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Guest Post 2 – Enough is Enough by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published July 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I am more than thrilled to share with you the news that Dr Samantha Thomas, sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues, is back with another guest post here on Fat Heffalump.

I talk of the inflaters of the world, those people who raise people around them up rather than crushing them down, and for me, Samantha is one of the inflaters I have in my life, and I believe she inflates people all around her.

She joins us today to talk further on the double standards of several “Body Image Advocates” here in Australia, and to issue a call to arms for all who wish to change the climate of body shame not just here in Australia, but around the world.  Over to our guest:

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Enough is Enough

I don’t often get away with my dudes to a place where I have total isolation from the media. The last 4 days have been a media free zone for us – no phones, no computers, no newspapers. It was HEAVEN.

Well you can run, but you can’t hide. And it was slightly amusing that literally a couple of minutes after arriving back home and picking up the Saturday paper I came across this article in the Courier Mail. Australia’s Next Top Model (ANTM) banned a 16 year old from the catwalk because, at a size 8, she was too fat. Now look, I don’t really have any opinions about ANTM. Sorry! I’ve never watched the Ozzie version, and I’m a bit smitten with Miss Jay and the dude with the white hair on the American version. So I’m declaring my conflict of interest and not commenting on the show.

But I WILL comment on the fact that once again a member of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group has been caught in another dodgy set of circumstances around the promotion of fat hate. Most of you will know that Mia Freedman, the Chair of the committee has also been criticized for the inconsistency between her role on the committee and the material she promotes on her website. This time it is Sarah Murdoch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sarah Murdoch she is a former model and host of ANTM. According to Minister Kate Ellis she chose Murdoch and Freedman, “for their work in their industry, not for their looks”.

And so I landed with a thud back from my holiday bliss. And you know what.

I’ve had enough of these inconsistencies.

I’ve had enough of people who are supposed to be advocating for body image declaring “it’s not like I hate fat people”. There is a reason you would have to declare that out loud at a press conference.

I’ve had enough of the confusing messages that are sent when our National Body Image Advisory Committee includes some high profile individuals who then actively promote that certain types of bodies are the beautiful ideal.

I’ve had enough of the new saviour that is obesity surgery. Because when you get an email from a 17 year old who tells you that her obesity surgeon told her to turn the heater off in the winter so that she would shiver and burn more energy thus losing more weight, you realize that this is a profit driven industry out to exploit, not care for people.

I’ve had enough of articles that say that fat stigma will be reduced if we find a cure for obesity. Or that we should tackle fat stigma because it will make it easier for people to engage in healthy activity – oh and lose weight.

I’ve had enough of the emails from people who have asked me if I have any ‘miracles’ because they have been told by their doctors that they have got themselves so fat that they should just give up and wait to die.

I’ve had enough of people being paid lots of money to promote the diet industry, which promises everything, and only delivers physical and emotional pain.

I’ve had enough of the stupidity that somehow has us believe that we will protect young people from eating disorders if we give a magazine a ‘tick’ for declaring its airbrushing practices, but that we still allow that same magazine to run ‘diet’ articles, and advertisements for the weight loss industry.

Most of all, I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy that surrounds the body image/obesity/health debate in this country. And that includes everyone being allowed to be an expert on fat… oh except fat people.

I don’t think there is one person that is reading this that at one time or another hasn’t disliked what they saw in the mirror (or on the scales). I also don’t think that there is one person who is reading this that hasn’t been made to feel bad about their body by someone else. Some of you reading this will encounter this much more than others. And I am standing up and applauding you for the amazing strength and resilience that you show in the face of such a negative public gaze for what your bodies look like, and how they got to be how they are. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

But I do want to let you know that I am with you.  Standing side by side until we sort out this ridiculous situation that we have gotten ourselves into with ‘weight’.

And I will continue to advocate with you for change.  Because when we stand together, we are a very powerful voice indeed.

A voice that is getting stronger.

A voice that is becoming an amazing tool for highlighting the hypocrisy that exists around body acceptance, weight and health in Australia.

Let me give you a great example of the power of that voice in action.

