self esteem

All posts in the self esteem category

Happy International Women’s Day!

Published March 8, 2014 by sleepydumpling

Yes, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate/acknowledge it, I’d like to talk about just how life has changed for me as a woman, and with women over the years.

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All my life, I felt like I wasn’t “girlie” enough.  When I was small it was because I was poor and didn’t have the pretty clothes and things that other girls had, and because I was repeatedly told I was fat.  I felt like being a girl was a competition, and because I couldn’t compete, I wasn’t “girlie”.  Then along came puberty and I really did become fat.  Add hairy and spotty into the equation, that made me feel like I had even less of a right to girlhood.  As I passed through my teens and into adulthood, I still believed that because I didn’t fit what the media, my family, and men in general told me a woman should be, I still didn’t feel like I belonged to womanhood.

My response to that was to internalise misogyny.  I started to tell myself that “I’m not like other girls” and consequently I couldn’t be friends with women or girls.  I surrounded myself with male friends, denounced anything that read as “feminine”, shaved my head and wore big clunky boots and a lot of flannel.  I thought if I couldn’t “compete” with women, I didn’t want to be like one.

You see that’s what misogyny is.  It’s the myth of “femininity”.  The myth that womanhood fits one narrow band of features and behaviours, and that womanhood is a competition between the female of our species to appeal to male of our species, and only those that “win” the attention of men are allowed to consider themselves “feminine”.  Femininity is measured by how pleasing a woman is to men – by her appearance, her voice, her behaviour and her sexual availability.

Not to mention that fat women are so othered by society in so many ways that rob them of the things that are supposed to mark femininity – society sets the standards of femininity and then denies them to fat women.  When you cannot buy the clothes that are considered acceptable, when you are not seen represented by marketing and the media, when you are treated as sub-human, you cannot participate in society as a peer.  When you are led to believe that life is a competition, and that you are not a peer of the population in general, you tend to opt out.

There is no wonder that so many fat women (as well as other marginalised women) internalise the misogyny that is continually poured on us.

But for me, somewhere about the same time as fat liberation, I found feminism.  I started to question the way women are treated in our culture, and I started to see just how girls and women are forced into competition with each other to prove this thing called “femininity”, to prove their worthiness as human beings.  I learned to value myself not only as a woman, but as a fat woman.  I learned that girlhood and womanhood are far more diverse than society leads us to believe, and that there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a woman a woman.

I also began to see just how badly many of the men in my life, those who I believed were my friends, were treating me.  I began to recognise just how many of them dismissed my opinion, ridiculed my feelings, refused to respect my physical boundaries and generally just treated me with disrespect.  I finally put an end to the friendship with the man who was supposed to be my best friend, but had been repeatedly sexually assaulting me for the entire span of our 15 year friendship – assault which I had been groomed to believe was my fault and that I deserved it, and that I was silly for feeling uncomfortable and upset about.  I began to expect better of the men in my life.  Which meant that many of the ones I already had in my life either left or had to be removed, but it meant that there was room in my life for good men (y’all know who you are fellas) who treat me with respect.  The men I have in my life these days are amazing, and I’m honoured to know them.

Another factor that changed for me on discovering feminism and fat activism is that I’ve enjoyed participating in things that are coded as “feminine”, where I did not before.  I wear dresses.  I love anything pink.  I enjoy having my nails done and growing my hair long so that I can pin flowers and bows in it.  These things are not any indicator of womanhood, but are things usually denied to women who are seen as unacceptable.  It’s nice to have the option to participate in things that are seen as traditionally feminine.

That doesn’t mean you have to perform “femininity” to be a woman, after all “femininity” is a social construct.   What  it means is that you give yourself permission to enjoy those things that are coded as feminine regardless of whether you fit society’s narrow definitions of womanhood.

I’ve realised that how others judge me is not indicative of my womanhood.  My womanhood is my identity, not for others to bestow upon me if they deem me worthy.

However the greatest benefit of feminism and fat activism for me has been the discovery that now that I don’t feel in any way competitive towards other women, I’ve discovered I really like women.  I’ve made far more women friends and they in turn have enriched my life in more ways than I can express.  I enjoy the company of other women immensely and found that we have more in common than we have in difference.

So this is for you, all of the women in my life, all of the women who read my blog and all of the women who have been convinced by others that they’re not good enough, not “feminine” enough, that they don’t belong to womanhood.  YOU determine your womanhood, not others.

Here’s to the women of the world.  May you see your own value.

