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I Am Nobody’s Freak Show

Published September 27, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It happens to me all the time.  I’ll be walking across the square on my way home from work and I’ll see someone shift from photographing the building, to trying to sneak a photograph of me.  Or if I’m sitting alone in a café, quietly having my lunch on my own, (ESPECIALLY if I’m eating on my own) to escape from the noise of the office, when I’ll feel myself being observed, and spot someone trying to sneak a photograph of me from a nearby table with their mobile phone.  I’ve been sitting on the train or a bus, or at the platform/bus stop, when I’ve spotted someone surreptitiously moving the lens of their camera or phone towards me to sneak a picture.  On more than one occasion I’ve been watching the news and seen my own body, with my head cropped out, as a headless fatty on a news bulletin about the “obesity epidemic”.  And one horrible time, some years ago, a colleague I didn’t know very well discreetly came and told me that he had seen a photo of me on a website devoted to humiliating ugly people.  At the time, I was absolutely devastated.  These days I’d probably give him a serve for looking at such websites!

People think I’m stupid, that I can’t see when they’re aiming their cameras and mobile phones at me.  Others think I’m paranoid, imagining that people are photographing me in public, but several experiences of seeing myself as a headless fatty on the evening news (and once in a newspaper) and turning up on websites, is more than enough evidence.  I don’t imagine this shit and I’m not the only one it happens to.  How often do you see pop up on Twitter, someone posting a photo of a stranger they see on the bus or train or some other public place, saying “Check out this weird person?”  I’ve unfollowed all of the people who think it’s ok to do that, but occasionally a new one crops up.  Why are there sites like that Walmart one, or ones devoted to bad fashion, “weird” people or ugly people?

It’s because we live in a culture that thinks that just because they have a camera in their hand, they’re allowed to photograph people for the purpose of ridicule.

I’ve also had people suggest that these folks are taking my photo without my consent because “You’re awesome Kath.”  That is true, I am awesome.  But the people who think I’m awesome and want my photo have the decency to come and ask my consent.  That happens every now and again, someone will come up to me and say “I love your hair, could I take your photo?”  Or “Your outfit is so cool, can I get a picture of you?”

Sometimes people say to me “Well, perhaps if you didn’t cut your hair like that, or dye it bright colours, they wouldn’t photograph you.”  Sometimes they deem the way I dress being the reason for people photographing me.  But the thing is, no matter what the reason, be it my coloured hair, my bold style of dress, my fatness, my cropped hair, whether they think I’m ugly… no matter what reason someone is photographing me without my consent, doesn’t excuse them for doing it… without my damn consent and for the purpose of putting my photograph online or on the news or in the paper to ridicule.  “Oh but you make yourself so noticeable!” these people say.  I am not going to disappear, to hide away just to avoid rude people who feel the need to photograph anyone who looks different for the purpose of ridicule.  I don’t wear my hair the way I do, or dress the way I do to get attention.  I do it because those are the things I like.  I love coloured hair, I love bright clothes and unique style.  I make my appearance the way I do, because it pleases ME.

Having control over who photographs us and how we are represented in photographs is often seen as vanity or even self consciousness (the old “that’s not flattering” malarkey), but to me, it’s about having control over my identity.  It’s about ownership of my own body, appearance and identity.  People who just photograph others for their own amusement or to ridicule are treating the subjects they photograph as if they are public property.  No matter where we are, in public or in private, our bodies are our own property and we have every right to choose what happens to our bodies, including the photographing of them.

This is one of the reasons that I am really excited about working on a project with Dr Lauren Gurrieri of the Griffith University, which I will tell you more about when I can.  One of the components of the project is fat activists being photographed by a professional (and talented) documentary photographer.  I love the idea of choosing to be photographed on my terms, in places and settings that I feel represent me, by someone I feel comfortable with. 

It’s not going to be easy, handing over the reins to the photographer, even though I do trust him and have seen his excellent work.  It’s not easy for most people to relax and allow someone to photograph them going about their day (or even posing) because we’re conditioned to believe we’re horrible and that we need to vet every photograph taken of us.  But when you have people in the street thinking it’s funny to photograph you to show their mates or put on the internet for ridicule, or you’ve seen yourself decapitated on the evening news as a representation of something that needs to be cured/prevented/eradicated… well, you’ve got a whole lot of shit you’re carrying around to deal with that most people don’t have to.

But it’s also important to claim back my body for myself, and to not let the people who haven’t got a shred of basic respect for others to claim ownership of my identity.

It’s also important to call out this behaviour.  It’s not easy, but when we see our friends or family taking “sneaky” (they’re never sneaky enough to escape notice by the subject of the photograph, believe me, I notice) photos on their mobile phones and cameras, or posting things to their Facebook or Twitter to snark at them, we have to speak up.  We have to make sure that people know this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

Because just because it isn’t us this time, doesn’t mean we won’t be the ones being photographed without our consent next time.

