respect

All posts in the respect category

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Published November 28, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Looking out my window this evening there is no mistake that summer is here.  There is a storm brewing, it’s hot and it’s sticky.  I’m sitting here in a camisole top and a sarong, the fan blowing on me and my balcony door open to get the evening sea breezes until the storm hits and I have to run around and shut everything to keep the rain out.

It has now been about 5 years since I first started hearing about this thing called “fat acceptance” (my first foray into fat activism of any kind), and started entertaining the notion that I wasn’t worthless because there was more of me than there is of many other people.  In those years, my life has radically changed.  I’m a different person than I was 5 years ago.  I no longer put my life on hold, waiting to do things “when I lose weight”.  I no longer apologise for being the size I am.  I no longer allow people to treat me as sub-human because of my fat.  And I no longer hide myself away behind baggy, shapeless, dark clothing because others suggest it is “flattering”.

I realised the other morning as I was getting dressed for work, the me of 2012 really resents having to wear sleeves and cover my body in this hot weather.  That astonished me.  Was it really only a couple of years ago that I would never have dreamed of being seen without my arms covered?  There was once a time, that even in the hottest of summers, I would not leave the house without my arms covered past the elbow, my legs covered past the knees and a full face of makeup.  Now I often roll out of bed, shower, throw on a sun-dress and sandals and I’m out the door.  If I’m working and I have to have my arm tattoo covered, I find tops with the barest minimum length to cover the bits I need to, and then leave the rest free.  On the weekends I will chuck on a cami or tank top, a pair of shorts (sometimes plain shorts, sometimes bike-pants) and go for a walk along the waterfront with the sea air blowing on my skin.

As the weather heats up, I’m currently looking for a new swim suit, preferably a tankini or halter neck top with boy-leg shorts (so they don’t creep up my bum!) to go swimming at my local pool in.  No more wearing a huge t-shirt over the top to cover my body, no more dropping the sarong off my bottom half at the side of the pool and slipping quickly into the water.  Where my arms and legs were once pale white and untouched by sun, never seen by anyone, they are now gently ripening to brown and are adorned with magnificent ink.

I only wear makeup now when I want to dress up a bit, or have fun with some colour.  I no longer feel that I have to have a “face” on to be acceptable to be seen.  I once wore glasses that were plain and unobtrusive, now they are bold and make a statement.  Where I once wore my hair long, thick and heavy because I was told it was flattering to my round face, slowly cooking my own head under it’s weight, I now crop it uber-short with clippers, cool and light, and dye it bright hues as it grows back to a short back & sides.

Once I would hunt the sparse racks of plus-size clothes looking for black, navy, burgundy and forest green, now I am drawn to red, turquoise, magenta, mint, peach and cobalt.  From plain dark colours of my past wardrobe to the now busy prints, bold patterns and clashing colours.  I embellish them with big, fabulous accessories, shiny, colourful and jangly.  I like accessories that move and make noise, they stimulate my senses.  I look for shapes that skim my body, not blouse over it like I’m trying to hide it.  Where my legs once were always covered in plain pants, they now are bare under skirts and dresses.  When I did wear skirts before they were always with heavy black tights to hide my legs.  Now they are bare, or if it’s cold enough to need cover, have bright tights and leggings that draw attention to the shape of my legs.

In the past I walked with my head bowed, looking at my own feet, avoiding eye contact with anyone, trying to disappear.  Now I walk with my head held high, my shoulders back, surveying the world around me, smiling at the things that make me happy, meeting the eye of anyone who dares stare at me.  I would never, ever eat in public, always uncomfortable in restaurants or cafes, preferring to drink vast quantities of alcohol instead of being seen eating.  Now I don’t touch alcohol at all (I figure I drank all my share at once) and I love to dine out, to socialise with friends over brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee and cake.  I enjoy the food that I eat, and eat what I want, stopping when I’ve had enough, even if there is still food on my plate.  I know the foods that make me feel good, and those that make me feel cruddy.  I refuse to allow anyone to shame me for my food choices.

When I am home alone, I am comfortable with my naked body.  My new flat has a large mirror level with the plain glass shower stall.  The past me would never have been able to shower in this bathroom without covering the mirror, lest I catch a glimpse of my large, round, naked body.  Now I see it and value it, for being strong and capable, and for carrying me through my life.  I admire the roundness, the curves and bumps, the thickness and the marks of my life – stretchmarks, scars, moles and freckles, adorned with the ink that documents my life.  I am not bothered by the hairy bits or the saggy bits.  They are part of the road map of my life, signs of my maturing body.  Nor am I bothered by my natural hair, greying at the temples.  I feel no need to cover it as I grow it back ready to colour it something bright and fun.

This is the first phase of fat liberation for me.  I am free, I have been liberated from the prison I lived in for the first 35 years of my life.  A prison that I was both forced into, yet for many years was too afraid to leave.  My choices are mine.  My body is mine.  My life is mine.  I may never see fat bodies truly valued and celebrated by society in my lifetime, but my body is valued and celebrated by me.

I wish that for each and every one of you.

My Fat Body is ME

Published October 23, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Earlier today this post raced through my online networks like a brush fire.  With good reason, it’s an excellent piece that really lays out how fat hate has permeated so many people’s attitudes, and makes clear reasons why people need to think about what they are saying and what kind of stigma they are placing on the shoulders of fat people.

