Mia Freedman

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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 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.

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:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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?

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.

A Note of Clarification

Published May 13, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

It was stated on Today Tonight last night that there were Fat Acceptance activists calling for the sacking of Mia Freedman as Chair of the National Body Image Advisory Group.

I would just like to make it clear that I do not, and have not ever, called for Mia to be sacked/removed from this position or any other.

What I am asking for is for Mia to re-think her tone and method of reporting on extreme body sizes, be they they very fat or very thin.  I am asking for her to be mindful of the power of her words, the position she holds in the public eye and the responsibility she has in her position as Chair of the National Body Image Advisory Group.

Ultimately I would like to see Mia as a spokeswoman for all women on the subject of body image, and to show compassion, respect, inclusion and understanding towards every person who has body image issues, regardless of their size and/shape, even when she finds their behaviour shocking or disturbing.

I am disappointed that it has been suggested that I or any of my fellow Fat Acceptance bloggers have at any point called for Mia to be sacked, or suggested that she be removed from any position, as this is simply not true.

I am proud of my work as a fat acceptance activist and still stand by everything that I have actually said about this issue.

I am also so proud of my fellow fat acceptance activists Elizabeth from Spilt Milk, Bri from Fat Lot of Good, as well as Dr Samantha Thomas who appeared in the Today Tonight and Herald Sun pieces today.  What gracious, articulate, intelligent, inspirational, wonderful women I have to learn from.

My Letter to Mia Freedman

Published May 10, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Well, it has happened again, Mia Freedman has posted yet another entry to her blog that is pointing out the extremes of body behaviour, in this case extreme eating/weight and erroneously suggests that it is “encouraging obesity”.

It deeply concerns me that Mia, as a representative of The Butterfly Foundation, an eating disorder support foundation, seems to think it’s ok to post these kind of pieces, from what I see as an “OMG LOOK WHAT THE FATTY MCFATTERSONS ARE DOING NOW!” when it is merely an example of the most extreme, unusual behaviour around fatness and extreme eating.

This one was one I needed to comment on, so I left her a letter in her comments, which I will share for you here:

Mia it’s interesting that you keep saying that you only post what you find interesting. Because I keep noticing a trend of posting the very extreme stories around fat bodies, or people punishing/shaming fat folks, or thinly veiled “advice” on how you think “the war on obesity” should be fought.

Are you or are you not involved with The Butterfly Foundation? Do you not have a responsibility to take a moderate, balanced, understanding view of body image? Do you not have a duty of care thanks to your involvement with The Butterfly Foundation to present a body positive perspective?

Every time you make a post regarding body image about the fat end of the scale, it looks very much a “Point and stare” kind of OMG LOOK AT WHAT THE FATTY MCFATTERSONS ARE DOING! post.

You suggest that the feeders (a very rare breed of fat person indeed) “encourage obesity”, but how many people read about say the woman above, and actually want to rush out and get fat? How is someone with either a very rare fetish or a serious eating disorder encouraging others to follow her example? I haven’t seen anywhere that she talks about anyone else getting extremely fat other than herself… so why the “encouraging obesity” tack?

Why? Perhaps because you want to skew the public view to think that anyone who is fat and doesn’t diet or is about fat acceptance is trying to convert the whole world to fat. Or at least cast a very negative light on fat people.

You are in a highly visible position and are a representative of an organisation that is about positive body image. In fact on it’s website front page there is a headline “Your Beauty and Worth Cannot Be Measured”. Therefore you have a responsibility to share a balanced, moderate, positive approach to body image, and not just highlight the very extremes of behaviours around body shape and size. Dieting yourself fatter, skinny girls are liars, plastic surgery to prevent eating disorders, weigh ins for kids… all such extreme examples of bad body image that you seem to love to highlight.

Instead of marginalising bodies that our outside of the “normal” range, how about posting some interesting pieces on encouraging activity because it is fun, or positive stories about women who have achieved something amazing despite the shape and size of their body, or their eating disorders.

Or is that not “interesting” enough for you?

*Update* I do need to correct something I misunderstood. Mia is not a direct representative of The Butterfly Foundation but she is Chair of the National Body Image Taskforce convened by Minister Kate Ellis (on which Butterfly sit too). But my point is still the same.