynistic.  She’s being very clear about what bothers her about the way she is treated, and she’s also calling Louis out for behaving in a way that she finds really disappointing.  She expected better of him.  But because she is a woman, it is instantly read as whining/begging.  However if a man were to outline when someone’s behaviour bothered him, he’d be considered assertive and honest.

The next point that bothers me is the suggestion that there are “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” and “why doesn’t she just join a BBW dating site?”  I think that this reaction to the scene also demonstrates exactly what she is talking about.  She asks Louis if he has ever dated a fat girl, and quickly pulls him up when he starts to say yes and says “I didn’t ask if you’ve fucked a fat girl, every guy has done that.”  She’s calling out the constant fetishisation and objectification of fat women.  Those “plenty of hot men who want to date fat women” on BBW sites are in the majority not looking to date a fat woman – they’re fetishizing/objectifying us.  Hands up if you’ve ever been involved with a man who is all too happy to sleep with you in private, but won’t take you out for dinner, or hold your hand in public, or introduce you to his friends?  She quite rightly says that if she had offered Louis sex, he’d have taken it up straight away… what if that’s not what you want from a partner?  There is nothing, NOTHING wrong with wanting to have a romantic relationship with someone, and to want them to put some effort into that relationship.  She’s right, any woman who is willing can get laid.  But it is exceptionally difficult to find men who are willing to date fat women in the same way that they would a thin woman.

Another criticism I find difficult to accept are those asking why she is bothering with Louis if he doesn’t get it (settling).  That’s the judgement we all have to make on all of our interpersonal relationships with people who don’t quite get fat activism.  We don’t live in a bubble of fat positivity, we live in the real world and it means making decisions about whether people are worth having in your life.  Do you take up the challenge of educating them, getting them to see how their behaviour is problematic, or do you just move on.  Sure, pick your battles, some people really aren’t worth your time.  But some people are.  Some people, while initially not getting it, are more than willing to listen and work through it.  That’s what you have to decide.  I’ve not that long ago dated a guy who kept putting his foot in it, not quite understanding what bothered me, but he was willing to listen, and asked me how to get it right.  Sure, it gets frustrating at times, but I never felt that it was “settling” for me to continue to see him.  One of the greatest moments with someone who “doesn’t get it” is that moment that the penny drops and they DO get it.  I love that moment!  Some of the most important people in my life today were really defensive at first, but I thought they were worth keeping around, and now they’re my staunchest allies.

But the one that really sticks in my craw is the suggestion that this portrays a fat woman as “pathetic”.  Why?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to call a man out for a crappy attitude/behaviour and state clearly what she wants?  Why is it pathetic for a fat woman to say that she wants a man who will be proud to be with her and put some effort into dating her?  It’s interesting that whenever a man shows vulnerability or wants a romantic relationship, it’s sweet and romantic, but if a fat woman does the same, it’s “pathetic” and “needy”?

Interestingly, those within fat activism that have been the most vocal in suggesting that this portrays fat women as pathetic are those who have the privilege of being in a relationship of whatever form themselves.  It makes me really side eye them as supposed allies… do they really think those of us who are single and are interested in dating a man who is proud to be seen with us and puts some effort into us as “pathetic”?

I want all of you to know there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable.  There is nothing wrong with speaking about what you want and expect from relationships.  There is nothing pathetic about wanting to be in a relationship.

Personally, I found this entire scene empowering, because it articulates a lot of things that I feel and represents situations I have been in myself.  That’s what I want to see in television – realistic portrayals of the lives of fat women.  I don’t just want to see us lampooned or turning ourselves into cariacatures (a la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids).  I want to see realistic fat women in realistic situations. Awkward conversations, guys being jerks and then getting called out on it, fat women who are angry, disappointed, exasperated, and fed up, people who don’t quite get it but are willing to try, and sometimes getting that wrong too.

I want to see all representations of fat women, not just those that tick all the Fat Activism 101 boxes.

I’m Not Making This Shit Up!

