Mama Mia

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Cut the Snarky Fashion Judgement Crap

Published December 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Sigh… I am working on a rather epic piece about awesome women with tattoos and candy hair, which I was going to post for you today, but something else has caught my attention and really got my dander up, so I need to talk about that first.

This article went around my tweet stream this morning when I first woke up.  It’s title is “Leggings Are Not Pants and Other Values for Your Kids” – and that’s like waving a red flag at a bull to me.

Ok, yep, there are some great values in the piece to pass on to your kids, on the issues of same sex marriage (even if it is called “gay marriage” in this piece, which is problematic in itself), refugees, drink driving, environmental issues and sun smarts.  Sure, those are fantastic things to teach your kids.  But claiming you’re a feminist and sitting your 5 year old down for “the talk” about how leggings are not pants?

For fuck’s sake, are we still doing this?

Look, I know, I should have learned by now not to expect better from Mia Freedman, but I keep hoping that she’s listening, that people around her are helping her open her mind.  I know it’s supposed to be a joke, ha ha, leggings are not pants is as important as the other issues, how funny.

Only it’s not funny.  It’s body policing.  It’s classist, ableist, judgemental bullshit wrapped up in a fluff piece for a highly visible online women’s magazine.

I’ve talked before about how what other people wear is nobody’s business but their own.  Yeah I know, sometimes we have to work around that a bit, when it’s in the workplace, someone else’s home or event, or for safety reasons.  That’s part of negotiating being a decent human being.  But when it comes to getting all snarky about what other random people are wearing as they go about their lives, it’s none of our damn business.

So what if someone is wearing pajama pants at the grocery store, or has leggings on with a short top, or wears thongs to the office.  That’s their choice and their business.  How does it affect us as people around them?  If it offends ones eyes, don’t look.  Look at someone else.  Nobody says you have to wear the same things as them, and do you know what?  They’re not wearing those pj’s or leggings for YOU.  They’re wearing them because they want to or need to.

However, that’s not the really offensive part.

What is ignored that people wear leggings (or a lot of other things really) for a whole lot more reasons than how they look.  Let’s think about it.

Classism:

Leggings are cheap.  You can pick them up from Best & Less for $10, less if they’re on sale.  If you have a very limited clothing budget, then leggings are going to be good value for money.

Leggings are often seen as “tarty” or “cheap”.  This is about slut shaming, policing women’s sexuality and how they clothe their own bodies.

Sizeism:

Leggings are one of the few items of clothing that can ALWAYS be found to fit all sized bodies.  If you have a limited range of clothing options because of your size, leggings may be the only option you have.

Leggings are stretchy and have lots of give to fit any body shape.  Short or long legs, high or low waisted, thick or thin legs, no matter what the shape or size of your legs, thighs, knees, feet, ankles etc – most people can get leggings to fit them.

Leggings are far more accommodating to weight changes.  Leggings are forgiving when someone has lost or gained weight and can be worn easier if they’re not quite the correct size.

Ableism:

Leggings are soft, stretchy fabric.  They’re gentle against skin (particularly if it is tender or sore) and generally breathe pretty well.

Leggings have no buttons, zippers, hooks, clasps, ties or any other fiddly bits.  They can be pulled on by someone with reduced mobility, arthritis, reduced motor skills or low energy, and don’t have to be fastened or adjusted once on.  Pull ’em up, pull ’em down.

Leggings also allow other people to dress someone with relative ease.  If someone needs assistance dressing, leggings can be a good no-fuss option.

Leggings are flexible to bodies.  If someone is in a wheelchair, on crutches or a scooter, or has a body shape outside the norm, or perhaps wears incontinence pants or other medical aids, leggings may fit those things better than pants made of heavier, more structured fabrics and designs.

~~@~~

These are just a few reasons that we cannot just put down blanket rules on other people’s clothing choices without thinking about the implications of this kind of judgement. When we see someone in our day who is wearing something that we don’t approve of, we have no idea why they are wearing them, and it’s not any of our business anyway.  And to call oneself a feminist while engaging in this kind of judgemental wardrobe snark is just bullshit.

Look, I will admit, there was a time that I used to buy into this sort of stuff too.  Mostly because I hated my own body and it was a twisted form of self policing, but we’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time and I get it now.  Ages ago I was challenged by some awesome people about my thinking about the whole leggings as pants (and a lot of other things about judging the clothes other people wear) and I came to realise that it was so pointless and kind of douchey of me to be doing it.  Not only did I cut the people around me some slack about what they wear, but I became a whole lot more adventurous and bold in what I wear.

