obesity

All posts in the obesity category

You Cannot Help Those You Loathe

Published January 3, 2014 by Fat Heffalump

I just had one of those lightbulb moments.  I was reading this excellent piece on domestic violence on Big Blue Dot Y’all and while talking about leaving counselling, the author used this sentence:

“You cannot help those you loathe.”

And something went “click” in my head.  All those weight loss surgeons, those “obesity” experts, the weight loss industry, bullying personal trainers, all those people who claim they want to “help” fat people… they loathe us.  If it’s not us they loathe, it’s our fat.  And by hating fat, and failing to see that our fatness is part of who we are – not a growth or some kind of removable shell, they are therefore by default loathing us.

And you cannot help those you loathe.

You cannot help those you loathe.

Think of the language they use around supposedly “helping” us.   It’s all violent, aggressive and full of hate.

  • Fighting fat
  • War on obesity
  • Fat busters/blasters
  • Eradicate fat
  • Fat is “killing” you
  • Obesity epidemic

These are just a few of the terms they use in the rhetoric of weight loss and anti-“obesity” campaigns.  Everything is framed around sickness and disease, war, violence, anger.  This is not the language of helping fat people, it’s the language of waging battle on them.  And as Marilyn Wann says – you cannot have a war on fat without having a war on fat people.  The two are not separate entities – our fat is part of us, part of our bodies, part of who we are.  Bodies are not disposable shells made for modification , they are an integral part of the human being.

This is why so much damage is being done to fat people.  Because of this loathing of fat.  Instead of working with us to make our lives as full and as rich as they should be, society wages war on our bodies and therefore ourselves.   In fact, more often than not, we are enlisted as soldiers in that war, in a kind of twisted friendly fire.  It’s as though in the “war on obesity”, the people who are fat are considered “collateral damage”.  Some of us will die, many of us will be physically scarred forever, almost all of us will have emotional and psychological trauma that we will never lose in the vain hope that they win the war.  What it does to those who are on the front lines matters not to those waging war.  We’re the cannon fodder.  Those in power are safe back in the war room, viewing it as a series of strategical moves and sending forth more and more troops to get bloody on the ground.

Anyone who truly cares about the wellbeing of fat people cannot possibly feel the need to wage war on fat.  That level of aggression and loathing negates any care that may have once been there.  There is never any care or compassion from someone who enacts violence on another.  It is no different in its effect on us than the open hate and bigotry we receive from the likes of bullies and trolls.  It is all trauma enacted on us.

Look at what happens to fat people when they are given compassion, care and support by those who truly want to help in our wellbeing.  When we are taught to value our bodies, and treat them with kindness and compassion, suddenly our quality of life gets vastly better.  When we find supportive doctors, our health gets better.  If we need help with eating and nutrition, those in the field who genuinely care help us heal the damage done by diet culture and fat loathing.  When we find an environment that we can enjoy physical activity without shaming or stigma, we learn to enjoy things like dancing, swimming and other activities.  When our families and friends love us and support us as we are – we are able to heal from the trauma of shame and stigma.

When we are treated with respect and dignity, our wellbeing and quality of life improves.  Regardless of what weight we happen to be.

Because hate does not help.  Hate does not heal.

I Am NOT a Disease

Published June 19, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

One of the things about being a highly visible, deeply combative fat activist is that everyone seems to think you’re made of steel.  That you are so strong and confident, that nothing ever hurts you or makes you feel bad.  Nobody believes that you have bad days, that there are times where the fight just goes out of you and you can’t face another moment of trying to claw your way out of the hatred and stigma that surrounds fat people.

But that’s not true.  It’s not true in the slightest.  Even the most radical fatty, the most sartorially brave, the fiercest fighter, the strongest critic of the dominant paradigm around fatness struggles.  Every single one of us have those times where we just run out of oomph.

