Inspirational Women

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Inspirational Women: Marilyn Wann

Published November 6, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

What do I say about Marilyn Wann?  I mean really, how can I introduce the most inspirational of the inspirational women in my life?  When I first encountered Marilyn’s writing online, something in me just shifted.  It’s a cliche, but a light really did go on inside me.  Of course I rushed out and bought her book, Fat! So? and devoured it in a sitting, and that light just got brighter and brighter.  I realised there was another path for me in my life, and that I was going to forge that path myself, rather than let a world that thinks less of me because of my fat body push me along a road that it thought I should be travelling.  That’s an amazing thing to be inspired into by one woman.

Then of course I connected with Marilyn online, and discovered that as well as being incredibly inspirational, she is also a lovely person with a wicked sense of humour and a generous heart.  On more than one occasion I have asked Marilyn for advice and she has always been generous, open and very kind with her time and advice.  I have found every encounter with Marilyn has been a positive one for me.

But what I think inspires me most about Marilyn is that she is unapologetically herself.  Her authenticity and genuineness shine through and inspire me to find that kind of authenticity in myself.

So without further ado, here is my interview with the one and only, Marilyn Wann.

Was there a defining moment for you as a person that made you decide that fat activism was for you? What was it?

I came across the book “Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression,” at a book fair in my early 20s. It was a blast of consciousness, for me—seeing all the painful experiences and social exclusion and weight judgments as part of a larger system of prejudice, and not something that was wrong with me or my embodiment. But I would call myself an armchair size accepter, until a year or so later, I had what I call my Really Bad Day. Two things happened, a double whammy. First, I was having dinner with this guy I liked and he told me that he was embarrassed to introduce me to some of his friends because I was fat. That hurt. I was also outraged. I came home, opened the mail, and a letter from Blue Cross told me they wouldn’t sell me health insurance because of my “morbid obesity.” That was the defining moment. It has been wonderful ever since, because even if I encounter rather intense and ugly hatred or discrimination, I no longer agree to go along with it or believe it. By disagreeing with fat hate, I keep a healthy boundary inside which I can live without fear. Of course, I still carry plenty of that old, fat-negative training around with me, but I don’t blame myself for that. I just try to notice it and divest from it, while also embracing diverse ideas about human value, beauty, sexiness, health, etc.

What projects or achievements are you most proud of in your fat activism?

I’m proud of being able to confront prejudice pretty much full time and for nearly two decades now and enduring, even thriving in the process. I’m proud of my role in passage of San Francisco’s height/weight anti-discrimination ordinance. I worked with an amazing team and a fabulous community. Carole Cullum and Jo Kuney used their political experience to lobby groups and legislators. Frances White brought NAAFA’s presence as a civil rights organization. Sondra Solovay was brilliant in working with the city attorney to craft the guidelines for implementation of the ordinance, which set a standard. My piece was putting together an extensive packet of information for legislators with data that debunked common weight stereotypes, proved the widespread occurrence of height/weight discrimination, and included stories I gathered from people about being excluded from employment, education, housing, and public accommodations because of height/weight. I also found people who could come and tell powerful stories and expert testimony at two hearings (before the city’s Human Rights Commission and then before a committee of our legislators). The whole opportunity also came along because I organized a street protest outside a health club that had a hateful billboard. (It showed a space alien and said, “When they come, they’ll eat the fat ones first.” Our protest said, “Eat me!”) It’s an amazing feeling to feel oneself to be a social outcast, to go for years not expecting any welcome or help from people, and then to be in a community and be able to ask people for help and get such eager support. And then for legislators to agree and put into law that yes, fat people belong in society and are welcome and anyone who treats us badly deserves censure. For that, I’m not so much proud as grateful.

