John Birmingham

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Freedom of Speech Does Not Mean Freedom from Criticism*

Published March 27, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I think it’s time we made something very, very clear.

When someone speaks negatively about fat bodies, they are speaking about ALL fat bodies.  They are speaking about my fat body.  They are speaking about your fat body.  They are speaking about your Mum’s fat body.  They are speaking about your brother’s fat body.  They are speaking about all fat bodies.

While they may not be addressing you or I directly, our bodies are fat, and therefore are included when they speak of any fat bodies.

Because when someone speaks negatively about fat bodies, people hear that.  And they take it away with them, in their brains, that thing they heard.  When it is a public figure saying these things, LOTS of people hear it, because, well you know, it was said publicly by someone who has a wide audience.  So lots of people take those negative things that were said about fat people away with them, tucked away in their brains.

Then they see me come along, or someone like me, minding our own business.  Perhaps we’re walking down the street, or we’re sitting in a cafe having a cup of coffee and a scone with our friends.  Maybe we’re in the supermarket buying food.  Perhaps we’re riding my bicycle or going for an afternoon walk.  Or maybe we’re at the beach, having a swim in our togs.   Or at work/school/church/anywhere.  You know, just doing stuff that people do.

Here I am, an example of a fat person, with a big plastic light fitting on my head:

I know, it’s a bit blurry but it was taken on my iPhone.

So along I come, with my very fat body (see my fat arms up there?  And my double chins?  And all my other fat bits?  I have a fat bum too, but it’s in the chair and you can’t see it.) and the person who heard those negative words sees me, and seeing my fatness triggers the memory of those negative words about fat people in their brain.  And they remember how someone on the internet or the news said that snarky thing about fat bums (which is retweeted by several people, widening the audience even further), or how fat people are unhealthy, or how people are abusing their children by making them fat by feeding them junk, or that we’re smelly/lazy/gluttonous/unintelligent/etc and they apply that negative to me, because look at me, I’m very fat!  And Mia Freedman/John Birmingham/Tim Minchin/Michelle Obama/*insert public figure who makes negative fat comment here* says that they’re lazy/ugly/unhealthy/gluttonous/smelly/unintelligent etc, so they must be!  Otherwise, they wouldn’t say it publicly would they?

But yes they would.  And they do, whether it’s true or not, these people who are in the public eye seem to think that it’s acceptable to speak about fat bodies as if they are the authorities, even though most of them do not have fat bodies themselves, or if they have had a fat body in the past, they’ve been the statistical anomaly to be able to change that.  They speak about fat bodies generally, without knowing a single thing about my fat body, or your fat body, other than what they can see of it.

They tweet about #womensobesity (and delete those tweets later) without actually experience being fat themselves.  They post blogs criticising anyone who speaks against their fat stigmatising statements, as “glorifying obesity” (as if our posting about fat rights actually encourages people to go out and make themselves fat because they’re so impressed with our awesomeness) without thinking of the vitriolic fat hate that is spewed at any visible fat people as a consequence.  They make “jokes” implying having a fat bum is something bad, without considering that those of us who actually do have fat bums have to suffer the humiliation of others carrying that message on in a far more vicious manner (“Hey fat ass!!  Keep walking you fat cunt!”)

People read that.  Or they hear it.  And they believe it.  They swallow it without question, and carry it around with them, ready to be regurgitated the minute they see a fat person.  So when someone is talking about fat bodies in a negative way, it DOES affect me.  It IS about me.  As it affects anyone else with a fat body, in a whole host of different ways, all of them harmful.

Often, these public figures, and their supporters, suggest that it is not their fault that other people take their words and amplify them back at other fat people.  That they can’t control what other people do when they say things online.

This is not true.  It is your fault, you public figures who make negative comments about fat.  You can control what other people do with your words.  It’s very, very easy.  You can not say negative things about fat people in the first place.   Because you know, you have been told repeatedly, that it does harm.

The problem is, you are not listening.  You are not listening when actual fat people tell you that it is harmful.  You are not listening when actual fat people tell you that your words affect them.  You are not listening when actual fat people tell you that the things you say about them are inappropriate.

When you are not listening, and you are continuing with this behaviour, the problem lies with you, not the people who you refuse to listen to, the very people whom you are speaking about – fat people.  You cannot tell a marginalised person that “you don’t support their cause” as if this somehow puts an authoritative stamp on their cause as being over, invalid, done with.  You cannot just say “I don’t interpret it that way.” when you are called on how your words affect others, when you are not the person who is affected by what is being said.  You cannot repeatedly exhibit behaviours that a marginalised group object to and respond with “Leave me/them alone.”  This is the equivalent of a schoolyard bully saying “Stop picking on me.” after their victim takes a swing back at them.  You cannot tell a marginalised person who you have just stigmatised even further that they are “being too sensitive.”