I am having one of those days today, and have been really struggling all afternoon.  You see, the American Medical Association today declared obesity as a disease despite a report from their own council on science and public health urging them not to.  According to the AMA, we fat people are no longer just people, we are diseased, defective, damaged, broken.  We are officially diseases to be cured, prevented, eradicated.  And this news has shaken me to the core.  I simply feel so defeated right now, like all the work that I and many other fat activists have done, and are doing to claw back our rights and improve our quality of life has just been taken away from us.

Rationally, I know why the AMA has made this ruling.  They’ve done so because big pharmaceutical companies, the weight loss industry and big health insurance companies, have lobbied, threatened, bullied and bribed them to do so.   Rationally I know that the reason these big corporations have done this is because it’s in their best interest financially to do so.  After all, they’re raking in HUGE amounts of money by convincing society in general that appearance = health, and that if you don’t meet the arbitrary levels of appearance that you must be sick, and surprise surprise, they have a drug, or a surgery, or a device, or a diet plan or an extra expensive health insurance plan to sell you to fix it.  The weight loss industry alone was worth almost $800 million just here in Australia.  Can you imagine what could be done for $800 million per year in this country?  We could all have completely free health care for every Australian, more than we would ever need.  People with disabilities could have all of the equipment that they would ever need, and any support and care they would ever need.  No human being in Australia would go without food, water or housing.  Education would be free for our whole lives, from kindergarten through any university studies that we would care to take on.   Medical research into every known actual disease, from the common cold to cancer could be funded fully.

All this just from the money that the diet and weight loss industry is worth in a single year, and there would be change.  In fact, if we only took their profit margin for ONE year, approximately $63 million dollars, and applied that to public funding annually – we could fund a lot of the things I’ve listed above.  And that’s just here in Australia, a country of only about 22 million people.  In the US, the weight loss industry is worth 66 BILLION DOLLARS.  Let alone the cumulative value of the rest of the world’s weight loss industries.

There is NO WAY ON EARTH that the weight loss industry is not behind this ruling from the AMA.  They have $66 billion dollars worth of power per annum in the US alone.  $66 billion dollars they can spend on lobbying, propaganda, graft, legal threats to anyone who opposes them, you name it to make sure the ruling falls the way they want it to.

Rationally I know this.  I know the facts.  I’ve done years of my own research into this because what I was being told about my fat body wasn’t matching up to reality.

But despite that knowledge… I feel so defeated today.  I feel so disheartened.  I feel so cheated.  I feel like I’m being marked as inferior, defective, broken.  Simply because my body happens to fall on the far end of a bell curve of diverse human bodies.  Simply because my body doesn’t fall in the small peak of the bell curve, the median of human bodies, a tiny arbitrary band of people who are granted the “normal” status just because they’re in the middle statistically.

But being at one end of the statistics doesn’t reflect who I am.  It doesn’t reflect how I feel.  It doesn’t reflect what my body can do.  It doesn’t reflect my value as a human being.  The AMA doesn’t know what it feels like to exist in my fat body.  They don’t know what it’s like in my body to wake up after a deep sleep, stretch and feel that stretch go down to my toes and up to my outstretched fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to go swimming, feeling the cool water soft and cocooning around my body, and the wonderful sleepy feeling I get afterwards.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to walk along the waterfront near my house on a windy but crystal clear winters day, with the sun warming my back as the wind nips my nose and fingertips.  They don’t know what it feels like in my body to laugh with my friends, my belly rocking, tears rolling down my face and my ribs hurting from giggling so hard.  They don’t know anything about what it feels like in my body.  All they know is that I am at the far end of a bell curve, and that someone out there can make money from making me hate myself and by encouraging society to hate me, and to repeatedly attempt to move myself to another point on the statistical bell curve, something we scientifically know fails for 95% of all attempts.  And with that they have marked me, and people like me, as diseased, defective, broken.

The only time I feel diseased, defective, broken is when society repeatedly pushes me down because of how I look and what numbers show up on a scale when I step on it.  I don’t feel those things unless I am taught to feel them.  Not even when I actually suffer illness or injury.

How is simply declaring me as diseased based on statistics, and despite how I feel or the quality of my life, good for my health?

How is that good for anyone’s health?

The inimitable Marilyn Wann has started a petition against this AMA ruling here.  Please sign.

