marginalisation

All posts in the marginalisation category

You Can’t Hold a Fat Bitch Down

Published February 26, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

It’s funny you know.  The more blatant the evidence, the more desperately some people cling on to their notions.  After my last post, which was showing evidence on the public ridicule that fat people endure, I received more hate mail than I have in quite some time.  Don’t get me wrong, there is always a low level, annoying hum of hate mail that I receive, like a mosquito buzzing around my ears all the time, but it really peaked over the past week or so.

It strikes me as interesting that I receive the most hate mail usually under the following two circumstances:

  1. I provide evidence of something really shitty happening to fat people.
  2. I post pictures or text showing myself as the happy, confident, secure woman that I happen to be since I gave up accepting fat hatred.

It doesn’t just happen online either, and not just to me.  Countless fat women have told stories of going about their daily lives, being out in the world enjoying themselves, when someone has felt the need to cut them down with some hate.  Eating out in a restaurant, on holidays with the family, at a party or nightclub, playing sport, at the pool, out shopping… or you know, just walking down the street happily minding your own business.  This is something that happens to people from all marginalised groups, and of course the more ticks in boxes you have for points of marginalisation, the worse it gets. (See intersectionality.)

One only has to read the comments on any news article about fat that gives the remotest idea that perhaps the dominant paradigm about fat is not quite right (it doesn’t even have to be a vaguely positive article), and you will see people hating on fat people.  Not that I recommend ever reading the comments anywhere – except here on Fat Heffalump, where I police them pretty strictly to keep them safe for you.

I’ve been reading bits of bell hooks again lately, thanks to a manuscript I am currently reading, and thinking about the way she talks about dominance as being part of oppression and marginalisation.  Dominance is that constant effort to push a marginalised person down.  To “take them down a peg or two” or make sure they’re “not getting too big for their boots”.  It is that constant assertion that a marginalised person is inferior because of whatever it is society has deemed them “other” for.  In my case, being a fat woman.

Many of those with privilege are most threatened by finding that there is ever a reason why they are not superior to someone without the same privileges as they.  Some without privilege do it too, because they have internalised the stigmatising messages so deeply.  So they must be hateful, or build false arguments (which are inherently hateful) to cut those of us down and attempt to make us feel bad about ourselves.

When we as fat women, refuse to hide ourselves away in shame, make ourselves visible and are openly happy and enjoying our lives, many people feel threatened by that.  So much to the point that they fixate on us and spend time they could be spending actually getting on with their lives.  That’s the thing – us gaining our freedom doesn’t cost them anything!  By fat women being happy and living their lives to the full doesn’t actually reduce anything at all from theirs.  Our getting adequate clothing options doesn’t mean there will be less clothing options for straight sizes.  Our getting decent, non-stigmatising health care doesn’t mean there will be less health care for not-fat people.  Our feeling happy and confident doesn’t detract from anyone else feeling happy and confident.  The world just doesn’t work like it’s some kind of zero sum game.

What it is, is a kind of false reassurance for some people.  They convince themselves that so long as someone who is fatter them (or “uglier” or “older” or “unhealthier” whatever other thing they deem inferior) hates themselves, well then at least they’re better than that “loser”!

I think that’s why, since I stopped hating myself and started living my life as I please, the abuse has actually got worse, not better.  The big difference is in how I handle it, not in whether or not it is still happening.  An example, I was walking to work one morning, merrily skipping along, idly thinking about the fact that my friend Toots was coming down to visit me on the coming weekend, which always brings a smile to my face.  A man was standing outside a 7-11 shop on the corner as I crossed, I was really paying no attention until I noticed him scowling heavily.  Our eyes met briefly, as they do when one is walking around with one’s head up and facing the world merrily, and he growled at me “You lower your eyes around a man, you fat bitch.”  All because I happened to be a fat woman who wasn’t deferring to his perceived superiority.