Published February 26, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

One of the best things about being a fat activist is the community that you get to be part of.  Thanks to my work in fat activism I’ve been able to meet (both online and off), some of the most amazing people, a number of whom I now call good friends.  Of course, there are those who treat fat activists like we are some kind of giant hive mind that all think the same things and have had exactly the same experiences in life, but that’s not true.  I’ve met fat activists from all walks of life, some of us get along really well, some of us disagree vehemently and some of us simply don’t like one another as people.  That’s good in a way – it shows we’re have a good balance of people, approaching fat activism from all angles.  It means we have robust discussions that nut out all the thorny bits of activism.

Another great thing is that we share resources.  Recently I was lucky enough to have bestowed upon me a fantastic collection of fat studies reference books by a fellow fat activist who was moving house at the time and needing to downsize her library.  It was an absolute joy to have parcel after parcel arrive in my PO Box full of books about fat.  Check these glorious piles of literary goodness out:

One of the things that struck me as I catalogued these into my own collection (yes, ever the librarian) was that people have been talking about fat politics, and particularly fat stigma and fat hatred, for a very long time.  This collection alone spans about thirty years, and it is by no means a complete collection of fat studies works.  These titles approach fat politics from almost every angle imaginable – sexuality, health, feminism, fiction, media, sociology, childhood development, eating disorders, psychology, food, exercise… you name it and someone has raised the topic in relation to fat politics in one of these books.

To put it bluntly, people have been talking about this shit for a long time and from a lot of perspectives.

However, listen to any of the many (and boy are there many) critics of fat activism, they will have it that we’re just making this stuff up as we go along.  It usually falls into two categories – either that we’re in some kind of denial about how horrible fat is, or that we’re just trying to find ways to “justify” being fat.  Let’s put aside the fact that I personally don’t focus on justification of my fatness – I am fat, the reasons are irrelevant  – but am focusing on fat people’s right to live their life with dignity and respect, and without discrimination or persecution, no matter what in their life led them to be fat.  We’ll also put aside that I’m in no denial that there are negative issues that correlate with being fat, but are not caused BY being fat, and don’t forget to include those issues that are caused by society’s loathing of fat.

But here in these books, and the many more out there, you have evidence that people have been examining fatness and society’s attitude towards fatness for a very long time.  I’m not the first person to discuss the subjects I do here on this blog, I’m certainly not the most formally educated person to examine the subjects I do here on this blog, and I’m definitely not making this shit up as I go along.  Unlike the majority of those who criticise fat activism, I spend an awful lot of time researching fatness, it’s effect on people and how society responds to it.  I certainly have not yet read all of these books, but I’ve spent almost 5 years reading an awful lot of them, along with an incredible amount of material online from all perspectives, which is a lot more than can be said from the average fat hating commenter who turns up with “But! But! But!  EVERYBODY KNOWS fat is bad!!”  Despite the fact that there is an incredible amount of material published from all over the world that disputes that supposed “everybody knows” knowledge.

The one thing I do know – fat haters do not present us with any new information or perspectives and have not done so for a very, very long time.  The very same arguments that the earliest of fat studies literature responds to are the same arguments that we are presented with today.  One would think, considering the amount of information we have presented over the past 30+ years as to why fat stigma and fat loathing are so damaging and erroneous, that a new perspective or new information would have come into play from the anti-fat brigade.  But alas, no.

What I do know is that there are people who have far more qualifications after their name than myself, and certainly more than the majority of the anti-fat brigade, listed amongst the authors of these books.   These are a learned bunch, and they’ve got very important things to say, and the evidence to back it up.

Something you will hear often in fat activism is “Educate yourself.”  Because it’s not our job to educate you in our oppression and how it affects us.  Many of us have spent years educating ourselves in the subject, we’ve spent our own time, money and energy to learn what we have learnt as fat activists.  If you wish to engage in the subject and dispute us, the least you can do is educate yourself.  Of course, there are always those that have excuses, saying they don’t know where to start or can’t find resources (Google is your friend people!)

However, I’m going to do something very generous.  I’ve created a resources page here on this blog, where I’ve listed all of the books in this collection, and others that I have read.  Now I know not everyone can afford all of these books, but you see, I’m a librarian, so I’m more than happy to encourage you to go and get a library card to get your hands on these resources.  If your library doesn’t have them, talk to your local librarians and ask them if they can add them to their collection, or organise an inter-library loan for you.  Librarians LOVE help with collection development, it’s a big job, any help we can get is always welcome.

