othering

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Public Health Does Not Make Me Public Property

Published June 16, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me with some form of “But.. but… HEALTH!!” message in response to my fat activism, I would be a very wealthy woman indeed.  I’ve heard it all when it comes to people trying to use health, either private or public, as a stick to beat fat people over the head with.  To me it just boils down to one thing… no matter what a person’s appearance, weight, shape, level of health or physical ability, every human being deserves to live their lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on their appearance, size, shape, body or health/physical ability.

Of course, to the essentialists out there who want to claim that fat activists are somehow anti-health, the idea of EVERYBODY deserving the same rights regardless of their appearance or physical state-of-being gets them into a right lather of outrage.  There is this attitude that “public health” must somehow trump basic human rights for some kind of greater good.  Of course, this is borne of decade after decade of big pharma, the media and the “beauty” industry carefully constructing a culture that equates health with attractiveness and thinness, and manoevering those measures of health to unattainable levels that very, very few people in the world actually come close to meeting, ie thin, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered, affluent, etc.

Fat activism, even those of us who actively call out healthism, is not an anti-health message by any means.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  I believe that everyone, yes EVERYONE, deserves access to the same healthful resources.  Clean water.  Clean air.  Safe spaces to engage in physical activity that is enjoyable and inclusive.  Abundant, fresh, affordable, nutritious food.  Compassionate medical care.  Vaccinations against communicable diseases.  Fair pay and working conditions.  Comprehensive education for all.  Mental health care.  Accessible public spaces for all bodies.  Affordable housing.  Affordable and suitable clothing.  All of these things contribute to improving the general health and quality of life of all people.

What I do not support is the idea that public health renders some people’s bodies as public property.  Public health is important in our society, and I am all for universal health care (an imperfect version of which we are lucky to have in Australia).  I am all for public health ensuring that our water is clean, that everyone has access to the medication and treatment they need, that people are aware of the importance of vaccination, that all people are encouraged and enabled to get outside into a clean, safe environment and enjoy moving their bodies, that public funding goes into curing disease and providing those treatments to all human beings and so on.

What I do not support from public health is the marking of non-normative bodies as “diseased” or “defective”.  I do not support the removal of agency and self-advocacy from people with non-normative bodies.  I do not support intervention into our bodies and health by public health organisations.  I do not support the vilification of human beings based on their appearance.  I do not support public health being driven by the diet, beauty and pharmacy industries, or the mainstream media, all of which have financial gain to be made in the othering of people based on their appearance.  I do not support public health campaigns that mark some bodies as inferior, immoral or defective.  I do not support public health campaigns that encourage friends, family, schools or other groups to intervene in to other people’s health.  None of these things actually help improve individual health or quality of life, in fact they all impact both health and quality of life negatively.

Anything that renders human beings as vulnerable to any of the above is public shaming and public stigmatisation, not public health.

Part of living in a society is that we can all contribute to that society for the general betterment of all.  Some people will need different resources and levels of care to others, because like any other living species, human beings are diverse.  That does not make those people beholden to society in general to try to change themselves to meet the narrow band of “average” that is classed as “normal”.  Instead, the responsibility is on society as a whole to include all people, rather than just the lucky few that meet some ridiculous arbitrary standards.

Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

Published February 28, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

A few days ago I was writing an email to a friend of mine about fat, fashion and marginalisation, and while I was doing so, quite a few things kind of went “Ping!” in my head, and I realised I wanted to expand upon the subject in a general sense here on my blog.  We were talking about how many fat women feel about clothing and fashion, and the desperation so many of us feel when trying to find clothes that fit us, suit our lives, we like, make us feel good, and that are fashionable.

Those of us who engage in fatshion, the act of dressing/styling ourselves with pride and personal expression as fat women are outside of the acceptable cultural meme for fat women.  Fat women are expected to constantly be expressing their shame at having a fat body and doing everything they can to hide those fat bodies.  Regardless of whether or not that suits our lives, our needs or our personalities.

That’s the thing with inhabiting a fat body.  People see you as just that – a fat body.  They don’t attribute anything else to you, like a career or family, hobbies or convictions, let alone sense of humour, or intellect, or talent, or kindness and caring, or passion, or dedication… the list goes on.  The world sees you as FAT.  It’s the first thing people use to describe you, even if you have other more noticeable traits.  In my own personal case, my fat even trumps my candy coloured hair and tattoos as the most noticeable thing about me.  People notice that I am fat, before they notice a single other thing about me.

But of course, if you identify as fat and actually own this quality about yourself that the world constantly reminds you of, then the vitriol intensifies.  How DARE any woman not be ashamed of being fat.  She must be reminded that she is of lesser value, she must be brought down to the level that she belongs.

Clothing, indeed fashion, is one of the ways that society does that.  By restricting the options to fat women, it is another reminder that we are other.  That we don’t deserve the same things as “normal” people.  It serves to make us look even more different to general society, and then of course it is very effective in making us FEEL different to general society.

Having access to clothes that are fashionable and on a par with general society is both empowering and deeply emotional.  Because it takes away that demarcation of being socially other, and brings fat women to a point of being able to not just dress like, but BE peers to others in society.

I’m old enough to span a few decades of awareness of clothing and fashion.  I remember what it was like in the 80’s to try to find clothes to fit my fat body.  It was agonising.  So as a consequence, I spent most of my teens through to my early 30’s hiding.  Hiding in black, navy, burgundy.  Hiding in shapeless boxes.  No personal expression, no style, no fashion.  I never got to engage in fashion as a social event, so I was distanced from other girls/young women.  Therefore I never felt I could be friends with girls/women – and consequently only had male friends until my 30’s.  Of course, I didn’t know back then that this was institutionalised misogyny – teaching me that if I couldn’t “compete” with my peers, I couldn’t participate with them.

See how this shit works to push fat women further and further down the cultural hierarchy?

Then it came to work, and I couldn’t find clothes that matched those that my professional peers were wearing.  Instead, more shapeless, sloppy, dark sacks – which in turn made others (and myself) believe that I was less capable, less committed, less able than my thin peers.  After all, if you can’t dress yourself confidently, surely you can’t do anything else confidently right?

It just keeps going on and on and on.

I’ve also been the fattest person at the lunch table while everyone else talks about how disgusting their own, much thinner bodies are.  That’s always a special feeling.  I’ve been the one that the person with the fucked up food obsession uses for thinspiration.  I can’t tell you how it feels to have someone in a position of power use you as their metaphorical piggy-on-the-refrigerator, stalking your every move around food… and because they’re in a position of power, you can’t say “Fuck off.” or if you say anything to anyone else you get told you’re imagining it or over-sensitive.

I understand.  I know how it feels.  I live it every day of my damn life.

My only way of coping is to take it on and try to change the world.  I did 35 years of trying to change me to fit the world, and it didn’t work – it almost killed me.  Now I intend to devote the rest of my life to changing the world to fit everyone.  After all, the world is a big diverse place, there is room in it for all of us, no matter who we are, what we look like or what our lives are.  And we fat people have as much right to it as anyone else.