quality of life

All posts in the quality of life category

When “You Look Great” Doesn’t Match How You Feel

Published June 26, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

“You’ve lost weight!  You look great!”

I’ve heard that quite a few times over the past week.  I’ve been conflicted as to what to say.  I don’t want to be rude (particularly if it’s someone at work), but I feel the need to respond with something other than positive/affirmative.  Because I haven’t looked great at all.  I’ve had shadows and bags underneath my eyes, I’m still coughing a lot of the time and I frequently turn green with nausea.

I haven’t looked great.  I have only looked thinner.

It has been two-fold.  First I was sick with a cold that turned into a chest infection.  It left me as weak as a kitten and with absolutely no energy.  I didn’t eat properly the whole week I was sick.  I was either too exhausted, too sore or when I did try to eat, it just made me cough more.  I’m lucky a friend dropped by with home made soup and rolls (and some other tasty noms for me to nibble at), or I probably wouldn’t have eaten anything solid all week.

Add to this that thanks to my recent diagnosis of T2 diabetes, I am back on Metformin again.  Diabex to be particular, though it doesn’t make much difference, all versions of Metformin make me sick.  Not to be indelicate, but they make me spend most of the day going back and forth to the toilet, with the occasional vomit in between.  At least for the first month or so taking it, and again when the dosage is changed.  I’m just settling down into my initial dosage now, and I know I have to adjust the dosage soon.

But I’ve lost some weight, so people say “You look great!”  Regardless of how I feel.

I have said many times before that this whole culture of thin supposedly equaling health actually has nothing to do with health and everything to do with appearance.  People see thin as “better” so they label it as “healthier”.

I have seen people who have weight loss surgery turn grey-skinned, lose their hair, have shadows and bags under their eyes, lose teeth, become physically frail and weak, their skin break out and develop chronic shaking.  Not to mention the things you can’t see – reflux, vomiting, bowel problems etc.  Yet they lose weight, so people say “You look great!”  When they are not well at all and their quality of life is far worse than it was when they were fat.  But we are so indoctrinated that thin = better, if anyone was to show genuine concern for how they feel physically, they become the enemy, the one who “doesn’t want me to be healthy.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine had cancer.  She had a hell of a fight on her hands and underwent huge doses of chemotherapy to try to beat it.  I remember at her lowest point, at the moment it was touch and go whether she would survive, people kept telling her she looked fabulous.  Simply because she’d gone from a fat lady to a thin lady.  Of course, she was dangerously ill and it was on the line as to whether or not she would survive.  But because she had lost weight, many people deemed that she “looked great”.

This happens a lot to fat people.  Even without any solicitation, all we have to do is look like we’ve lost even the tiniest amount of weight (even if it’s just clothing that makes us look this way) and people tell us we “look great”.  I remember in my deepest, darkest eating disorder days when I starved, purged and exercised myself down to my thinnest (which was a size 16-18 – I’m currently a size 26) and I was desperately unhappy because being thin didn’t fix my life at all, and I was physically sick from all the ways I was punishing my body, people told me that I looked great.  They told me I was awesome, fabulous and amazing.  Without ever once asking me how I felt.  Which was miserable and sick.

If that’s what I have to do to look great in the eyes of the world… no thanks.  I’d rather feel good, trust my body to show me what it needs, feed it as best I can and move it in ways that I enjoy, and stay fat than do that kind of damage to myself in the name of looking good.

On “Letting Yourself” Get Unhealthy

Published June 7, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I read this post from Dr Samantha Thomas over at The Discourse and I must say, while I’m absolutely disgusted at the way Amanda Bell has been treated, sadly I am not actually surprised.  Because most of us who live in fat bodies know all too well that respectful, dignified health care is not something we can find easily, and that part of the reason so many of us find ourselves ill is because we avoid going anywhere near medical providers due to the amount of shame and bullying that is heaped on us when we do.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic illness that comes with a whole host of it’s own shaming, which is compounded when it is suffered by someone who is fat.  I am lucky, I have a GP who is supportive, sympathetic and treats me with respect and dignity.  She also listens to me.  However I was in my 30’s before I found my beloved Doc Jo.  But I dread the thought of needing a specialist of any kind, because it is fresh in my mind the horror of having to deal with fat shaming and the general disrespect of fat-hostile medical professionals (and I use the term “professional” loosely).

But as I have read more and more on the topic of T2 diabetes, all I have found is further fat-shaming from both health care professionals and from every “expert” member of the media and the public who profess to have an opinion on a chronic illness that they neither suffer nor have studied.  The most common message is that T2 diabetics, or to be specific, fat T2 diabetics, have “brought it upon themselves” and are now “clogging up our health care system on something they did to themselves.”  Somehow thin T2 diabetics escape this criticism and are often heaped with sympathy and disbelief on how they should get a disease that the commenter believes is something that only “unhealthy fat people” get.

And just tonight, on Twitter I have had some two-bit television doctor from the UK dismissing me as “being silly” when I tried to speak to him about the disrespect and shaming that fat people suffer at the hands of medical professionals.  Clearly he fails to see that a patronising tone is not an adequate argument.