Strengthening Self Esteem

Published February 4, 2014 by sleepydumpling

After a recent conversation, I’ve been mulling the concepts of confidence and self-esteem over in my head.   One of the constant criticisms women get when we talk about having confidence or good self-esteem is that we’re vain, we have tickets on ourselves, we’re narcissistic or arrogant.  Since I’m thinking more about how we feel about ourselves, our bodies and our worth, I’m going to stick to just using the term self-esteem for now, but confidence is something that comes as part of good self-esteem.

For example, recently I had a day where I was feeling really great.  I had an outfit on I loved, my hair was doing what I wanted it to do (and has been really soft lately), and I just felt awesome.  I said something about feeling really cute today.  Well, the open hostility and ridicule that I got in response from acquaintances was a bit of a shock to the system.  One woman rolled her eyes.  Another spat under her breath “Talk about tickets on yourself!”  Once I would have got upset at their negative reactions and let it ruin my day, but I just responded in a cheeky tone that my cuteness was completely wasted on them, they don’t appreciate how adorable I am.  It didn’t go down well, but it made me feel better.  It wasn’t about other people judging me as cute, it was about me FEELING cute.  However a little later a business acquaintance popped in to visit and he mentioned that he thought I was “looking particularly sunshiney today” – so my feeling cute was clearly showing in my demeanor.

Part of that is sheer sexism, women aren’t allowed to feel positive about ourselves – our culture is designed to keep us in our place by making us feel insecure, unworthy and doubting ourselves.  But I think part of it is misunderstanding about what good self-esteem actually is.  I think a lot of people see it as some kind of black and white territory, where people either have good self-esteem, or they have bad self-esteem.  I also think that people see good self-esteem as someone feeling perfect, or invincible.

Which is not really what I believe it’s about.

Self-esteem is about seeing your own value.  Good self-esteem isn’t about believing you are perfect, that you never make mistakes or don’t have flaws, or that you are invincible.  Good self-esteem doesn’t mean that you are never vulnerable, or unhappy, or feel bad about yourself.

I think so often when we think about good self-esteem in ourselves, we see it as this massive mountain that we have to climb, and once we’ve reached the top, then we’re there and we never have negative self thoughts ever again.  Which makes good self-esteem seem totally unattainable to so many of us.  We can’t see ourselves ever feeling perfect or invincible, which is a completely normal and healthy way to think, so we think that we can never have good self-esteem.

Good self-esteem not a mountain to climb.  It’s a road we travel.  With twists and turns and bumps and dips.  Sometimes we run out of fuel and have to top up the tank.  Sometimes we’re running like a dream and travelling smoothly.  Sometimes we get a bit out of control and crash.  But if we learn to value and take care of the vehicle (ourselves – physically, mentally, emotionally) and navigate with attention and care, then we mitigate the risks on the road.

The other thing I think holds us back from good self-esteem is the rhetoric around “loving” yourself.  While I think it’s a good thing for people to learn to love themselves, not everyone can do it nor should they be expected to do it.  When you’ve been taught your whole life that your fat body makes you dirty, diseased, faulty, disgusting, it’s not just a matter of deciding to love yourself and wahey-hey, off you go, everything fixed.  Particularly when those messages are constantly re-enforced every single day, every single time you engage with any form of media, and often, by the people in your life.

What has worked better for me, has been learning to value myself for who I am, flaws and all.  There are things I do love about myself, but other things I’m not ready or able to love yet.  Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.  But learning to value myself and see my worth in general has been instrumental in improving my self-esteem.  Mostly it’s about learning to cut yourself some slack.  Not one of us can be Wonder Woman or Superman.  We are always going to make mistakes, or the wrong decision or get hurt.  That doesn’t diminish our value – in fact I think it increases it, because despite our human frailty we still contribute so much to the world around us.

It doesn’t matter what area of life you look at, if we are constantly expecting ourselves to be the absolute pinnacle of human possibility at all times, with no failure, no mistakes, no vulnerability, then of course we’re doomed to fail.  Why do we expect ourselves to be the next Bill Gates in the workplace, the next Mother Theresa in volunteer work, the next Beyoncé in well… everything… and so on, when only those people can be those people.  The only person we need to be is ourselves.

That doesn’t mean we don’t strive to do bigger and better things, and be a better person.  It just means that in the process, we cut ourselves some slack and realise that life takes practice, and that there are always going to be times when things don’t go the way we want them to.  There will be times that we will be hurt, worried, nervous.  Confidence is not about being fearless and invincible, it’s about telling yourself “Ok, I can have a go at this, and give it my best shot.”  It’s about dealing with our mistakes and continuing on with the business of life.