You don’t get to set the parameters for what is an acceptable way to speak about a marginalised group, unless you are part of that group yourself.  Strangely enough, the most vocal of you in complaining about not being able to set the parameters, are so loaded down with privilege that you cannot for one moment think outside your own comfort zone.  That’s what working past your privilege is, getting out of the comfort zone and working out how you can make it better for those who do not have that privilege.

You are the one who has the power to stop people from speaking up about the inappropriateness of the things you are saying about fat people.  You, and only you have that power.  If you don’t want fat people to get “all up in arms and offended” by the things you say, then don’t say negative things about fat people.

It’s that simple.

*Title comes from this fabulous tweet.

An Epiphany

Published February 2, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Last night I really struggled to go to sleep.  I felt so angry and bullied by the afternoon/evening’s events online.  I won’t link to John Birmingham’s blog post, simply because while he does give a hat tip to Fat Acceptance, he just continues the “but you’re not healthy!” rhetoric that frankly, I’m sick of hearing and sick of responding to.  I will however link to a fabulous response piece over on Spilt Milk, that I think you should all go and read if you haven’t done so already.  We’ll wait…

Fab piece huh?

So anyway, I went to bed really late, and just couldn’t settle.  I’d had hateful tweets come my way, some nasty troll comments here on Fat Heffalump and I’d seen some of the others that my fellow fats had suffered.  It does hurt, and I don’t think John Birmingham quite understands what he unleashes on us every time he carelessly throws out a bunch of assumptions about fat people.  If he does understand, then he’s a fucking douchebag for not taking responsibility for his actions… but to be honest, I don’t really think he knows.  Trolls and haters are cowards, they don’t do it where someone like he can see it, and if any of us report it, then we’re accused of being the ones seeking attention.

I’m laying in bed, thinking about all of the hurt and anger I saw from fellow fats yesterday, and thinking how sometimes it would be just so much easier to give up on Fat Acceptance and go back on a fucking diet, or at least shut up and pretend that I buy into the bullshit than it would be to put myself out there time and time again and get slapped with hatred time and time again.

But then I had an epiphany.

Fat haters hate fat people no matter what they do.

They hate us for being visible.  They hate us for wearing clothes that show any of our bodies.  They hate us for living life to the full.  They hate us for speaking up and demanding respect and fairness.  They hate us for eating.  They hate us for being in public.  They hate us if we dress fashionably or alternative.  They hate us if we appear in public.  They hate us if we speak out about the futility of dieting/fat shame/anything at all.

But guess what?  If you buy into what fat people are “supposed” to do, then they hate us for that too.

They hate us if we diet, they hate us if we try to exercise, they hate us if we mutilate our bodies with weight loss surgery, they hate us if we use diet pills, they hate us if we dress in boxy, dark clothing, they hate us if we have eating disorders, they hate us if we shut up and sit in a corner trying to disappear.

I know they do, because they aimed that hate squarely at me when I tried to do a lot of those things that fat people are “supposed” to do.  And I’m quite sure I’m not the only one.

The only thing fat haters want us to do is cease to exist.  It is the only thing that would stop them from directing hate at us, not being here.

But don’t despair.  There is a second part to my epiphany.

If you love yourself, you are absolutely guaranteed of one less person hating you.

No matter what we do, as fat people we’re going to draw hatred from some shitweasel* who just can’t live and let live.  Some douchecanoe* who has nothing better to do with their lives than bully, hate and harass people either on the internet or in the street.  I can’t imagine what kind of pathetic little life a person must live to need to do that.  Hell, there are people I cannot stand on this earth, but I want to get as far away from them as possible, not spend any time anywhere near them, following them online, or harassing them etc.  I don’t have enough time to read all the stuff on the internet that’s awesome, let alone stuff I don’t like.

But the best way to deal with those shitweasels and douchecanoes, is to live.  Be happy.  Laugh.  Love and be loved.  Have fun.  BE. Cos it drives them fucking spare with frustration that they haven’t made you cease to be. It sticks in their craw and gets up their butt.

While you’re doing it, be kind to yourself.  You’re ok, you’re not the one who spends your time harassing people online, or directing hate at people.  You’re just getting on with your life.

You are worthy of your own love more than anyone else in your life.

*Fabulous new cursewords courtesy of Hanne Blank

Not Beaten by the Blunt Instrument

Published February 16, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Well!  What an afternoon.  Normally I don’t blog about other blogs, cos it’s kinda redundant usually, I think it’s better to just  not read them any more if they piss me off or I disagree.  But this one has mentioned me personally, and is about a conversation I have been having with it’s author, so I think I’m going to break tradition.

Now, let’s get one thing straight.  Author John Birmingham, who’s original tweet I challenged, and who is the author of the blog post I’m talking about here, has apologised for his original tweet, which I admire anyone who can apologise for something said hastily.  It takes a person with grace and dignity to do that.  I also admire JB as an writer (his books make me pee laughing) and quite often he hits the nail right on the head with a blog topic on his rather cool blog Blunt Instrument.  He has also been respectful and polite to me personally during this whole discussion/debate.