*Edited because the figures I got from a study were incorrect – not that they change anything.  Let’s try to not kick me while I’m fucking down, OK?

Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I awoke to see a constant stream of retweets and shares for an article on a major Australian women’s online magazine (give you two guesses – I’m not naming or linking to it) about a woman who found a note in her 7 year old daughter’s bedroom, labelled “Diyet”[sic] and listing the food she ate (not much) and quite a considerable list of daily exercise.

Now yes, I agree, it is awful that a 7 year old child is making diet plans.  It is awful that a 7 year old child is obsessing over her body and diet and exercise already.  It shouldn’t be happening and I understand her mother being horrified that she would find this item in her child’s room, and despairing that her daughter is being influenced by this stuff already.  I find no fault at all with the author of the piece or the story she tells.

But seriously, for this particular online women’s magazine (let’s be honest, most online women’s magazines and most mainstream media) to be clutching their pearls over children dieting is a bit fucking hypocritical if you ask me.

This shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  These same media outlets publish story after story beating the “obesity epidemic” drum, and wringing their hands over “childhood obesity”, and then wonder why children obsess over their weight from a ridiculously early age?   These media outlets crap on about being “healthy”, which is just diet-talk reworded with no actual conscientious addressing of holistic health of all people, and then they get all up in arms about children dieting?  They allow the most hateful, bigoted crap about fat people to be published in the comments and call it “opinion”.  Not to mention that every single time I go to a mainstream media site, women’s or not, I am bombarded with ads for weight loss.  Where do they think kids, and their parents, get all of this stuff in the first place?

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dieting.  From as early as I can remember, there were stories in her magazines, and on the TV my father always had on, and in the Sunday paper, talking about the latest, greatest diets, the importance of being thin and how fat was “bad” (think of lazy, fat, beer drinking, old Norm in the Life: Be in It ad campaigns, fellow Aussies of a certain age).  Even if I hadn’t been told I was fat from my earliest memory (I wasn’t fat for most of my childhood) by my family, all I had to do was pick up one of the women’s magazines laying about the house, or sit and watch TV with my father and I was getting those messages.  Right from my earliest memories, I was hearing that fat is bad and that I should do ANYTHING to avoid being fat.

So what did I do?  I was put on my first diet at 11.  But I had already been experimenting with dieting and exercise regimes some years before that.  I was maybe 7 or 8 the first time I put myself on a “diet”.  I was very good at sneaking the various diet products that my mother had about the house, and I was an excellent reader, so I just read the magazines and followed the diets in those.  I was 13 the first time I was put on meal replacements (powdered shakes that were VILE).  Soon after I started engaging in purging after an older girl taught me how to do it.  I also started stealing laxatives and worming medicine because I’d heard those helped you lose weight too.  Once I got busted for stealing those out of the medicine cabinet at home, I started stealing them from the local chemist.  I can remember watching an article on one of those current affairs shows about childhood obesity when I was in Year 8, and this was in 1985 – long before the current obesity epidemic hysteria kicked off in the 90’s, which has magnified the situation hundredfold.

It has to stop.  The media are never going to take responsibility for the shit they publish, so we have to stop supporting the media that publishes shit.  Even when they do publish something that is worthy, like the story I mentioned above, we have to view it through the lens of the other stuff they publish as well and call them out on it.  We need to promote outlets that share the worthy stories without all of the fat shaming and stigma.  If we are worried about what our children are being exposed to, perhaps it’s best to start by examining what WE are exposed to.  Because if you think kids aren’t seeing this stuff, you’re seriously delusional.  Even if you don’t give it to them directly, if it is around, they find a way to get to it.  Or they hear a second-hand version from other kids at school.  We need to teach our kids critical thinking.  But first we have to learn it ourselves.  To question the source of information and to ask what their motives are.  We need to discuss these issues with kids and teenagers and each other, openly and critically.   We need to look at the ethics behind these outlets and their sponsors.