Last week Herald Sun columnist Susie O’Brien weighed in (again) on the obesity debate. But before I write about that, lets have a little recap of some of the things Susie O’Brien has written about body image in the past. First up, in January, when supermodel Jen Hawkins bared all for body image acceptance, Susie wrote:

“I have written so many articles about body image… I have told women to be proud of themselves and told men to adore the flaws.”

She goes on to write.

“We are never going to have genuine body acceptance until people start getting used to seeing real, average, beautiful bodies.”

Now obviously I have issues with these statements. But I could see where she was coming from.  Not helpful, but a little bit heading in the right direction (even in the lets all strip off and show each other we don’t look like Jen Hawkins love fest that we all seemed to be going through at the beginning of the year).

So how then, just a few months later, can Susie O’Brien write this?

“Yes, it’s important that young people feel good about themselves. But it’s also important that young people have the best chance of living a long, healthy life without the serious life-threatening illnesses that come with obesity. Not to mention the teasing and bullying and low self-esteem that many fat kids face. So I want to know what’s being done to help young people who need to lose weight, and who need to get motivated to change their unhealthy bodies, rather than accept them as they are.”

Once again, the same old rhetoric emerges. Lets accept everyone’s real, beautiful bodies, flaws and all.

UNLESS YOU ARE FAT.

But what’s worse is that somehow it’s okay to then invite a bunch of people to participate in a live hate fest on fatties. That fat individuals are lazy. That fat parents were in essence abusing their children. That we should all aspire to be like Susie because her kids ask for broccoli when they get home from daycare.

Now every cloud has a silver lining. And the day that Susie chose to have that live blog was one of the most silver lined clouds I have seen for a while. Because not just one, or two, or three but at least TEN of us joined that live blog to SMASH HOLES in Susie’s arguments. We very clearly and rationally outlined our arguments, and in the process absolutely discredited what she and a bunch of others had to say. We all brought a slightly different perspective to the table, and I know I felt a whole lot better about being in the discussion because I knew others were there with me.

It’s not easy to be a lone voice. I have learnt that the hard way. And I guess that is the point of this post. If we want change, we have to start acting together. There is no doubt that the critics are there. I was on Catalyst about obesity surgery for kids a couple of weeks back and ABC journalist Melanie Tait (who has had a lapband) took it upon herself to very publically try to discredit me. And so many of you jumped in and supported me. And I cannot tell you what a difference that made.

Speaking out also brings emails like this.

“We’ve never met but I recently read your piece ‘Mama Mia and Body Image’ and it was a lifesaver. A total no holds barred lifesaver. Finally someone clearly explaining that I shouldn’t have to hide my body to make it acceptable to others. And that while there is nothing wrong with promoting physical health in the right context, mental health is equally important, and the guilt and shame brought about by being told in a /body image/ setting that you are freaky and need fixing (read here 5 foot 1 and size 20) is incredibly damaging. You have helped me reframe my thinking about this and regain some much needed sanity and perspective. I have sent copies of your piece to my women friends who are all shapes and sizes.”

This is why we do what we do. And why we need to work together. All of us will be able to contribute in different ways. Some of us will want to be on the front line. Others will want to join the discussion in safer spaces. Some might just want to listen and perhaps share pieces with their friends and family members. Some might want to offer a shoulder to lean on (or some much needed spell check skills!!). Everyone has a role to play in creating change.

So who is in? !!!!

By the way. Keep your emails coming. I love them really.  Or follow me on Twitter @samanthastweets

Oh and I reckon Susie is a shoe in for the next vacancy on the National Body Image Advisory Committee! What do you think?

Quick Hit: Adam Hills

Published July 5, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Ok I just have to share this video with you all, it’s Australian comedian Adam Hills on the subject of women’s magazines and body image:

I adore Adam Hills.  He’s cute, funny, and most importantly… nice.  Nice is much maligned, considered boring, but give me nice over cool or edgy or rich or powerful any day.