So I would like anyone reading this to take a moment before getting stuck into JB, remember, we’re all adults and can have a discussion without getting disrespectful or nasty.

Ok, so, what I’m going to talk about here is JB’s attitude (and many others with him) towards fat people.  In particular, a few quotes from his blog and response comments to me.  (Note: I haven’t read the blog comments on his post except those between him and myself, too high a risk of douchebaggery and I don’t need that shit.)

And I’m not discussing here that JB doesn’t believe in fat acceptance or Health at Every Size (HAES) – that’s for another blog post – and he’s entitled to disagree.  It’s a little deeper than that.

Let’s start with these comments in response to my asking him to keep the “fat hate” to himself regarding his comment on this tweet.

I have been morbidly obese. It nearly killed me.

my morbid obesity was entirely my own fault

Ok, so JB believes his obesity was his own fault, and he’s been able to lose weight so he is no longer morbidly obese.  That’s fair enough, and I believe he has been very fortunate to be able to do that.  When I challenged him that he would be in the vast minority of morbidly obese people (actually overweight and obese people too) who could actually achieve that, he responded with:

I’d dispute that 5% my understanding – & I did lots research b4 embarking on weight loss- is that 30% simply can’t lose weight…

So this is where I wasn’t happy.  Because he’s instantly assumed that because I haven’t been able to stop being morbidly obese, that I haven’t done lots of research.  Which kinda tells me that he assumes NO Fatty McFattersons have ever done lots of research either.

On the simple assumption, that because I am a fat person who is staying fat, and doesn’t believe that I can stop being fat, I must by default be lazy/unintelligent/uninspired and have never done any research of my own.  Let alone “lots”.

It really is falling into the whole Wooo!  I lost weight and you can too!!* malarkey.

*If you just stop being lazy and gluttonous.

Now to be honest, I don’t think JB is being blatantly discriminatory and prejudiced.  But it shows to me the deep seated belief in our culture that fat = bad, and that fat people are somehow less than non-fat people.  Subconsciously at least, JB believes this.  Because in his comments on his blog, he actually says:

You are not differently-abled when carrying around excess weight. You are disabled. I’ve carried enough to know.

Now I’m really getting offended.  You know MY body do you JB?  You  know how I live my life, how able I am in my life, and what my body can and can’t do?  You know what I could do with my body before I was fat, and what I can do with it now that I’m a very fat person do you?

See this is what drives me nuts and gets up my arse.  The assumption, on looking at a fat person, that you can sum them up and know what’s best for them, how they live and what is right and wrong for them.  The equation of not being fat to being morally superior.

He concludes his response to my comment with:

Kath, I am living a completely different life. A better life.

That’s bloody fabulous JB!  Good on you!  But you’re assuming that your life is somehow better than mine (and any other fatty boombahs) because you are not fat and I am fat.  You’re assuming that as a fat person, I’m living this horrible disabled, lazy, idle life of misery.

Well, contrary to what we’re sold in shitty TV reality series hauling out the crying fatties to compete, nay, perform like monkeys for money prizes, pap magazines full of celebrities announcing how miserable they were while they were fat (while accepting nice fat endorsement cheques from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers and the like), and newspapers whoring themselves over “BOOGA-BOOGA-OBESITY-CRISIS!” and so on, fat people aren’t pathetic or miserable because of our fat.

Fat people suffer because of non-fat people.  Fat people suffer because of self-hating fat people.  Fat people suffer because our culture judges us on sight alone, without ever knowing anything about us.  And when we stop accepting the world treating us like that, when we stand up and say “I will not accept anything less than respect and dignity, and fair treatment.” then the suffering goes away.  The shit doesn’t stop from the outside world, but it does stop hurting.

When we stop hating ourselves, and start realising that perhaps the rest of the world is not the best authority on OUR bodies, but WE are, then the suffering eases.

I’d love to have a coffee with JB.  Skim latte please, full cream milk makes me fart.  I’d love him to meet me “in the flesh” (I’ve got lots of it!) and to just ask himself after meeting and talking to me if he still thinks of me as disabled or morbid or broken or in any way less than any other human being.

I’ll leave you with my final comment to JB in his blog comments:

My life completely changed too. A far better life, a far happier life, a far healthier life, a far, far more productive life. It changed when I stopped accepting the bullshit that my body is “disabled” or less worthy than someone who is not fat.

*Please note: I am deleting any comments from those who clearly didn’t read what I have said in this post and are pulling the old “But you Fatty McFattersons are in DENIAL!” and “But I’m fat and I’m going to get thin because I might die!”   Please go back and read this post and what I have said again carefully, and then you’re welcome to comment on that.