But, as is always the way with these pieces, the comments kick off with someone who simply doesn’t get it and makes the situation worse.  This person, who calls themselves a feminist (yeah right, as Flavia Dzodan says, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit) says:

But I’m also a public health scholar. I’m doing my Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health. Obesity is a chronic disease that we talk about in nearly every class. We talk about markers for childhood obesity, what leads to adult obesity, and how to curb this epidemic.

The comment does go on further and she argues with several people who call her out on this fat hating crap.  You can go and look at it if you like, the link is up there in the first sentence.  You can see how spectacularly she misses the entire point of the piece for yourself if you like.

I won’t go into the ableism and classism of the attitudes of people like the commenter here, as they both deserve posts of their own.  What I want to do tonight is address the attitude that “obesity is a chronic disease” and that we need to “curb this epidemic”. *cough* eugenics *cough*

Not about how this is complete and utter bullshit that other people have busted more eloquently and thoroughly than I could ever do, but how people like this woman are so fucking blind to the hate that they spew.  I mean, this bigot has just compared fatness (I refuse to use the word obesity to describe our fat bodies – same goes to any other medicalised word to describe physical size) to “cancer and heart disease and communicable diseases”.  I shit you not.  How anyone can fail to see this as hatred is beyond me.

Let’s break it down with some statements…

  • My fat body is not diseased.
  • I do not have/suffer obesity.  I am a fat person.
  • I am not a diseased person because I am fat.
  • My fat body is not something to be prevented, cured or eradicated.
  • I do not need anyone, be they organisation, company or individual to try to rid me of my body.
  • My fat flesh is part of me, it is not some parasite to be excised.
  • My fat flesh is not a virus to be vaccinated against, it is my body.
  • I will never again give anyone the power of starving my fat off my body, with absolutely no regard to the damage the methods of starvation cause on my body long term.
  • I will never again allow anyone to force me to apologise for my body.
  • I will never again kneel in subjugation to those who feel they are superior to me because of my fat body.
  • My fat body is not a contagion to be quarantined from “decent” society.
  • My fat body is not an affliction, a blight on humanity.
  • My fat body is not a mark of shame, or an indicator of failure.
  • My fat body is not a communicable disease, nor is it a cancer.
  • My fat body is ME and I have a right to live my life without vilification and stigma.

Anyone who seriously believes that fat bodies are any of the things above or that fat people have a debt to humanity to starve or punish themselves to meet other people’s aesthetic standards is a fat hating bigot.  It’s time we stopped dancing around the subject and named them for what they are.  No one of us has to be polite or respectful to people who believe that we are lesser than others because of the size, shape, ability and function of our bodies.  We don’t have to justify our existence, our happiness, our peace, our dignity to ANYONE on this earth.

It’s time we cut the crap with the whole “agreeing to disagree” rubbish and allowing people to be “entitled to their opinions”.  No, I don’t have to agree to anything with a person who treats me as sub-human.  Nobody is entitled to an opinion that vilifies and stigmatises another human being.  Our rights as human beings get priority over opinion, every single time.

Fat Stories: An Exhibition

Published October 19, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Last night was the official launch of Fat Stories at the Brisbane Powerhouse – an exhibition of photographs by Isaac Brown, documenting the lives of six Australian fat activists, including yours truly.  These are photographs taken as part of the Stocky Bodies project, an image library of photographs of fat people going about our everyday lives.

Isaac asked me to give a bit of an introduction to the exhibition and project as one of the participants, so I thought it an excellent opportunity to frock up for the evening.  I wore a navy and white spotted dress I got from Best & Less yonks ago, my Domino Dollhouse peach crinoline, peach and white polka dot shoes from Target and a big peach statement necklace from Lovisa.  I guess you want a look right?

Always fun to get an opportunity to frock up!

I was thrilled to have my dear friend Kerri and my tattooist, the lovely Victoria R Lundberg, there as my guests.  And I was also tickled to see an old friend, Franca, come along to the exhibit too, as I hadn’t seen her in many years.

Well this time, I actually wrote down my introduction speech, so I thought I’d share it with you here.  Because this was a different audience of people than usually hear about fat activism and fat liberation, I wanted something that snuck up and hit people in the kidneys a little bit, and made them think about the systematic dehumanisation of fat people.  So here’s what I came up with:

Several years ago, I was watching the news on TV, when a story about the “obesity epidemic” came on.  It was the usual rhetoric, fat people are all lazy and gluttonous, and they’re all going to die, we’d better prevent them, cure them, eradicate them.  As I watched this news story wringing it’s hands about how fat is the scourge of society, it happened.  I saw myself, right there on the TV screen, with my head cut off.  A piece of footage that had clearly been filmed outside my office building without my knowledge or consent.  It was me – in the very outfit I was still wearing as I sat there watching the news after I’d got home from work.

I cannot tell you how devastated I was.  What was left of my self esteem was instantly crushed, and I was mortified.  I was embarrassed, ashamed and deeply hurt.  Here this news story was, calling for the eradication of of fat, and it was illustrated with a picture of me, completely dehumanised, as though I was nothing but a big belly.

This is how the media represents fat people.  This is not only how the world are shown fat, but how we fat people see ourselves represented.