What I want to talk about today is the commonly held belief that fat people do not deserve respectful, caring medical attention and are unable to advocate for their own health.  Now, let’s pretend, for just a moment, that all the evidence we have found about there being no causal links between fatness and disease, only correlation, and we’ll pretend, just for a moment, that there are no healthy fat people, nor unhealthy thin people, and we’ll even pretend for a moment that 95% of diets and weight loss regimes do not fail over the long term.  So if we ignore all of that evidence, and pretend, just for a moment, that fat really is something that can be controlled and eradicated by diet and exercise.

Let’s just pretend for a minute (bear with me).

If that’s the case, wouldn’t that mean that EVERYBODY who engages in risky behaviour or does things that are detrimental to their own health should be shamed, bullied, intervened into and vilified for their behaviours?  Wouldn’t that mean that ANYONE who is not in 100% tip-top physical form through some kind of activity or behaviour that may possibly do damage to the human body should be held fully financially responsible (without any support from private or public health care) for their illnesses and injuries?

Let’s think about that.

Do you tan/sunbathe/expose ANY of your skin to the sun?  Well, that counts you out for respectful health care, because you’ve let yourself get skin cancer.  Do you drink alcohol?  No respectful health care for you, if you let yourself get cirrhosis, stomach ulcers or alcohol related illnesses.  How about anyone who plays sport?  If you let yourself get injured on the field/course/track/court – no respectful health care for you.  Have you ever had sexual intercourse in your life? Well if you get any of the long list of illnesses and diseases that can be contracted from just one sexual encounter, then it’s your fault, you are also exempt from respectful health care.  Do you drive a car?   If you have an accident, you let it happen, so off the list you go too.  Take public transport to commute to and from work?  Well, if the bus has an accident, or you get the flu from other people on your train – you let that happen by engaging in behaviour that has risks, so you’re off the list there.  Choose to get pregnant?  Well, all those things that can happen during pregnancy and childbirth – you let those happen by exposing yourself to that risk, so nope, no respectful health care for you either.

We could go on like this for ever.  Because every single action we do in our lives, can and does have health risks.  Not to mention that we humans do a lot of very stupid things to ourselves and end up sick or injured because of it.  We drive big metal and glass vehicles at high speeds, we perch atop small things with wheels on them and hurtle along roads, down hills and around car-parks in the name of fun or transport.  We hurl balls, sticks, spears, discs and other projectiles at each other in the name of sport.  We jump out of planes, strap huge cans of air to our backs and dive to the bottom of the ocean with big creatures that have teeth that and see us as food, we go places where there are things that can bite, sting, spear and poison us.  We have sex with all kinds of people and things, we use mind-altering substances and we engage in all kinds of purely cosmetic procedures that can go wrong.  In the name of entertainment, pleasure or convenience, we do hundreds of things that are not entirely necessary, and carry risks to our health.

Such is life.  Simply being conceived, gestated and born is the riskiest thing any human being can do – all the stuff afterwards is just the icing on the risk cake.

So why is it that fatness is singled out?  Why is it that there is this general perception that fat people aren’t capable of making informed, conscious choices about our own lives and the risks associated?  Why is it believed that we need to be shamed for our own good?

Because it’s not about health.  It has never been about health.  It is about appearance and moral superiority.  A fat person offends the eye of a fat hater (and fat hatred is encouraged in our society), so they need to be shamed and bullied until they are either thin, or hidden away where the fat hater cannot see them.  Or better still, eradicated.  And our culture encourages people to feel moral superiority over others, so as we are encouraged to hate fat, who better to claim moral superiority over to make ourselves feel better than the fatties?

Yet so many people still can’t understand why fat people avoid going to the doctor…

If You Could Magically Become Thin Overnight, Wouldn’t You?

Published May 23, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Hands up if you’ve had this question.  If you’re a fat activist I’d say the likelihood is pretty high.  I hear it pretty regularly myself.

It’s usually followed by “Of course you would!” before I even get the chance to respond.  Which tells me from the outset that my answer to the question was actually irrelevant, since I wasn’t even given the opportunity to answer for myself.

I’ve just had another round of that question fired at me.  Anonymously of course, though it hasn’t always been so.  This time the asker hit me up in several places (Tumblr, Formspring, in the comments on this blog…) with the same question.  Seems they really want to tell me that “Of course you would!”

The thing is, it’s a redundant question.  There IS no magic way to become thin, either overnight, in a week, a month, a year, a decade.  The asker assumes that the concept is really worth entertaining because they believe that if I really, really wanted to, I could become thin.  But I know, and it’s becoming increasingly documented in science, that no matter how much a I could possibly want it (if I did), I can no more become thin than I can become a unicorn, the President of the United States of America, or marry Hugh Jackman.

Well, there is an outside, remote, very distant chance I could marry Hugh, but even that is more of a likelihood than my becoming thin.

However, there are some things I would like to happen, and I do believe are possible right now, without any magic, is for people with fat bodies to be treated with dignity and respect.  For our bodies to exist without being treated as objects of derision, fetish or ridicule.  And for fat people to be allowed to live their lives without the intrusion of strangers and the general public on our own private matters, such as health, sexuality and comfort.