So now I am a proud leggings as pants wearing radical fat feminist.

Leggings as Pants Ahoy!

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The Old “But Fatties are Costing Us Money!” Argument

Published July 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Reading the comments on Rebecca Sparrow’s excellent post on Mamamia about fat discrimination (in particular Stephanie Payne’s story of abuse on public transport) has had my face meeting my palm a few times today.  It’s the same old tropes that are trotted out on every single article about the “obesity epidemic” and anything else to do with fatness – you know the ones:

“But that’s not healthy!”

“Well nobody should be bullied but being THAT heavy/fat/obese is just wrong.”

“If they don’t want to be bullied, they should just lose weight.”

“Well there’s fat and then there’s just obese, that’s disgusting.”

“I’m not fat but I work really hard at staying thin, so they’re just lazy.”

“If you take up more space then you should pay for two seats.”

And even this one bothers me:

“Well you don’t know if they’re doing something to lose weight or not, so you shouldn’t risk bullying them.” (As if people who are not being “good fatties” and losing weight don’t deserve the same respect and fairness as everyone else.)

Blah blah blah blah blah!  I know, we’ve all heard them a million times over, as if they justify fat people being treated as though they are sub-human.

I want to focus on one I keep seeing repeated tonight.  Are we ready?

 

“But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!!”

 

Let’s just think about that shall we?

Firstly, the implication is that fat people are nothing but a drain on the public infrastructure.  That somehow, fatness means that one can never have a job, pay taxes, engage in volunteer work, support a family (either children or elderly parents or any other members of family), have an education, be creative, be nurturing, be intelligent, be passionate, be hard-working or devoted.

Because all fat people do is sit on the sofa and eat cheeseburgers amirite?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’d love a little more leisure time to sit on the sofa and I wish cheeseburgers didn’t give me reflux!

Funnily enough, fat people go to work just like anyone else.  They work hard (if not harder, because of the amount of discrimination against fatness in the workplace) and pay taxes.  I work in a capital city, and I see fat people coming and going from their places of employment every day.  I am served in shops by fat people, waited on in cafes and restaurants by fat people, see fat bus drivers and fat cleaners and fat lawyers and fat doctors and fat police and fat tradies.  In my own job, I have fat colleagues and fat vendors and fat suppliers that I work with, and they’re all hard working people who do their part to help me do my job.  They do so just the same as the thin people I work with, and the in-between people I work with.  Body size has absolutely no bearing on how people do their job.  Well, unless you’re a window cleaner, and I don’t know about you, but the thought of dangling down the side of a building as the wind whistles by has absolutely no appeal for me, whether I was fat OR thin!

Secondly, let’s address the “driving up the cost” aspect.  This of course implies that the only people that are utilising health care/insurance are fat people.  Or at best, that fat people are using up more than “their fare share”.  So where are we with smokers, drinkers, drug users, those who engage in violence to themselves or others, sports people who sustain illness or injury due to their sport, DIY-ers who injure themselves while cutting/hammering/demolishing etc, people who drive cars and cause accidents, people who spend too much time in the sun and get sunstroke or severe sunburn, folks who get into trouble at the beach/pool/other waterway and need rescuing and subsequent medical attention… the list could go on and on of people who engage in behaviour that causes them to require medical attention.

And of course we have no concrete proof that fatness is because of any behaviour, can be controlled or reversed in any way, but I’m giving the “But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!” crew the benefit of the doubt here.

Finally, let’s talk about the whole thing about taxes, levies, rates, tariffs and other public funding.  Part of being an adult in our society is that you are required to contribute a share of your livelihood in taxes and other public fees.

Ok, so you pay those monies, but you don’t want any of that money to go towards the fatties getting this perceived “extra” health care, because you’re not fat right?  So you shouldn’t be letting anyone else have “extra” that you don’t need right?

Well… do you have children?  Because if not, your money is going towards education, which you might not directly reap the benefits of.  How about drive a car, do you do that?  Because if you don’t, your taxes etc are going towards roads, bridges, highways and street-lights, the oil industry, and all the other infrastructure required to for motoring on, that you may not directly benefit from.  Do you use public transport at all?  If not, your tax dollars are going towards buses, trains, ferries, taxis and trams, not to mention cycle paths and walkways that you might not directly use yourself.  Do you go to the library?  Your rates and taxes go towards them too – how dare all those horrible people use your tax dollars to borrow books, enjoy story time, use the library space and take computer classes at your expense!

