femininity

All posts in the femininity category

Breaking the Contract

Published August 2, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Ok so I dyed my hair pink yesterday.  Not a soft, floaty, ethereal pink.  Not a dusky, muted pink.  But a hot as possible, obnoxious, shiny, LOUD pink.  It wasn’t entirely intentional, the colour I used came out as a raspberry/cherry red last time, but this time the bleach worked a little more effectively and I had a blonde base underneath instead of a copper one.  But I am glad it went this colour because it’s far more representative of my personality, and I’m quite heartily in love with my new pink hair.

I’ve found I’ve had two basic reactions to it.  A lot of people love it.  They love the intense colour, they feel it’s daring and bold and I’ve had a few comments that have been really fun.  One colleague said it looked like a lolly (candy), and another thought it was like one of those Anime characters.  I got in the lift and a lady said “Oh!  I love your hair!  It looks like a unicorn mane!”  How’s that for an awesome compliment?

However, some people really take exception to my having pink hair.  The people who know me are polite about it, they change the subject or they say “Hmmm…”  But in the little over 24 hours since I coloured it, I’ve copped a lot of abuse from random strangers.  When I walked to the shops yesterday afternoon, in a trip that was maybe 15 minutes there and back, I had half a dozen douchebags yell shit at me out of passing cars.  Today I overheard a girl walking in front of me say to her boyfriend “Look at the fat woman behind us with the stupid pink hair.”  A guy yelled and flipped the bird at me as I waited for the bus this morning.  I got more catcalls throughout the day.

I believe there is a reason for this random hatred and the tut tutting of the people around me, aimed at me as a fat woman with loud pink hair.  It’s because I break the societal contract.

Women are not supposed to draw attention to themselves.  Fat women even less so.   We’re supposed to be demure, delicate, submissive, quiet, elegant, classy, modest, self debasing, “feminine”.  We’re supposed to feel shame about ourselves, to minimise, to be invisible, out-of-the-way.  “Nobody wants to notice your fat arse, bitch.”

Women who make their hair loud colours, or wear brightly coloured clothes, or have tattoos are loud, brash, brassy, obnoxious, unprofessional, childish, juvenile, unfeminine, silly, outlandish, ridiculous, immature… the list goes on.  The entire judgement of that woman’s character is on how she looks, without ever learning anything about her at all.  Not a thing about her intellect, wit, kindness, honesty, passion, generosity is ever worth acknowledging when her appearance is outside of what is considered “proper”.

So when a woman does something bold with her physical appearance that makes her highly visible, she breaks the societal contract.  She does what a whole host of people want to do, but don’t have the guts to do.  So they get angry and take their misery out on women like that.  How dare she do something that they want to but feel they can’t?  And she’s FAT too!  BITCH!!

How dare I not be ashamed of myself?  How dare I take pride in being noticeable and visible?  Who do I think I am?

I know y’all want to see the hair colour, even though I can’t seem to get a photograph to reflect the exact colour it is.*  So I’ve combined a photo of the hair with a message to all of the haters out there who get all sweaty lipped and twitchy over a fat woman who makes herself visible.

Behold!

Photobucket

*It’s more like the colour in this photo or perhaps this photo in reality – the photo makes it HEAPS darker!

It Works Both Ways

Published July 20, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

This morning while reading tweets on the bus on the way to work, I spotted this tweet from the @PostSecret, which led me to this article from the Huffington Post.

One thing I think we have a bit of a duty to do as Fat Acceptance activists is challenge when negative language and connotations are put on to thin bodies as well as fat ones.  In the case of both the tweet from @PostSecret, and the article from the Huffington Post, while I agree we need to be questioning the body image messages sent out by these very thin mannequins, I don’t think it’s fair to refer to them as either anorexic or emaciated.  Both words imply that being very thin is by default unhealthy – and as voices calling out for positive body image for ALL bodies, I feel it’s important that we challenge these implications as well as those that suggest fat bodies are unhealthy.

In the long run, it benefits all of us, regardless of what size or shape we are.

It is important that people know that very thin does not by default equal either anorexic or emaciated.  The definition of anorexic is a person who suffers anorexia nervosa.  Not all thin people suffer anorexia nervosa.  Not all people who suffer anorexia nervos are in fact, very thin.  Likewise, the definition of emaciated is “wasted away”.  Again, not all very thin people are wasted away – or in any way unhealthy.  Instead, people who are on the extreme end of thinness can have many reasons for being so. Yes, from ill health or eating disorder, but also because they are just naturally built that way.  Like fat people, thin people have many factors in determining the shape and size of their body, from genetics, environment, to diet and activity levels.  That’s the thing about bodies, you cannot tell very much about them at all just by looking at them.