I would like to see all bodies, regardless of their size included in all aspects of life.  I would like to see all bodies included in public spaces, on transport, in education and health without moral value being attached to them.  I would like all bodies to have access to clothing, furniture, safety gear and sporting/recreational equipment equally.

But most of all, I would like to see people in general focus on the wellbeing of their own bodies, rather than intruding on the wellbeing of other people’s – even fat people.

This is what could happen, without “magic”, and without wishing for something that is simply a fairytale.

The Lazy Diagnosis

Published April 21, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I want to talk about death threats against fat people today.  Not literal ones, like “I’m going to kill you!”, which we do receive sometimes, particularly if we commit the “crime” of being publicly and unashamedly fat.  But the more subtle ones.  Brian over at Red No. 3 wrote about them a while back, in his post “A Culture of Death Threats“.

It’s the kind of message that fat people hear every day.  The message that boils down to “You’re going to die, fatty!!”  All those times you hear “But don’t you know being fat is unhealthy??” and “You’re going to get diabetes/high cholesterol/heart disease/bowel cancer/etc.” right through to the ridiculousness of “Your fat is crushing your bones!  Your organs are going to liquify into fat!  Obesity destroys your immune system!”

We, fat people, hear those messages every day.  From sources near and far – friends and family, the diet industry, mainstream media, the government, strangers on the street, and indeed, from many health care professionals.

As Brian says in his post, this is a method of control, trying to get us to do as we are told.  We must diet, punish ourselves, be invisible, feel shame, loathe our fat bodies.  Be a good fatty and do whatever we can to stop being fat.

However, something else happens too.  Even if we opt out of the societal norm of loathing and shame for fat bodies, something happens to us that even the most deeply entrenched fat activist can be susceptible to.  We begin to fear our fat bodies.   We stop listening to them as part of ourselves, and see them as the enemy, something to be feared and fought, other than/outside ourselves.

It happened to me this week.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before that I suffer from anxiety.  Some of it is genetic (most of my family on both sides have some form of anxiety issues) and some of it is a result of PTSD.  Of course, my anxiety has been blamed on my fatness too, but I have thin relatives who also suffer it, and that never gets acknowledged.

Most of the time, it’s well managed these days.  I recognise many of the triggers, I see the warning signs, and I have learned the skills to mitigate most bouts.  But sometimes it blindsides me, and then it’s very difficult to work through it, even with the recognition and skills I have learned.

So I got a cold a couple of weeks ago.  It swept through my office like a brush fire, and as I had a nice open tattoo wound at the time, I could hardly avoid it.  My doctor (who is awesome and I am very lucky to have found) and I have noticed this phenomena of me getting a cold every time I have a fresh tattoo – otherwise I hardly get the bugs that go around.  I had a pretty full on cough, got a rather interesting husky voice for a couple of weeks, felt a bit run down and tired, but wasn’t that bad so I didn’t have any time off work though many of my colleagues who got the same lurgy did.

However this week, I noticed a pain in the left side my chest.*

And every voice that ever told me that I was going to die because I’m a disgusting fatty, fat, fat came flooding back to me.  Every concern troll, every narrowminded bigot, every doctor who didn’t bother to examine me and just looked at my fat body and made a diagnosis, every arsehole on the street who told me I would die because of my fatness was suddenly back in my head, telling me that my fatness was going to give me a heart attack and I would die.  I was hearing those old recordings in my mind, and I was afraid.

It was stupid.  But it happens, even now.  Because the relentlessness of those messages, that are literally inescapable, means that even though I’m consciously rejecting them, they still get through from time to time, when I’m not feeling at my strongest.

This is what we’re up against in our culture.  Relentless messages that tell us, regardless of any actual facts about our personal situations, that we’re going to die, and it will be all the fault of our fatness.  People who are not fat, or who can pass as not fat, don’t have to constantly brace themselves against that avalanche of negativity every day.  But those of us who have unhideable bodies, bodies that can never pass as “not fat”, are subjected to it, everywhere.  Dozens and dozens of variations of that same basic message, “Fear your fat body.”

The thing is, having that kind of constant threat of death spouted at us is what makes many of us sick, not the fatness of our bodies.  Having that much negativity, shame and loathing constantly thrown at you has got to wear at times.  It’s the nocebo effect – where those messages are so deeply ingrained, that we start to believe that we are going to get sick, that we are going to die and that message is so powerful that we actually DO get sick.

But it’s still our fault.  Because we’re fat, and being fat means that you caused all bad things that have happened to you.

Of course, we are then accused of being “weak” when those messages weigh too heavily on our shoulders.  When the constant call to fear our own bodies actually filters through, and we succumb to that fear.  If we admit anxiety or stress, then it is somehow our fault, and we’re to blame for that as well.   If we go to the doctor, we’re often told that we’re hypochondriacs, or that we’re being overly dramatic, if we would just go and lose weight this wouldn’t happen.  Our anxiety and stress is dismissed as whinging or attention seeking, with no question as to what is causing such anxiety and stress.  We are tossed out the door yet again, with “lose weight” as the cure for all that ails us.