The reality is, we pay taxes and other public fees to go towards a pool of funds that are used to build the very infrastructure of our world.  To pay for roads and schools and libraries and parks and yes, even health care, among many other things.  If you want to quibble where your tax dollars go, how about you take a look at politicians pay packets.  Or how  much money goes into the military every year.  Believe me, it’s far more dollars that go to those two than go to health care for any people, let alone just the fat ones.

If you want to talk about things that drive the cost of private health insurance up, let’s look at the profit margins of health insurance companies.  Or better still, the pay packets of their CEO’s!  Let’s just say that these CEO’s aren’t going to be lining up for public health care with the rest of us any time soon.

In short, it’s a pretty redundant argument to say that fat people are driving up the costs of health insurance/taxes.  Health insurance is an industry created to make a profit for their shareholders, and taxes are a public pool of money that we all benefit from in various different ways.

And every single one of us has the same rights as the other, regardless of our body size, or our health.

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.

Guest Post by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published June 9, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Regular readers of this blog will remember the episode surrounding Mia Freedman and her blog, Mama Mia some weeks ago.  One of the repeated messages that I, and my fellow Fat Acceptance activists kept getting was that we are  intent on “picking on” and “slandering” Ms Freedman.  Despite trying to engage in intelligent, respectful discussion, we repeatedly were accused of being “angry fatties” who should just shut up, stop eating donuts and get some exercise.

Today I would like to present to you a guest blog post by someone who is definitely not an “angry fatty”.  Fat Acceptance is not just about being fat or even promoting fat, but it is about promoting positive body image and respect for all body shapes, sizes and types.  One of our most compassionate and intelligent allies in Fat Acceptance is Dr Samantha Thomas, a sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues.

We have been coaxing Samantha to guest post for us on several Fat Acceptance blogs, and I am pleased to say she has written a post on the topic of Mama Mia and positive Body Image, which I am publishing here for you, and will also be posted over on Spilt Milk today as well.

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Mama Mia and Body Image

Dr Samantha Thomas

Mia Freedman’s appointment as Chair of the Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group is one of life’s very strange ironies.

Let me pose a question. How does someone that writes a blog like Mamamia become the Chair of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group?

How? Does? That? Happen?

For me, this is a fundamentally important question to ask if we are going to take Body Image initiatives seriously in Australia. It is a question which will help us to understand what ‘Body Image’ means, the boundaries that have been set up in the Body Image advocacy space, who is included and more importantly who is being left out.

As an academic, what I deal with, day in, day out is evidence. As dull as that may seem, my life is about facts. Those facts come in different shapes and sizes. The facts I deal with are predominantly qualitative. They are about people’s views, their experiences, their attitudes and opinions. And, as an excellent Professor once told me, academics should always be prepared to change their mind in light of new evidence. Let me tell you that my mind has been changed on more than a few occasions because the evidence was just so compelling (climate change and fat are great examples of this!).

So in thinking this through I have looked in great detail at the Mamamia blog. I’m not going to link the blog here. You can search for it if you like. But I’m not going to proactively encourage you to go there.

For me, this blog, given who it is written by, and the position she also holds as Chair of the National Body Image Advisory Group is supremely problematic. Mamamia (which I’m assuming is a business) creates an interesting dilemma for the National Body Image Advisory Group. Because it is not what Body Image is about. In fact, is probably as far removed from it as you could possibly get.

At the most basic level, this is the definition of Body Image:

“The way a person thinks about his or her body and how it looks to others”

So for me, initiatives which seek to foster positive Body Image (note that this is different from Body Image, and people get them confused all the time which does my head in) should simply be about activities which:

“help all individuals to think positively about their bodies” Full Stop.

Now in light of these definitions, I had a good look at Mamamia, particularly under the Body Image section.  And here is my take on what I saw.

  1. Body image is predominantly framed as being about ‘healthy’ weight. And because of this, there is an abundance of derogatory weight based language that occurs on the site, both in the blog posts and in the comments sections.