When we challenge people about the language around fat bodies, we also need to be mindful of our own language when referring to thin bodies, especially those on the very thin end of the spectrum.  For example, that old chestnut “real women have curves”.  As I’ve said before on this blog, all women are real, unless they are robots created by an evil genius, or perhaps figments of our imagination.  A woman who is thin and angular is just as much a woman as one who is fat and curvaceous.  Plus, who’s to say that fat bodies are necessarily “curvy”.  I have curvy bits on my very fat body, but some parts are pretty damn boxy too!

It’s important that we do not define womanhood by any one type of body, any one shape or size or set of measurements.  Womanhood is inclusive of all of us, not exclusive to some.

There are of course plenty of other examples.  We can’t suggest that thin people “eat a sandwich” any more than thin folk can suggest we “put down the cheeseburger”.  We can’t assume that thin people don’t have body issues because they don’t have the pressure to lose weight like we do.  We can’t assume that thin bodies are thin because they are physically active and eat less than those of us with fat bodies.

This doesn’t mean that the privilege of thinness goes unacknowledged, we all know that there are plenty of things that people with thin bodies can take for granted that those of us with fat bodies do not have the luxury of, but it does acknowledge that nobody should be judged because of their body size and shape, even those with bodies that are considered the social “norm”.

What I guess is the important message is, that if we want the world to change their attitude towards fat bodies, we need to lead by example when talking about any bodies, and squash any generalisations and negative judgements on bodies when talking about ANY bodies.
Besides, as I think it was Lesley over at Fatshionista recently said – all living things have curves, that’s what distinguishes the animal and plant from the mineral.

One type of body is not better than the other.

It’s not either/or in this situation.

It is ALL.

Real Women/Fake Women

Published May 1, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I want to share a photograph with you all:

Photobucket

This one popped up on my Tumblr last week, and someone else posted a link to it via Twitter as well.  I have been able to find that the model’s name is Natasha Poly and the image is from a shoot by Mario Sorrenti for Vogue Paris.

I want to point out a few things about this photograph, from a high fashion magazine.  Because I believe that the woman in this photograph looks like a concentration camp victim with a fake tan.   Now before you get all angry about that statement, read the rest of this blog post.

I would never presume to comment on another woman’s body, or suggest that a thin woman is unhealthy or ugly or anything else derogatory.  But I am going to say it about this photograph, because what we’re looking at is NOT Natasha Poly in her natural state.  It is not the woman we are looking at, but a fashion magazine’s representation of her.  We’re not looking at a real woman any more in this case.

I want you to look carefully at the photograph.  I’ll point out a few things for you.

Let’s start with the rib cage area.  Can you see the the highlights in the fake tan to define each and every rib?  Look down her right arm.  See the white highlight again, to make her arm look thin?  You will also see them on her left shoulder, collarbone and cheek bone.  And the really worrying bit?  That wee fair spot right on her right hip bone.

It also has darker patches of tan in key places.  Under the cheek bone, between the V’s of her ribcage, on the inside of her thigh, inside of her arms and a streak down the outside of her left leg.

All of this is to make the model, who I am sure is beautiful on her own, look even thinner and taller than she actually is.

Now look at some of the angles of her body.  The angle where her right hip meets her leg.  Or her waist on her left, down to the bikini string.  Take a look at her right shoulder, lifted to her chin.  Now at her right armpit around her inner arm and to her breast.  Look carefully at her left collarbone.  And finally, have a look at the length of her right lower leg.

Can you see the evidence of photoshopping there?  How the parts of her body are out of proportion or at angles that don’t fit with other angles of her body.

And of course, there’s the lighting (both real and photoshopped) that highlights the bones in her body to almost skeletal detail.

Models are beautiful women and they’re the rare examples of human beings that are tall, slim and even featured.  They’re gorgeous, and that’s why they’re models.  But what is happening more and more overtly is the twisting of the features of women in photographs, due to make-up, lighting, tanning products and poses and due to post production work with Photoshop and the like.  Real women are being turned into these ideals that are wholly unreal, and as far as I’m concerned, freak shows.

This is why I believe we have to use the term “real women” – because what we’re being presented is not in any way real at all.

It’s horrifying that even the tall, slender, beautiful models aren’t good enough any more.  They have to be painted and manipulated into taller, thinner, more unobtainable standards that no human can emulate without doing some serious damage to themselves.

What’s next for fashion magazines?  Avatar style CGI work that in no way resembles a human being?