I’m also proud of how the FAT!SO? ‘zine and book and Yay! Scales and now, the new 2012 FAT!SO? Dayplanner, all use a kind of joy and sense of humor to combat fat oppression. Aside from all the data and the identity politics (which are both super important!), I think people respond to the example of an unoppressed response to oppression. Kinda like the movie hero who faces terrible odds with a sassy quip and then pulls off an improbable victory. Occasionally, I hear from readers who say that FAT!SO? has made it possible for them to stop feeling bad about themselves and just enjoy life with less worry. That feels wonderful for me. It keeps me going as an activist, a fat rebel. I also hope to convey that anyone can give this boost of consciousness and liberation to other people, and then feel wonderful to know you’ve helped someone free themselves of an unnecessary and harmful burden. You don’t have to be a full-time activist. Just in conversation or by your example, you could share that powerful concept with other people of all sizes. I hope they’ll let you know the awesome effect you’ve had!

Is there a song that defines you or that you particularly identify with? Will you share it with us?

Oh, dear. There’s not one song that’s my anthem. I’ve appreciated so many over the years. I love Candye Kane’s songwriting and singing on fat pride. Minna Bromberg has a wonderful song called the Bathing Suit Song. An old cd by Toshi Reagon has gotten me through some dark times. Tracy Chapman’s song, “All That You Have Is Your Soul” is wonderful. Also Ani DiFranco’s song, “Face Up and Sing,” especially the verse that goes like this:

some chick says
thank you for saying all the things I never do
I say
the thanks I get is to take all the shit for you
it’s nice that you listen
it’d be nicer if you joined in
as long as you play their game girl
you’re never going to win

Which is more bitter than I feel, 98% of the time. But I also just appreciate the appeal she makes in the whole song and it’s great to wail along with it.

When Heather MacAllister (aka Reva Lucian, founder of Big Burlesque & The Fat-Bottom Revue) and I did a pirate radio show called Fat-A-Tat-Tat—Soundtrack for the Fat Revolution, we played so much satisfying music that either had a fat-positive message or that was created by fat musicians (or both). I should not that Heather and I always had a playful disagreement about the name of the show. I said “the” revolution and she said “a” revolution, because she argued the revolution isn’t here yet. We got kicked off the air by the uptight guy who ran the pirate radio station (ironic, huh?) because he couldn’t stand C+C Music Factory. What he didn’t realize was that we occasionally played Martha Wash singing “Everybody Dance Now” specifically because she was excluded from the music video for that song and a thin woman was used instead, pretending to sing her part. Heather loved to play Candye Kane, Nomy Lamm, Nedra Johnson, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys.

And of course! Now that I’ve gone on about all sorts of music I love, the obvious answer to your question comes to me: the song “Fat Girl,” by Max Airborne. Her band Creamy Goodness has recorded it. I believe she wrote this song before she and her friends decided to start the FaT GiRL ‘zine, perhaps a bit inspired by it. So it’s great that you ask about music, because it can make all sorts of great stuff happen!

Also, last spring, I worked with Alan Garber, the brother of my good friend Linda Garber. Alan’s a rocker from way back. I wanted a funky dance song that I could play for people to dance to for an action I planned. Alan took my ideas and created an awesome tune. Instead of the children’s song, “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” we did a syncopated, grownup, body-poz version called, “Chins, Bellies, Hips…and Ass.” It worked, too! Seventeen people joined me at an “obesity” conference for the keynote talk by Xavier Pi-Sunyer. (He’s the guy behind BMI standards being lowered, back in the late 90s. A major wanker.) This conference was happening in San Francisco (a home to fat pride community!) on the only major fat pride holiday (International No Diet Day)!!! I couldn’t let that offense pass. Our group of rad fatties of all sizes (including wee children) interrupted the speech: I blew a loud whistle, turned on the boombox, and we all boogied our way to the front of the hall. The speaker didn’t know what to do. He tried to keep talking, stopped, started again, stopped again. People in attendance thought we were some kind of hired entertainment, then took our handouts. Some of them refused to make eye contact or gave us mean stares. Others were clapping along. We left when the event organizer started to wave her finger at us. She kept telling us, as we danced out of the room with the music still playing, “You should be ashamed. You don’t have permission. You can’t just walk into a room if you don’t belong.” Yup, she cares about fat people.

(Note: Marilyn sent me this awesome song “Hips & Ass” but WordPress won’t let me upload the MP3 file – I’ll try to add it or a link to it later when I can.)