For those of you who genuinely want to broaden your horizons and hear about the experiences of fat people, especially for those of you who are fat yourselves and need to know you’re not alone, this is a good place to start.

If you know of any other great resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will add them to my “to read” list.

Fatropolis – A Review

Published August 10, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Hey all!  Been a while, hasn’t it?  Rest assured, I am still alive and kicking, still being fat all over the place.  In fact I’m being fat at you all right now.  But I am aware that I have been very quiet here on Fat Heffalump compared to in the past.  This is mostly because my paid job is so much more intense than it has ever been before, with so many projects going at once, that I just don’t have the free time outside of work that I used to have.  I was just lamenting yesterday that I really miss having a life outside of my job.  I need to get better at finding that work/life balance – it’s not good for anyone to lose their recreation time and the time they give over to the things that they are passionate about.

I am however, changing in my activism.  Don’t worry, I’m not going soft on fat hate, or misogyny, or racism or any other form of prejudice.  It’s just that I’m finding myself really over being expected to educate people in how to be decent human beings.  I’m tired of being expected to justify our existence, our validity as human beings.  I’m tired of the same 101 conversations over and over and over again.  Instead, I want to promote visibility of fat people as part of society, not for those who hate fat people, but to benefit US… we fat people ourselves.  I want to create and promote people who are living large so to speak, getting on with their lives and being fabulous, in whatever way.  Which means the way I engage with fat activism is changing.

Which leads me nicely to the next topic – the fab fatty zine.  It’s almost finished!  I have been picking away at it as best I can in limited time, and I’m just about to run off the first copies.  I am just finessing the last bits of it and writing up the credits etc  and I’m still not 100% happy with the cover, then I’ll be good to launch it.  I have enough  material for future editions already, it has been SO difficult to choose which ones to use this issue and which to hold off on.  Watch this space for further news.

But what I’m really here to do today is review a book!  A couple of months ago author Tracey L. Thompson contacted me asking if I would be willing to read her novel, Fatropolis.  A novel about a world where fat people are considered “normal”?  Bring it ON!  She arranged for a review copy to be sent to me and I got stuck into it as soon as it arrived.

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Fatropolis is a fantasy/sci-fi story about a Jenny, fat woman from New York City, who falls through a portal into an alternate universe, one where fat is considered the norm for society, and thin people are pressured to gain weight to meet that norm.  An opposite world in fact, where fat is considered attractive/healthy/normal.  Jenny is used to the way our world treats fat people, and is suffering with her own low self esteem from internalised fat phobia, so Fatropolis (which is in fact New York City in the alternative universe) is a massive cultural shock for her.

She quickly makes friends and has a lot of questions about the portals, why this world is so radically different from her own, and about herself as a fat woman, questioning her assumptions and the dominant paradigm around fat and health and attractiveness.  Jenny goes on many adventures with her new friends, both in Fatropolis and back in our own world, and embarks on a relationship with an acquaintance who has his own connections to Fatropolis, while also dealing with a young man named Argus who makes it clear from the moment he sees her that he has feelings for her.

Fatropolis is about discovering that fat is not a dirty word, and asking questions of the dominant cultural paradigm we live in today.

I enjoyed Fatropolis.  I will have to admit, at the beginning I really didn’t like Jenny, but as I read further, I realised the reason I didn’t like Jenny was that I used to be Jenny.  Judgemental, fixated on being acceptable/attractive to men, jealous of anyone who she perceived as having something that she didn’t, and mostly just rock bottom self esteem.  It shows how far I have come that I no longer identify with a character like that, but find them really unpleasant.

The story is well paced, the characters identifiable and the descriptions of sights, sounds and smells are vivid.  The only thing I can really find to kind of criticise (or more that it made me uncomfortable rather than true criticism) is the fixation on food in Fatropolis because it did feel a little like the “fatties all eat lots” thing a bit much, which we know is patently not true.  But when I thought about it more, we are so obsessed with NOT eating here in our world, it makes sense for Fatropolis, which is the opposite world, to be fixated on eating.

Tracey Thompson manages to weave in a whole lot of fat activism 101 in to this story and does so without it being preachy or pushy.  Instead she has the knack of having her characters question things that the reader then questions themselves.