I believe we need to stop worrying about offending each other with talking about bodies in the media and whether they are too thin or too fat, and focus on the work that is being done to images of real women, regardless of their shape and size, that takes them from photographs of real women, to caricatures of women.  Because we women are not characters, we’re people, and we shouldn’t be sold what I think of as “lies of beauty”.  This is not beauty.  Beauty is human and flawed and varied.  It’s not a set of treatments in a photo editing programme.

This is being held up to young women as the beauty ideal.  Looking at images that have been “doctored” like this and expecting their own bodies to look like this if they just stick to that diet, just do some exercise is making women and girls both physically and emotionally sick.  This is one of the reasons why in western culture, girls with perfectly healthy bodies think that they are fat, and why so many boys and men have an unrealistic ideal of the female body.

We are being presented a fake version of womanhood with photos like the above.

Instead of bickering over what constitutes a real woman or not, let’s just draw the line in the sand – real is how any given woman is in the flesh so to speak, even those who have had cosmetic surgery (which I personally don’t believe in, but those who’ve had it are still real women, we didn’t make them up in our heads) or are transgender, and anything doctored, altered, adjusted, photoshopped, edited or airbrushed away from that is unreal/fake/false.

In the case of this example I’m sharing with you, Natasha Poly is a real woman – that image above is not.

I want to see real women in fashion, beauty, entertainment, marketing and the media.  Women that should I meet them face to face, what I see is what was on the page and/or screen, not the unedited version of something that they are not and that nobody could possibly be.

Practice What We Preach

Published March 9, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Yesterday was International Women’s Day in case you didn’t know.  If you follow me on Twitter at all, you know, I’m sure.  Because I didn’t shut up about it all day.  But this is because it’s really important to me.

Not just for the big, obvious reasons, like the fact that gendercide is still happening all around the world, and because women suffer 70% of the world’s extreme poverty.  But also for smaller, more personal reasons, reasons of body image.

I probably don’t have to tell you that there is a far higher expectation of women than men, as far as physical appearance is concerned.  Men are not under the massive level of body pressure that we women are.  Men do not have to alter their bodies to a shape that is almost totally unattainable by adults.  Men are not expected to starve, surgically alter and work their bodies to look like pre-teens with breasts.  Men do not have to remove every trace of body hair.   Men are valued for their brains, their ability, their personalities rather than how pleasing they are to the eye.

This isn’t just perpetrated BY men either.  As well as being International Women’s Day yesterday, the Oscars were on.  Everyone loves a good frock up, myself included.  But I couldn’t believe my eyes on Twitter, Facebook etc to see women who consider themselves feminists bitching and snarking about the actresses at the Oscars.

Critique of the clothes is of course what we’re watching for.  What a hideous dress.  What the hell is that suit *actor* is wearing?  For me it was the rosettes on Charlize Theron’s bustline that had me scratching my head this year.  Clothes at a big event like that are out there to be seen and talked about.

But the bitchiness I saw was about how skinny actresses are, how ugly their hair is, what shape their eyebrows are, how their boobs looked in a dress.

From women that were demanding that Mo’nique and Gabourey Sidibe be treated with respect and celebrated for the talented actresses they are, came the most venomous body criticism of them all, only for women that represent the opposite of Mo’nique and Gabby.  It was like these women that represent what the rest of us cannot be must not be “real” women.  It seems because the criticism was about THIN actresses, that it’s ok for women to join in to.

But I don’t believe that.  If we’re going to demand that the world treat fat women with respect, dignity and fairness, then we have to practice what we preach.  We can’t criticise other people’s physical appearance if we’re demanding that nobody criticises ours.

We need to live the message we’re putting across.  Feminism isn’t about  forgoing makeup and pretty clothes and sexy shoes and getting your nails and hair done.  It’s about treating women with respect, valuing them and not expecting them to live up to some impossible ideal, especially not with the goal of being pleasing to the eye.  Be that the male eye or those of our fellow females.

If we want our not-fat sisters to a) join us in the positive body image fight for all women and b) support us in our quest to be allowed to live happily as the fat women that nature has made us, then we have to live what we’re asking of others.

I know it’s not easy when we’ve been on the receiving end of a ton of hate and snark ourselves, but I very strongly believe that two wrongs do not make a right.

It just makes for hypocrisy.

Desperate and Dateless? I Think Not!

Published November 14, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Following up from my last post about the whole world of fun that opens up when a woman declines a man’s attention, I want to talk a bit more tonight about fat women, dating, romance and sex.

Now I don’t proclaim to be an expert on the subject in any way, because it’s such a bizarre thing that is totally individual to every person on this earth.  But I do have my experiences and the bits I’ve learned, and I know there are a lot of fatties out there that are completely baffled by the whole subject, so let’s talk about it a bit, and maybe get some things right.