It was similar after I posted that last post, demonstrating just how rude people can be to fat women in public.  Of course there were the usual deniers of my experience, I expected that.  But I got literally dozens of hate comments, hate emails and even hate asks on my Tumblr.  People who catalogued all of the things they have decided my life is lacking in (none of them asked me, they just decided/made it up as they went along), told me I was a freak (I believe the correct term is Super Freak, thank you very much), call me a failure, told me I was going to die immediately (I’ve been hearing that for 35 years), telling me I was ugly/unattractive/unfuckable (that’s fine, I wouldn’t fuck any of them either, and I don’t need to see their photos to know that – but of course they’re always too cowardly to identify themselves), called me a bitch/slut/whore/virgin/lesbian/trans-woman/man/dog/cunt/bunch of other stuff I can’t remember and my favourite of all, declared that I’m fat (as if my blog title doesn’t give it away that I might already know that!)  Plus a bunch of other stuff that was supposed to insult/hurt me.

All of these are attempts to dominate me.  To push me down, to remind me of my place, to nip my attitude in the bud, to subjugate me, to mark me as inferior.  Because we cannot, under any circumstances, have a happy, confident, positive fat woman.  We have to knock that fat bitch down a peg or two.

But what it really shows is just how many people out there are so terrified that they have no worth other than being better than someone else.  They’re so desperate to prove their value, they do it by attempting to disprove mine (and anyone else they can find to feel superior to).  There are so many tells that give these people away.  The pointed remarks about how many friends they have, or what a good time they’re having.  The statement that they may not be perfect, but at least they’re not as disgusting as me.  The demands that I “Shut up!” but are then offended when I ignore them – when they apparently wanted me to shut up in the first place!  They are at great pains to make sure that they are not worthless, they are not inferior, that they are somehow better than others.  There are a lot of not-so-subtle hints that they have these fabulous exciting lives that they just love.  The hater doth protest too much, methinks.

Most of the things they try to shame me for are the very things they are ashamed about in themselves.  As a psychotherapist I know once suggested to me, perhaps we should make up cards or jpegs of listings of good psychotherapists to help them.  As he said “I could cure most of those people of their need to hate others anonymously on the internet with some really good therapy.”

For all the anger I have about the way fat people are treated, there is no-one on this planet that I actually hate, and no-one whom I dislike that would be worth me giving the time to go and leave anonymous rubbish on their blog or Tumblr etc.  I have better things to do than try to prove my superiority by making others feel inferior.  I really don’t understand the mentality of spending all your time thinking about and paying attention to someone you supposedly hate.  Why would you do that?  Where is the quality of life in spending all your time focused on someone you hate?   Unless the issue isn’t really hatred, but envy or perhaps fear.  I once read that there are only two base emotions in life, love and fear.  The opposite of love is not hate, it is fear.  What makes these people so afraid?

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time.  I can’t keep up with blogs and social media of people I love, let alone anyone I don’t like or who pisses me off.  My reading list is a mile long, and I don’t get enough time to spend with the fabulous people in my life, and do all the things that are fun and fabulous, let alone focus on someone I dislike.  Even when I’m seriously pissed off at someone for being a complete douchecanoe, I’m either going to challenge them directly, without hiding my identity, or I’m just going to walk away and not give them any attention.  And I’m certainly not going to abuse some random person in the street just because they look happier than I feel.

What I want you to know dear, lovely fatties, is that the problem doesn’t lie with you.

People hating on you is not a reflection of you, it’s a reflection on them.  Happy, confident, positive people don’t send hate out to others.  They don’t feel the need to push others down to make themselves feel better.  You don’t have to carry around other people’s shit.  Whenever someone tries to hand you a big, steaming pile of hate, don’t carry that shit.  It’s not yours to carry, it’s theirs.  And when people carry around hate, it can be smelled a mile away.  You let them carry around their own stink of hate, and see just how many friends it makes them, how far it gets them in life.

Hold your head high.  Measure your worth by the things YOU value in yourself and your life, not by what other people try to project on you.

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Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

Published September 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Let’s get something REALLY clear.

When someone says they “respect your choices” as a fat person, but continues to publicly vilify fat people in general… they actually DO NOT respect anything about you.