So what do so many of us do?  We ignore the REAL messages our bodies try to send us.  When we feel pain, we avoid going to the doctor, because we’ll only be told that we’re weak, that we should just lose weight and the problem will go away.  We won’t get a real diagnosis, they won’t care how we feel.  We’ll just be shamed and sent packing with instrutions to eat less and exercise more.

Is this ever factored into “studies” into mortality and health of fat people?  Is it ever acknowledged by those supposedly researching into issues around obesity that the very culture we live in is a) making fat people sick and b) preventing us from getting adequate health care when we do get sick?

It strikes me that the lazy ones aren’t those of us who are fat.  It’s those who don’t bother to actually listen, and investigate the health of individual fat people on a case by case basis.  It’s those who take one look at our fatness and diagnose every ailment we have as “obesity”, merely on sight.  It’s those who don’t ask WHY there may be evidence towards fat people having health issues and just assume that fat is always to blame.

Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty hypocritical?  I know I would.

*It’s ok, the pains in my chest turned out to be pulled muscles in my ribcage due to coughing with that damn cold.

But You’re Gonna DIE!!

Published December 27, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I’ve had another concern troll.  You know the usual schtick, the whole “But you’re gonna DIE!” type.  I was reading Ragen’s post over at Dances with Fat on the Vague Future Health Threat (herein referred to as VFHT) and I thought I’d talk a bit about the subject myself.  I think I’ll write a letter.

Dear concern trolls, fat hating medicos, my family and friends, other people’s families and friends, colleagues and random douchebags on the street…

We are ALL going to die.

Yep, one day, we’re all going to reach the end of our lives, and we’re going to die.  Maybe that will be because we got sick with diabetes, or heart disease, or hypertension, or any other of the diseases that you claim “obesity” is the root cause of.  Maybe it will be an accident that takes us.  Maybe we’ll just grow very old and our bodies will stop working and it will be our time to go.  Or perhaps we’ll get cancer.  No matter what the cause of death is, we all have that one thing in common.  We are alive now, and one day, we’re going to die.  Whether we’re fat, thin or somewhere in the middle.

Yes, yes, I know, you say that it’s all about preventing an EARLY death.  Here’s the thing.  I knew this girl.  She was beautiful and took really good care of herself.  She never smoked, never touched alcohol, went to church, worked hard, and did everything you’re supposed to do to be healthy and live a long life.  She was slim and ate well and exercised.  Then at 24 she developed a kind of cancer that is associated with smoking.  Strangely enough, she never once smoked anything.  She died at 26.

I also knew a man, who played sport several times per week, ate healthy, didn’t smoke and only liked a beer or wine or two with friends from time to time.  He loved his family and was kind to everyone.  He died at 49 of melanoma.

Oh it’s about quality of life you say?  Because everyone knows fat people have bad hips and knees, huff and puff going up and down stairs and all that stuff.  Some do, sure.  But don’t assume all do.  Besides, if you care so much about quality of life, how about not bullying people with fat shaming?  How about accepting people as they are, and encouraging them to live their lives to the fullest right here and now, which in turn will enable them to do things like eat well, and be active?  If you’re so fired up about quality of life, you’d be making sure that fat people were happy as well as healthy.

See when I was 12, I went to the doctor with terrible period pain.  He told me that if I didn’t lose the weight before I was 13, my periods would stop and I’d never have a proper puberty.  I didn’t lose the weight.  My periods didn’t stop and puberty came along as it should have.

When I was 16, I went to the same doctor with more terrible period pain, as well as some other menstrual issues.  He told me that if I didn’t lose the weight by the time I was 18, I’d have diabetes.  I didn’t lose the weight.  I’m 38 and still don’t have diabetes, or even pre-diabetes.

When I was 19, I went to a new doctor with debilitating menstrual issues (see a pattern here?) and he told me that I should go away and lose weight, find myself a boyfriend and have a baby.   Good advice for someone in pain who has bled for 18 months huh?

When I was 21, I went to a doctor with a skin problem.  He told me to lose weight and they’d go away.  I went to another doctor, and he made them go away without me losing a pound.

When I was 25, I went to another doctor because my periods had stopped.  He told me that it was because I was fat, and if I didn’t lose the weight by the time I was 30, I’d get diabetes and my knees would give away.  I lost the weight, then gained it again, then lost it again, then gained it again… all I got for that was bad teeth, a whole lot of stretchmarks and the continuation of a very long term eating disorder.  No diabetes or bad knees.

When I was 30, I went to a doctor with menstrual troubles again (see the pattern here?) and she told me that if I didn’t lose the weight, I’d never have babies, I’d get diabetes and have a heart attack before I was 35.  She told me that my depression would go away, my periods would come back regular (and be pain free) and I wouldn’t have any more acne.  She gave me lots of different types of weight loss drugs and treatments to try.  I did lose the weight.  A LOT of weight.  What I got was more depression, my period disappeared altogether, my skin got worse and I tried to kill myself repeatedly.