There is this perception that fat women are desperate and dateless.  That they’re at home on a Saturday night pining over their lack of prospective romantic partners.   Hang on, I AM at home on a Saturday night!  Oops!  But that is out of choice after a long tiring week, not because I’m some sad lonely heart.

Guess what?  Fat women aren’t desperate and dateless.  They’re not completely ignored by men because “nobody will have them.”  In my experience, and remember I am post-35 years old, I’ve never had any time of my life where I haven’t had some male attention.  That’s not always been the kind of males I would like attention from, but no more than receiving attention from the males that I do want the attention from.  Fat women get married, have hot sex, are seen as beautiful and do live happily ever after.

Yes, I am still single.  I am aware of this, so you don’t need to leave the whole “But you’ve not got married yet, so you’re still desperate.” comment.  Had that one before, surprise, surprise.  YAWN.  But being single is not some failure to find a partner.  Being single is about where you are on the road of life, the people who have come into your life and at what point, and a whole lot of choices.

What I think many fat women do lack is confidence and good self esteem.  They are often more “gun-shy” than their slimmer counterparts, simply because when they have suffered rejection (and every single human suffers rejection, not just fat people), it has been particularly nasty and cruel.  The guy who rejects the slim girl is less likely to insult her as viciously about it.

And when you consider how attractive confidence is, it’s no wonder that fat women often feel very intimidated about the whole dating thing.  It becomes a vicious circle.  Fat woman is rejected horribly, loses confidence, avoids the situation, loses more confidence, feels unattractive and worthless, and so on.

I know, I have been there myself for large chunks of my life, until I started to gain the confidence and stronger self esteem that I have built up today.  It’s a tough place to be in, but there is life outside of that.

The thing is, there are plenty of great men out there that love fat women.  I don’t mean fetishists, though of course we all know they exist.  But good men who love the shape of their beautiful, bountiful fat women, and who find women attractive for more than just some magazine media/Hollywood ideal of beauty.  If there weren’t, April Flores wouldn’t be such a popular porn star!

I’ve been on dates with (and in some cases, dated exclusively) all kinds of men.  Young men, older men, fat men, thin men, sporty men, men that would be considered “super handsome”, men who have big old issues and even a few douchebags.  It’s all a process of elimination really – meeting guys and eliminating those that aren’t suitable for whatever reason.

One of the difficulties of being a fatty in the dating world is that low confidence and self esteem often have the fat woman thinking that there’s no way that the guy who has just paid her attention is interested in her.  She tells herself he’s just being nice, or he’s gay (cos let’s face it, fat women and gay men go together like strawberries and cream – I have so many gay male friends, it’s awesome.) or that he’s a douchebag setting her up to be a jerk to her (who hasn’t experienced that one in high school, hmmm?)

What happens is she doesn’t believe that the guy paying her attention is genuinely interested, so she rejects him out of self protection, and then he’s hurt too.  See the vicious cycle forming?

As fat women, we need to find some confidence in ourselves.  Because often that’s the strongest thing that holds us back.  When we encounter the douchebags, we need to hold our heads high, look them in the eye and say “Fuck you!” and remember that THEY are the douchebag, not us because we have fat bodies.  When a man is kind to us or pays us positive attention, we need to accept it as just that – kindness and positive attention.  Smile and say thank you and enjoy it.

Recently I struck up a conversation with an attractive man I was seeing in my day to day travels regularly.  He was always very polite and friendly, and one day he made it clear he’d like a chat.  So we talked.  Each time we saw each other afterwards, we talked some more.  He mentioned that he may not be in the same place for awhile, as his circumstances might be changing, so I figured “What the hell, I’ll give him my card.”  I handed him my card and said “If you disappear from the regular spots, here’s my email address.”

I would never have done this a few years ago, simply because I didn’t have the confidence and was terrified of rejection.   But with the confidence and stronger self worth I have built over the past years, my thought was “What the hell, life is short and he’s nice, I’m pretty sure he won’t be a douche.”  And he wasn’t.  But if he had been, I could have handled it too.  Now I’m enjoying a new friendship, some flirtation and who knows where it will go.

The thing is, there are a lot of people in this world, and everyone has really wide and varied tastes, values, needs and stages in their lives.  Don’t let the douchebags of the world put you off living your life, and believing that there are people out there who see you for the amazing person you are.

PCOS – Let’s Not Be Silent Any More

Published September 18, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I finally took the time to read this article from ABC News by the rather fabulous Sabra Lane, who used to be the President of the Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome Association of Australia (POSAA) on the “hidden epidemic” of Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). A very comprehensive article on PCOS by Sabra, and though I disagree with the concept of “lifestyle changes” actually being of any use, the article outlines the difficulty of living with PCOS that at least 11% of Australian women face every day.