I know!  It’s a bit of a bombshell, isn’t it?

But this is the same thing I come up against every time I or anyone else in the Fatosphere (or our allies) challenge someone who speaks publicly about the fat stigma they are spreading.  It almost always goes like this:

  1. Public persona is published in the media talking about how unhealthy/sedentary/uncontrollable/irresponsible/costing the taxpayer fat people are and how society needs to take control/shame/tax fat people to make them “wise up” to the ZOMGBESITY CRISIS!
  2. Fatosphere says “Other people’s bodies are none of your business, and what you are saying stigmatises fat people.”
  3. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But everyone knows fat = unhealthy!”
  4. Fatosphere says “Health is not a moral imperative, and you cannot judge someone’s health by their size.  Shaming or hating someone for their own good doesn’t help.”
  5. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!”
  6. Fatosphere says “Help them by reducing fat stigma, and allowing them to advocate for themselves.”
  7. Public persona says “But I respect your choices!  I just wanna help those who need help!”
  8. Fatosphere says “By vilifying fat people in the media, you are not helping them, you are shaming them.”
  9. Public persona says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!  I respect their choices!”

See where I’m going with this?

I’ve said before, the problem we have here is that these people are not listening to us.  Oh they might be hearing the words, but they are not actually listening to what we are saying.  They’re not hearing that their words and actions are harming people.  They’re not hearing that they are hindering us, not helping us.  Whether this is because they don’t want to hear these things, or that they just cannot fathom that there is a disconnect between what they are pushing and reality or it is because they’re too horrified at the thought that they might have to be responsible for the things they say that harm people, I don’t know.  But I do know that when we see this pattern over and over and over, it is because we are not being listened to.

It makes me think of a friend of mine who is a school teacher, and she would say to her very small students “Now, do we all have our listening ears on?”

Just this week I’ve been reading the most beautiful book, Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.  It is peppered with the most wonderful quotes about oppression, justice and personal experience.  I particularly fell in love with this quote, that just fits perfectly with the post I am writing tonight:

The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name, and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.

Is that not the most beautiful paragraph?

I am struck with the thought that despite this being the words of an African woman sold into slavery over 200 years ago, it rings true for many marginalised people even today.  How many people SAY that they consider us their equal, be we women, fat people, people of colour, people with disabilities, queer people or any other marginalised people, but  yet they do not hear what we are saying, and cannot even identify us individually?  To how many people are we still the obese, the disabled, the homosexual, the blacks, etc, rather than people, their true equals?

While I would never compare my life to that of the character of Aminata Diallo from Someone Knows My Name, I too have long loved the written word, and understand it’s power.  I too believe that while people are not listening to us now, we can write our stories, share our experiences and talk about how we are affected by the behaviour of those who see us as “other”.  The more of us who do so, who put down our stories somewhere for others to read it, those stories accumulate and grow in power.  And they will also provide a record in later times, when people start to understand the damage being done now.  That while there may be many who do not listen to us now, we are reaching those who do, and by telling our stories we reach even more, and leave a legacy to those who follow us.

After all, marginalised people have spent their whole lives listening to those who oppress them.  We’ve had no choice but to do so.

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Anger

Published September 16, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before.  The old “Why are you so angry?”  Or “You’re such and angry, angry person!”  Any time we speak up about an injustice, or show passion for a cause, this is the accusation that comes at us to try to derail us from our objectives.

It’s an incredibly passive-aggressive method of derailing an argument.  Particularly when coupled with those concern-troll statements like “I worry about you.” or “I really hope you find peace.”  Oh vomit!  What they’re really implying when they pull the old “you’re angry” defense, is that you’re too emotional, or you’re too aggressive, or too simply “you’re right but I want to save face”.

What it also does is attempt to shame you for having emotional reactions to something, for being angry or passionate or outspoken.  Women are supposed to be “lady-like”, demure, not make a fuss, not get too emotional, keep their opinions to themselves.  People rarely criticise a man for being passionate about a topic, or about stating his opinions.  Men are supposed to be assertive.  But women who display these behaviours are scolded for not being “lady-like”.

