no fat talk

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It’s Not The End of the Road: Or Why I Still Promote Fat Talk Free Week Among My Friends

Published October 22, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Yes, I know Fat Talk Free week is problematic.  Yes I know that it’s really aimed at and practiced by thin, affluent, young, white women and that it’s likely that it often leads to the suppression of real talk about fatness, fat acceptance and body positivity.  But I still promote it amongst my general circle.

Why?  Because not everyone is on the same page of the body acceptance book.  It would be fan-bloody-tastic if everyone was well entrenched and able to recognise that while it has useful elements, it also has problematic ones, and we need to keep those in check and question them as we go along.  But people are not like that, generally speaking.  Every day, I hear, read and see people around me who loathe their own bodies or those of others, are afraid of bodies that are different to theirs, who indulge in diet talk and fat talk, that are so deeply entrenched in the cultural norm of body loathing and fear that the concepts of acceptance and positivity that are so important to me, sound so radical, so unheard of, so “out there” to them.

I want them to leave that place of body loathing and fear, but as much as I push, and push, and push, they have to want to move to that way of thinking.  I can’t force other people to change, but I can encourage them to think.

Just as an example, I have a much beloved friend, who, no matter how many times I tell him that it is perfectly acceptable to refer to me as fat, can’t, or won’t, do so without following it through with “blow softening” superlatives.  Fat is just such a dirty word in our culture that so many people are deeply, deeply resistant to ever seeing it as anything other than a vicious insult.  It would be fantastic to wave a magic wand and change that, but it doesn’t work like that.

So while I do endeavour to introduce the people around me to as many clear messages about fat acceptance and body positivity, sometimes it’s just not getting through at full blast, and instead, I have to think of other ways to present the message.

Since I started practicing fat acceptance, I’ve watched the people around me slowly change their thinking around the word fat.  I’ve seen people who were very judgemental about other people’s bodies, their taste or dress sense, and their looks re-think their attitudes towards the judgement of others.  Admittedly, not everyone around me is doing so, some are absolutely resistant to the idea, but most of the people who care about me truly are listening to what I have to say and thinking about how their attitudes, words and deeds affect others.

Fat Talk Free week isn’t what I would recommend to most people who are open to learning about fat acceptance.  But to those people who are outside of the fatosphere, even that is a radical concept.  If I can get them thinking twice about that comment about the size of their butt, or calling some fat person on the telly “gross”, or judging others about what they wear, then I’ve achieved something.  If I can get folks changing the subject away from diet talk at the work lunch table, or think twice about a comment that they might pass on someone’s body in front of their children, then there has been some value to making them aware of Fat Talk Free week.

I consider it a stepping stone on the journey to body positivity.  Never the destination, but a step closer to where we need to go.

You’re on Fat Base

Published June 15, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve been thinking a little about what this space means to me.  By this space, I mean this blog and the space for you, dear readers to comment.  I was wondering if I came down hard on a commenter on this post a couple of days ago, and so I’ve taken some time out to think about it, and decide what is important to me.

The conclusion I came to, is that the most important thing to me for this blog is that it is a safe space.  A safe space for me, and a safe space for you.  I want this to be a space that you and I can come to and never, ever hear that fat is bad.  It’s not denial or delusion – the rest of the world tells us that fat is bad, so there needs to be a space where we can just take a rest from hearing that over and over and over.

Besides, I believe wholeheartedly that fat is not bad.  Ever.  It is just fat, a substance, free from any moral value.  Fat is present in every animal (after all, our brains are high in fat) and some have more and others have less.  Fat is not the worst thing that can happen to you, it’s not killing you, it’s not the cause of all your problems.  It is simply a type of cell.

When someone comes along and says, amongst fat people that fat is a Bad Thing (commenters own capitalisation), even if they’re only saying that fat is bad for themselves (which is never how it is, it’s the implication that fat is bad for some people, but not others, that comes through) then it encourages more to come along and say that fat is bad in this safe space.

When someone is vulnerable, and they hear “fat is a Bad Thing” (even if not aimed at them) in a safe space, they start to question themselves.  It’s human nature.  “If her fat is a Bad Thing, then my fat might be a Bad Thing.”  Then it leads to more self loathing, shame, fear and the whole fat acceptance message is cancelled out.  Particularly when the person saying that her fat is a Bad Thing has announced her weight and weighs far, far less than many of the others reading those comments, and has made comments about how other people hit on her.  This negates the message in anyone who weighs more than she does, as well as those who don’t have people hit on them.  It creates a hierarchy of fatness that is ok and not ok.  That’s not acceptable in this space, even if it is unintentional.