A couple of years I saw Adam live on his Inflatable tour.  He was hilariously funny, as he usually is, but I walked away so inspired by his performance.  At the crux of the entire gig was the message that he wanted to be one of the people who is an “inflater”.   Someone who, when you spend time with them, makes you feel great, who inflates your self esteem and lifts you up.  As opposed to a “deflater”, who makes you feel bad about yourself and brings you down.

I want to be an inflater.  I want to be around other inflaters in my life.

Opting Out of the Game

Published July 3, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I am inspired by this post over on Spilt Milk to talk tonight about the thinking behind fat acceptance as an alternative to the whole beauty industry and beauty standards of Western culture.

One of the things I keep seeing from the anti-fat acceptance camp is the attitude that fat acceptance in any form is encouraging people to become fat.  That by celebrating fat bodies, encouraging fat bodies to be seen and respected, that we’re somehow advocating that people who are not already fat, should become fat.  Or already fat people get fatter.

What I think it all boils down to is that there is a perception that fat acceptance is the direct opposite of the current beauty ideal.  That beauty ideal being that thinner = better.  So therefore, those who oppose fat acceptance on these grounds are suggesting that fat acceptance advocates believe that fatter = better.

That’s just not how it works.

The key word in here is acceptance.

The thinner = better camp are pushing constantly for bodies to change to fit  a beauty ideal, ie; fat people should lose weight because if they get thinner, their lives will be better.

But fat acceptance is not about changing your body to make your life better.  We’re not saying that you will be happier if you are fat like us.  What we are saying is that if you accept yourself as you are, right now, whatever your size and/or shape, your life will be better.  That includes the thin people too.

It is a difficult concept to grapple with, when magazines, advertising, movies and television, books, gossip blogs, everything in the mainstream is telling you that you need to change yourself to be happy.  That you need to lose weight, remove body hair, flatten your stomach, wear these clothes, drink that drink, buy those products and so on.

You don’t need to change yourself to be happy.

You do need to accept yourself to be happy.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have goals to change things in your life, not at all.  But it does mean that if you are making that change to be happy, or because other people think you should, or because you can’t stand who you are right now, or because you don’t match what magazines and telly tell you that you should be like, then you’re going to come out the other side of that change and find that there will be a whole new set of things that you will feel compelled to change to make yourself happy.  To find that the goalposts have been moved.

Here’s the thing.  Happiness isn’t something you achieve, or earn, or find.  Happiness is right there in you at every single moment of your life.  It’s not out there to be found, it’s just in you to be seen.  You carry it with you, whether you’re using it or not, it’s there.

The best way to see it?  Acceptance of it’s presence.  Acceptance of who you are.  And acceptance doesn’t mean resignation.  It doesn’t mean you throw your hands up and say “Well right!  I’m a big fat ass!  There!  I accept it!”  Acceptance is saying “This is my body.  It’s mine and it’s me.  It works very hard for me, and is beautiful in it’s own way.  And I love it for what it does for me, despite it not always doing what I, or the world around me, think it should do and be.”

Then, and only then, can you successfully move to the “Now, what can I do with this wonderful body of mine to make life even better?”  That’s where the ability to change things comes in.

That’s where fat acceptance works against the “thinner = better” mentality.  Not to be the opposite of it, but to opt out of it.

Because that’s the lie we’re being sold.  The lie that you have to be someone else, to change yourself, for life to be better.  You don’t have to buy that lie.  You don’t have to play that game.  You don’t have to follow that path.

You can just opt out and make your own fabulous path.  That’s what fat acceptance is about.  Opting out of that game, not being the direct opposite of it.

Stop the “Slut” Talk

Published June 22, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I don’t normally read Miranda Devine’s columns.  I read a few some time ago but found her so snarky that I’ve avoided her work ever since.  However tonight a friend posted this article from the Sydney Morning Herald on Facebook, and the headline of “Flash of Fame Spreads Sluttiness” just grabbed my attention.

I responded to my friend’s post, and realised that what was coming out of me was more than just a response, it was a full on blog post.  So I have decided to expand upon it a little here.

While I do believe that we’re experiencing an intense “pornification” of celebrity and fame, I really take umbrage with the “sluttiness” label.