But this is not the reality of our lives.  We are not amorphous blobs of fat to be eradicated.  We are people.  People who have lives, loves, families, friends, careers, hobbies and most importantly, feelings.

This project gives us back our personhood.  These photographs represent our lives as they are, not as the media and marketing like to portray us.  But most importantly, they show other fat people that they are valuable human beings, who can live their lives to the full, despite the constant suggestion that they are worth less than people who are not fat.  These photographs have already inspired people around the world to take up dancing, to buy a bicycle, to get tattoos, to go swimming, to spend time enjoying the company of their loved ones, to shop for fashion, to wear what they like… and the most important thing – believe in themselves and their own worth.

So yeah, there you have it.  For those of you in or around Brisbane, or who can get to Brisbane over the next three weeks, I do urge you to head to the Brisbane Powerhouse at New Farm to have a look at the exhibition (it’s free!)  Here’s the flyer, featuring a favourite photo of mine from the collection, of Victoria and I, proving once and for all that you can have a photograph of fat people that withholds their identity without it being a stigmatising “headless fatty” shot.

Or you can find out more information at Fat Stories – Brisbane Powerhouse.

Let’s Not Toss the Baby with the Bath Water

Published October 10, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

There has been a lot of talk today about how it’s all well and good for Prime Minister Gillard to stand up in parliament and call out the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, for his hypocrisy about misogyny*, but many claim her own conduct/policies on other matters render her speech redundant.

While I agree, that Prime Minister Gillard (who I am no great fan of generally speaking) has a lot of work to do on issues like equal marriage rights, refugees, indigenous affairs, social support for single parents, and other issues, I think dismissing her speech yesterday undermines just how important the topic of misogyny from our political leaders is to the women of Australia.  Indeed, the women of the world.

We as a nation have watched our first woman Prime Minister treated in a manner that no male politician would ever be be subjected to, both in parliament and in the media.  We as a nation have heard the man who wants to lead our country, suggest that half of the population, women, are less adapted to exercise authority or to issue command.  We have heard this man suggest time and time again that women are somehow inferior to men.  Again, he is referring to half of the population of the country, whom he expects to vote for him to lead them.  On a regular basis, this man and the politicians he leads have referred to any woman in the Labor party as “the handbag hit squad”.  This is the man that said in an interview (therefore on the public record) “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…”

Misogyny and sexism are rife in daily life in Australia, and when the man holding the highest position in the political opposition in this country AND who expects the Australian people to vote for him to lead the country, makes statements like those Prime Minister Gillard quoted, and I have shared here, is it any wonder?

Prime Minister Gillard has a responsibility in her role, not only as the Prime Minister but as a woman in such a position of high rank, to represent the women of Australia.  Yes, she represents all Australians, but being a woman herself, and being the example of a woman in public life and power, how she allows herself to be treated, reflects on how she allows all Australian women to be treated.

Yesterday, she stood up and said “Enough.”  She stood up and spoke out against an issue that affects half of the population of her country directly, and the rest indirectly, whether they wish to admit it or not.  This is not some trifling matter to be thrown away because other policies and positions she holds do not come up to standard.  If you are a woman in this country, and you expect to be treated with basic respect as a human being, then the speech Prime Minister Gillard made yesterday should matter to you.  It should be significant to you and to this country, regardless of whether or not you align yourself with the Labor party or Prime Minister Gillard herself.

Yes, we need to keep pressuring Prime Minister Gillard on other issues.  We need to make it clear that there is still much work for her and the Labor party and indeed parliament to do to earn our votes and to successfully lead this country.

But we also must remember that in one regard at least, she has taken a significant stand for the women of Australia.  In her words:

the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.

We are entitled to a better standard than this.  All women, everywhere are entitled to a better standard than they are currently receiving, all over the world.  And to that, I say thank you Prime Minister Gillard, for finally standing up on one of the most important issues facing Australian women, all women of the world, today.

* a transcript of the entire speech can be found here.

Awww Look, the Fatty Thinks It’s People!

Published August 29, 2012 by Fat Heffalump
*Trigger warning* – fat hatred, healthism and general douchebaggery about fatness.

I did something very foolish today.  I read the letters to the editor in response to the article about Zoe and I in the U on Sunday magazine.  I know, I know, I should know better, but I had been told that they were “overwhelmingly positive”, so I had hoped to see a few gems in there to restore my faith in humanity.

Ahh but how wrong I was.  Out of the five letters published, one was overwhelmingly positive, three of them pulled the old “I applaud Kath and Zoe but…” switcheroo (if it wasn’t “but”, it was “however” or “nevertheless”) and one claimed to know that we are “hiding behind” our fat positivity and endangering ourselves and others.

It makes me wonder – can these people (other than the positive one, thank you Cathy Forbes of Twin Waters – YOU ROCK!) not read?  Do they have comprehension issues?  Did they even read the article?

Firstly, let’s address the but/however/nonetheless phenomenon.  If you are saying one thing, and then tacking on a but/however/nonetheless afterwards, you’re actually negating the first part.  So if you say, and I quote FJ Mead of Seventeen Mile Rocks:

“While I feel happy for these large women who are comfortable with their size, it is ignorant to believe they will not be  a burden to the health system later in life.”