I actually wanted to talk about one particular sentence in that article tonight. And it’s this:

A study in the UK a couple of years ago found some PCOS women experience the same level of anxiety that breast cancer patients do.

I actually read the report from that study when it first came out. It sounds shocking doesn’t it? It sounds almost like an exaggeration, after all, how can women with a syndrome that isn’t terminal have as much anxiety as someone with cancer? After all, isn’t cancer the most terrifying, horrible thing that can happen to your health?
At the time I posed this question to a man I knew who had been through the cancer battle with his ex-wife. And his answer shocked me. He said “Well, I can understand that, because everyone steps up to help you when you’ve got cancer in your life, but most people don’t believe PCOS really exists, or that it’s any big deal to it’s sufferers.”
The more I thought about it, the more I can see it. Not that I’m diminishing the horrible impact of cancer on people’s lives, both sufferers and loved ones. I can think of nothing more devastating. But when it comes to anxiety, I can totally understand it.
After all, most women with PCOS have to fight for a long time to get a diagnosis. I myself had 20 long years of presenting to doctors with PCOS symptoms before I was diagnosed. We’re told we’re just too fat, lose weight and all our problems will go away, though anyone who knows anything about PCOS, knows that losing weight is extremely difficult for a PCOS sufferer. Even if we do lose weight, more often than not it makes not a lick of difference to our symptoms. It didn’t to mine, I maintain that it made them worse in most cases.
PCOS has been referred to as the “Ugly bitch disease” by some misogynistic douchebags. Because it causes weight gain, cystic acne, hirsuitism and hair loss (yep, you can have both at the same time!) and a myriad of other fun symptoms. I also believe it causes depression, though this has not been added to the official swag of symptoms yet. So as well as all the so called “ugly” symptoms, we’re also not always able to be shiny-happy women.
Is it any wonder we suffer anxiety as well?
PCOS also rips apart a woman’s self esteem. Because it tears apart the fabric of what women are usually expected to be in Western society – thin, clear skinned, hairless, cheerful and good breeders. As Sabra says:

PCOS is a hidden syndrome in our society, because it encompasses many social taboos: excessive hair, obese/overweight women, childless women, depressed women.

Which is also part of the reason why this doesn’t make news. News executives far prefer to concentrate on young, pretty, fertile women.

So consequently, most sufferers of PCOS feel anything but feminine and valuable. They believe themselves to be failures as women. They feel (and are often told by the douchebags of society) that they’re fat, ugly, hairy, stupid, lazy, gluttonous, barren, unfeminine failures. That they are worth less because they don’t fit some kind of ridiculous expectation of what a woman is supposed to be. Plus we’re not allowed to talk about it, because it’s taboo.
Is anyone still doubting that women with PCOS often suffer high anxiety? And that hasn’t even got into the vast physical pain we usually suffer in our reproductive cycle.
Here’s something I want to say to all the women with PCOS who might be reading this.
For about 4 years now, I’ve been actively seeking out other women with PCOS, or “cysters” as we’re known, to have women around me who know what it’s like to deal with all the icky things we cysters have to deal with, as quite often I didn’t really feel like I had the right to have “normal” women around me. I have met hundreds of cysters, both here and in the US when I travelled there almost 2 years ago, not to mention the hundreds I have met virtually through various online communities that I haven’t had the pleasure to meet face to face yet.
Those women have been incredible. Awesome. Amazing. Inspirational. Generous. Loving. Strong.
Beautiful.
I seem to be able to spot a cyster a mile away. There is a mix of outer vulnerability and yet deep inner strength that I can see straight away. I see the signs of low self esteem, but also signs of grit, strength and inner fortitude that most other people never need to develop. Cysters so often feel they have to fight, they have to work, they have to protect, they have to struggle just to get through day to day life. I believe that develops in them an incredible strength of character that many other people never develop.
Being active in the cysterhood has brought me so many amazing women into my life, who have given me so much love and kindness, I could never repay it back. It’s through loving them that I’ve found the ability to let go of all the PCOS self-loathing and love myself.
I want to give that back. I want to help cysters find the ability to love themselves. I want to build their self esteem like they built mine, to squash the demon of self-loathing that haunts cysters. The only way I know how to is to write. Then write some more. So I’m going to do that for my cysters.
Ladies, if you’re reading this and have PCOS, speak up here in the comments. I want you all to tell me a story about a cyster you know who is awesome. Because she probably feels like she’s a failure every day, just like you do. Let’s celebrate the cysterhood.