I gained the weight back.  I went to a doctor who came highly recommended.  I was 32.  She diagnosed me with PCOS.  Over the past 6 years we’ve been working through my health together.  We tried a lot of things, worked out what was best for me, and went with it.  I am now strong and healthy and emotionally happy.  We have figured out the PCOS stuff and all of that is working well for me.  My weight is only a factor when it comes to dosage.  I’m 38 and I still haven’t developed the diabetes (or even pre-diabetes) that has been predicted for me since I was a teenager.  My vital signs are all fabulous.   I am full of energy and life is good.  My doctor is happy with my health.  Should that change, then my doctor and I will assess things again.

The thing is, you don’t know my body.  You don’t know anyone’s body except your own.  You’re not really concerned about my health, because you don’t know what my health is.  You just don’t like looking at fat people.  But you think by camouflaging your fat loathing with concern for health, you can pass comment, or make judgement.  You can’t.

You worry about your health.  I’ll look after mine.

Regards

Fat Heffalump

P.S.  Here’s a special image for you all:

Photobucket

Let’s Make it Better

Published October 7, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I want to talk about bullying.  But I’m struggling with it, because even now, when I am in a safe, happy place in my life, when I am bully free and strong, I still feel hurt and fear.  Just thinking about what I suffered at the hands of bullies plunges me back into all of those emotions, even though rationally I know that I am safe and strong.

But I HAVE to talk about it.  Because not only is it good for me personally to voice all of these demons that bother me, but because being open about it, putting out there into the world what people are suffering every single day, and calling it out for what it is, is needed to help battle the very deeply ingrained bully culture of our world.

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post.

Bullying is by no means a new thing.  It happened to me all my life and I’m 38 this month.  As a child, as a teen, and yes, even as an adult.  And I know it’s been happening for so long in history one couldn’t pinpoint an origin.  But I do think that it is particularly vicious in our time now.  I’m not saying it’s at it’s most vicious now, or that it we haven’t had equally/more vicious periods of bullying in our history.  I do think it comes and goes in cycles perhaps, as society finds excuses, until the inevitable backlash comes along.  It’s time for that backlash now.

I am of course, right now, spurred on by the It Gets Better project, which is in response to the suicide of several young gay men who were bullied to the point of losing all hope.  However, while I do want to send a message of support out to the young queer folk out there, and talk to them about the bullying they go through, I want to broaden this to anyone who has suffered, or is suffering at the hands of bullies.  Whether that be because you are GLBT, fat, shy, female, small, different, just an easy target… whatever reason the bullies have chosen you, I want to talk to you in this post.  And that goes to those of you who have been bullied in the past but are doing ok now.

So let’s start with my story.

As I mentioned, I was bullied my whole life.  I came from an abusive home, so perhaps I already had the mark on me of being a suitable victim.  I don’t know, but it definitely started before I got fat, so it’s not just my fatness that was the reason.  I can remember being pushed over at Kindergarten by a boy who was bigger than me on more than one occasion, for no good reason that I knew.  When I went to primary school, I got it there.  Menaced by bigger boys for any money I might have (which was very little if any), or my stuff, even if it was cheap and crappy.  I was made fun of for being poor, for being dirty, for being fat (even before I was fat), for being stupid (which I have never been), or just because I was available for bullying.  When I got a little older I would stand up to the bullies if they targeted my younger brother, but if I was just on my own, I seemed to lack the confidence to do so.   They would push me around, throw food or anything else gross they could think of at me, steal my school stuff and hide it or destroy it, make fun of how I looked or what I was wearing, or lie to teachers and get me in trouble when I hadn’t done anything.

But, in primary school I had friends, a couple of lovely teachers, and my beloved school library (complete with teacher-librarians who I still idolise today), so I survived.  It was much harder surviving what was being dished out at home than dealing with what was happening at school.

When I got to high school, things changed.  I got fat.  Puberty hit at the end of primary school so I was far more developed than my peers.  Added to the mark I already seemed to have on me labelling me as a perfect bully victim, it equaled 5 years of living hell.  For the first time, the girls started in on me.  Say what you like, boys might be rougher and bigger, but girls are far, far more vicious bullies.  There was one girl who had a pair of twin sisters as friends.  Think of the two oafs that Draco Malfoy has as his henchmen in Harry Potter… Crabbe and Goyle.  That’s what these two twins were like.  Twice my size, mind numbingly stupid, but would do anything that the Malfoyesque girl told them to do.  They beat the shit out of me.  They burnt my stuff.  They followed me home (across the street from the high school, fucking great huh?) and stood there on the corner for hours on end, menacing me.  They told the older boys that I liked them and that I’d sleep with them for money.  They rang the school pretending to be a concerned parent and dobbed on me for doing things I didn’t do.  They told my violent father that they caught me smoking.  They stole my lunch and ground it in the dirt.  They cornered me in the girls toilets and forced me to stick my fingers down my throat until I vomited, and told me that I had to do that after every meal because I was so fat and disgusting.  They found a boy to piss on me, which he would do every couple of days.  They got other boys to ring my house and ask me out, and then laugh at me no matter what reaction I had.  They spat on me, they stole my school books, they tore my school uniforms, they just never fucking stopped.  All the while the main girl just told them what to do, and spewed hateful words at me.