FJ, FJ, FJ… you are in fact NOT happy for us at all, as you think we are ignorant and will end up being a burden to the health system.  You can’t have both m’dear.  Either come out and say it and show your loathing for fat people, or shut up.  Don’t hide behind false statements of “I feel happy for them” when you clearly do not.  FJ also thinks that we “aspire” to morbid obesity, or are encouraging others to “aspire” to it.  Sorry FJ, the only thing we aspire to is to be treated like human beings and not have random strangers decide what our health is simply by looking at us.

Then there is D. Hudson from Park Ridge who knows my body, and that of every fat person better than we do ourselves.  D. states “For fat people, every movement is an effort…”  Really D. Hudson?  This is the first I’ve heard that every movement I make is an effort.  Aren’t I lucky you came along to tell me at almost 40 years of age that I don’t in fact feel great, that I have been wrong all along and am in fact struggling under the effort of having a fat body.  D. is also absolutely adamant that our lifespan in general is shortened.  Really?  So like some kind of fat Logan’s run, the minute a fat person gets to a certain size, the little light switches on and off we must go to have our lifespans shortened.  Don’t mind me, I just have to go pick up my 83 year old fat grandma, she’s over-lived her stay!  D. also believes that it’s our fault that we can’t find stylish/affordable clothes and that some of us (though D. seems to sweep all fatties into this pile) may find sitting in a cinema or plane uncomfortable.  Perhaps D., it’s the fact that society refuses to include us as people that causes the lack of stylish/affordable clothing and seats that are comfortable, not our actual bodies?  The real irony is that D. Hudson says it’s “great to see they are also committing themselves to a life of healthy eating and activity” (no I’m not, if I want a donut or a lie in, I’ll have one, the same as if I want a salad or a ride on my bike, I’ll have that too) and then goes on to blather all of the stuff above, as if despite our supposed commitment, we should somehow still be ashamed/unhappy because of our fatness.  How does that even make sense?

The same goes for Matt Smith of Kedron, who states “Ultimately, excessive weight will always adversely affect one’s health.”  Really?  You know that for 100% of cases Matt Smith (are you a Doctor Matt?  Wait, aren’t you THE Doctor??) that every single fat person will have negative health CAUSED by their weight?  Because as the article states, there is no proof of causation of negative health by weight.  So clearly, Matt Smith, you must be better qualified than every other academic who has researched the topic and found the opposite to your claims.  Why aren’t you publishing your findings Matt?  Strangely, Matt then ends his letter by wishing us well, despite having labelled us “irresponsible” and then wished us negative health simply because we’re fat and he wants it to be true that we will suffer poor health.

The big fat cherry on the top goes to Katie Tartare (OMG, do you know the calories in tartare sauce??) from Kanimbla in Cairns, who has decided that Zoe and I are “hiding behind” our self esteem.  Katie equates living in a fat body with endangering our health through excess alcohol or drug intake, as though fatness is some kind of addiction.  Perhaps Katie thinks we are “addicted” to food, a common misconception among fat hating douchecanoes, despite repeated studies showing that fat people eat no more than not-fat people, and in fact some studies show we actually eat less, especially those of us who reject dieting and attempting to lose weight.  Not to mention that food is vital to life.

I think I know the problem.  We fat activists dare to believe that we’re people.  We dare to believe that we should be able to live our lives with as much freedom, respect and dignity as any other person.  We dare to believe that our health is our own business, and that health has no moral value.  We dare to believe that we know our own bodies, what they are capable of and how to look after them in whatever shape or form they happen to be at any given time.  And finally we dare to be present in the world, without hiding ourselves away in shame and apologising for our bodies.

And we can’t have that now, can we?

Look, if you hate fat people, and are all grossed out by our icky fatness and don’t want your eyesight marred by something that you find so repulsive, then just come out and say it.  Have the guts to be honest, not just with the world, but with yourself.  Stop hiding behind “What about your health?!” bullshit, you honestly don’t care about my health, or that of any other fat person.  You couldn’t give a flying fuck about what it feels like to live in a fat body, what happens to fat people and whether or not we die early.  In fact, it would suit you just nicely if we were to all just up and die this minute, because then you wouldn’t have to see our fatness in the world, you wouldn’t have to deal with those gross fatties at all.  Let your friends, family, colleagues and other life acquaintances see just what kind of person you are, stop pretending that you CARE.  Because you could not care one bit about fat people other than to remove us from the world.

But most of all, have the guts to own up to being an arsehole who thinks that other people have to be attractive to YOU to deserve to inhabit this world.

Unlearning

Published August 20, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Firstly, I would like to welcome all the new readers who have come over here from the article in U on Sunday in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) yesterday.  For those of you old timers (I love you, you oldies!) who haven’t yet seen it, you can read it here.

Just a note – if you’ve come here to tell me I’m going to die… so will you.  If you’ve come here to tell me I’m going to infect people with my fatness… careful, or I’ll rub up against you.  And if you’ve come here to tell me that I am crazy – I’m not the one who Googled a blog just to rant in the comments section.  And we won’t have any stigmatisation of mental illness on my watch thank you very much!

So, on to today’s topic!