Striving to do better and be better is good for you.  But writing yourself off as worthless because you don’t reach the absolute pinnacle, or measuring your success against other people is going to do you more harm than good.

Another important thing to remember is that other people don’t get to measure your worth, or your success.  You do.  It’s nice to have our worth and success recognised, but that’s like the icing on the cake.  Not to mention that we don’t all measure worth and success the same way.  Only a complete jerk would expect their values and standards to apply to everyone.  We see that one a lot in appearance – ie my aforementioned tale of finding myself cute.  A lot of people believe that if they don’t find someone attractive, no-one else will, nor have they ever.  Which is a load of bollocks – everyone’s taste and values are different.  What I find attractive in a person is not universal to everyone.  Imagine how boring it would be if everyone found the same type of person attractive?  I can’t think of anything worse than if every woman on the planet was attracted to tall skinny white boys like I am!   Though I think an awful lot of us are attracted to Tom Hiddleston (you knew I had to work him in there somewhere!)

What I guess I’m trying to get at in a long and winding way, is that good self-esteem isn’t about being flawless, it’s about valuing who you are, flaws and all.

Because you are a worthy human being.  YOU are.

Fat and Ugly? Maybe. Fabulous? You Better Believe It!

Published December 15, 2013 by sleepydumpling

*eyeroll*

In the past 24 hours, there has been a metric shitload of trolling coming in my direction, all of it telling me that I’m fat and ugly, hideous, gross, and a bunch of other variants on the theme of my appearance.  Because *wah wah* I don’t give them a boner.

*another eyeroll*

I mean seriously, as if I care whether some random internet loser gets a boner over me.

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I don’t know where they are coming from, or whether they are just one person or several (I think several, if it’s one person they have WAY too much time on their hands!)  I actually don’t care whether it is one or it is several.  There was probably a Reddit loser party this weekend or something.  It doesn’t make a difference to me, trolling sucks no matter who or where it comes from, and anyone who trolls has my contempt.

What I do care about is that there might be others out there on the receiving end of this douchebaggery, and they may not be able to dismiss this kind of hate so easily.  I remember what that was like.  Where I tried constantly to be what other people wanted me to be.  When I cared whether or not complete strangers found me attractive or not.  It’s scary and painful and bloody difficult feeling like that.

My lovelies, screw what anyone else thinks about you.  Find your inner fabulous.  How your fabulous manifests itself might be different to the way mine does, but it’s there.  Whether it’s through attitude, or the clothes you love, or the colours you surround yourself with, or how you decorate your house or even the stuff you like to read/watch/listen to… you have fabulous in you.  All you have to do is harness it.

I was faffing about with Aviary on Flickr and I made a thing.  Because it’s the truth:

Fabulous

I love this dress.  It always helps me harness my fabulous.  It’s a gorgeous colour, such a fantastic cut and I feel totally comfortable in it.  Clothes that I love are my way of expressing my fabulous.  It has taken me forever to build up a wardrobe of clothes that truly express who I am, but I now know that I can open my wardrobe and put on a frock and feel it communicates just how fabulous I feel.

How do you harness your fabulous?  If you’re struggling with harnessing your fabulous… how would you LIKE to do so?

*Original photo of me by Mark Calleja.
**And the dress is a Leona+ by Leona Edmiston for Myer

Broken…

Published October 9, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I was feeling like crud.  Stomping my way in to work this morning, really fighting with the black dog of depression, feeling like dirt.  And there she was.  An angel in a floral skirt and cream top.  The young woman I had been standing beside at the lights about 10 minutes before – I had been staring at the print of her skirt trying to grasp the one thing that was nice in my brain at just that moment – a pretty pink floral.  I was walking back towards my office having stopped off in the markets to pick up some breakfast, when  she stopped me on the street and told me that she really loved my blog, and that even though I hadn’t posted in a while she still hoped I would.  She complimented my taste in clothes, mentioned that we had the same dress (the hot pink one from Autograph) and that she loved my fatshion reviews.  I was a bit flabbergasted and I forgot to ask her name, which I always do, because it always takes me by surprise.  She made me smile, she thanked me and touch my arm, and we parted.