If these media outlets come up lacking, we need to stop supporting them.  We need to walk away and not give them clicks, not give them airtime, and not signal boost them.  Instead, find alternative outlets that take responsibility for the messages they are sending and don’t engage in hypocrisy.  Or that at least TRY.  If you know that an article that people are sharing from a media site is a cross post/re post from a blog (most of them say so somewhere on the article) – share the original version, not the re-post in the dodgy mainstream media.  We need to tell our stories and have them untainted by fat shaming that undoes the message that we are sending.  Want some suggestions?  Try here, here and here.  You’re welcome to share others in the comments that you like.

I dabbled myself with writing for mainstream media (was also offered a regular writing gig at several of them) and was burned more than once by them selling me out to some disgusting fat shaming story as a “follow up”, so I decided that I would rather tell my story here and keep it’s integrity than taint my readers with contradictory information.    It might mean I reach fewer people here and now, but the message gets through clearer and un-sullied by shaming to those it does get to.

The mainstream media is never going to change until we walk away from it and stop giving them the clicks, the reads, the purchases and the support.  Give that support to those who don’t perpetuate bigotry and hate while then decrying the state of the world that THEY created.

Embracing the Ridiculous and Rejecting Ridicule

Published June 9, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I woke up, opened Twitter on my phone before I even got out of bed, saw the photo I’m about to post for you below, and did a happy dance of glee in my bed while giggling like a school girl.

Original photo by Alana Landsberry, poster created by Brian Stuart.

You see it all started with an awful, awful post on Feministe that spewed fat hate in relation to the soft drink (soda) restrictions being implemented by the mayor of New York City.  Y’all know I’m not going to link to that article, cos I don’t give signal boosts to fat hate.  Anyway the comment thread was a complete fat hate free-for-all, and someone actually referred to soft drink as an “Agent of Obesity”.  Well a Twitter hashtag was born, thanks to Brian of Red No.3 – check it out at #AgentofObesity, it’s hilarious.  Being the Marvel fan that I am, it’s right up my alley.

Brian kicked off the whole Fatty Avengers thing by posting a great movie poster of himself, as Nick Fatty, Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y.  I was busy laughing at how brilliantly funny it was, and PING!  Into my head popped “The Incredible Bulk”.  I just HAD to have my own movie poster as The Incredible Bulk, and Brian so kindly obliged with his killer photoshopping skills.

Of course, since then, it has evolved into a whole meme, I’m sure Brian is inundated with requests to turn photos of fab fatties into Avengers style movie posters for Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y.  He has even come up with an acronym for O.B.E.S.I.T.Y and made a rather awesome logo, check it out:

Of course, anyone outside of the Fatosphere is probably scratching their head, completely mystified as to why a bunch of fat people would want to make plays on the word obesity, associate themselves with whales and come up with code-names that evoke a bunch of fat hate to the average punter.  But there is something deliciously subversive about taking ridiculous statements of fat hate and having fun with them, playing with puns and images to make up a whole silly meme of something that originated as a pretty vicious slur.

Plus taking the word “obesity” – which is a pathologisation of our lives, of our bodies and state of being – and turning it into something ridiculous is incredibly empowering.  Obesity is an offensive word, it implies we are diseased, sick, broken.  It implies that we need to be prevented, cured, eradicated.

We’re lucky in that Brian has some pretty mean photoshop skills and a wicked sense of humour, and does some fun stuff with the photos.

I’ve already had someone suggest that I was “hating myself” by choosing to be The Incredible Bulk.  Au contraire!  I chose that name/character for a very positive reason.  One because it has a great tongue-in-cheek fatty pun, but also because I totally identify with The Incredible Hulk.  I totally get that transformation with rage thing.  I totally understand his barely controlled anger at injustice.  Nothing makes the red mist form before my eyes more than fat hate.  And I’m proud of being able to channel that anger into fighting for justice, just like The Incredible Hulk does.  Plus smashing shit feels good, y’know?