Now I know that not all of us are on the same rung of the fat acceptance ladder.  Some, such as myself, are climbing fairly steadily upwards (with the occasional stop for a breather, sometimes even dropping a few rungs!)  Some have stopped on one of the rungs and are contemplating climbing back down again.  Others are still standing at the bottom, looking at the ladder and are not sure that they want to start climbing.  I understand that and I don’t expect everyone to be level with me on this ladder.

However, there are some steps that I have taken that I have made a very conscious, informed decision that I need to have for my sanity, and to me, are the right thing to do when it comes to fat acceptance.  One of those is firmly stating that this is a safe space for fat, and not accepting any criticism of fat in this space.  Even it is criticism of someone’s own fat.

Another is to be a very firm, clear voice in this space about what is acceptable and what is not.  Sometimes that means I have to repeat myself and take an abrupt tone, but it’s an area where I feel I need to show others reading that may not have commented, but might be thinking the same things, that this is a not negotiable area and that they are safe from negativity about fat in this space.

If someone wishes to debate this topic, there are many, many, MANY other spaces they can do so.  In fact, the whole world is available for people to talk about whether or not fat is bad or can be a Bad Thing for anyone.

But this tiny little pocket of the interwebz is not that space. Remember tag/tiggy/chasey where you couldn’t tag someone who was at home or base?  This is the internet version of home/base for fat.   Nobody can tag it here.

In this space, fat is not a Bad Thing.  It is just a Thing.

Combatting Fat Talk

Published October 5, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

In a comment on my last post, reader Maria raised the issue of how to combat fat talk from others, without being annoying or pushy about it.

I think that’s an excellent topic to talk about tonight.
So, how do we go about it? How do we combat fat talk from other people? In particular, other non-fat acceptance people? It’s fairly straight up if you’re hearing it from someone who is working on fat acceptance, because they’ve already got a head start. How do you work on it from family, friends, co-workers, your boss, neighbours, shop assistants etc?
It’s a tough one. Some people will listen, let you explain. However it’s unfortunate that lots of people are so deeply immersed in fat loathing that they just can’t see any point but the one that they’ve had presented them to their whole lives.
Family is probably the toughest. I’m certainly no authority on how to do this with family as I’m estranged from mine. I no longer have to deal with it from them. But if you do have your family in your life, and in fact they love you, you have to deal with the often well intentioned fat talk.
Then there are the friends. Close friends are one thing, but what about the wider circle of friends? Do you talk to them one on one or as a group? I am a bit of a brazen bitch, so I tend to just jump on in when it happens. Not everyone is quite as extroverted as I am though. Often it’s subtle fat talk you get. Comments about their own bodies or how bad they’ve been with diet and exercise.
What about the workplace? I don’t know about yours, but mine has all kinds of “health and wellness” initiatives, most of which boil down to diets and weight loss. I actually participated in one, back in my obsessive, fat-loathing days, and in hindsight I can see how insane it was. A big ra-ra club for “let’s lose weight fatties!” You actually had to be obese to qualify for it, like some kind of exclusive club. There are constant emails about exercise and healthy living circulated in my workplace. Some of it is very much fat talk, and I find a lot of it perpetuates the poor body image in employees.
Of course, closer to home are the colleagues who love to talk about what diet they are on, how fat they are, how they can’t eat this or have to exercise to pay for that. The worst place for it is the lunchroom table. People comment on each other’s food, they comment on their own food and how they’re “being a bit naughty today” or “Oh, I can’t have that, I’m being good.” like food has some kind of morality attached to it.
Even when you compliment someone, they often toss back some fat talk. “That’s a great dress, you look lovely!” gets the response of “Thanks, I’m having a fat day, this hides all my sins.” or similar things.
Shop assistants are a biggie. This is one that I refuse to accept. I used to be terribly hurt and heartbroken by shop assistants either ignoring me or being rude to me. Nowdays I let my dollars do the talking and refuse to shop there. I always love the scene in Absolutely Fabulous when a snobbish shop assistant is rude to Patsy and she looks back and says “Why are you looking down at me? You work in a shop.” I will straight up tell a shop assistant that they’re rude and what they can do with their merchandise these days.
So there you have some of the areas that you will hear fat talk. I don’t know the answers, I just know that it’s difficult and there are a lot of factors in the way you handle it. If you’re confident, or close to the person, I think it’s easier for straight talk, but otherwise it’s very difficult.
Here’s where I throw it open to you, my dear readers. How do you combat fat talk? Share a story of when you’ve really been able to nail it and open someone’s mind. Or maybe share one where it’s gone horribly wrong. What is the hardest type of fat talk to combat? Have you broken the fat talk cycle yourself, or are you still learning.
The floor is open…