Five minutes later I was sobbing in the ladies room at work, finally able to feel something.  That’s what depression does to you, it robs your ability to feel.   You might walk around talking and even smiling and laughing, but you don’t really feel it, instead you’re kind of just going through the motions, performing as yourself instead of being yourself.  At least that’s what it does to me.  I wasn’t crying because something had upset me, I was crying because I’d finally felt something (surprise, pleasure, even a glimmer of joy) and that caused the floodgates of all the feelings I haven’t been able to feel for weeks to open and let them all out.  The crying was a good thing.  Embarrassing and uncomfortable, but ultimately good for me.

The past months have been hellish for me with my depression creeping up stronger than it has for some time.  It isn’t just the usual chemical stuff either, usually brought on by hormones and stress, I began to recognise it a few weeks ago.  It was emotional burnout.  It had all got too much for me.  My job is a bigger workload than it has ever been (it’s that way for everyone at my work these days) and I feel like Sisyphus, having to roll the same boulder up the hill every day only to have it roll down again.  (If only it was like Loki, burdened with glorious purpose.)

Add to that the fact that I’d been doing fat activism for over four years, 95% of it for free, out of my own time, pocket, talent and energy only to be constantly bombarded both by general hate as a random fat person on this earth, and deeply targeted hate from really fucked up people out there who cannot bear the thought of an unapologetic and even proud fat woman existing on the planet.  Even still, even though I haven’t posted in months, there are days when I get over 4000 hits via a Reddit hate forum alone, filled with people who spend hours and hours of their lives hating on me and other visible fat people for a hobby.  They dig up old posts, they steal the photos from this blog (and my Tumblr or Instagram, or Twitter, or Facebook), they spend hours and hours and hours discussing my life in minutiae… as a hobby.

One nutter even keeps a dossier on every food post I ever make online and keeps tabs on what I eat (or at least the bits I post online) and then crops up on old articles about me, or anything I comment on online to try to “discredit” me by “proving” that I’m a “liar” because of how “unhealthy” I am using the posts about food as “evidence”.  They send me long, rambling emails detailing how many calories are in every item of food I post, and how each morsel is hardening my arteries and sending me to my grave.   Who has time in their life to do this shit?

As much as I block, spam and filter all of that hate, it still gets through.  I still see bits of it.  I still see the referring links on my dashboard of my blog posts, all coming from a Reddit fat hate forum.  I still see old blog posts targeted by thousands and thousands of people in one day.  I still see the hate comments that I have to delete, block as spam, report as abuse.  As much as I rationally know that their hate is not about me, it’s no reflection of me and my worth, it’s still toxic.  I’m still being bathed in this venom all the time.  Some of it has got to sink through my skin.  I am a human being, I do have feelings and I’m not made of steel.  People can hurt me.  This shit eventually does hurt me.  There is no shame in my being human, and vulnerable.

However, that wasn’t the worst of it.  The worst of it was that all that hate and harassment robbed me of the one thing that is most precious to me – my ability to write.  It did EXACTLY what they wanted it to do, it silenced me.  I was so battle scarred by all of that shit that the minute I started to write anything, instinctively I shut down, as a protection mode.  My brain would simply block any flow of thought, any language out of sheer self-protection against the rightly anticipated onslaught of hate and harassment.  I had the worst case of writers block I have ever had, because it wasn’t just fatigue or lack of creativity, it was like a great big door slamming shut in my brain and locking all the good stuff in to where I could not reach it, and to further the torture, I knew it was still in there but it was out of my grasp.  This is what caused me to spiral further and further into depression.  The more I couldn’t write, the more depressed I got, and the more I felt like I had abandoned my activism, and the more it made me depressed, which then blocked me from writing… and so on.

Yet today, a living angel pops into my life and reminds me just why I became a fat activist.  Who reminded me that what I do matters to more than just me.   Who jolted me out of the bleak headspace and reminded me that by letting all the shit that the haters heap on me STAY on me, they don’t win – nobody with that much hate in themselves actually wins anything, but WE lose.  We lose community, we lose our voice, we lose visibility and we lose strength.   This is how they wear us down, by attacking and attacking individually until we individually can’t bear it any more, which breaks our collective strength.  They can’t break us as a collective, so they work on breaking each us one by one.  You are my strength, my fellow fat community.  You folk are why I stand up and say “I’m not taking this shit any more.”

Individually, it’s really hard being strong in the face of all that hatred spewing in our direction.  But collectively, I believe we are unstoppable.  I believe we are all heroes for each other, even if it is only in tiny ways.  A friendly smile, a kind word, a gesture of support.