In light of a lot of comments on Saturday’s post on the Nike ad, some of which I chose not to publish because they were stigmatising, and some of the responses to the article in the Courier Mail yesterday, I wanted to talk a little bit about the things that we’ve always been taught, those things that “everybody knows”.  Mostly because in my experience, I have realised that I have had to unlearn so many things that I took as given, since I took up fat activism.  In fact, I pretty much have spent the last 5 years unlearning the previous 35 years.

One of the reasons I think people rail so heavily against fat activism is that they are terrified that they might not know things.  They hear or read something that is contrary to what they have always been led to believe, or have simply assumed, and they feel inadequate in not having known that.  Or they feel like they must prove those things wrong to save face themselves.  Instead of taking a step back and re-thinking things, doing a little research, asking a few respectful questions of people who know stuff, they lash out at anyone who challenges the dominant paradigm.  The thing is, as human beings, we should be taking it as a given that we really know very little indeed.  And that when we don’t know something, or don’t understand it, there is no shame in just sitting back and listening, or seeking more information.

When I was in high school, my favourite teacher was my science teacher, Mr Bendell.  The one lesson he taught that really sticks with me, is that there is no shame in simply admitting “I don’t know.”  Remember when you weren’t paying attention in class and the teacher would catch you at it and ask you a question, and you’d stammer and try to bluff your way through it?  Well to Mr Bendell, that was the worst thing you could do.  After all, you didn’t know, you hadn’t been paying attention.  The appropriate response was “I don’t know Sir.”  It acknowldedged that you hadn’t been listening, (and in Mr B’s class, being called out was punishment enough, we all loved him) and there was no trying to prove you knew something by lying about it.

But that said, it wasn’t until recent years that I’ve started to understand that what I thought I knew about the world really isn’t a fraction of the whole picture.  I’m learning, sometimes through making mistakes, that if I don’t understand something, or I don’t have direct experience with something, that there is nothing wrong with just shutting up and learning.  There’s nothing wrong with letting other people speak.  And if I still disagree, when I have privilege over someone, I can just leave it alone.  I don’t have to leave a comment railing at how they are wrong (when I have never experienced something from their underprivileged perspective) and that because I didn’t interpret something in the way they do.  For example, it’s not my place to tell people of colour what their experiences are as I am a white woman.  They are quite able to speak for themselves and their own experiences.  It’s my job to listen, to learn, to adjust my own behaviours and assumptions, and to bear witness to those experiences when they happen around me.

But I also wanted to talk today about some of the things I’ve personally had to unlearn about bodies, weight, health and fatness over the past few years, especially considering I have been a fat person myself for many, many years and believed a great deal of things that I now know, were not right.  I love a good list, so how about we try that?

  1. Fat is bad.  Yes, I believed for the first 35 years of my life that fat was the worst possible thing a person could be, and as a fat person, that made me worthless.  I now know that this is not true.
  2. Fitness and health are “inspirational” – no they’re not, they’re blessings that everyone has at different levels.  Things like strength, endurance, balance, agility, speed, flexibility and so on can be improved with work, but everyone has individual levels of these things, and no person is better for having more of one or more of them than someone else.  The same goes for health.  It is perfectly acceptable to find no value in either fitness or health, and neither are a measure of character.
  3. Fat people are going to die.  Well, this one is correct, but the bit I had to unlearn was that ONLY fat people are going to die, or they’re going to die sooner than thin people.  All people die, and none of us can predict when it will happen.  That’s what makes us living creatures – the fact that the life comes to an end at some point.
  4. Fat people live inferior lives to thin people.  No, fat people’s lives are often made inferior by discrimination and stigmatisation.  Their lives are not by default inferior to thin people.
  5. You can tell how healthy someone is, or how long they are going to live, by looking at them.  Nope, you can’t.  Quite often, it takes very extensive tests to measure an individuals health.  Most of us are not qualified to make those judgements.  Unless you are in the medical profession, AND have undergone an examination and related tests of an individual, you know NOTHING about their health.
  6. How you perceive something is how it was intended.  Oh no, not by a long shot.  While your perception or understanding of something may not be harmful, that doesn’t mean the original intention of it was harmless.
  7. If someone doesn’t intend something to be harmful, it cannot be.  Very wrong.  For example, I used to regularly use the term “real women” to describe women who were not thin.  I didn’t understand that by labelling some women as real, as good as my intentions were, I was harming others.  When we say things that are stigmatising to others, but don’t intend them to be stigmatising to those others, it doesn’t mean that any stigma is erased.  See referring to something as “lame” or “gay”, or the whole fat shaming position of many anti-ChickFilA campaigners.  While people with disabilities, gay people or fat people may not be the intended targets, they are stigmatised by these behaviours.
  8. You can discriminate against people with privilege.  Sorry, no.  There is no such thing as “reverse” sexism/racism/sizeism and so on.  That’s the whole crux of privilege – if you have it, you are by default gifted with something that others are without for no good reason.
  9. You have a right to your opinion.  Well, technically yes you do.  But you do not have the right to air it anywhere you choose.  Sometimes the space is not yours to speak in.  Sometimes it is not appropriate for you to air your opinion in a particular forum.  Hold that opinion all you like, but if someone says that you are not welcome to air it in their space, that is their right.
  10. You have freedom of speech.  Again, technically you do, but with that freedom comes the responsibility of bearing the repercussions of what you say.  Also, when we say “freedom of speech”, that actually refers to freedom of speech from your government and from corporations.  It does not mean you have the freedom of speech from individuals.  So if an individual tells you they don’t want to hear you, they have every right to do so.
  11. What you think of other people’s appearance means nothing.  This one is a tough one to swallow for a lot of people.  Your opinion on other people’s appearance is worth NOTHING until that person gives that opinion value.  So if you don’t like what someone is wearing or how they look – tough.  It’s none of your business.
  12. You don’t get to decide other people’s value in society.  You do get to decide their value in your life, but generally speaking, none of us get to decide whether they are valuable in or worthy of society.
  13. Feelings are something that people should “get over” or “deal with”.  It doesn’t quite work that way.  Feelings and emotions are really complex and we have them for a reason.  And while yes, we should be examining them and unpacking them for our own good, we don’t get to tell others to “get over it” or “deal with it”.