I say get out there and give it a read, regardless where you are on your fat liberation journey.  You can buy it direct from Pearlsong Press here, or Aussies can buy it via Bookworld.

You’re Not The First to Tell a Fat Person…

Published June 25, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Look, I know I have a lot of new readers.  I understand that many of you are totally new to the concept of fat activism and fat liberation.  I know that when you turn on the telly or open a newspaper, you are told, over and over again, fat = unhealthy and unhealthy = bad therefore fat = bad.  So what I’m saying here on this blog is a radical concept to a lot of you.  The idea that someone might refuse to believe that dominant rhetoric of fat = bad and actually be happy in their fat body is possibly confronting and confusing for many of you.  But it’s not a new concept.  Go back to my first post… July 2009.  I’ve been banging on about this for four years.  In fact, I just noticed that this is my 400th post.  So for four years, and with an average of 100 posts per year, I’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time now.  And believe it or not, a lot of people have been talking about it for a lot longer than me.  In fact, fat activism has its roots in the SIXTIES.  Yes, this stuff has been around for 50 years.  It’s not new.

So we need to talk about the sudden influx of you leaving comments on this blog that are never going to see the light of day.  Because yes, I know for you these things are radical and new… but to we fatties in the fatosphere, we’ve heard the same old same old our whole lives.  So not only do they not need to be published here to beat us over the head again and again with the same stuff that we’ve debunked time and time again, but you really don’t need to say them in the first place.  WE’VE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE!  SERIOUSLY, YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO TELL US THE THINGS BELOW!

Today I’m going to address a few of the most commonly deleted/spammed comments (other than the usual troll bullshit) that I just refuse to allow space on this blog any more, because I do know there are a lot of you newbies out there who have just started reading my blog recently and perhaps think you’re presenting some new idea to myself and other fatties in your comments.  This is for you, so that you don’t make a dick of yourself any more in comment threads on fat activist blogs and other sites saying things that every fat person has heard a bajillion times already.

But fat is unhealthy!?

There is a plethora of evidence out there that debunks this myth, I’m not going to go into that here and now.  It’s not my job to educate you – I’ve given you lists of resources, off you go to educate yourself.  What I am going to say are the following things:

  • health is not a moral obligation.
  • Health is not a measure of human worth.
  • Health is arbitrary – what is “healthy” for one person, is not necessarily the same for the next.
  • Thin people suffer health issues too
  • People with illness/injury/disability are just as deserving of dignity and respect as anyone else, no matter what that illness/injury/disability may be or how it is “caused”.

But you’re driving up taxes/health insurance!!

So are people who drive cars, drink alcohol, play sport, have unprotected sex, get pregnant or get old.  Among many other things.  Fat people pay taxes and for health insurance too, and their taxes and health insurance dollars go into the same pool that yours do.  Fat costs on public health are a false cost – if you medicalise something, then it is going to “cost” to “treat” it.  If the medical profession focused on treating actual health issues and not trying to make fat people thin, those costs would all but disappear.

Well I’m all for loving your body, but within limits/not for super-obese people!

Firstly, I’m actually not interested in “body love”.  Sure, it’s probably good for us to reach a place of love and acceptance of our bodies.  But in the face of a world that sends us constant messages that our bodies should be something completely unattainable, I reckon if we can just get to a point where we respect our bodies as remarkable and complex systems that propel us through life, we’re doing well.  If someone does love their body, then that’s a bonus and I believe that anyone is allowed to love their body, be they thin, fat or in between.

As for the “limits” to which people are included in fat activism/liberation, it has to be all of us.  Not some, not to a certain point, not just the “healthy” ones, not just the ones who are cute/attractive, not just the young, white, straight, able-bodied ones.  Every single one of us deserves to live our lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on our weight and size.  Every single fat person deserves positive representation.  EVERY. SINGLE. FAT. PERSON.

But I’m just concerned about your health/ wellbeing!

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

But you need help!  Making  “obesity” a disease will get you help and cheap treatment!

We do not need “help” that is against our will or counter-productive to our actual health.  We don’t need “treatments” that fail and make us gain even more weight in the long term (diets and other weight loss methods), that butcher our bodies (gastric mutilation surgeries) or deplete our quality of life (weight loss medications that give us heart conditions, make us sick, give us “oily anal discharge” or a plethora of other side effects that are far worse than simply being fat).   Many of us don’t need help or treatment at all.  Many of us are happy just as we are and are doing fine.  What we need is to be treated as human beings, and to have agency over our lives.