This implies that it is all about the young women and bad behaviour, and says nothing about the equally sexualised behaviour of young men. Not to mention the fact that more and more, young women are pressured into this behaviour because they’re led to believe that their value lies in being sexually pleasing to men. Their “hotness” is worth more than intelligence, heart, humour, kindness, and so on.

Every time a young woman opens a magazine, turns on the telly, watches a movie, sees a billboard ad, or any other media, the message she gets is that her sex is the most valuable currency in our society.

And yet does Ms Devine challenge that cultural attitude?  Not really, instead she suggests David Jones dump Miranda Kerr as their spokesmodel – so the young woman cops the punishment for the cultural pressures she is under.  How is that the right action to take?

It also doesn’t touch on the fact that these ARE young women, who have nobody to advise them except those grubbing for their money, or cleaning them up just enough to slap them back on a stage to start the cycle all over again. If someone treated these young women as the daughters they are, then they might not be on this path of destruction.

If Ms Devine wants to challenge the pornification of western culture, she’d be best to lay off creating a stigma around young women and analyse it across our entire culture. Look at the messages we’re sending to our young people; young women who behave outrageously are sluts, young men are just “boys having fun”; sex is the most valuable currency for starters.  Perhaps we need to start to teach our kids that they have so much more to offer the world than sex and scandal.

I agree, the culture of young people in the public eye is intensely sexualised, and “pornified” and we need to address that.  But there should be no place for the word “slut” in our culture, as it creates a heavy gender bias against women when the problem lies with the entire culture, not just women.

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.

On Childhood Obesity and Healthy Kids

Published April 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

There’s a lot of talk these days on “childhood obesity” and what we need to be doing about it as a culture.  It’s getting some very high profile names and faces attached to it, and appearing regularly in mainstream media.  In the US, first lady Michelle Obama has taken up the “cause”.  As has Jamie Oliver again, after his campaign in the UK, he’s headed over to the US to teach folks over there a lesson.  Even here in Australia, names like Mia Freedman are weighing in (ok, yes, I did intend that pun, shut up) on the subject.

In my opinion, there’s are two very vital points these famous folk are missing.

Firstly, by demonising obesity in children, they are creating a “class” of children to be bullied, ridiculed, harassed and discriminated against.

Secondly, by focusing on fat kids, they’re totally ignoring the rest of the kids out there who are eating just as shitty food and living sedentary lives but are normal or thin bodied.

There is an assumption oft made about the fat acceptance movement that we are against healthy eating and exercise.  This is not true.  Many of us are against dieting and weight loss, but this does not mean that we are suggesting that healthy living is a bad thing.  We believe that diet and weight loss ARE NOT conducive to healthy living.

As an adult who was not a fat child, but became a fat teenager, I can remember a lot of the messages I got both in my childhood before I really did become fat, and as a teenager when I was.

In primary school (let’s call it BF – before fat), I was never very good at speed or agility when it came to sports.  When we had things like races or anything that required me to move quickly and deftly, I was always at the back of the pack.  However, in life BF, and AF (after fat) as well, I have always had strength and endurance that far outstrips my peers, and in many cases, a lot of men.

In primary school, I can remember at the beginning of every physical education class, we were told to do a lap of the oval.  The kids that came first, were always picked for teams by the teacher, or asked to “demonstrate how things are done”.  Those of us who didn’t do so well, or in my case, came last, were ignored, or told “You will have to do better if you don’t want to be fat.”

I can remember trying and trying to be faster, be more agile and athletic, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it.  So consequently I missed out on being on sports teams and was usually told to run more laps, or do some other kind of boring, repetitive activity, while the other kids “played games” on teams of soccer, softball, volleyball, cricket, you name it.

The irony is, in later years when I had a go at things myself, I found that I have a soccer kick like a cannon, can spike a volleyball with force and deadly accuracy, and am able to hit a ball with such force that I can break it.  Yes, I can split a golf ball with a single hit, the same for a tennis ball.  My mother has the same force when it comes to playing golf, I’ve seen her hit off the men’s tee and send a ball considerably farther than any of the men can.