What year are we living in?  1911?

Here’s the thing.  Anger is a perfectly valid emotion.  I know, shocking isn’t it?   And anger at things like injustice, loathing, bullying, stigmatisation and shaming is perfectly justified.  We have every right to be angry at the way the world treats fat people.  The same as any other marginalised group of people has every right to be angry at the oppression they suffer.  The idea of shaming people for anger at oppression isn’t new – after all, the trope of the “uppity negro” has been used for centuries.  Damn straight we’re angry at fat hatred!  I defy anyone to face that kind of outright loathing and bullying that fat people face every single day, and not be angry at it.

Sure, anger can consume you, and that’s not a good thing.  If something makes you so angry that you’re unable to function because of it, then yes, it can become a problem – particularly as prolonged anger is a form of stress, and we all know stress is damaging to the mind and body.  But anger is also a valid emotion that fuels action when channeled properly.  There is nothing at all wrong with using anger to propel yourself into action.  There is nothing wrong with expressing anger (only when expressing it with violence) at injustice and oppression.  In fact, I believe it’s vital to vent that anger.  Expressing anger doesn’t mean that someone is an angry person, or is in any way angry all the time.  I can get as foot stomping, table thumping angry as anyone but really I’m as happy as Larry generally speaking.  I’m an optimist with a goofy sense of humour, yet that doesn’t mean I’m never angry.

The only thing I don’t condone when it comes to anger is when people use anger to be violent.  There is never an excuse for violence, no matter how angry someone or something makes you.

But I also want to talk about other things that are conflated with anger.  Particularly passion and outspokenness, and especially in women.  It seems that the minute a woman is passionate or outspoken about a topic, it is assumed that she is angry.  Having strong opinions and voicing them is seen as somehow aggressive and irate and overly emotional in women, where usually it is seen as assertive and confident in men.  I’ve had people say to me “You’re pretty opinionated.” in a tone that clearly expresses their disapproval with that fact, as though I’m supposed to apologise for having an opinion or being passionate about things.

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen folks.

Passion is an awesome thing.  I love passionate people.  They inspire me.  I have no time for cynicism or complacency in my life.  It’s boring and counter-productive.  When I’m surrounded by passionate people, who fire my passions, there is nothing I cannot achieve.  Passion is what had me fighting my way through high school when I was expected to leave and get a full time job at 15, writing my first novel at 16 (damn I should try to get that thing published!), starting a radio station at 21 years of age, travelling around the US on my own, working my way into a job that I love and am constantly challenged by, and taking up fat activism.  Passion is what propels me through life with gusto.  I don’t want to be the kind of person who lives half-heartedly, without ever feeling any strong emotions.  That sounds as boring as batshit to me!

If something makes you angry, and you want to express that anger, then vent that anger (non-violently of course).  If someone pisses you off, and you are in a position that you can do so… then say so!  We all have to bite our tongues from time to time, but learning to vent your anger appropriately is so powerful, especially when you refuse to be shamed for it.  Build a network of people you can trust, and who understand that your venting anger is in no way a commentary on them, and let rip!  Be there for those people when they  need a good old vent too.

If you have an opinion on something, make yourself a space somewhere (be it a blog, a letter to the editor, your Facebook or Twitter) and share that opinion.  Sometimes people will have different opinions to you.  That’s ok.  Sometimes you will find yourself shifting your opinion when you listen to other people, sometimes their opinions will shift when they listen to yours.  Other times you each will strengthen your own opinions and always differ… and guess what, the world doesn’t end.  Sometimes if it is something truly important to you, you find yourself having to move away from that person.  But other people, who feel the same way you do, will come into your life.

But most of all, please, please, please celebrate your passions.  Share your passions.  Live your passions.  And by doing so, you inspire those of us who are not afraid of passion.