By giving a spontaneous moment of kindness, this lovely woman jolted me back from a dark, painful place.  It let me get out all the anger and hurt and frustration.  It’s like her kindness broke the crust of hate that had formed from all of the abuse I’d received over the years.  Which means I sit here in my morning tea break (and again in my lunch break) with all of this stuff pouring out of me at last, onto the page, finally able to write again. I can’t say I’m back to my old standards, but I have taken that first step, and it feels like a huge one.

So thank you to the lovely young woman on George Street (do leave a comment and identify yourself, I won’t publish it if you don’t want me to!) in the floral skirt and cream top – you can’t know just how important you are right now!

A Study of the Self

Published June 7, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Well hello!  Welcome to the plethora of new readers I have gained recently.  It’s so good to see that there are more people out there ready to think outside the dominant paradigm when it comes to bodies and weight.

Before I go on any further, a quick zine update – it’s shaping up nicely.  I’m just waiting on a few artworks to come through, and then I can finish work on the layout, with production following after that.  I shall continue to keep you all posted.

So today I want to talk about selfies.  For those of you who don’t know, the word “selfie” is colloquialism for a self portrait, mostly these days taken by smart phone and uploaded to social media, like Facebook or Instagram.  With cameras ubiquitous in phones, especially now that many have front facing cameras, and most of us having connectivity to the internet, selfies have become something of an everyday occurrence.  I’m sure you’ve all seen one.  If you haven’t, here’s one I took yesterday:

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Freshly pink haired.

Selfies get a lot of criticism.  They’re considered vain, posing or childish.  They’re ridiculed, especially selfies of women, and in particular selfies of fat women.  I know mine get stolen off my various social media sites and posted other places for ridicule, because “OMG look at the gross fatty, she thinks she’s people!!1!”

But that’s not going to stop me doing it.  People have been taking self portraits of themselves for centuries – be they photographic or other media.  Do I need to list some names of some famous self portrait creators?  Frida Kahlo.  Van Gogh.  Rembrandt.  Da Vinci.  Warhol.  Basquiat. Vivian Maier.  The list goes on and on, and right back through history.  Have a bit of a Google around and you’ll see everything from the brutally critical to the utterly whimsical.

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Self portaits and self examination are important and powerful.  There are several reasons why I take and share selfies.

  1. Until a few years ago, I never allowed anyone to take photos of me.  I was so used to being shamed by people for my weight that I believed I wasn’t worthy enough to be seen in photographs.  Now I’m proud of who I am and am happy to participate in photographs (with my consent – taking photographs of me or anyone else without our consent is douchey, don’t do it) and part of that is from playing around with taking photos of myself.
  2. I don’t see people who look like me in the media.  Fat women are not represented in the media, unless it’s to vilify us.  We’re not represented anywhere in a positive light unless we represent ourselves.  As Junot Diaz wrote “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”*  If posting my selfie on my Tumblr or Twitter or blog gives someone like me some representation, as a fat woman, then it’s worth it.
  3. Looking at yourself a lot from different angles and in different lights and colours helps you remove self criticism.  If you never see yourself, you never see yourself as “normal” (because as my dear friend Ian always says, “Normal is what you are.”), so seeing yourself helps you get used to yourself.  I’ve found I’m far less self critical since I’ve been taking selfies than I was before.
  4. My friends near and far like to see me.  They like to see what my new glasses look like, or what colour I’ve dyed my hair, or just to see my face.  Just like I love to see them.
  5. It’s valuable to have a record of yourself through your life.  It’s healthy to look at how you change and grow through your life.  I look back at old selfies and I realise how far I have progressed in life, both externally, in things like my job and where I live and things like that, but also internally, how I feel about myself and how I present myself to the world.  Selfies tell my story.
  6. Because I discovered, on regular self examination in my self portraits, I’m kinda fucking awesome.

Self portraits, be they taken seriously with skill and care, or a spur of the moment capture of yourself for fun, are part of being human.  Since we first worked out how to scratch on a rock face or in the dirt while looking at our reflections in water, we humans have been taking self portraits to tell our stories, to examine ourselves, to share with our loved ones, or just for fun.  It’s not vanity to want to see yourself represented, either just for yourself, for those around you or in the world at large.  It’s part of marking that you are a member of humankind.

Have fun.  Pose.  Share them with your friends or share them with the world.  Get used to seeing yourself.  Find your own awesomeness.

*Thanks Lonie for posting this one on FB this morning and reminding me of an awesome quote.