One day when I was about 14, something snapped.  I lashed out with a steel ruler that I happened to have in my arms with my school books, and hit the main girl across the face with it.  I was horrified but I had just snapped.  The deputy principal took me into his office and said “I know you’re not that girl, you’re not violent.  But I know what goes on at home, and that you don’t want to be that person.  Don’t ever come back into my office for this reason again.”

They never bothered me again.  In fact, even the oaf twins gave me a wide berth.

But the bullying didn’t stop.  Older kids stepped in.  Boys got worse.  They grabbed my breasts, forced me into corners and grabbed my crotch.  They pulled down my pants.  They asked me out and then screamed with laughter at the mere thought of dating me.  They spat on me, pissed on me, threw dog shit at me, you name it.

I changed schools in my Senior year because my mother moved us to a new town.  The bullying happened there too, just with different kids.  But they could have been the same kids.  They looked and sounded like the same kids to me.

Teachers never helped.  They told me not to be so sensitive, not to engage with the bullies, not to take things so seriously, to mind my own business, to get a hobby, to lose weight, to apply myself better in school.  My parents didn’t care, they were too busy fighting each other and bullying me themselves.

By the time I was 16, I wanted to die.  It was the only way I could see an end to it.  But for some reason, I never did it.  I just wanted dying to happen, I couldn’t do it myself.

After I left school, there were some good years, but soon after more bullies found me.  One of my first full time bosses bullied me for fun.  A neighbour bullied me.  I had some more good years.  Then a colleague bullied me for a couple of years that were absolutely hellish, and which only stopped when a bullying complaint was filed on my behalf (when I simply asked for help) and while that complaint was dismissed because of a technicality, for some reason the bullying stopped too.

I got help with my self esteem and the depression issues (which I believe are part chemical, part result of constant abuse and bullying my whole life).  Things are good for me now, and I know I would never, ever take the shit that I once used to tolerate.  But in those bad years, time and time again I wished for death to claim me, a few times I got to the point of attempting it myself.

So I know, oh believe me I know how it feels.

Now, to those of you who are young and think it never ends.  It does.  You are not what they say you are.  You are not worthless, ugly, disgusting, gross, nothing.  You will survive this.  And it WILL get better.  Please, please don’t give up.  Talk to someone.  Call or email something like The Trevor Project, or Kids Helpline, or Lifeline, or something else in your state/country along those lines (anyone who knows any services, please share links in the comments).  But hang in there.  Hold your head up and know that you DO deserve better.

And I promise you this.  I am working to MAKE it better.  It’s not fair of people to just say “Hang in there, it will get better.” without doing anything to make it better.  You shouldn’t have to just ride it out and tolerate being bullied.  But if you can hang on, I and a lot of other people who care, will work to make it better, to change things.  I will fight to change the cultural attitude of permitting bullying, or excusing it.  I will ask others to stand beside me in that fight.  It has to change.

Now to those of you who are adults and have suffered bullying in the past.  Or those of you who maybe have or know kids you’re worried about when it comes to bullying.  I need to talk to all of you.

It’s not right that we ask kids to hang on, to suffer through the bullying with the vague promise that “it gets better”.  We need to MAKE it better.  We need to teach our own children, and all of those around us, that bullying is never, ever acceptable.  I’ve seen posts over the past couple of days saying that bullies do so because they hate themselves, or because they’re the victims of abuse at home themselves, and a myriad of other reasons.  I’m here to say that while I care that people feel this way, I DO NOT ACCEPT THOSE EXCUSES.

I hated myself my whole life, until I was past 35.  I came from a violent, abusive home.  Lot’s of us did/do.  Lots of us have things in our lives that made/make us miserable, but do we turn to bullying to deal with that?  No.  Because we know it’s just a very pathetic excuse to be a cretin.

I do not accept any justification for bullying.  I am not going to give bullies sympathy and hugs.  Not until they stop bullying.  If and when anyone chooses to be a good human being, and to treat others with basic respect, then I will encourage them and support them until the ends of the earth.  But so long as someone is bullying others there need to be decent repercussions for that behaviour.  We need to stop making excuses and enabling bullies.  We need to speak up and say it is unacceptable, over and over and over again.  We need to tell our friends, our families, our colleagues that bullying behaviour is not acceptable.  We need to work to make it better for the kids that are coming up behind us.  We cannot let the same injustices happen over and over again.

It’s time we stood up and said loud and clear that bullying is NEVER acceptable. Change takes time, but we have to stand up and start making that change.  The kids of today will join us down the track, and more and more after them.

Let’s not expect young people to just suffer through bullying.  Let’s make a difference.

Australian Fat Studies Conference: My Paper

Published September 10, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Well, day one of the Australian Fat Studies Conference down and one more to go.  I have no words for how awesome it has been – but I will attempt to find those words once I’ve been home and been able to think about it.

Instead, I am going to share with you my paper, which I presented this morning to the conference.  I feel it went well, though I was very nervous!

So here you go:

Collateral Damage in the War On Obesity

A perspective on how the “War on Obesity” affects someone who is obese, and whether any of those effects are of any use to the obese person.