The Right of Self Advocacy

Published July 13, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m going to talk about another recurring theme of the kind of comments we see on (and in) articles about fatness (whether they be in the mainstream media as “obesity” articles or  here in the fatosphere ), and that is the theme that fat people should not, or cannot advocate for themselves.  That somehow, by measure of our fatness, we render ourselves incapable of making decisions as an adult about our own lives.

There is a common sentiment that fat people need intervention in their lives.  Be it from those in the medical profession, our families and friends, or complete strangers, either on the internet or in public.  Entire conferences are held by medical professionals into “obesity interventions and prevention”, without any input from actual fat people.  Doctors prescribe restrictive diets, food substitutes, weight loss therapy and at the most extreme, surgical gastric mutilation, without any further investigation than measuring a patients BMI, which in itself is a flawed system of measurement.  Our friends, families and even colleagues feel it is acceptable to “let us know” that we are fat and that we should “do something about it”.  And strangers, be they on the street or online, feel free to advise us, without invitation, without knowing anything about us, and often despite our protests, on what we should be doing with our bodies and our lives.

This of course is presented to fat people as “concern for your health“, but what it really is, at it’s core, is the infantilisation of fat people and stripping of the basic adult right to make ones own decisions.

It reduces fat people to a child-like state of requiring management to function in the basics like eating and physical activity.  It says “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself, so we need to step in and do it for you.”  Usually, it is done without any consultation at all with the fat person in question, and even if the fat person does attempt to explain that they do not require management or intervention, they are often dismissed as being overly emotional or in denial.  No matter what argument a fat person presents to advocate for themselves, the response is dismissive and patronising.

The other main outcome of this kind of behaviour is the othering of fat people.  It reduces fat people to sub-normal beings, as less-than-human others, as though they are animals that require husbandry, a kind of domestic management.  It strips fat people of the fundamental human right to advocate for themselves and make their own life decisions.  This is the kind of personal reduction that we have seen with other marginalised people throughout history and in our current time.  It is the act of reducing fat people (and other marginalised people) as somehow less than the normative.

One of the first things I think we need to be focusing on as a movement is the basic right to advocate for ourselves as adults.  It’s not easy, I know all too well.  Even now I still have trouble standing up for myself, particularly to medical professionals and saying “This is not what I want.” or “That is not my experience.” or even “You are not listening to me.”  Even now, as I get more and more bolshy about my fat activism, I still find myself daunted in the face of the kind of dismissive responses we often get.  Mostly it is born of frustration for me, that even at almost 38 years of age, I am unable to be heard as the capable adult that I am while people only focus on my fatness, rather than the facts, my experiences and my own wishes.

That’s it really.  The problem does not lie with our communication of these things, but with other people hearing them.

But that said, I know I have to keep doing it.  I have to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep demanding.  Because, like any other human being, we have the right to advocate for ourselves as adults.

No matter what size our bodies are, no matter what status our health is.

The Questions that Need to be Asked

Published April 1, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Dear Thin, White Women of the Media*,

I have to know.  Why are you so threatened by the idea of it being ok for fat people to just be themselves, as they are?

Why do you feel that it is your place to speak for fat people, to intervene in our lives?  What is so abhorrent about the idea of leaving us alone to advocate for ourselves?  Why are you so determined to make fat people the scourge of society?  Why do you feel the need to discredit us, denounce our ability to advocate for our own lives, our own health, our own standards of living?  Why do you feel the need to post articles that only draw more fat stimga to us, without ever moderating the comments so that we are subjected to even more loathing than we already suffer?  Why do you feel the need to make jokes about fatness, without any care or concern what the fallout of those jokes might be?  Why do you feel that our bodies need to be publicly discussed and criticised, when you are outraged when your body is treated this way?  Why do you say you are concerned for our health, when you know absolutely nothing about any of us, how healthy we are, what our histories are, and what it feels like to live in our bodies?  Why do you think it is acceptable to draw attention to extreme behaviour from some fat people, as though all of us live the same way, that we are all somehow “freaks” that should be pointed at, as though you’re shouting “Look!  Look at that fatty over there!  She’s WEIRD!”

