fat studies

All posts in the fat studies category

Queering Fat Embodiment

Published July 6, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

As part of the launch of the new anthology “Queering Fat Embodiment” edited by Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and Samantha Murray, a social media book tour is travelling around the fatosphere and other key online spaces.  I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in the tour myself.

I was honoured to discover that I had been mentioned in the anthology, so Cat sent me an excerpt to share with you all here…

**@**

The Activist

Kath Read is an Australian fat activist who has a large presence in the Fat-o-sphere. Found on her blog The Fat Heffalump (and related Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter platforms), Kath writes about her own experiences as a fat woman living in a less than friendly environment (Read 2013a). The tagline for The Fat Heffalump is ‘Living with Fattitude’, and Kath invites others to be observers to her doing just that.

Kath writes about her fat identity, her fat embodiment, her fat fashion, and her fat life. She shares stories of triumph, and stories of harassment. She posts pictures of herself in her outfit of the day (otherwise known in cyberspace as OOTD), and often addresses the fat hate and fat shame she observes in the mainstream media, news, and her everyday life.

Occasionally Kath will write a piece like ‘You’re not the first person to tell a fat person’, in which she addresses common myths about fatness, and provides answers to some comments that she frequently receives when she has an influx of new readers (Read 2013b). In these posts, Kath is providing the opportunity for those who are reading to educate themselves a bit more about the assumptions they hold and beliefs they forget to unpack. She assumes the role of a teacher, answering the questions of her students in thoughtful and reflective ways.

Kath also speaks to her frustration about having to always educate the ignorant; it isn’t her job, she tells the readers, to highlight their bigotry, suggest they do their homework, or point out when they are being oppressive.

Simply through living her life online, Kath Read queers what it is to be fat. Her lack of shame, her love of fashion, and her brightly coloured hair, all contradict what fatness is supposed to be. She may invite others to join her, but it is the testimony of her life she is sharing with the web. She refuses to live her life according to other people’s standards, and she has long since forgotten that she is supposed to wait to live her dreams until she’s achieved the state of thinness.

Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Causing a commotion: Queering fat in cyberspace’, in Queering Fat Embodiment eds. Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and Samantha Murray (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 79-80.  Copyright © 2014

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.

Conference Paper: Reflective Intersections – New Zealand Fat Studies Conference

Published July 14, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Well hello!  It has been a while since I last blogged, and that is because I’ve been a very busy fatty!  I am currently in New Zealand (sitting at an internet kiosk in the ferry terminal in Wellington in the North Island, about to catch the ferry to Picton in the South Island) and over the past two days, I have been attending the Massey University, Palmerston North Fat Studies Conference – Reflective Intersections.  I will go on to blog about the conference later, and talk in more detail about some of the presenters and thoughts I have, but today I want to share MY paper with you all.

But before I do, I want to thank Dr Cat Pausé – an amazing academic and activist, and someone I am proud to call my friend – for her INCREDIBLE work on this conference.  Cat made this conference not only happen, but she made it the wonderful experience that it was.  Cat, you are amazing.  Don’t ever forget that.

So, here is my paper (below) which I have decided I would like to share with you all here as soon as possible, in the interest of making sure that the word gets as spread as much as possible.

 

Save the Whales

An Examination of the Relationship Between

Academics/Professionals and Fat Activists

In the world I grew up in, girls were considered an inconvenience on a family. Ugly girls were considered an embarrassment as well as an inconvenience. And ugly, fat girls were considered a punishment. It was believed intellect was wasted on girl children, and considered stolen or unlawful in an ugly, fat girl child, as though she had somehow robbed one of the other children of what was rightfully theirs.

I fought for every scrap of my education. It was rarely encouraged, regularly discouraged. My voracious hunger for reading was ridiculed and often blamed for my fatness. Consequently I barely scraped through my senior year of high school, believing the barrage of messages at home and in school that told me that I was worthless because of my fat, female self.

I don’t have a string of letters after my name. I have never attended a fine university such as this one. The years that many young people spend working hard to fill their heads with an education, I spent scraping a life up on my own from whatever tools I had at hand – elbow grease, that voracious hunger for reading and a base of kind friends who believed in me all along, even when I didn’t believe in myself.