Fat hate, even that which is supposedly out of “concern” for us, is all about making us feel bad about who we are, about the bodies we inhabit.  It is meant to make us shrink down and disappear, out of shame and embarrassment.  So it’s really important that we make fun of it.  Ridicule those statements/accusations and show them as the ludicrous concepts that they always are.  Lampooning oppressors is an important part of radical activism, and if we can empower ourselves as part of the process, even better.

Think of it like a Boggart from Harry Potter.  A Boggart is a creature that takes the shape of the thing that you fear most, to paralyse you with fear before it attacks you.  For so long, we have allowed ourselves be paralysed by fat hate, by obesity rhetoric.  Like a Boggart, the best way to fight it is to ridicule it.  So flourish your wand and shout “Riddikulus!”

But remember this – WE are allowed to laugh at obesity rhetoric, to pull it apart and make fun of it, using ourselves as the characters in that humour.  But nobody is allowed to humiliate, ridicule or make us feel bad because of our bodies, our weight, our appearance or our health.  I personally have a zero tolerance of fat hate/shaming from anyone in my life, no matter who they are.  Nobody gets to shame/hate on people for their bodies in my presence.  It’s not easy, and people will walk away from you, but you really are better off without them.

So, what would your Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y codename be?  What would your super-power be?

Dear Medical Professionals

Published November 9, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Well, yet again the amazing Marilyn Wann has inspired me.  She shared this article on her Facebook page and of course I popped over to read it.  It’s an excellent piece on the damage caused by fat stigma and the responsibility the medical profession has towards it’s patients.  I was reading the comments and I was just struck with the desire to tell my story as a fat T2 diabetic to members of the medical profession.  I started to type a comment to the article, and what happened is I found myself writing a letter to medical professionals in general.  I have submitted it as a comment on the site (it’s awaiting moderation over there), but I decided I wanted to copy it and share it with you here.

It is of course nothing we haven’t all been saying in the Fatosphere over and over again, and it’s nothing I personally haven’t said before (repeatedly!), but I believe that we really do need to be telling our stories over and over and over, we do need to be addressing all kinds of different audiences about our experiences and perspectives, if we’re ever going to get real change in our culture towards fat stigmatisation.

So, without rambling on any more, here is my letter to medical professionals (any that care to listen).

Dear Medical Professionals

My name is Kath and I am fat (by the pointless BMI standards, I am morbidly obese at around 300lbs, but I prefer the term fat) AND I have Type 2 diabetes.  I am the one so many in the medical profession use as a cautionary tale against what happens to “bad/lazy/greedy” people who don’t live a “healthy” lifestyle.  Until I found my current doctor, not one health care professional would believe that I was not a sedentary glutton, and as a consequence I developed an eating disorder from about 13 years of age until my early 30’s, and was suicidal during that time as well.  I was starving myself and abusing both prescription weight loss drugs and other substances to try to lose weight.  Medical professionals I went to praised me if I lost weight, but chastised and even bullied me if I gained.  I always gained eventually, always what I had lost, and always some more.  When I confessed disordered behaviour, several health care professionals actually sanctioned it, and encouraged me to continue, since it was “working” (albeit temporarily).   I was rarely asked as to what I was actually eating and what exercise I was doing, but if I was, it was met with disbelief.   After all, calories in, calories out right?  How can one be fat if they are consuming less than they are expending?

In my mid-30’s, I decided that if nobody would believe me, and I couldn’t be thin and therefore worthy of space in this world, I would end it all and relieve myself and the world of suffering.  Thanks to the love of a good friend, I didn’t succeed.  But it was at that moment I opted out.  Opted out of the constant barrage of hatred that is poured towards fat people.  Opted out of dieting and employing any other methods of attempting weight loss.  I didn’t know where I was going at first, I just knew I couldn’t live that way any more, and I wanted to live, but not like I was.