Why do you talk so much about positive body image, but make it clear that fat people are to be excluded from positive body image?  Why do you speak about how as a society we should be talking about obesity, but the minute a fat person speaks, you shut them down, tell them they are not allowed to give criticism, not allowed to give their perspectives and discredit their experiences?  Why do you feel the need to imply that fat people are of a lower class by referring to the correlation of class and weight, without any acknowledgement of how society as a whole pushes fat people further down the class ladder by denying them employment, equal wages, clothing, and general social status.  Why would you do that unless as a way to highlight that fat people are somehow inferior to others?  Why do you fail to engage with any fat people unless it is on your terms?

Why do you feel the need to speak about us, to label us, to put words in our mouths, without ever listening to what we have to say, or asking us what we are really saying?  Why do you feel the need to twist what we are saying to make us look like a flock of fat harpies, intent on swooping down to peck at your bones?

Why are you interested in us at all?  Why aren’t you living your own lives, merrily on your way, but are instead so intent on denouncing us as unattractive, unhealthy, unworthy, the crux of all societies problems?  Don’t you have full lives that you have to live, to focus on?

Do we make you feel threatened, thin, white women of the media?

Are you worried that you might get fat if you don’t denounce us, denigrate us, demonise us?  Are you concerned that if you let your guard down for just one minute, the fatness might creep up on you?  Are you concerned that fatness is contagious?

Do you feel that if you have to “work so hard” to keep yourselves thin, that everyone should have to?  That if someone out there dares to accept their fatness, they are some how cheating at the game of life?  Do you feel resentment at the thought that there might be fat women out there not agonising over their bodies, not loathing themselves when you feel you should for any fat on your body?  Is it that you feel that if you have to spend your life watching your weight, that it’s only fair that everyone should have to?

Do you worry that if fat people are allowed to advocate for themselves, you might miss out on something?  That they might get something that you don’t?  Does it worry you that if someone is left to look after their own health, and health needs, that they might get a little more medical attention, or a little more time in a doctor’s office (instead of being told to lose weight and shunted out the door, with no addressing of their actual health issues) than you do?

Is it just about attention itself?  Are you concerned that if someone is paying positive attention to the fatties, they may not pay positive attention to you?

Or is it more sinister than that?  Do you feel that if someone is paying attention to fat women for something other than to demonise their fatness, that they might stop paying attention to you?  Are you concerned that if society in general stops judging women by how well they fit into a size 8 pair of jeans, and focuses on their wit, intelligence, style, kindness and skills, that you will lose that superior edge that being thin affords you over fat people?

I would genuinely like to know just what it is that brings you to the point in your life that you have to denounce, discredit, demonise other human beings just for existing as they are.  After all, the Fat Acceptance activists you are so quick to shout down don’t harbour any desire for thin people to go away, to cease to exist, to shut up, to be eradicated, to be cured of their thinness, like you desire of fat people.  Instead what we desire is a world where people of all body types, fat, thin and in between, can be left alone to find their own peace, their own health, their own happiness without being vilified for existing in the forms their bodies naturally take.  Where people all body types are valued for who they are, not what they look like.  Where people are allowed to be just that, people, not a symptom, a shape, a size, a number.

We don’t take up fat activism because we’re unhappy with our lives, we take it up because we want to reclaim our lives from those who would have us shut down, disappear, cease to live our lives to the fullest.  We take up fat activism because we want the same rights afforded to all others.  We are activists to celebrate our lives, not demonise the lives of others.

What is it that brings you to marginalising and vilifying other people based on their bodies?  What is happening (or perhaps not happening) in your lives that makes this a cause you take up?

Yours sincerely

Kath aka Fat Heffalump

*And before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, I am not referring to ALL thin, white women of the media, just those who spend time vilifying fat people.  If you don’t do that, it’s not about you.  I am addressing those who spend quite considerable amounts of time doing all of the above, and this past week we have seen quite a bit of them.  I have tagged the main culprits if you wish to know EXACTLY who I am referring to.

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.