Many fat activists refer to having a “coming out as fat” moment in their lives, where they take their fab fat life to the people in their lives (friends, family, colleagues etc). Did you have one of these? How did it happen for you?

Yes. I came out as a proud and unapologetic fat person the day after my Really Bad Day. I also started the FAT!SO? ‘zine that day. Coming out felt really awkward the first few hundred times I did it. I imagined people would laugh at me or think I’m wrong or socially shun me. That almost never happens. People who do have a bad reaction are the people I wouldn’t really want to know anyway, so it’s not so much a shock or a surprise or painful as it is information I’d rather know than not know. The vast majority of the time, people react with relief and interest because they too have felt judged and excluded and unworthy because of their weight. And this is true for people of all sizes. By coming out, we can all expand the liveable space for all of us, not just for ourselves. If we aren’t able to feel at home in their own bodies, where are we supposed to go?

If you could have someone make you the ultimate outfit for your body, what would it be? Tell us that dream outfit/garment you’d love to see in plus-sizes.

I sew, so I have made some of my own dream outfits. My mother and I sewed a fuchsia satin wedding gown with marabou trim that I wore for the book party when FAT!SO? came out. It was sleeveless (of course!), had a low U-neck, fitted bodice, flaring skirt, and both a petticoat and an optional fuchsia lace overskirt. I wore it with satin fuchsia evening gloves and a plastic tiara with a big-ass fuchsia veil made from cheap tulle.

When I attended my first NAAFA convention, I knew the pool party was a big deal the first night. I wanted a bathing suit that would express my politics. This was back in 1995. There weren’t any vendors making thong bikinis for fatties. (Hurray for Janelle at Love Your Peaches, for creating this important resource not long after.) I didn’t have the kind of sewing machine that can sew on stretch fabric back then, so I hired fat activist April Miller to make me a scuba-inspired thong bikini. It was black with fuchsia piping. The crop top came to just under my boobs, had teensy cap sleeves, and zipped up to a little band collar. Under the crop top, I wore a black fishnet halter top that April also made, so if I wanted to lower the zipper, my cleavage was extra interesting. She also made me an optional non-thong bikini bottom. I was so sad when the spandex finally aged out on that suit. I can’t bring myself to let go of it. I wore it to the NAAFA pool party. One fat woman (who, I think, expected her string bikini to be the smallest suit in the water) made a catty comment meant for me to overhear. I had to laugh. I wasn’t there to steal attention from her. I was there in a thong bikini to publicly claim my fat ass. Also, I think that what people are allowed to wear in a society says a great deal about who people are allowed to be in that society. If fat people aren’t allowed to wear power suit or thong bikinis or protective safety gear because they’re not made in our size, that limits who we can be and what we can do in life.

I don’t know what outfit I still crave. Perhaps a really good tutu. Or some Astro-Turf chaps with the occasional plastic daisy. Or a bra that is totally comfortable and lets me have two separate boobs, not the bridge/shelf effect. And sadly, no, underwires no longer work for me—they’re just not contoured for my shape, so they torque painfully. (I’m planning to concoct this engineering wonder myself when I find time.)

Who has been your biggest “real life” support in your activism?

Oh, wow. So many people, at different times. My secret resource (I won’t say weapon, because that’s needlessly violent) is an old friend from college. We get together every Thursday for scotch and backgammon and conversation. Geoffrey was involved with Queer Nation in the early 90s and has radical politics. When I need to gripe about some vexation (a fat oppression thing or a community/interpersonal thing or a how-do-I-make-this-happen thing), he listens generously and often comes up with brilliant strategy.

Who has inspired you in your activism?

I am inspired by Lynn McAfee, for the sly way she does her activism and for her endurance all these decades. I have also been inspired in my political analysis by local fat/queer community.

Do you have any tattoos? (If you would like to share a photo/s, please do!)

I don’t have any tattoos. I have sometime joked about getting a highly realistic tattoo of a freckle. Then I could point out my tattoo and people would say, “That’s not a tattoo, that’s a freckle!” But I would know it’s real. Or really a fake. Kinda an Umberto Eco thing. But I admit that’s more of a joke than a genuine intention. I’ve been delighted to hear from people who have gotten tattoos inspired by some of the art in the FAT!SO? book. I think that rocks!