Eventually, I stumbled across the concept of Health at Every Size (HaES) and my world was changed.  First step, find a doctor who listened to me and treated me as a human being, not an amorphous blob of fat to be eradicated, cured, prevented.  Second step, find a decent psychologist to help me heal the trauma of the stigmatisation I lived all my life just for existing in a fat body.  Third step, learn to eat again.  And when I say learn to eat, that means both for nutrition of my body AND for the pleasure food can give.  It means listening to hunger and satiety cues.  It means feeding myself what I need, and what fits within the life I live.  I still struggle with some disordered thinking and behaviour, but I will keep working at it until I have it beaten.  I also reclaimed my right to appear in public as a fat person, which has enabled me to do things like swimming at the beach and riding my bicycle, despite the fact that I am still ridiculed and shamed for daring to be a fat person who is active in public.

It has been about 5 years since the moment I opted out, and in that time I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  I should have known, on my maternal side, my Grandmother is diabetic, on my paternal side, two aunts, an uncle and several of my older cousins (all T2).  I am built like my Grandma and my aunts, as are my female cousins, but the male relatives with diabetes are all tall and thin.  Nobody has ever shamed the men with T2 diabetes in my family, but all of we women have experienced shaming for it.

On diagnosis of T2 diabetes, I became even firmer in my resolve to practice HaES.  Since my diagnosis, my doctor and I have worked together and with HaES and appropriate medication, my blood sugar levels are in the normal range.  I am still fat, but all my vital measures are within the robustly healthy range.

I was far more a drain on society when I was trying to get thin than I am now that I live a HaES lifestyle.  I’ve gone from suicidal, frequently unemployed due to depression and the damage I did with my eating disorder, and constantly needing medical care.  Now I have a successful career in a field that I am passionate about and contributes to society.  I am a passionate campaigner for social justice and inclusion, and I contribute strongly to the public coffers via taxes, my private health care and the work I do in social justice and inclusion.

My point in telling my story here?  “The Obese” are not a disease to be eradicated, prevented, cured.  We are not some disgusting medical condition that is costing society millions.  We do not sit at home on the sofa eating cheeseburgers.  Nor are we stupid or liars.

We are people.  We are human beings with lives, loves, emotions, needs, aspirations and value in society like any other human being.  We deserve to be treated as such and allowed to advocate for ourselves.

Please remember that.

Thank you for your time in reading this.
Kath

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.

I’m Not Convinced the Leopard Has Changed It’s Spots

Published March 8, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Today over on The Discourse, Dr Samantha Thomas announced a MAJOR win on her behalf for the fight against the stigmatisation of fat people, when she shared that Obesity Prevention Australia had removed all images and references equating childhood obesity to child abuse. I am incredibly impressed that Samantha, and all others who spoke out against these disturbing messages and images, were able to have them removed and the collection tins bearing them recalled by Obesity Prevention Australia (OPA), and major kudos go to Samantha for spearheading it.

However, I’m not letting OPA off the hook that easily.  While I think it is excellent that they have removed this ignorant tripe from their site, and recalled those highly offensive collection tins from circulation, I still have lots and lots, and LOTS of problems with them.  Let’s make a list shall we?

  • In the response from Levi Walz, the CEO of OPA, he said “Firstly, I would like to issue my deepest apologies to anyone who has been offended by our awareness slogan.”  Well there’s your first problem.  There is no apology for the actual offense, merely a “sorry you’re offended”.  Which is a false apology – the onus is placed back on those who are offended rather than OPA for engaging in offensive behaviour.
  • Secondly, Mr Walz states “this upsetting feedback is truly new for us however, as since OPA’s inception the response we have received nationwide has been nothing short of completely positive (governments, health professionals, schools, program participants, other organisations, local business etc).”  All this illustrates to me is that fat hatred is deeply entrenched and OPA are actually contributing to it by adding their offensive campaigns to the already hostile environment for fat people.
  • Mr Walz then says “I have felt sick in my stomach at how our organisation has been interpreted by your readers”.  There is no “interpretation” of fat stigmatisation, by equating childhood obesity with child abuse, OPA were directly accusing parents of fat children of abusing those children.
  • He then states that he also feels sick in his stomach at “and how many of the people we aim to help have been hurt.”  The assumption that a) fat people either want or need any help from an organisation like OPA is both patronising and dismissive of the experiences of fat people at the hands of those who insist on stigmatising fatness as dangerous, deadly or abusive.
  • He then says “maybe people have been offended prior, however have just kept it to themselves” which makes me wonder if there has been any thought by he and the OPA into just how shaming, bullying and stigmatising fat people silences them.  Have they put any consideration into how much courage it must take for someone to stand up to a large organisation who are promoting the idea that “Childhood obesity is childhood abuse.”?