I think a baker’s dozen is a good start.  I am sure I could list a whole lot of other things that I’ve had to unlearn over the course of my 39 years and 1o months of life (so far), and there are many, many things I’m going to have to unlearn in the future.

If you are struggling against these things, you’re not alone.  I fought them tooth and nail for most of my life and really had to radically shift my beliefs.  I too railed against them, argued with people, stamped my foot and generally just made an arse of myself over these things.  But I can tell you this.  Once you start to unlearn these things, not only are you generally becoming a better person, but you find yourself a whole lot happier too.  When you start to let go of those things you cling to because either you’ve been taught them by authority figures in your life (from parents to politicians!) or because “everybody knows” them, and start to think about how you measure your own life, and ONLY your own life, life starts to get easier.  Hateful people don’t hurt as much.  Mistakes don’t matter so much when you use them to learn and grow.  Responsibility gets less scary.  Other people’s opinions of you have no power over you any more.

That doesn’t mean everything is rosy and easy and perfect and happy all the time.  God far from it!  It just means that you see the world from a different perspective, and that you are able to unpack your own feelings and how other people affect you.  You’re able to recognise when you need help, and you’re able to draw from your own well of strength.  You’re able to understand that how you see the world may be more privileged than the way others do, and realise that with your own actions, you can change the dominant paradigm, even if only in small ways.

But most of all, learning is good for everyone.  The more you learn, the more you grow.

What have you had to unlearn?  What do you struggle with unlearning, or at least letting go of?

Does a Bear Shit in the Woods?

Published August 18, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

In Time “Healthland” this week, journalist Bonnie Rochman asks “Does Nike’s ‘Greatness’ Ad Exploit Fat People?”  As you may be able to guess by the title of this blog post, I think the answer just might be yes.  But not only does it exploit fat people, it further stigmatises us, as does Ms Rochman in the way she writes her article.

Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps we should all watch the ad:

So this ad uses a 12 year old fat boy, Nathan Sorrell, and Nike had him run behind a Porsche.  On the second take, he threw up in a ditch.  In the boys own words:

“We’ll try to work with you,” Sorrell said, quoting the director. “They were lenient with me.”

As though Nike were doing this boy a huge favour, and that they were generous by allowing the boy time to recover from being sick.

The advert goes on about greatness, how anyone is capable of it, all of us.  (Even the poor fatties!)  All the while focusing on a fat, sweaty boy running slowly towards the camera.

Even Ms Rochman in her piece uses words like “lumbering” and “bulk” to describe Nathan, words that suggest he is somehow ungainly, unattractive and even pathetic.

The implication of this advert, and even the article, is that we should cheer on the poor fat kid, because he’s working hard to lose weight, even if it is a bit pathetic.  This friends, is not an ad that is designed to celebrate fat people being active.  This ad is telling us “well, at least you’ll be better than this sorry fat kid.”

Even Rebecca Puhl from Yale’s Rudd Centre, quoted in the article, misses the point.  She refers to this advert as “featuring an overweight boy in their ad (and doing so in a respectful manner)”.  How is this respectful?  How is it respectful to have a 12 year old boy run repeatedly behind a Porsche (a fucking Porsche!) until he vomits?  How respectful is it to show a fat person struggling and sweaty, even looking like he is unwell and in pain (which we know he was) and adding hushed tones about how “anyone can be great”, with the implication that “even this pathetic fat kid”.  And let’s not get started on the fact that they used a twelve year old child for this, rather than an adult.

Also note, they have used a fat boy who is trying to lose weight, who is running because he doesn’t want to be fat any more.  Nike are even dangling the carrot of perhaps returning if he is “successful” at doing so.

How is this not stigmatising towards fat people?  There is nothing celebratory about this ad.  The ad isn’t celebrating Nathan, it’s just saying that he has the potential for greatness if he loses weight.  In fact, this ad is saying “Keep running fatty, until you’re not fat.”

If Nike, or anyone else, wanted to feature a fat person and do so in a respectful manner, they wouldn’t be using weight loss as a “greatness” metaphor.  They wouldn’t be using some poor kid who clearly is only running because he thinks he has to be thin.  They wouldn’t be featuring a struggling 12 year old boy who looks like the unhappiest kid in the world.

If they wanted to feature a fat person and do so in a respectful manner, which would be absolutely radical advertising, they would perhaps feature some fat people being active – running, playing sport, dancing etc in their Nike shoes and having a great time!  They’d show fatties laughing and having fun.  They’d show positive representations of fatties engaging in physical activity, not having some poor kid run behind a Porsche until he vomits.