 

How to Give a Compliment Without Being Douchey

Published April 15, 2013 by sleepydumpling

Following on from my previous post – on how to lose the body judgement for your own sake as well as others, it seems I need to write another… how to give a compliment without loading it with body judgement.

It’s not easy navigating in this world where the dominant paradigm is to critique appearances.  We are conditioned from the minute we are born that appearances are what we should judge others on and that we owe the world some kind of standard when it comes to our own appearance.  One of the most liberating things I have learnt is to be able to let go of that conditioning, and start to think of the world in a different way to that dominant rhetoric.  But it occurs to me that there is little to no help on HOW to unlearn all of that stuff, and what is the non-judgemental way to compliment people.  In fact, many of us can’t even see when we’re loading a compliment with body/appearance judgement, and so often we are hurt when someone says “Hey, don’t be a douche!”.  We respond “But I was complimenting you!”

So maybe I should start with a few examples of how not to pay a compliment someone?

I have someone in my life who does this EXTREMELY annoying thing.  She looks me up and down and then indicates my outfit and says “I approve” in a slightly patronising tone.  This one boils my blood!  I don’t wear outfits for other people to deem that they approve, I wear them because I like them and/or feel comfortable in them.   I have noticed that I get the “I approve” on days that I am wearing all dark colours, have most of my body covered or am wearing loose, flowing garments.  It’s particularly pointed on the days where she looks me up and down and doesn’t give the “I approve”.  I got one of those today.  Clearly my outfit (which I think is fabulous) doesn’t meet the standard.  See how “I approve” is not actually a compliment but a judgement?

Another is the “that is so flattering” faux-compliment.  It’s not a compliment to tell someone you like their outfit because it hides/disguises/minimises their body.  You are telling them that their body is something that should be hidden, disguised or minimised.

Add to the list the “you look great today”.  What did I look like yesterday, shithouse?  There’s no need to tack the “today” on to the compliment.  The same goes for “in that dress/colour/when you wear your *** like that” or any other  qualifier.

One that I get a lot is “Look at your legs, they’re amazing!”  I get this all the time, and it’s because on my body, thanks to the fact that I don’t drive which means I walk or cycle most places, my legs are considerably thinner than the rest of me.  What it does is highlight that the “acceptable” part of me is the thinnest bit of me.  I know it’s supposed to be a compliment, but just because my legs are the thinnest bit of me, doesn’t mean they need to be pointed out to all and sundry because they’re the least fat bit.  The rest of me, even my enormous belly, is pretty bloody fabulous thank you!

Some of you may have your own faux-compliments that you’d like to add to the list and you’re welcome to do so in the comments.

So… how do you compliment someone without accidentally putting body judgement on there?  Well… it’s actually pretty easy!  The best way is to keep it simple.

  • DO compliments on people’s skills.  A talent in styling an outfit or choosing fabulous colours or accessorising is a fabulous thing to have.  “I love the way you’ve styled that outfit!” or “You have accessorised fabulously!” are great compliments that don’t load body judgement in there.  You can even say “You have fabulous style!”
  • DO say you like an outfit, garment or accessory.  “I love your shoes!” or “Great dress!”  “Those earrings are awesome!”  Keep it simple.
  • DO use “I like” or “I love” statements.  I like your shoes.  I love your outfit.
  • DO tell people when they wear something well.  “I like the way you wear coloured tights.”  “You always make long dresses look so elegant.”  “Your outfits are so bright and fun.”
  • DO relate the compliment back to the person.  “Blue looks wonderful on you.”
  • DON’T mention people’s bodies.  Unless you are engaging in sexy-times with them, it’s not really anyone’s place to comment other people’s bodies.  Don’t say “That dress makes your waist look small/legs look long.” etc, instead just say “I love that dress on you.”
  • DON’T state your “approval”.  Whether you approve of someone’s outfit or appearance is irrelevant.
  • DON’T put a qualifier of time on a compliment.  You can just say “You look great!” rather than “You look great today.”
  • DON’T use the “I wish I could wear… like you.” line.  Drawing comparisons between bodies is pointless.
  • DON’T compare the outfit someone is wearing today to one they wore another time.  Perhaps they didn’t have the energy to put into an outfit at the other time.  Perhaps they like the other outfit better.  There’s really no need to point out that one outfit is better than another, unless someone directly asks you to compare them.  Just say you like what they have on.
  • DON’T use words like “slimming” or refer to the persons shape.  Again, a simple “You look lovely.” will do the job.
  • DON’T assume that an hourglass shape is superior to any other shaped body.  Firstly it’s not and while maybe the outfit they are wearing does give them an hourglass shape, they can look just as fabulous in an outfit that highlights any other shape they happen to appear.