I need your help.  I can’t live like this.  No matter what I do, the weight keeps coming back.  I know, I know, I’ve lost 25 kilos already, but it won’t stay off.  It just keeps creeping back.  I exercise every day for before I go to work, then again during my work day at the office gym, then again for a couple of hours at the local pool when I get home.  All I do is exercise.  I have no life.  My friends won’t talk to me any more, because all I talk about is the gym and dieting.  I don’t go out or socialise or anything anymore.  All I do is go to the gym or the pool or walk around my neighbourhood by myself.  I keep getting in trouble at work because I can’t keep up, I can’t concentrate, I forget things and I cry all the time.

My doctor gave me these pills, but… they frighten me.  I took them just like he said, and all it did was make me crazy.  I haven’t slept for four days.  I haven’t eaten anything in four days.  I keep forgetting to even drink water.  These pills, they make me climb the walls, all manic and hyper.  The doctor keeps asking if I’m lying in my food journal, if I’m not writing everything I eat down.  I have been lying.  I’ve not been writing all of the exercise down, and I’ve been writing food in there that I didn’t eat. But the weight keeps coming back, no matter what I do.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to live if this is living.  Please.  PLEASE, I need help.

“Hmmm… do  you think you could add another half hour of exercise in the evenings?  You just need to ramp it up a little to get over the hump and lose some more weight.”

That was me begging for help.  The response was from my psychologist at the time.  Over 5 years later I still don’t have any words for how I felt at that moment.  But I went home.  I filled my water bottle, I took this packet – this is the packet for the Duramine, the prescribed amphetamines for appetite suppressant, I still have it – and I sat on my bed, with the pills in one hand, and the water bottle in the other, and I decided that this would be the end of all of this.  I sat there, with the decision made that I was going to stop this life, that I was going to end it because I couldn’t live like this any more.  The world didn’t want me, a fat woman, to be in it.  I was meant to be invisible, to not exist, unless I could be thin.  So I was going to just kill myself, because what better way to lose weight and keep it off, than to be dead.

Just as I popped the pills out of their packet and put them in my hand, my mobile phone went off with a text message.  I looked at it, a message from one of my oldest and dearest friends, and it said “I’m worried about you.  We haven’t talked in a long time.  I love you, call me.”  It saved my life.  It reminded me that someone cared about me, that someone had loved me for so long, even at my fattest, I was loved by ONE person in the world, and it would devastate him to lose me to suicide.  That one message made me decide that life was worth far more than spending it trying to be something I simply was not, and that’s the moment I walked away from the War on Obesity.  The war on myself.

None of us can miss the “War on Obesity”.  It’s in the media every day, splashed across headlines and the lead item on bulletins, it sells tabloids, books and magazines.  Studies are released with regularity that are then tweaked into news items, telling us how obese people are to blame for global warming, rising health care costs, the high price of airline tickets and even the failure of the American mitten industry.

But in this war, it’s foot soldiers are not those who volunteer for duty.  The troops drafted involuntarily into the war on obesity are those who live it.  Who get up every morning, look in the mirror then to the newspaper or radio bulletin to be reminded that not only are they the ones expected to fight the hardest and bloodiest in the war, but in fact that the war is on them, the obese.

Like most wars, those that give the orders are rarely the ones at risk of becoming victims of the war themselves.  In the case of the war on obesity, where the ranks are fighting their own bodies, how can there ever be victory?

Instead, the troops are going to the grave earlier than they should be because of self loathing, depression, self harm and avoiding seeking medical treatment out of shame.  Even those who survived are permanently maimed – be it damaged bodies from eating disorders, yo-yo diets and weight cycling or the post traumatic stress of having to live their lives in a war that they never asked for.

Today is International Suicide Prevention Day.  How many people have to opt out of the War on Obesity by the only means they believe is possible, which is to opt out of their lives all together, before we end this madness?

We need to end the War on Obesity before one more person dies needlessly.  Just like the “War on Terrorism”, the terror isn’t out there, for us to fight.  The terror is here, right within us.  The terror isn’t fat, it’s hate.

As Professor Paul Campos says in the introduction to his book “The Obesity Myth”:

Nothing could be easier than to win this war.  All we need to do is stop fighting it.

Activism is Never Resignation

Published August 31, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I have another fantastic post to refer you all to.  This one is from the wonderful Spilt Milk, who writes on how Fat Acceptance is not about “giving up”.  Go read it now.  Go on, I’ll wait here while you do…

Did you read it?  Good.

See, isn’t it a fantastic post?  She writes that well all the time, blows my mind and inspires me no end.

Anyway, on to the topic that I want to talk about, which the Spilt Milk post led me to think about, is my experience around discovering Fat Acceptance (FA) and deciding that it was the philosophy on life and health and my body that I decided not only works for me personally, but is something that I need to be actively promoting.  That post got me thinking about how little “giving up” I personally have done when it comes to my health, happiness and body.  In fact, resignation is the furthest from the choice I made in taking to Fat Acceptance.

