Kate Harding

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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.

Stop that Shit

Published April 30, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

When I think back, I’m embarrassed at how I used to behave and think. I used to do it all the time, without giving it a second thought. I assumed that “Everyone does it, it’s fine.” I never did it publicly, or to anyone’s face, as if that made it excusable, ok. If I ever did it out loud, it was only to trusted friends, the people who also thought it was ok.

But it’s not ok.

What am I talking about? What was the shameful behaviour that I used to engage in? It’s judging other people by their appearance, be it the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, or the shape of their bodies.

We have ALL done it.  A lot of us still think it’s ok to do it, so long as you don’t do it to someone’s face, so long as they don’t know.

But it’s not ok.  Ever.

Take this quote from Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Screw Inner Beauty*:

“At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably walked into a party and felt a frisson of relief upon discovering at least one woman there who was fatter, uglier, and/or dressed more inappropriately than you. We sure have. But if you want to have any hope of making peace with your own body, you need to knock that shit off.”

You’ve totally done that, haven’t you?  I know I have.

And here’s the real kicker, I still do.  There are still times I catch myself doing it.  But knowing it’s not ok has me doing something else.  Thanks to people like Kate and Marianne, and others who’ve shown me just how fucked up it is, not just because it’s nasty, but because it does me damage in the long run too, something else happens now when my mind goes to those thoughts.  A second thought tacks right on to that judgmental one, and it’s “Stop that shit.”  It’s becoming automatic now, the minute the synapses trigger in my brain that give me that kind of judgey thought, the next ones are “Stop that shit.”

Why?  Because I know it’s bullshit.  I know that every single person in this world should have the right to look, dress, and appear however suits them.  I also know that I have absolutely no right at all to judge another human being on their appearance.  And finally, I know that it only poisons me in the long run anyway.  More from Kate and Marianne:

“We’re not even telling you to stop just because it’s nasty, petty, and beneath you to judge other women so harshly; it is, but because you’re not a saint, and neither are we. We’re telling you to stop because it’s actually in your own self-interest to stop being such a bitch. ‘Cause you know what happens when you quit saying that crap about other women? You magically stop saying it about yourself so much, too.

Judging other women negatively creates a constant stream of nasty thoughts in your head. It is inevitable that you will end up applying those same standards to yourself. We think we’re building ourselves up when we do this but, really, we’re just tearing other people down to our level. And we hate to go all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on you, but tearing other people down isn’t really productive. It leaves you in the same place you started, which is full of loathing for your own body.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But most of all, I know I hate it when people do it to me.  When people judge me on the size/shape of my body, the choice of clothes I make, the colour/style of my hair, whatever, it really hurts.  So why the hell would it be ok for me to do it to someone else?

I still see it though, and done overtly too.  From people who consider themselves liberal, progressive, campaigners for social justice.  People who call themselves feminist.  Others who will fight against body politics in one arena, but then snark about someone’s hair, or clothing style soon after.  I even saw someone who calls themselves feminist post a photo they’d taken of a couple of strangers in a car park simply to snark at how those people looked.  And don’t get me started on the appearance-based snark that went on with the UK Royal wedding last night.  How can that be considered ok?

It doesn’t matter how weird, ugly, dorky, strange or just plain “gross” someone looks to you.  So what if someone dresses strange, or doesn’t hide their body as society rules they should, or even how you think they should.  So what if someone is “weird” or “dorky”.  So what if someone’s appearance or hair is outdated, unfashionable.    How are they hurting you or anyone else in any way, just for looking the way they do?

Nobody has the right to judge another on their appearance.  Assess people based on their behaviour, their attitudes, but appearance is arbitrary and gives no indication of the person behind it.  And ask yourself, how do you feel when someone judges you on your appearance?  When someone deems you “gross” because you’re fat. When someone suggests you’re low class because you don’t have the same fashionable clothes as they think you should.  When you’re judged on your appearance simply because you’re a woman, when a man doesn’t have to meet the same standards.  How does that make you feel?

If you’re going to fight for the right of people to be treated with respect and dignity in one arena, then you have to accept that you have to treat all human beings with respect and dignity in all other arenas, regardless of their appearance.

*Australian title.  International title is “Lessons from the Fatosphere“.