Now I’m not expecting people to look pretty when they are physically active.  It’s hard work and it’s sweaty.  But instead of going on about how anyone has the potential to be great (which implies young Nathan only has the potential, he has to lose the weight first, he isn’t great yet), how about having some fats talk about how running makes them feel good?  Or how they love getting better and better at [insert sport of choice here] by practicing hard?  Or how working up a sweat makes them feel strong and alive?

Instead we are sold this lie that to achieve greatness (and do be worthy of wearing Nike’s gear), we must be working hard to shed the pounds, to reduce our fat bodies.  Fat people are not required to engage in physical activity to get a pass in society, nor are we only allowed to be fat if we are trying desperately to not be fat.  We are not potentially worthy (which is what this advert is really saying) unless we’re potentially thin.  Not to mention that health is not a moral value, nobody has an obligation to be “healthy”, whatever that is.  Running behind a Porsche until you puke is not healthy by my standards, that’s for sure.

Want to see some representations of fat people engaging in physical activity that are respectful and positive and non-exploitative? Check these out from Stocky Bodies*:

Frances stretching

Sonya swimming

Even me! On my bike!

THAT’S how you feature fat people engaging in physical activity in a respectful manner.  Not by focusing on their “lumbering bulk”, talking about how they have the “potential to be great” because they’re trying to lose weight (I think the three of us are already great up there in our photos!)  And certainly not by using a child who is very clearly unhappy about his body and is willing to run behind a Porsche until he is sick, and call it leniency on behalf of the director.

*Images by Isaac Brown for Stocky Bodies.

Introducing… Stocky Bodies!

Published June 18, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Some of you might remember a few months back I was talking about a photographic project I was working on with Dr Lauren Gurrieri of the Griffith Business School and photographer Isaac Brown of the Queensland College of Art, where I (and several other activists) were being photographed to document the lives of fat people.

Well, with no further ado, may I introduce you to…

Stocky Bodies!

On Friday night we launched the online image gallery to provide an alternative to headless fatties in the media and in marketing.  In a world where fat bodies are constantly othered and dehumanised, we recognised the need to have images that identify fat people as human beings with lives, loves, careers, hobbies, passions, families and rich experiences.

Not only can these be used for media and marketing purposes, but can be used by anyone who wishes to illustrate an article, blog post or other piece with non-stigmatising photographs of fat people.  It is free, and can be used for any non-commercial, non-derivative purpose, (the terms and condition are found on every image page).

How awesome is that??

It has been an incredible experience participating in this project, and we have more photo sessions in the future.  The other participants have been Zoe, Sonya, Frances, Nick and Natalie.  And in October, there will be an exhibition of more photographs at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

So to introduce you to the project, and show you how awesome the photos are, I have selected a few of my own favourites to share with you.  I only chose from photos including myself, so as to let the other activists showcase their own fantastic photos.

Tootling on My Bike.
Photo by Isaac Brown for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Getting a haircut!
Photo by Isaac Brown for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Feminist Reading
Photo by Lauren Gurrieri for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Getting Inked
Photo by Isaac Brown for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Fatshion!
Photo by Isaac Brown for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

I’m ready for my close-up!
Photo by Lauren Gurrieri for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Market shopping.
Photo by Lauren Gurrieri for ‘Stocky Bodies’.

Blogging, or as I prefer to call it… BOOBS!
Photo by Isaac Brown for ‘Stocky Bodies’.
(Proof that you can remove faces from a photo and it be non-stigmatising)

Well that’s enough spamming you with photos of me!  I hope you like the teaser and please do go and have a look at Stocky Bodies.  And spread the word – this is an amazing project that I am very proud to be part of.

We Don’t Imagine It, We See It

Published March 26, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

I noticed the old woman at the table beside me first. Watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth with a look of disgust on her face.

Then I notice the two guys in high vis vests, their hard hats on seats beside them, nudge each other and look my way.

So I sit back and start to observe people around me.

I’m sitting in the food court of a large suburban shopping centre, somewhere I rarely visit, on my lunch break from work. We’re working on a big new project due to open this week, which is a high pressure, messy environment, that I thought I’d take some time away from over my lunch break.

As I look around me, I would estimate that at least 90%, possibly more of the people here are not fat. There are a handful of we fatties, dotted around the place.

At the nearby McDonalds, there are about 20 people lined up. Only one of them is a fat person. Not an eyelash is batted at the not-fat people lined up, ordering their burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and shakes. However the fat man is attracting sneers and giggles, all eyes glance over him and none of them bother to hide their disgust, disdain or their ridicule. Even the people ordering burgers and shakes themselves are staring and sneering at the man, lined up at the very same fast food restaurant as they are.

This scrutiny and public judgement is nothing unusual for those of who live in fat bodies. Most of us are used to it, many of us ignore it, simply because it is nothing unusual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Quite often we are told “You’re just too sensitive.” or “I think you imagine it.” On the rare occasion that someone who is not fat notices, they respond like its an anomaly, just the occasional rude jerk one encounters. Or they say “Just ignore it.” as if it is the singular occurrence of the day.