As a child I also loved riding my bike, and could do so for hours, yet couldn’t win a race on the damn thing, and from about 12, discovered that I had a slow but powerful and enduring swimming stroke that I could plough away at for hours.

Yet I was never given the opportunity to exhibit these in PE classes as a child.  Instead I was shamed and told that I was slow and lazy.

I also got the same messages at home.  I remember being told by my parents that I was lazy and that I had “lead in my arse” because I was slow.  I can remember being told that I was fat from a very early age (kindergarten is the first I can consciously remember) when I now know that I was a normal size and shape kid.  I have blogged on this before.

Then of course, puberty hit and so did the fat.  So I went from slow and poor agility to fat with slow and poor agility.  PE classes in late primary school and then high school included lessons on losing weight, nutrition lessons, in which I and other fat kids were made examples of when talking about “bad” food choices and aerobics classes (it was the 80’s remember) for any kids that were considered fat because they needed the extra “help.  Of course, that meant I was ridiculed, bullied and humiliated by the other kids because I was a Fatty McFattersons and they weren’t.

So you can see why it didn’t take me long to shun PE classes, can’t you?

However, I also remember kids who were not fat coming to school with copious amounts of tuckshop money, buying chips, ice-creams, pies, pizza, lollies and soft drinks and digging in happily.  We rarely got tuckshop because we were always broke, and almost all of my high school life I just didn’t eat lunch.  Nobody rode those kids who weren’t fat to diet and exercise did they?  Nope, they were just left to their own devices.

What happened is it created two unhealthy groups.  Those kids who were fat, learned to obsess about food and weight, many developed eating disorders and distorted views of their bodies, and had their self esteem and confidence trampled into the ground.  Those kids who were not fat, were taught that it’s ok to eat crap and sit around so long as you’re thin.  They were not taught healthy eating and movement, and were abusing their bodies through the neglect they had been taught was acceptable, so long as they were thin.  Many of those became fat at a later date, or are still living sedentary, poor nutrition lifestyles that are making them sick.

Instead of focusing on “childhood obesity” how about we focus on positive health for all kids.

Teach them that their bodies will tell them when they are truly hungry and about good natural foods and how to prepare and cook them deliciously (this is one part of Jamie Oliver’s campaign that I actually think is bang on).

Encourage them to be active in whatever activity they enjoy.  I recently read about a school that has a “play before you eat” policy for lunch times, where the kids go out and play for half an hour, in any way they like, in the school playground, before they have their lunch.  This helps them build up an appetite so that they actually eat their lunch and burns off some of the energy stored up from sitting around in a classroom all morning, while also getting them active.  Work towards their strengths – if they’re fast and high energy, get them out there burning that off.  If they’re strong and have endurance, encourage that instead.

But most of all, we need to get rid of the arbitrary judgement of kid’s health and abilities based on the size, shape and weight of their bodies.

When the Fatosphere Impacts the Mainstream

Published October 20, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve got an interesting tidbit for you all today.

In my journeys across the fatosphere, I stumbled across this snippet from The Colbert Report, take a look:
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Obesity Epidemic – Amy Farrell
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Michael Moore
Now I must confess I’m not that big a fan of Stephen Colbert. I find him obnoxious even though I often agree with him. Not to mention that I hate how he interrupts his guests and changes the subject mid-stream. I much prefer Jon Stewart, who I feel is a better interviewer and gives sharper commentary. (I must confess, I have a crush on Jon, his sharp wit is uber-sexy.)
However, I do quite often agree with Stephen Colbert, he is an intelligent man behind the arrogance. After watching the piece above, I think he touched on some great fat acceptance points in amongst his slightly random rantiness. The best thing is that he has a fairly broad audience, and perhaps he’s given them some food for thought (no pun intended) and perhaps one or two of them might even read Amy Farrell’s book.
It’s when fat acceptance hits the more mainstream media that we really need to sit up and take notice, because this is what REALLY broadens the message. Besides, it’s thanks to our hard work here in the fatosphere that it is doing so.
Oh, I’ve just found where I first saw this video, it was thanks to Fat Grrl.