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Falling off the Wagon

Published October 19, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Ahh this fat acceptance malarkey is a bit of a process isn’t it?

I have fallen off the wagon of fat acceptance. I’ve been a bit mean to myself over the past few days. You see, I have noticed that I have gained some weight. Ok, I don’t know for sure that I’ve actually gained weight as I don’t have scales and refuse to find some to check, but my clothes are a wee bit tighter and I’m feeling sluggish and heavy. So I’m assuming I’ve gained some weight.
I know why I am having these changes – I’m on holiday. I’m not living my usual breakneck paced lifestyle of rushing around for work and my social life. I’m also out of my routine. So I’m a spending a lot more time relaxing. It’s great, I needed it. But I have kind of relaxed enough and am now feeling sluggish and blah.
Of course, the minute I go to put on a pair of pants that were a firm fit before, and now don’t fit me, what do I do? All the fat acceptance and gaining strong self esteem slides out the window and I get on hating myself. Yep, I have been berating myself for about two days now. Today I realised that THAT’S ENOUGH.
I was getting ready to go out last night, to see Elvis Costello in concert (my favourite male singer ever) and I had a new dress that I loved, new shoes, and I’ve just coloured my hair a very bright, intense red. Normally I would be getting ready and feeling all great, but all I could do was criticise bits of myself. For the first time in a long time I even shied away from photographing my new sandals and posting them to Twitter because all I could see when I looked at my feet was how fat they were. Usually I LOVE showing off my shoes.
Thing is, what does it achieve to be hating on myself? I KNOW that it achieves nothing, rationally speaking, but somehow crappy self esteem seems to smack rationality down pretty quickly.
I tried to get over it by taking some photos of my outfit, but found myself taking dozens of pics because I hated every single one that I took. I really thought I’d got over that, but it’s silly because the truth is, everyone has days where they feel crappy and are critical of themselves – it’s no point being even more critical over that too.
This morning I woke up feeling crud, but kind of turned a corner later in the day as I was getting ready to go out again, and started to feel a bit of a lift.
I have to admit the real lift came when I went to get on a bus into town (I took myself off to a movie) to find that the cute bus driver that I usually only see on the trip home after work had made a completely random shift swap, and there he was on a bus I would never normally take! Not to mention that we’ve progressed our usual brief flirty hello and goodbye for a 40 minute conversation for the whole bus trip. I believe there may even be an exchange of contact details next time. That’s gotta make a girl feel better about herself, hmmm?
Anyway, what I’m trying to say with this post is that all of us will have times that we fall off the self esteem/fat acceptance wagon, that it’s a learning process and we have to remember to be kind to ourselves. To do the things that make us feel good, and read lots of positive material (oh the wonder of the fatosphere!) and with time, it does come back.
And in celebration of me finding my mojo again, here is one of the pictures of me in my new dress from last night. Most of the pics are pretty good, now that I’m looking at them through mojo-rich eyes again!

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Living with Fattitude!

Published October 6, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Well my lovelies, have I got something special for you!

I was reading “Screw Inner Beauty: Lessons from the Fatosphere” by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby (yes, it’s called “Lessons from the Fatosphere” in the US – dunno why we have the different name here in Australia) when I came across the most awesome word. Wait for it…
Fattitude
Isn’t it fabulous? I totally love it. I used to love the term “fat and sassy” to describe myself, but this new word, “fattitude” just hits the nail on the head perfectly.
So I got thinking about fattitude, and I realised that there were a lot of “sexy fats” and “fashionable fats” out there in the fatosphere as far as groups and pools were concerned, but I don’t feel like I fit either of those. I’m not a fatshionista – I couldn’t care less about fashion other than to wear stuff that I like and that makes me feel good. I don’t particularly want to be sexualised either, it’s just not my thing, you know?
What I feel for me is that I am fat with attitude. That I am fat and live a full, fascinating, positive life. But I didn’t feel like there was much out there by the way of groups for women like me that weren’t about fashion or sexuality.
So I have created a Flickr group called Fattitude. Which is for photos of women and men, who are fat and sassy, fat with attitude, fat and fascinating, fat and positive, fat and full of life.
I would really like for anyone reading this, even those who are not fat, to come along and join this positive, upbeat group and I invite you to post photos of yourselves or your loved ones who are full of fattitude. Fat people having fun, feeling good, living life, being positive. I want this group to be one you can participate in, and also see other fat people who are living their lives to the full, so you know that you can do it too, in those times when you’re feeling low.
So roll up one and all, come and join Fattitude on Flickr!
P.S: and please spread the word of this group – the more the merrier!