What piece of advice would you like to share with all fatties out there?

Oh, there’s so much to say. Mainly, I want people to remember that fat hate wasn’t always a big part of human societies. It may seem right now like that’s “just the way things are,” but it won’t always be so. In part, I think human beings outgrow stupidity over time. I also believe it’s necessary to reject and resist and unlearn fat hate—and have fun doing it!

Check out Marilyn’s website for upcoming news on her Fat!So? Dayplanner and other projects.

Inspirational Women: Not Blue At All

Published October 28, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I think it’s time to share another one of the women who have inspired me in my life.  Tonight I’m bringing you a bit of a quiet achiever.  Sarah, aka Not Blue At All was another of the early blogs that I discovered when I was first tasting fat activism.  Her bubbly manner and honesty drew me in like a magnet, and she has always got plenty of food for thought in her writing.  I’ve watched her evolve through her blog, and have seen her go through the ups and downs of life with grace and good humour.  I am sure you will find her as refreshing and delightful as I do.

Not Blue at All

Was there a defining moment for you as a person that made you decide that fat activism was for you?  What was it?

I am a hippie at heart, so the activism side of fat liberation/acceptance was a natural attraction for me. I can’t say that there was a specific moment that inspired or motivated me to identify as a fat activist. I think it was gradual. Though I will say that reading Fat Heffalump and The Rotund made me realize that just being in public while fat was so political. I now embrace this and go about my life with my head held higher and with a wider smile than before. I have locked eyes with another fatty in a mall and we were both sleeveless and we sort of just smiled and nodded at each other. That was a magical moment.

What projects or achievements are you most proud of in your fat activism?

So far I have to say that my proudest achievement is participating in Marilyn Wann’s 2011 International No Diet Day “Flesh Mob” when we fat-crashed an anti-obesity conference. I didn’t realize how radical this simple act would appear to outsiders or even to other fats. I just thought it was this very cool thing we could do to make a statement, get heard and be seen without hurting anyone. It wasn’t until later that I heard from others that it was this big scary deal. It is a bit of a blur, but it was all of two minutes. It was the last hour of the conference we crashed and the guy talking had such disgust for us (the obese) that I relished in the moment, more than I had thought I would. We danced, we chanted and we made some of those people wake up a bit. Others will still hate us, but that’s okay. It just felt good to do something as a fat group with so much fat pride. It is one of my fondest memories, for sure.

Is there a song that defines you or that you particularly identify with?  Will you share it with us?

I’m such a music lover and my taste is so varied. A song that defines me? Whew! That is a tall order…But why not Della Reese’s “Come on A My House” she’s a fatty and I love the hell out of this song. I called it my theme song for a few years. It is a song of welcome, love, offerings and nourishment. So, “come on a my house!” Ha-ha! I am always trying to get my friends together for fun and good times.

Many fat activists refer to having a “coming out as fat” moment in their lives, where they take their fab fat life to the people in their lives (friends, family, colleagues etc).  Did you have one of these?  How did it happen for you?

I don’t think I officially came out as fat or anything, but it was a big deal to me personally that for my last birthday I asked my friends to attend a Big Moves Bay Area event instead of giving me gifts. It was a fun night with fatties dancing and chocolate tasting. I wanted there to be a full on fatty dance party after, but sadly that didn’t happen.

If you could have someone make you the ultimate outfit for your body, what would it be?  Tell us that dream outfit/garment you’d love to see in plus-sizes.

I would start with gorgeous black knee-high boots. They would have chunky soles and possibly buckles or straps. I’m thinking industrial meets grunge. Then I would have these beautifully printed, quality lycra, tights in some goreous paisley or other lovely print. I’d probably just rock a dress I already have since the tights and boots are my biggest want at the moment, but I would love a more fitted/tailored dress. It’s why I love eshakti, I pay a few extra dollars and they make it to my specific measurements. And I would love a bag that I could wear cross-body style without it being a giant bag or having the strap too short.

Who has been your biggest “real life” support in your activism?