But don’t you want to live longer?

Since when has anyone been able to control when they die?  We don’t know how long we’ll be here for.  We only get one shot at it.  So we best fill our lives as best we can, and not put them on hold because we don’t meet some kind of cultural measure of acceptable appearance.

You just want everyone to be fat like you!

Unlike the anti-fat camp, I believe that human bodies are naturally diverse and that some of us are meant to be fat, some are meant to be thin, and the rest are meant to range in between.  I don’t want to make other people fat any more than I want to make myself thin.  Unlike the anti-fat camp, I believe that all human beings are valid and equal regardless of their size or weight.  I like diversity, it keeps things from getting boring.

But… everyone KNOWS [insert anti-fat trope here]

Everyone used to know the earth was flat.  Everyone used to know that the sun revolved around the earth.  Everyone used to know that smoking tobacco was good for you.  We as human beings don’t know everything, and sometimes when we think we know things we’re wrong.  Emergent science is showing us already that our pre-conceived notions of fatness have been wrong on many counts (again, off you go to do your own research, you’ve got access to all the same online tools I’ve got access to, I’m not here to do it for you), I’ve spent the past four years learning, reading expanding my world view with these facts, I’m not just making this shit up myself.  Don’t make a fool of yourself by hanging on to ignorance.

You’re just making excuses to sit around on your fat ass all day and eat donuts!

If I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t need an excuse to do so.  I’d just do it.  I’m a grown adult and my life is mine to choose how I spend it.  That said, I actually wish I had a little more time to relax and wasn’t so busy all the time.  If I COULD find a way to do that, I WOULD take more time to relax, you’d better believe it!

It’s just calories in, calories out, you just need to put down the fork and move your fat ass!

Humans are not bomb calorimeters.  Nor are we lawnmowers.  Incidentally, do you think that no fat person ever has thought to try diet and exercise to get thin?  That at almost 41 years of age it never occurred to me to try “calories in/calories out”?  Do you REALLY think you’re the first person to make that suggestion to a fat person?  I can guarantee you, it’s highly unlikely you’re even the first person TODAY to make that suggestion to me.

You just lack willpower!

Oh really?  I engaged in a full blown restriction and purging eating disorder for twenty years, don’t talk to me about willpower.   If willpower actually amounted to anything, I would be thin, ridiculously wealthy and married to Hugh Jackman by now.  And put it this way, if you think I don’t have willpower, consider the fact that I haven’t smacked one of the dozens of fat hating douchecanoes I deal with every day in the mouth yet.  THAT takes willpower!

But I’ve lost weight and kept it off – you can too!

Define “kept it off”.  Have you passed the 5 year mark yet?  No?  Well since SCIENCE says that 95% of people who lose weight through dieting will regain it and more within 5 years, you need to go away and come back once you’ve kept it off for 5 years.  And that’s 5 years solid, not regained it after a year or so, lost it again, regained it again, lost it again, regained, lost (which most of us can do and have done).  If you have kept it off for 5 years or more, congratulations for being one of the 5% statistical anomalies.  Hopefully you can understand basic percentages and realise that most of us are likely to fall into the 95% bracket.

Not to mention that what you choose to do with your body has no bearing on what I choose to do with mine.  You focus on your body and life, I’ll focus on mine.

So there you have it.  I’ve taken the time to address the common tropes I find in comments about, and this should save us all a lot of time.  Hopefully those of you who want to tell/ask me (or any other fat people) any of the above things can save your breath and not embarrass yourselves publicly, and I shouldn’t have to deal with the same old same old in my inbox every day.

No More Hoops

Published January 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Over the past few days there have been loads of pieces from awesome fat activists on fat and health, mostly in response to a couple of studies that reports that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive and that fat is not an instant death sentence.  It has been really heartening to see so many responses from fat activists that highlight how important access to health care is for fat people and the prejudice that fat people face both in the health care industry and because of the myth that fat automatically equals unhealthy.

