oppression

All posts in the oppression category

No More Hoops

Published January 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Over the past few days there have been loads of pieces from awesome fat activists on fat and health, mostly in response to a couple of studies that reports that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive and that fat is not an instant death sentence.  It has been really heartening to see so many responses from fat activists that highlight how important access to health care is for fat people and the prejudice that fat people face both in the health care industry and because of the myth that fat automatically equals unhealthy.

However, I think we need to stop and reassess what we are doing here.  Yes, conflating weight with health has been a very pervasive myth that many people have used to justify fat hatred and addressing that is important.  But I don’t think that it is going to help fat people in the long run as much as we need it to.  Because no matter how many myths and stereotypes you bust, those who hate fat people are ALWAYS going to find a way to justify their disgusting attitudes.  Be it health, fitness, appearance, the cost of mittens in America… there will always be something used to justify fat hatred.

We need to let go of constantly trying to meet the bar set by fat haters.  If they say it’s because poor health, we spend our time proving that fat does not equal poor health.  If they say it is because we’re lazy, we spend all our time proving that we are not.  If they say it is because we are gluttonous, we spend our time policing and justifying our own choices for eating.  The list goes on and on.  No matter what myth or stereotype we respond to, there will always be another.

It is time we stopped looking to ourselves to be the ones to change to fight fat hatred.  It is time we started demanding that those who hate fat people are named and shamed for what they are – ignorant bigots who sincerely believe that some people are sub-human and do not deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity.  We, as fat people who are the victims of fat hatred have absolutely no obligation at all to modify our lives or our behaviours to suit those who hate us and to justify our existence.

You know who else believed that some people were not human?  Heard of untermensch?  How is it any different that some people believe that fat people are sub-human or inferior because of how they look and their bodies than it was believed that some people were sub-human/inferior because of their skin, hair or eye colour?  Is not the belief that thin people are superior evidence of the belief of a “master race”?  No decent, ethical human being would ever hold this belief.  Honestly, what kind of person would sincerely believe that they or others are somehow superior to other human beings?

That’s what bigotry is, the belief that there is some kind of hierarchy of human value based on those with power and privilege being higher up than those without.  It’s bullshit and we really need to stop buying into it – both externally AND internally.

Not to mention that every time we engage in the health argument, we are not only setting ourselves up to have to meet some kind of arbitrary requirement of health (which we owe NOBODY) but it’s also incredibly ableist.  What about fat people with disabilities or chronic illness?  What about anyone with disabilities or chronic illness?  How about someone in a coma or other incapacitated state?  Do they not get treated with respect and dignity simply because they’re “not healthy”?  How about those thin people when they inevitably get sick or injured?  Do they forfeit their right to dignity and respect at that moment?

Even if we buy into the whole thing that fat people “choose” to be fat (yeah right, like anyone would choose a life full of discrimination and hatred), that still does not justify the mentality that we are sub-human or somehow inferior to thin people.  Lots of people choose to do things that lower their life expectancy – for fuck’s sake merely driving a car statistically drops YEARS off your life, let alone all of the wild and extreme things human beings do to their bodies.  Just because someone smokes or skateboards or jumps out of perfectly good planes doesn’t mark them as lesser human beings, so why should it apply that way to fatness?  Because again, it’s not at all about health.  It’s not at all about life expectancy.  Fat hatred is simply about a fairly young (only about a hundred years) cultural stigmatisation of people based solely on their appearance, because someone, somewhere decided that money could be made by frightening people into trying to control their appearance.  All because someone saw money (and power, let’s not forget the intersectionality of the control of women in fat hatred) in getting people to buy products, diets, gadgets, pills and schemes to change their bodies, we now have a culture that marks fat people as sub-human.

No, this is about creating hoops for fat people to jump through so that we are not allowed to EVER live our lives with the freedom and dignity that is our right as is every human’s right.  And we must stop engaging with it.  We must stop believing that we have an obligation to prove our health, to prove our lives meet some kind of arbitrary standard placed on us to prevent us being marked as inferior.  Instead of arguing that fat people are not unhealthy/lazy/gluttonous/etc, we need to be repeating over and over and over that to label any human being as inferior based on their health, their appearance, their size, their choices in food or physical activity or any other arbitrary measure that is nobody’s business but their own is bigotry.  We need to be naming and shaming people who honestly believe that they have the right to label us as sub-human/inferior.  We need to be reclaiming our right to live our lives in our own bodies without interference or intervention from anyone.

But most of all we need to believe that of ourselves.  We need to be able to walk through this world that is rife with prejudice against us with our heads held high in the knowledge that we are not sub-human, we are not inferior, that we are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on the planet.

YOU are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on this planet.  Your life is yours.  Live it for you, not to prove that you’re not a stereotype.

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My Gift To You

Published October 19, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m going to give you all a gift tonight.  A gift that was given to me not that long ago, but one of the most valuable I’ve ever received.  One that has changed my life and made how I approach the world and everything in it very differently.  Best of all, this gift is absolutely, 100% free.  It costs me nothing to give to you, but I hope you get as much value from it as I have.

It is a bit of a multi faceted gift, which has several parts you can put together and use as you need them.  Are you ready?

Your life is yours.

Yep.  That’s the gift I’m giving you.  The knowledge that your life is your own.  It doesn’t belong to anyone but you.  Not your parents, not your boss, not your partner, not your kids, not your doctors.  It’s yours.  It doesn’t belong to “experts”.  Because the only expert on your life is YOU.  You get to choose what you eat, what you wear, what you do to your hair and your skin, what medical treatment you have, what you do with your body, who you have sex with (and don’t have sex with), who you talk to, what you read and what you feel.  Those are yours to choose.

You do have responsibilities of course, we all do, but that doesn’t make your life any less yours.  When you say or do something, you have to accept the consequences of your words and actions.  But those consequences are as much yours as your words and actions.  Yes, you might have to be responsible for your children, a job, a home, a business, all those things that we have in our lives, but that doesn’t make your life any less yours.  You get to work within the boundaries of your responsibilities and make the choices you need to make, with the information that you can source at any given time.  That’s the crucial bit – arming yourself with lots of information, so that you can make informed choices.  The more informed your choices, the less likely you will regret it later.

But what I really want to acknowledge is that when people try to take our lives away from us, to control us and oppress us, as they do to those of us who are marginalised in society, we don’t have to just tolerate it.  We don’t have to play nice, we don’t have to listen to their “opinions” and we certainly don’t have to modify our lives to suit them.  When people say fat people can’t/shouldn’t/don’t do or be something, they are defining our lives for us, not allowing us to define them ourselves.  We have every right to say “Enough!”  We have every right to tell them to piss off.  We have every right to completely ignore their “advice” or opinions.  You don’t have to respect someone who cannot respect your ownership of your own life.

The best thing is, when we stand up for our ourselves in the face of this kind of control, it has a cumulative effect.  It benefits other people like us, who are also pushed into doing or being something other than they want to.  And it benefits other marginalised people.  That’s the good bit about intersectionality.  Speaking up about equality and personal freedom benefits everyone.  The stronger we get about ourselves, the more energy we can devote to speaking up about the other wrongs in our world.

The next time someone randomly pushes their advice, opinions or assumptions about your life on you, remind yourself that your life is yours.  You can walk away from that person, not engage with them, or you can simply tell them to piss off, the choice is yours.

Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

Published September 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Let’s get something REALLY clear.

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

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

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

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

See where I’m going with this?

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

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

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

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

Is that not the most beautiful paragraph?

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

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

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

Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Anger

Published September 16, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

What year are we living in?  1911?

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen folks.

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

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

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

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