My husband. While he hasn’t participated, he’s always there for me. He listens to my bizarre ideas and rants and whatever else I’m going on and on about. He’s my best friend and my rock. He has attended a couple of fat events with me, but he’s a true introvert, so I never push. I actually love that he makes me feel supported in all that I do and gives me the space to get out and do what he’d never want to.
My BFFs are so very supportive, too. They went with me to a Big Moves event the first time I ever went strapless in public. I was somewhat horrified, but pushed myself to get the hell out of my comfort zone. I never looked back! They have been by my side and have my back no matter what.

Who has inspired you in your activism?

You Kath! And Marianne Kirby, Marilyn Wann, Amanda Levitt, Michaela Null, Lesley Kinzel, Virgie Tovar, Jeanette Miller, Jessica Gagnon and and and and… I could go on and on, believe me! I am so grateful and fortunate to have so many amazing and brilliant fat activists in my life. These women speak a truth that my heart needs to hear all of the time. They embody fat activism even when they haven’t the strength to write about it. They understand what it takes to keep this movement’s momentum going. I love them all.

Do you have any tattoos?

Oh yes. I long for a fat related one, but funds are not available now. I have a small butterfly in my right ear. Chinese Characters on my left shoulder blade. A vine with big purple flowers on my right shoulder blade. A lovely rain foresty piece around my right ankle.

What piece of advice would you like to share with all fatties out there?

Find and honor your authentic self. Let no one or thing ever define you, but you. Care for yourself and your needs.
Love with your whole self. Don’t hold back. Scare people off, who needs ‘em? Be honest above all else, but don’t be mean or rude or judgmental. Treat your body like your best friend, because it is and it will always be there for you. Trust your body, listen to it, be mindful of it and learn to nourish and care for it. We are taught from such an early age to distrust our bodies in fear and that makes me sad and angry. Support other fatties. Support other communities. Speak up. Stand up for yourself and others. Be your own advocate. Call out hate when hate is spoken or taught or heard. Above all, just be you.

Inspirational Women: Bri King

Published October 17, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I am so excited about the series of blog posts I am starting for you all tonight.  I was talking to a friend recently about the amazing women that inspire me to do what I do and I had this moment where I just wanted to share them with you all.  Then I realised… what’s to stop me doing just that?  I put together a mini interview, sent it out to just a few of the inspiring women I’ve been lucky enough to encounter, and delightfully, every one of them has responded that they’d love to be featured here on Fat Heffalump.  I intend to send the request out further and further afield as time goes on, so that I can share more and more of the inspirational women that I’ve been lucky enough to find.

So without any further ado, let us begin with our first installment in my new “Inspirational Women” series.

By way of introduction, Bri King of Fat Lot of Good was the first Australian fat activist I ever encountered.  I forget who introduced me to her blog, back in my early forays into the Fatosphere, but someone linked to one of her pieces, and I remember reading through all her back posts in a couple of days, just eating up her words.  I was blessed to be able to meet Bri last year at the inaugural Australian Fat Studies Conference in Sydney and she is one of the loveliest people I have ever met.  I deeply admire her fire and passion, her ability to articulate complicated subjects, and her kindness.

1. Was there a defining moment for you as a person that made you decide that fat activism was for you? What was it?

I can’t recall there being a defining moment, which is kind of disappointing in way! There was no pivotal moment as such, it was more of a process. I was already into goth and rockabilly fashion and I had searched for communities on that were about those topics but that focused on BBW. I found the Fatshionista LJ community. I hung out there for a while and that was where I read something that Marianne Kirby (The Rotund) wrote and I went to her blog to read more. That was where I discovered the Notes from the Fatosphere feed. After a short time I realised I had something to say about living fat and so I started my blog, Fat Lot Of Good in mid 2007. It was at that point that I began to refer to myself as a fat activist.