However, I think we need to stop and reassess what we are doing here.  Yes, conflating weight with health has been a very pervasive myth that many people have used to justify fat hatred and addressing that is important.  But I don’t think that it is going to help fat people in the long run as much as we need it to.  Because no matter how many myths and stereotypes you bust, those who hate fat people are ALWAYS going to find a way to justify their disgusting attitudes.  Be it health, fitness, appearance, the cost of mittens in America… there will always be something used to justify fat hatred.

We need to let go of constantly trying to meet the bar set by fat haters.  If they say it’s because poor health, we spend our time proving that fat does not equal poor health.  If they say it is because we’re lazy, we spend all our time proving that we are not.  If they say it is because we are gluttonous, we spend our time policing and justifying our own choices for eating.  The list goes on and on.  No matter what myth or stereotype we respond to, there will always be another.

It is time we stopped looking to ourselves to be the ones to change to fight fat hatred.  It is time we started demanding that those who hate fat people are named and shamed for what they are – ignorant bigots who sincerely believe that some people are sub-human and do not deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity.  We, as fat people who are the victims of fat hatred have absolutely no obligation at all to modify our lives or our behaviours to suit those who hate us and to justify our existence.

You know who else believed that some people were not human?  Heard of untermensch?  How is it any different that some people believe that fat people are sub-human or inferior because of how they look and their bodies than it was believed that some people were sub-human/inferior because of their skin, hair or eye colour?  Is not the belief that thin people are superior evidence of the belief of a “master race”?  No decent, ethical human being would ever hold this belief.  Honestly, what kind of person would sincerely believe that they or others are somehow superior to other human beings?

That’s what bigotry is, the belief that there is some kind of hierarchy of human value based on those with power and privilege being higher up than those without.  It’s bullshit and we really need to stop buying into it – both externally AND internally.

Not to mention that every time we engage in the health argument, we are not only setting ourselves up to have to meet some kind of arbitrary requirement of health (which we owe NOBODY) but it’s also incredibly ableist.  What about fat people with disabilities or chronic illness?  What about anyone with disabilities or chronic illness?  How about someone in a coma or other incapacitated state?  Do they not get treated with respect and dignity simply because they’re “not healthy”?  How about those thin people when they inevitably get sick or injured?  Do they forfeit their right to dignity and respect at that moment?

Even if we buy into the whole thing that fat people “choose” to be fat (yeah right, like anyone would choose a life full of discrimination and hatred), that still does not justify the mentality that we are sub-human or somehow inferior to thin people.  Lots of people choose to do things that lower their life expectancy – for fuck’s sake merely driving a car statistically drops YEARS off your life, let alone all of the wild and extreme things human beings do to their bodies.  Just because someone smokes or skateboards or jumps out of perfectly good planes doesn’t mark them as lesser human beings, so why should it apply that way to fatness?  Because again, it’s not at all about health.  It’s not at all about life expectancy.  Fat hatred is simply about a fairly young (only about a hundred years) cultural stigmatisation of people based solely on their appearance, because someone, somewhere decided that money could be made by frightening people into trying to control their appearance.  All because someone saw money (and power, let’s not forget the intersectionality of the control of women in fat hatred) in getting people to buy products, diets, gadgets, pills and schemes to change their bodies, we now have a culture that marks fat people as sub-human.

No, this is about creating hoops for fat people to jump through so that we are not allowed to EVER live our lives with the freedom and dignity that is our right as is every human’s right.  And we must stop engaging with it.  We must stop believing that we have an obligation to prove our health, to prove our lives meet some kind of arbitrary standard placed on us to prevent us being marked as inferior.  Instead of arguing that fat people are not unhealthy/lazy/gluttonous/etc, we need to be repeating over and over and over that to label any human being as inferior based on their health, their appearance, their size, their choices in food or physical activity or any other arbitrary measure that is nobody’s business but their own is bigotry.  We need to be naming and shaming people who honestly believe that they have the right to label us as sub-human/inferior.  We need to be reclaiming our right to live our lives in our own bodies without interference or intervention from anyone.

But most of all we need to believe that of ourselves.  We need to be able to walk through this world that is rife with prejudice against us with our heads held high in the knowledge that we are not sub-human, we are not inferior, that we are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on the planet.

YOU are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on this planet.  Your life is yours.  Live it for you, not to prove that you’re not a stereotype.