FUCK FLATTERING!  Seriously, just fuck it.  Don’t use it, it’s shitty.

Creating the Problem In the First Place

Published March 6, 2013 by sleepydumpling

This morning I awoke to see a constant stream of retweets and shares for an article on a major Australian women’s online magazine (give you two guesses – I’m not naming or linking to it) about a woman who found a note in her 7 year old daughter’s bedroom, labelled “Diyet”[sic] and listing the food she ate (not much) and quite a considerable list of daily exercise.

Now yes, I agree, it is awful that a 7 year old child is making diet plans.  It is awful that a 7 year old child is obsessing over her body and diet and exercise already.  It shouldn’t be happening and I understand her mother being horrified that she would find this item in her child’s room, and despairing that her daughter is being influenced by this stuff already.  I find no fault at all with the author of the piece or the story she tells.

But seriously, for this particular online women’s magazine (let’s be honest, most online women’s magazines and most mainstream media) to be clutching their pearls over children dieting is a bit fucking hypocritical if you ask me.

This shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  These same media outlets publish story after story beating the “obesity epidemic” drum, and wringing their hands over “childhood obesity”, and then wonder why children obsess over their weight from a ridiculously early age?   These media outlets crap on about being “healthy”, which is just diet-talk reworded with no actual conscientious addressing of holistic health of all people, and then they get all up in arms about children dieting?  They allow the most hateful, bigoted crap about fat people to be published in the comments and call it “opinion”.  Not to mention that every single time I go to a mainstream media site, women’s or not, I am bombarded with ads for weight loss.  Where do they think kids, and their parents, get all of this stuff in the first place?

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dieting.  From as early as I can remember, there were stories in her magazines, and on the TV my father always had on, and in the Sunday paper, talking about the latest, greatest diets, the importance of being thin and how fat was “bad” (think of lazy, fat, beer drinking, old Norm in the Life: Be in It ad campaigns, fellow Aussies of a certain age).  Even if I hadn’t been told I was fat from my earliest memory (I wasn’t fat for most of my childhood) by my family, all I had to do was pick up one of the women’s magazines laying about the house, or sit and watch TV with my father and I was getting those messages.  Right from my earliest memories, I was hearing that fat is bad and that I should do ANYTHING to avoid being fat.

So what did I do?  I was put on my first diet at 11.  But I had already been experimenting with dieting and exercise regimes some years before that.  I was maybe 7 or 8 the first time I put myself on a “diet”.  I was very good at sneaking the various diet products that my mother had about the house, and I was an excellent reader, so I just read the magazines and followed the diets in those.  I was 13 the first time I was put on meal replacements (powdered shakes that were VILE).  Soon after I started engaging in purging after an older girl taught me how to do it.  I also started stealing laxatives and worming medicine because I’d heard those helped you lose weight too.  Once I got busted for stealing those out of the medicine cabinet at home, I started stealing them from the local chemist.  I can remember watching an article on one of those current affairs shows about childhood obesity when I was in Year 8, and this was in 1985 – long before the current obesity epidemic hysteria kicked off in the 90′s, which has magnified the situation hundredfold.

It has to stop.  The media are never going to take responsibility for the shit they publish, so we have to stop supporting the media that publishes shit.  Even when they do publish something that is worthy, like the story I mentioned above, we have to view it through the lens of the other stuff they publish as well and call them out on it.  We need to promote outlets that share the worthy stories without all of the fat shaming and stigma.  If we are worried about what our children are being exposed to, perhaps it’s best to start by examining what WE are exposed to.  Because if you think kids aren’t seeing this stuff, you’re seriously delusional.  Even if you don’t give it to them directly, if it is around, they find a way to get to it.  Or they hear a second-hand version from other kids at school.  We need to teach our kids critical thinking.  But first we have to learn it ourselves.  To question the source of information and to ask what their motives are.  We need to discuss these issues with kids and teenagers and each other, openly and critically.   We need to look at the ethics behind these outlets and their sponsors.