In my own case, I’m told that people sneer and stare because of my brightly coloured hair, tattoos and clothing. As if that is somehow a suitable excuse for their behaviour. But I can assure you that I got the stares and sneers back when I was a fat brown mouse, doing everything I could to be invisible to the world.

The truth is, in this “anti-obesity” culture, people are taught to sneer, stare and ridicule. They are taught that people like me are a scourge on society, that we are burden to humanity. You only need to look at the comments on my recent piece in The Hoopla (if you have the sanity points) to see someone refer to me (and people like me) as revolting, using up the public health system, slothful, idle and an overeater. Despite knowing nothing more about me than I have a fat body (though one claimed to know all about me from this blog, my twitter, though I think it’s my photos of myself as a fat woman she is judging me on) the judgement has been passed on my value as a human being.

Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgement is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say that physically, I do not feel limited or as if I need to struggle to do anything in my fat body. But the pressure of being under constant scrutiny and subjected to the assumptions and judgements of complete strangers is a burden to bear. I am quite sure however that I am not the only one who feels like this.

What really bothers me are the double standards. Thin people who eat fast food are considered “lucky” that they are “naturally thin”, yet no matter what a fat person eats, by default they must be lazy and greedy, with denial and stupidity thrown in for extra measure. Nobody ever suggests that inverse to the lucky/naturally thin that humans can be unlucky/naturally fat. Nobody demands thin people who are sedentary and/or eat fast food (or a lot of food) change their lives and “get healthy” because they are “costing us money with their unhealthy habits” – quite the opposite, they’re cheered on for their habits. Two people, both living the same lifestyle, can have vastly different life experiences if one is thin and the other is fat.

These double standards and snap judgements of people’s value based on their body size don’t help anyone. They don’t make fat people thin, they don’t encourage healthy behaviours and they certainly don’t change the number of people needing health care in our society.

All they do is allow some people to feel superior to others, which to me, is a pretty screwed up way to look at the world.

It’s Over. No More Flogging the Dead Horse.

Published January 10, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Well my lovelies, I’ve been hit by a whole plethora of trolls from some sad bodybuilding forum that feel to build themselves up, they have to tear other people down.  If any slip through overnight, my deepest apologies and I’ll clean them up as soon as possible.  They’re a pretty sad bunch, who seem to think they can hurt me or silence me somehow, but all they do is create an irritation factor (kind of like a rash) and give me fodder for Trollapalooza.  Many of them prove my point beautifully.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m here tonight.  I’m here tonight to let you know that there’s something you no longer have to do.  You don’t have to prove anything about your body or your health to anyone.  I want you to give yourself permission to completely stop justifying your body, your health, your fatness, your weight… anything to do with your body or health to ANYONE at all.

We do live in a culture that seems to encourage people to demand others justify their bodies, what they eat, how much (or how little) activity they do, their health, their weight – pretty much everything about their bodies.  Particularly women – so often our bodies are objectified and seen as public property, which people feel is acceptable to question and even physically handle without invitation.  Ask any woman who has been visibly pregnant how many people touch her belly, or ask personal questions about her health and the birth of her baby.

When you’re a highly visible fat woman, as we fat activists are, people are constantly demanding you justify your bodies and health.  They want you to PROVE you’re just as worthy as any other human being by divulging your eating and activity.  They demand proof that you’re not costing the taxpayer money/driving up health care costs.  They ask personal questions about your menstrual cycle, your skin, your strength, your joints, your heart, your blood pressure or blood sugar levels.  They demand you prove that you’re not in pain, that you can walk, that you can do the things you mention you do.  I get people demanding proof that I ride my bicycle, because you know, fat people can’t ride bicycles.

How the fuck is any of that anyone’s business but the person who owns the body in question?  I mean really!

Besides, how much ableism is tied up in all of that as well?  As if anyone is under any obligation to be illness free or fully able-bodied.

We spend so much time justifying our place on this earth by proving that fat people can be active, can be healthy, are contributing members of society and such.  I see blog post after blog post, tweet after tweet, facebook status after facebook status, you name it, pushing back against this constant demand of “Explain yourself, fatty!”

I’m afraid I’m not playing that game any more.  It’s not our job to educate people about fatness.  It’s not our job to justify our existence.  It’s not our job to prove that we are worthy of the basic, fundamental human right of dignity and respect, and the right to live our lives in peace without discrimination and stigmatisation.

We do not owe that to anyone.

We have more important shit to deal with in our lives.  What’s important in your life?  Is it proving that you’re a worthy, valuable member of society?  Or is it your family, your friends, your career, your hobbies, your passions, your pets, your time?

No more will I be answering to that call to “Explain yourself, fatty!”  It’s pretty much flogging a dead horse anyway – no matter what we tell these people who demand we explain ourselves, they’re not going to listen.  Not to mention that they only accuse us of hostility anyway – as though it’s ok for them to demand we justify our health and our bodies, but are offended when we tell them to mind their own damn business.

Instead I am here for YOU, my peers, my fellow fatties.  I am here to show you that you ARE valuable, you ARE worthy members of society.  I am here to show you that you CAN be happy, confident and fulfilled, without losing an ounce.

I am here to live my life visibly, so that there is a representation of an unapologetic fat woman somewhere in the world (there are in fact, lots of us!), and encourage you to live your lives.  Anyone who wants to hold you or I back from that can kiss my fat arse.