The Space We Need

Published December 17, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

There’s a new book about fat on the block, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy (ask your local library if they’ve got it, if not, ask them if they can get it in for you) and having a read.  It is Fat by Deborah Lupton.

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It’s not perfect, there’s quite a bit of privilege denial (ugh, thin privilege) and she completely misses the point about much of fat activism a fair bit, but it has been giving me some real food for thought.

One of the things it has triggered a lot of thinking about lately is how those of us with fat bodies negotiate our way through the physical spaces of the world.  I got to thinking about just how conscious I am of the space my body takes up, and how I have to negotiate my body in a world that marks me as “abnormal”.  The more I paid attention to it, the more I noticed that almost every aspect of my life is framed around this process of moving my body around in the world.

People with thin privilege do not see that as well as the general stigma and shaming around having a fat body, the act of simply existing in a fat body is something that constantly has to be monitored so as to minimise further shaming and stigma.

Even at home it starts…

The first thing I do in the morning is jump in the shower.  In my flat, the shower stall is quite small, smaller than the one I had in my previous home.  As I get in to the shower, the glass door sometimes swings wide open as I bump it, which means water sprays out onto the bathroom floor.  After my shower I get dressed in clothes that I have had a lot of difficulty to find (correct fit but also clothes that I like and reflect how I wish to dress, and are suitable for the place I intend to wear them).  Once dressed and shod and ready to leave the house, I grab my handbag, which I had some difficulty finding one with a long enough shoulder strap that it would fit cross body, so that I could have my hands free.  As I leave my building I squeeze through a space between the stairwell and the garden edge, that is cut to narrower than my body.

I walk to the train station, often facing abuse that early from cars that pass me, or if nothing else stares when I get to the train station.   I sit down on the benches on the platform.  People usually avoid sitting next to me, and often make it clear that they find me repulsive.  I wait for the train, usually catching up with Twitter while I wait.  Once I get on the train, I am lucky enough to get on at the second station so there are usually plenty of seats.  I sit on one facing the direction of travel, move close to the window and put my bag on my lap or between my feet.  My body, while very large, does not take up more than one seat width, though my shoulders do a little.  I usually read while commuting.  I make my body take up as little space as possible.  As people get on the train, and it begins to fill, I notice them looking for seats anywhere but me.  Some of them sigh or tsk as they pass me.  Many would rather stand, or sit next to a man with his legs widely spread and his newspaper out open than sit next to me, as though my fat is contagious.  I see them staring (I wear sunglasses which hide my eyes so they don’t know which way I am looking) sometimes they nudge the person they are travelling with and not-so-subtly point me out.  Semi-regularly I catch someone photographing me on their smartphone.  Occasionally if I don’t have my iPod on, I hear someone say something like “If it wasn’t for fatso there, we would have more seats.”

When I get to my destination, I leave the train and walk through the station.  I walk down the stairs to the subway, no slower than most other people, but there is always someone who huffs and puffs behind me like I am holding them up.  Usually my speed is determined by the people in front of me, but the eyes on me say “Fatty you’re holding people up.”  Sometimes people even say this out loud.  As I line up for the GoCard gates, I am acutely aware that my body only just fits through the gates, and when I am wearing my bag across my body I have to adjust it to be in front of me so that I fit.

I walk to work, still facing comments, nudges and stares from strangers.  As I walk into my building and get into the elevator, often people eye me up and down, sigh or tsk as if they’re offended at the amount of space I take up in the lift.  When I get to my desk, the standard office chairs are not wide enough between the arms for me to sit comfortably, in fact, they’re not wide enough for MOST people to sit comfortably, almost everyone in the office has a different brand chair to the “standard” but as the fattest woman I’m the one looked at askew for using a different chair.

Anywhere I walk in public I constantly have to be aware of the space I am taking up.  I am expected to apologise for not fitting between groups of people crowding a walkway, or through the gaps in chairs in the building’s food court area if I go to buy a coffee or my lunch.  Furniture is arranged so that it is too narrow for my body to pass through, and I often have to move chairs, squeeze sideways or ask people to move because I don’t fit the designated space for a body.  Bathroom stalls are narrow, the sanitary bins often dig into my side if they are not far back enough.  Meeting anyone in a doorway means that I must again apologise for my size, because we won’t both fit through at the same time.