But what I have done, is spent a lifetime in this fat body. I have spent almost 40 years learning exactly what the world thinks of fatness. I have lived in this fat body, loved in it, laughed in it, cried in it and tried to erase it through almost every method available. I have spent most of my 40 years being the one of the fattest bodies in any given room.

I am the world’s leading expert on life in this fat body.

Yet despite growing media attention on fat bodies, actual fat people are in the minority of the people who get to speak on the topic of fatness. People who have no connection to fatness, either personally or professionally are given forum to express their opinions on fatness. While we have Phil the marketing executive denouncing fat people for being angry and aggressive while not taking responsibility for their bodies, and Ryan the lecturer in politics declaring that fat people are unwilling to “conform to the societal standards of eating” and therefore earn discrimination, we have very few actual fat people who are given space to tell their stories and speak their truths, and when they are, vitriol is poured on them with no support or even acknowledgement of this vitriol from the media that published them.

With this growing media attention on weight and health, more and more opportunities arise for grassroots fat activists like myself to collaborate with academics and professionals in these fields. These can be powerful projects that shed positive light on life in a fat body, and can also open up a world of opportunities for fat activists. But there is still a chasm between how academics and professionals in these fields are treated in comparison to how fat people are treated. To start with, it is as if, for any information about life in a fat body to have merit, it must be validated by an academic or professional, preferably a thin one.

There is a direct relationship between the amount of power and privilege an academic or professional has and how valid their voice is in the media, regardless of any motive or bias that the academic or professional may have.

In the words of Dr Linda Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size: The surprising truth about your weight.”:

People seem to give more credence to my words than if they were spoken by a fatter person – after all, I’m not just saying them to rationalize my existence.”

For fat activists and fat people in general, these topics are deeply personal and often emotionally charged. Our passion for the topics of life in fat bodies are borne of how deeply we carry the societal assumptions about our fatness. When fat people are vilified or dehumanised, it is personal and we are justified in our emotional reaction to the highly toxic messages that are sent to us about our bodies.

When our voices are dismissed in favour of academics or professionals with thin privilege, it further stigmatises us as human beings, yet even further damage is done when those academics or professionals dismiss us themselves, ignore their privilege and treat our lives and realities as case studies or mere data. Even when making the same arguments that we fat activists make ourselves, the failure to acknowledge their privilege does harm. It gives agencies like the media unspoken permission to dismiss the voices of fat people as well.

It is important for academics and professionals to acknowledge that they are also often in a position of power when working with fat activists. They usually have the decision as to what is published, the ability to choose which media outlets they engage with and resources that grassroots fat activists do not have access to. It is important for academics and professionals to regularly “check in” with fat activists they are working with, to ensure that they are comfortable with the way they are portrayed in the media, that they consent for personal information to be shared at any time and that they have the right to choose what level of engagement they make.

After all, this is not just research to us, this is our lives. Our lived experience does not belong to greater academia to investigate, disassemble or pathologise, it belongs to us. We are not whales to be rolled back out to sea. We do not need conservation. Pity is no more welcome to us than disgust.

But most importantly, no human being wants to feel discarded, and once the research or project is over, and the academics or professionals move onto their next body of work, they must acknowledge that we fat activists don’t get to hand in the paper and walk away. We must continue on fighting for our right to a life of dignity and respect. We must continue on, living in a body that general society treats as diseased and defective.

Collaborations between grassroots fat activists and academics or professionals, when conducted ethically, with clear communication and understanding, can result in powerful changes to the quality of life of not just fat people in general, but the activists themselves, as you can see by these incredible images that have been playing behind me. But academics in positions of power and privilege must be conscious of, and acknowledge that power and privilege.

After all, it is not their stories that are being told. They are ours to tell.

In the words of the character Aminata Diallo from Lawrence Hill’s book “Someone Knows My Name” in reference to the scholars supposedly fighting for her liberation:

They [the abolitionists] may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name, and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.”