If these media outlets come up lacking, we need to stop supporting them.  We need to walk away and not give them clicks, not give them airtime, and not signal boost them.  Instead, find alternative outlets that take responsibility for the messages they are sending and don’t engage in hypocrisy.  Or that at least TRY.  If you know that an article that people are sharing from a media site is a cross post/re post from a blog (most of them say so somewhere on the article) – share the original version, not the re-post in the dodgy mainstream media.  We need to tell our stories and have them untainted by fat shaming that undoes the message that we are sending.  Want some suggestions?  Try here, here and here.  You’re welcome to share others in the comments that you like.

I dabbled myself with writing for mainstream media (was also offered a regular writing gig at several of them) and was burned more than once by them selling me out to some disgusting fat shaming story as a “follow up”, so I decided that I would rather tell my story here and keep it’s integrity than taint my readers with contradictory information.    It might mean I reach fewer people here and now, but the message gets through clearer and un-sullied by shaming to those it does get to.

The mainstream media is never going to change until we walk away from it and stop giving them the clicks, the reads, the purchases and the support.  Give that support to those who don’t perpetuate bigotry and hate while then decrying the state of the world that THEY created.

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Published November 28, 2012 by sleepydumpling

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.

Awww Look, the Fatty Thinks It’s People!

Published August 29, 2012 by sleepydumpling
*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.

The Fortunate Ones

Published June 14, 2012 by sleepydumpling

One of the corollaries of talking to the media repeatedly about the same concepts over and over again is that you do a lot of self reflection on topics, constantly honing and shaping how your activism works and how it applies to your life and your self perception.  Mostly, this is a good thing – evolution is a healthy process, though one does have to take care not to internalise and dwell on the negative.

The best part though, is that sometimes you have a real “Aha!” moment, where a light goes on in your mind and something is clarified for you.

I had one of those moments yesterday while talking to a journalist from the Sunday Mail (Brisbane).  She had asked me what I thought the difference was between how other people see me, and how I see myself.  My response was that it was twofold – people who know me, even through this blog or other social media have one perception of me, and then there is the average punter on the street, who sees me just as an anonymous fat woman somewhere in public.

What I really wanted to focus on is how fat people in general are perceived, rather than me personally, and I was talking about how culturally, fat people are either viewed with disgust, as lazy/dirty/gluttonous etc, or we’re viewed with pity, as though we’re sad/depressed/lonely and so on.  I was talking about how neither of those perceptions were valid for me personally, and for most fat people I know in fact, when a light went on in my head and I said “Really, what I am is lucky.”

I didn’t mean that I am lucky to be fat, but that I’m lucky in that I stumbled across fat acceptance, and that I have been able to take up fat activism myself.  On reflection, I believe that we are the lucky fatties, those of us who have found something outside of the dominant paradigm.  Not just the luck of stumbling across whatever blog or resource we did, but also we’re lucky in that we’ve found an alternative to the cycle of self loathing, punishment to our bodies with diets and other damaging weight loss schemes, emotional self-flagellation and general misery of hating our bodies for being something other than thin.  It’s not an easy process, but at least we have it, unlike those who still believe that their bodies are bad/failures/broken.

Of course, personally speaking I’m very fortunate.  One of the benefits of spending so much time doing this is that I get a lot of really awesome opportunities.  They don’t come without hard work and effort, but their value is not diminished by the work it takes for them to happen.

No matter how far down this road of self acceptance and fat positivity I get, I cannot forget what it felt like before I found my way to this road.  I cannot forget the crippling depression, the constant anxiety, the physical pain of torturing my body with ridiculous exercise regimes, starvation and purging.  I cannot forget how lonely and lost I felt.  Most of all I cannot forget the fear.  Fear that I would never be good enough.  Fear that I would never find happiness, love, joy… peace.  Even fear that I would die.  No matter how far away I get from those years, I still remember those feelings.  They are marked on me in indelible ink, as much a permanent part of me as the tattoos I have adorned myself with since.

To be honest, I don’t want to forget those feelings, because they remind me of just how lucky I am as a fat woman to have found an alternative, to be able to opt out of that paradigm.  They also remind me that these were not feelings I came to on my own – they were placed on my shoulders like a mantle by a culture that repeatedly berates fat people as being worthless, broken, bad.

But when you look at it, aren’t we the lucky ones?  Aren’t we the ones who have moved forward and started to reclaim our lives and our bodies?  Don’t we have to resources, skills and community to fill our lives with joy and positivity, instead of self-loathing and fear?  Aren’t we the lucky ones for finding this strength within ourselves, and I believe that fighting the cultural norm about fatness takes great strength of character, and building on it?

Have you thought of your life pre and post FA?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

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