The kitchen and bathroom basins in our office building force me to lean over them and my belly gets wet from water people have slopped there beforehand and not cleaned up.  If I go into shops, I have to manoeuvre my way around racks, displays and other people who are all closer together than fits my body.  Chairs provided in public spaces are either too narrow for me, or too flimsy or both.  If I go to the movies, the chairs there are uncomfortable, older theatres have narrow seats with inflexible arm rests that dig into my sides, and again I face the constant tsks of disapproval from strangers for sitting in chairs near where they want to sit, even though none of me protrudes out to other chairs except my shoulders, which would be the same if I were thin.  The same goes for restaurants and other places with public seating – either seats are uncomfortable for me, or I get shamed for taking up too much space.

If I want to eat in public, I have to decide whether I have the sanity points to deal with comments people make, or more stares and nudges.  Often some of the rudest comments or behaviour comes from the staff of the place I am purchasing food.  I quickly work out the places I can go where they won’t shame me for buying any food, and never return to those that do, if I have a choice.  In supermarkets, people stare into my trolley/basket and don’t hide their disapproval at finding food in there.  Sometimes they make comments about foods I have chosen, either chastising me if they deem it unhealthy, patronising me if they decide it is healthy.  I have even had people remove food from my trolley, scolding me that I “don’t need it”.  I always use the self checkout units at the supermarket, even if there are cashiers free, because it’s not worth putting up with the comments the cashiers make, or the scrutiny of the shoppers behind me.

It even affects my friendships and relationships.  One ex-boyfriend left me because he couldn’t tolerate the stares and nudges in public.  Several of my friends have told me that they find themselves getting angry when they are out with me, because they see how people behave.  I find myself getting angry after a few hours in a public place like a shopping centre, because I’m sick of being stared at and openly judged, which ruins my enjoyment of time out with my friends.

When I take a walk or a bike ride along the beautiful waterfront parklands near my house, I get more stares, more comments.  People stop me to make patronising comments “encouraging” weight loss.  One afternoon I had stopped at a picnic table to rummage through my bag for my purse when a woman came up to me, indicated I should take my earbuds out and then said “You are doing SO well, keep going and you will lose ALL that weight.”  She didn’t like it when I responded “Mind your own business, I’m quite happy with my body, now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go buy fish and chips for dinner.”   In the heat of the past few weeks I have packed a salad in a lunch box and taken it down to the waterfront picnic tables to eat in the sea breeze, much more pleasant than the heat of my home.  People stare and make comments about “people like that eating”.

Most people parrot “Well just lose weight then!” with no actual experience in what it is like to try to make a fat body smaller, or no true knowledge of how a fat person lives.  They believe the stereotypical myth of fat people rather than take the time to actually know what a fat person’s experiences are, what it is like to live in a fat body or to even believe not just fat people, but science that tells us that 95% of people can not lose weight permanently.  Instead of making the world variable enough to fit all of us, they insist that we make ourselves fit the world.

This is why when someone says for the millionth time “But what about your health!?!” I get angry.  What about our health?  Do people really think that stigma and shaming, and a world that is deeply uncomfortable for fat people is actually good for anyone’s health?  Do they really think that by not allowing us to live our lives in peace and dignity, we’re going to suddenly go “Oh wait!  I should get thin!” as if we have never tried it?  It is also why when people parrot the old “Just put down the cheeseburger and get off the couch” bullshit, I get angry.  Every morsel we eat is policed, and every moment in public is too.  Do they really think that this helps us live full, happy lives?  Do they really believe that they have the RIGHT to intervene in our lives?

There is not a day goes by without these micro-aggressions coming my way, as they do for  most very fat people.  I don’t share these things so that people feel sorry for me, that’s not what I want at all.  I want to highlight just how fat stigma and shaming forces fat people to spend their whole lives mitigating unpleasant, embarrassing or painful incidents caused by a culture that refuses to share its space with them.  There IS plenty of space for all of us, big or small, on this planet.  The problem is that fatness has been so demonised, so dehumanised that everyday people feel they have the right to be police AND judge, jury and executioner for fat people in the world.

I never feel discomfort because of my fat body.  I constantly feel discomfort because of the way the world treats me and refuses to accommodate me  because of my fat body.