*Please note, I have limited internet access so any comments (pending or published) will not be answered until I am able to get regular internet access.

Fat Activism In the Library

Published July 4, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It has been with some considerable delight that I have been following Cat Pausé posting a lovely long list of fat studies book titles to her Tumblr over the past few weeks.  I knew about a few titles, but at last count Cat was up to 30 titles.  Which, needless to say, has created a very long “to read” list for me.

Cat and I got talking about just how many titles there are and what their availability is like, when it dawned on me – “You’re a librarian Kath!  You know how to access books!”

Let’s face it, books are expensive to buy.  Plus they take up space, have environmental impact and it’s not always necessary to keep them or read them again.  So being able to borrow them from the library is a fantastic exercise in accessibility.  Now I don’t know about your local library, but mine is free to join, you can borrow up to 20 items at any given time, can request books from other branches of our library service for a small fee, can have most items for four weeks AND has over 3 million items in the collection.  Not to mention that there are multiple languages available, resources for people with disabilities and a whole bunch of other services you can take up.  That does vary from library service to library service, but whichever way you go, it’s still a budget way to read all these great titles.

One of the things Cat and I have been talking about is the concept of having fat studies titles in a library collection as an alternative voice to the usual diet books and “you can lose weight too” pop psychology/self help books.

Now I know we have Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon PhD in our collection.  If I take the Dweey number (Dewey is the classification by subject matter) of just that title alone, 613.25, and search our catalogue, I come up with 256 titles.  All of them, except Health at Every Size, are diet books.  So to one fat-friendly title, I get 255 weight loss/diet books, just in our collection alone.

When I search the Dewey of Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Screw Inner Beauty (US title: Lessons from the Fatosphere), 616.398, I bring up 19 titles, 17 of those are weight loss/diet help guides or titles about the “obesity epidemic”.  The other fat-friendly title is Prof. Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth.

The next search I ran was a subject search for “eating disorders”.  I got 279 hits, only one of which could be considered fat-friendly, and that is Harriet Brown’s Brave Girl Eating.  A search on “body image” brings up 64 titles, almost all of these focus on “looking good” or “you’re not as fat as you think you are” subjects (which excludes anyone who actually is fat).  There is a very high focus under this subject heading on “flattering” clothing and “what not to wear”.

Next I decided to search the term “fat”.  Over 450 titles came up, and most of these were diet books, low-fat cookbooks and “weight loss journey” stories.  No fat acceptance/fat-friendly titles came up under “fat” at all.  And don’t get me started on what comes up under “obesity” as a subject search.  Aye! Aye! Aye!

So it goes to show that the prevailing message being sent is fat = bad/unhealthy.

But!  Just by having these titles by Linda Bacon, Paul Campos, Harriet Brown, Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding, there is at least some alternative perspective available in the public library.  Of course, read one and they refer you on to other titles.

The real magic though is these titles sitting on the shelves of libraries, quietly lurking in amongst the fat loathing titles.  Along comes the humble borrower, hunting that “Lose the Fat and be Rich for Life”* title, and there it is.  Health at Every Size.  Or The Obesity Myth, or any of the other titles.  So innocent looking but inside those covers… RADICAL AWESOMENESS!

If one person picks one of those titles up instead of the “Purple Food to Skinny Jeans!”** book, imagine the difference that could be made to their lives!

So, if you want to read any of the awesome books Cat has compiled in her list, get thee to your local library!  If they don’t have it, request it.  Many public libraries rely on customer requests to drive their collections.  Plus every one they add, thanks to your suggestion, gets borrowed by other people to discover the fat acceptance message too.  The same goes for fat positive fiction.  It doesn’t just have to be non-fiction.

You can also ask your library about Inter-Library Loans as well.  Many library services share their collections amongst each other, quite often for free, sometimes for a small fee.  Plus if you’re a member of a public library, you can often get access to academic papers and journals as well through the library’s subscription.

Besides, libraries are definitely fat friendly spaces.  Librarians care about your reading, not your body size.  And libraries are accessible, have comfortable, solid furniture and are free!

What are you waiting for?

*Yes, I made this book title up.
**Ok I made this one up too.