2. What projects or achievements are you most proud of in your fat activism?

There are three things I am most proud of. I was interviewed for an article that appeared in The Age newspaper and this led to being contacted by Today/Tonight, a daily ‘current affairs’ show that screens on Channel 7 in Australia. T/T is known for sensationalist journalism and while I was wary about appearing on the show I felt that if my  appearance let one person know about Fat Acceptance who didn’t previously know about it, then it was worth any flack I might cop in the process. The interview went well and I was happy with the final outcome. The other two achievements are making my first presentation at an academic conference (being the Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue conference held at Macquarie University in Sydney in Sept ’10) and also my ‘coming out’ as a ‘failed’ WLS patient. I was really worried about how the FA community might react to the knowledge that I had WLS some years ago but I was pleasantly surprised by the support I received when I wrote about my experience on my blog.

3. Is there a song that defines you or that you particularly identify with? Will you share it with us?

Oh wow… that’s a hard one. I think Alannis Morrisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ and Meredith Brooks ‘Bitch’ sum me up pretty well. ‘You Oughta Know’ because I am a firm believe in sharing knowledge, experience and emotions. Morrisette is singing about being betrayed by a guy. While I relate to that I also feel the song can be about betrayal in general and I feel that fat people are generally betrayed by society. There is a certain anger contained in that song and that’s ok. It is ok to be angry. Sometimes we need to be angry. It is how we deal with that anger that matters.  As for ‘Bitch’, well it is a song about the contradictions we are as individuals. All the facets we each have to our character. I am a lot of things, a fat activities, a writer, a student, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a pagan, a feminist, a photographer and much more. This song reflects all that.

4. Many fat activists refer to having a “coming out as fat” moment in their lives, where they take their fab fat life to the people in their lives (friends, family, colleagues etc). Did you have one of these? How did it happen for you?

I think my appearance on national TV pretty much did that! Interestingly enough I received very little negative feedback (virtually none actually) and metric tons of encouragement and support. I still, three years later, have people mention that interview to me and tell me they thought it was very cool.

5. If you could have someone make you the ultimate outfit for your body, what would it be? Tell us that dream outfit/garment you’d love to see in plus-sizes.

I love goth and rockabilly stylings. I was actually lucky enough to have my dream outfit made for me for my hand fasting (wedding). The outfit was made up of a full ball gown skirt with petticoats and bustle, a corset and a bell sleeved bolero jacket. It was all red satin, black organza and black lace with beaded detail and was just stunning. I felt so beautiful that day. In general I would love to see more goth and rockabilly/pin up styles in plus sizes. There are a few places that go up to an XL or 2XL but they tend to run small and not go any bigger than that. I certainly wish they did!

6. Who has been your biggest “real life” support in your activism?

My husband J has been a huge support to me. He has always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and do things (like the TV interview!) that I might not have done otherwise. He also constantly links me to things he finds online that he thinks I might want to blog about. He is a fat guy himself so he gets where I am coming from with my activism.

7. Who has inspired you in your activism?

So many people… Marianne Kirby has taught me so much via her blog The Rotund. Not just about Fat Acceptance but about so many things. Regan Chastain is someone else who really inspires me. She writes some amazing stuff. And you too, Kath. You have no idea how inspiring I find your writing. You always have your finger on the pulse and seem to know exactly what to say about issues at exactly the right time. (Thank you Bri!) Other people that inspire me are my friends who I have been able to clue into the ideas of Fat Acceptance and HAES. Seeing how far they have come in their body acceptance journeys really inspires me to keep doing what I do.

8. Do you have any tattoos?

Oooh ink! One of my favourite topics! lol

I have 7 tattoos. I have a butterfly on the left of my chest; a rose on the right of my chest; a Latin phrase ‘Amor Fati’ (love your fate) on my inner left arm; a symbol that incorporates my first initial and my husband’s first initial on my outer left wrist; a symbol incorporating my two kids first initials on my outer right wrist; a pentagram in a wreath of flowers on the small of my back and then my back piece, a heart shaped locket with two roses.  (have attached a pic of that one) I am planning on more ink in the near future, something on my outer upper arm this time.

9. What piece of advice would you like to share with all fatties out there?

I have a bit of a motto that I live by, that weight based self loathing causes more problems for people and society than fat in itself ever has or ever will. I really believe that. I know from personal and professional experience (as a social worker and counsellor) just how much damage self hatred at cause individuals and the wider community, it is toxic and it is something we need to move beyond. Hopefully I can contribute to that effort in some small way.