One of the things I think the critics of FA fail to grasp is that choosing a FA lifestyle is not something you just fall into, that you give up and then it happens to you.  It’s a conscious, intelligent choice that one makes.  It has been a lot of hard work, introspection and decision making that has led me to FA.  I didn’t just decide one day “Well I couldn’t be arsed any more with this whole business of trying to lose weight, I think I’ll become a Fat Acceptance activist.”  It took months and months of reading and thinking and journalling (later blogging) and even discussing my thoughts and beliefs with my counsellor.  The more I thought about it, the more I looked towards making a choice of how I wanted to live my life, the more Fat Acceptance began to fit me.

Then came the realisation that not only do I need to live this way, but I need to share it, to advocate it, to take part in activism for it.  That was a massive decision, because it’s a coming out of sorts – Fat Acceptance is confronting and challenging for most people, and to become an activist meant that I personally had to start confronting and challenging people, attitudes and beliefs.  This is so far from resignation to me that I can’t express it.

The very word “activist” means someone who intentionally takes action.  Action is never resignation.

Of course, there is the health/body side of things.  Yeah, we’ve all heard it.  By adopting a Fat Acceptance philosophy, we’re just giving up on taking care of ourselves, we’ve given up on our health, we’ve given up on trying to look good or be active.

Let’s call bullshit on that one too.  I don’t know about the rest of you FA folk, but I’m far more active in my health than I have ever been.  Instead of shutting out my body, I listen to it.  Instead of denying my physical feelings and the needs of my body, I use those feelings to tell me what my body needs, and I respond appropriately.  Not to mention that I have gone from someone who avoids doctors at all costs (because I couldn’t handle any more of the shaming from them) to one who actively sought out a good GP and now takes the time to know my body and work with my GP to be the healthiest I have ever been in my life.

Physical activity has also become something that I engage in far more than I ever did long term in my life.  My method of physical activity, or exercise (which I refuse to do these days, I don’t engage in exercise, I engage in activity that I enjoy) in my body loathing days was to exercise binge like a madwoman until I either collapsed from whatever illness I brought on myself from poor nutrition and overwork, or hit a wall of depression so big that it would literally cripple me.  Or I would be so ashamed of my body that I wouldn’t get out of the house, I’d hide away feeling hatred towards myself, too ashamed to be seen exercising.

These days, I do whatever I enjoy, as often as I feel like it, which is fairly damn regularly.  I walk, I cycle, I dance, I do yoga and anything else that pleases me at the time simply because it’s fun.  It feels good.  My body likes it when I keep active.

As Spilt Milk says, Fat Acceptance is anything but giving up.  It’s about improving your quality of life without waiting around for your body to change size (or shape) to do so.  It’s about embracing the here and now and living your life to the full.

There is no resignation in that.

Be What You Want to See

Published August 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

So have you read this awesome post by Bri over on Fat Lot of Good, on the subject of the quality of life of fat people?  I’ve been thinking about the difference between my quality of life now, as a Fat Acceptance activist, and that I had before, in my old diet/exercise bingeing/body loathing/low self esteem days.  I talked to a few people about the quality of life of fat people too.  And do you know what conclusion I came to?

If fat people have a low quality of life, it’s not because they are fat.  It’s because they are stigmatised, loathed, feared, bullied, shamed and generally disrespected by the world around them.

Being fat doesn’t make your quality of life lower.  The things that make your quality of life lower are being dismissed by doctors as needing to lose weight when you have allergies, or a sore throat, or anything else completely unrelated to the size and shape of your body.  It’s when you’re ridiculed on the street by douchebags who think that your effect on their penis is the only value you hold.  It’s when you cannot buy reasonably priced, fashionable, well-made clothing because the clothing industry believes you are not worth catering to.  It’s when complete strangers start giving you unsolicited advice on how to change your body to suit their standards of acceptability.  It’s when the media and marketing tell you that you are lazy, dirty, smelly, disgusting, gross, stupid, unhealthy and so on simply because of the size and shape of your body.  It’s when you’re constantly made to feel like you are worthless because you do not conform to an arbitrary measure of what is normal or acceptable.

And it’s the disappointment of not being able to lose weight and keep it off, or if you do lose weight, the lie of being thin suddenly “curing” everything in your life that ails you.

For me, the moment I opted out of that world, the moment I decided that I was no longer going to let people shame and bully me into hating myself because my body happened to be fat, was the very moment that my quality of life began to improve.  I am no less fat than I was (in fact, I think I’m fatter) when my quality of life was so low, but that hasn’t influenced how good my life is one little bit.

I think it’s important that those of us who are Fat Acceptance activists, speak up and say this.  Because I know I’m not the only one who has found this is the case.  When we share that life is better when we accept and love ourselves, that happiness is achievable as a fat person, it gives our fellow fatties hope.  It shows them there is an alternative to the misery of self loathing that is so often pushed upon fat people because of other people’s prejudice.  It gives others an option to step off of the cycle of self abuse, shame and low self esteem that society at large expects fat people to just swallow as their lot in life.

We are the positive portrayals of fat people that we wish to see more of.  They’re not going to come from the mainstream media and marketing for some time yet, and when they do, it will have been damn hard work to get them there.  So we have to fill that void as best we can ourselves.  To promote ourselves and our Fat Acceptance peers as much as possible.

I know it was Fat Acceptance activists that brought me to this place of a high quality of life, and I hope I can bring others there too.