There is a convenient assumption that is made throughout the site, that ‘curvy’ is okay (as long as you are also drop dead beautiful see the posts about Layne Bryant and Christina Hendricks). That being a little bit above or below ‘average’ is acceptable too. But being too fat or too thin is not (as are encapsulated in the Gainer and Skinny Girls are Liars posts). And this is where we get into this strange notion that Body Image is about promoting ‘real women’ (who seem to only be a size 10-14). That a few more of these ‘real’ women on catwalks or in magazines are a really helpful thing for creating en masse self esteem in women.

So if we go back to the definitions about Body Image, and how to create positive Body Image, is this a helpful approach? Nope. It’s not even close.

  1. That ‘being fat’ is still a bad thing, as is gaining weight. That is it associated with a fundamental character flaw of being ‘naughty’ ‘self indulgent’ ‘undisciplined’ (I could go on and on and on…)

And here we get a multitude of damaging posts – like the one where the bloke calls her chubby and she goes into a monumental meltdown and hours of chick debriefing to get over it. Or the one where her kid says that a size 12 fairy at a play was ‘fat’ and she spends a whole angst ridden car trip trying to reassure her kid that the fairy wasn’t fat (because obviously calling someone fat is a REALLY bad thing to do….. because having a quick discussion about the values of people being different shapes and sizes would have been very destructive – my words not hers). Or my favourite one which also appeared in this weekend’s paper – the time when she went on an overseas holiday and OMG had a really awful relationship with food because she put on 11 kilos and 20 years later still seems ridden with guilt about it.  Or the one where she says that women are facing a dilemma because a “good ass” requires a low % of body fat but a “good face” requires a high one.

Accepting of people for who they are? A healthy approach to encouraging EVERYONE to feel good about their bodies? I don’t think so.

  1. That it is still okay to judge people for what they choose to wear, or choose to have done to their bodies (aka tattoos and plastic surgery).

Obviously this blog represents some pretty mainstream fashion views. That’s okay and there is nothing particularly wrong with that. This probably is as good a place as any to declare that I love a bit of Saturday morning mummy fashion from Country Road. But the problem is that the blog posts constantly compare what is ‘hot’ with what is ‘not’. The ‘best’ with the ‘worst’. And it is that comparison that is extremely dangerous in a Body Image context.  It’s even dangerous when you put up fashion posts which are all about how a colour makes you look (like the black doesn’t make you look skinny but it can make you look older post). Or her video blogs about what fashions we should be buying this winter. Or denigrating people for having plastic surgery. The positive Body Image take on plastic surgery would be to look at why women feel pressured to have boob jobs, botox, whatever. Not to write OMG YOU IDIOT posts about women who make choices about what they do with their own bodies. There is a big difference.

Because that DOES NOT encourage all individuals to feel positively about their bodies – which includes being able to wear things that they love and that they personally feel good in. Because it creates a sense that you should worry about what others think of you. Which is really really wrong!

Let me share a little secret with you.

Positive Body Image is not about creating an acceptable body ‘norm’ or about trying to make yourself look thinner, more beautiful, younger, or whatever. It’s not about trying to ‘hide’ or ‘make the best of’ who you are. That is called “Marketing”.

Because where bodies are concerned, there is no norm. Because we ARE ALL DIFFERENT! Which is what makes us REAL. And celebrating that difference is what positive Body Image is about.

The sad thing is that the content on Mamamia probably represents the views of sizable minority of people in Australia. And it means that the blog also provides a voice for that sizable minority. And that voice has at sometimes been very critical of people who have tried to raise some sensible debate about Body Image and what it means. That’s a shame. Because it doesn’t help to create a space which is about promoting positive Body Image for all Australians (and that includes our blokes too!). Or in creating an important cultural change in the way we perceive beauty, self worth or body acceptance.

I know some people who read this will disagree with what I have written. That is important, and I really welcome the feedback. Because it is through these very discussions that we will hopefully create change, and end up in a place where we come together to listen to and understand each others perspectives about this important issue.

History has shown us that popularity doesn’t necessarily make for the most fair, just and sensible leaders. Maybe this is just a case of history repeating itself (again).  But I know that there is an amazing positive Body Image revolution is on its way! It’s coming from the grassroots. And it will have a bigger impact than any government taskforce could ever have.

And that is just too exciting for words!

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If you wish to revisit the entire Mama Mia back story, a good place to start would be my post here, posts by Bri on A Fat Lot of Good here and here and those by Spilt Milk here and here.