So that’s the response that we have seen with regards to this immediate matter.  I have noticed a general change in tone to the website since the piece by Dr Samantha Thomas (and she has lots of screenshots on this piece), which is a good start.

However, there is still a whole lot of wrong with the site, the organisation and the messages it sends out.  So let’s have a go at those too:

  • The name.  Obesity Prevention Australia.  As though obesity is a) something that can be prevented, b) something that should be prevented and c) something that is “other” than a human being.  “Preventing” obesity implies that one has control over one’s body size, which is erroneous to start with, and implies that obesity is someones fault.  Well, we’ve already seen them imply that obesity is the fault of parents.  Obesity isn’t a thing or a disease, it is a medicalisation of the state of being a fat PERSON.  I feel that naming your organisation “Obesity Prevention Australia” implies the eradication of fat people.  Be it through fat reduction by any means, or simply removing fat people from our culture.
  • While we’re on the topic of this being an organisation, I am wondering why they are using a .com.au web domain, which by law in Australia can only be registered by a registered BUSINESS (not organisation) with an ABN and the domain name must have some connection to the name, or the business type, of that registered business.  Surely a non-profit organisation should have a .org.au domain name, which are reserved for registered non-profit organisations?
  • Let’s talk about Shannon Ponton’s involvement with OPA.  Why is a physical trainer who works on a television show famous for bullying, shaming and humiliating fat people for entertainment, while promoting unhealthy extreme dieting and exercise practices, in a “lose weight at any cost” mentality, a member of an organisation that is supposedly concerned with the health of Australians, unless to add to the message of fat stigmatisation in a highly public manner?
  • How about OPA’s statement that they are an organisation “committed to reversing the obesity and inactivity epidemic that is debilitating our nation.”  Have they got any evidence of this supposed debilitating epidemic?  I can’t seem to see them citing any references anywhere on their site to go with their statistics and claims.
  • Actually have a look around the site at all of the “statistics” and claims.  I am unable to find any of them reference to anything.  They could be made up for all we know.
  • If you delve into their “Who we help” pages, they claim that “It is estimated that if current trends continue, close to 70% of all Australian adults will be overweight or obese by 2020!” – can we have some kind of evidence to this claim please?  They even follow that sentence up with “(If this does not scare you please read it again).”  This is meant to aid in healthfulness of  ALL Australians how?  It sounds far more like an “OMG THE FAT IS CATCHING AND IT’S GONNA GET YOU!!” than a positive message of raising health in Australia.
  • I’m rather impressed by how many ways they suggest that you can give them money.

I could go on, and on, and on with the ways in which this “organisation” make me question their intentions, their fund-trails and those who are involved with the project.  But I have to get up and go to work tomorrow and to be honest, the fat shaming on the site is starting to wear me down.  I invite anyone else reading to wade into the website if you have the spoons to do so (I will warn that it is full of fear mongering with little to no sources of information cited, that may be triggering to some) and add some more points of concern into the comments if you wish.

While I am very pleased that Obesity Prevention Australia INC (the INC is only mentioned in their prospectus page) has listened and removed the “Childhood Obesity is Childhood Abuse” propaganda, and some of the more disturbing images that were featured on The Discourse in response to Dr Samantha Thomas’ fantastic exposé on their methods, I am not ready to believe that they have the best interests of fat Australians at heart.  So long as they use the name “Obesity Prevention Australia”, spout unfounded death threats and continue to focus on and stigmatise fatness, they are doing more harm than good.   It is going to take some RADICAL changes of their entire organisation to rectify this, and I will be watching to see if this actually happens.

If they truly wish to improve the health of Australians, their focus needs to be on the availability of health education and resources for ALL Australians, not just the ones who don’t pass as “thin enough”.