self esteem

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How to Give a Compliment Without Being Douchey

Published April 15, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

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 Fat Heffalump

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 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.

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.

The Fortunate Ones

Published June 14, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

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?

Embracing the Ridiculous and Rejecting Ridicule

Published June 9, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

This morning I woke up, opened Twitter on my phone before I even got out of bed, saw the photo I’m about to post for you below, and did a happy dance of glee in my bed while giggling like a school girl.

Original photo by Alana Landsberry, poster created by Brian Stuart.

You see it all started with an awful, awful post on Feministe that spewed fat hate in relation to the soft drink (soda) restrictions being implemented by the mayor of New York City.  Y’all know I’m not going to link to that article, cos I don’t give signal boosts to fat hate.  Anyway the comment thread was a complete fat hate free-for-all, and someone actually referred to soft drink as an “Agent of Obesity”.  Well a Twitter hashtag was born, thanks to Brian of Red No.3 – check it out at #AgentofObesity, it’s hilarious.  Being the Marvel fan that I am, it’s right up my alley.

Brian kicked off the whole Fatty Avengers thing by posting a great movie poster of himself, as Nick Fatty, Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y.  I was busy laughing at how brilliantly funny it was, and PING!  Into my head popped “The Incredible Bulk”.  I just HAD to have my own movie poster as The Incredible Bulk, and Brian so kindly obliged with his killer photoshopping skills.

Of course, since then, it has evolved into a whole meme, I’m sure Brian is inundated with requests to turn photos of fab fatties into Avengers style movie posters for Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y.  He has even come up with an acronym for O.B.E.S.I.T.Y and made a rather awesome logo, check it out:

Of course, anyone outside of the Fatosphere is probably scratching their head, completely mystified as to why a bunch of fat people would want to make plays on the word obesity, associate themselves with whales and come up with code-names that evoke a bunch of fat hate to the average punter.  But there is something deliciously subversive about taking ridiculous statements of fat hate and having fun with them, playing with puns and images to make up a whole silly meme of something that originated as a pretty vicious slur.

Plus taking the word “obesity” – which is a pathologisation of our lives, of our bodies and state of being – and turning it into something ridiculous is incredibly empowering.  Obesity is an offensive word, it implies we are diseased, sick, broken.  It implies that we need to be prevented, cured, eradicated.

We’re lucky in that Brian has some pretty mean photoshop skills and a wicked sense of humour, and does some fun stuff with the photos.

I’ve already had someone suggest that I was “hating myself” by choosing to be The Incredible Bulk.  Au contraire!  I chose that name/character for a very positive reason.  One because it has a great tongue-in-cheek fatty pun, but also because I totally identify with The Incredible Hulk.  I totally get that transformation with rage thing.  I totally understand his barely controlled anger at injustice.  Nothing makes the red mist form before my eyes more than fat hate.  And I’m proud of being able to channel that anger into fighting for justice, just like The Incredible Hulk does.  Plus smashing shit feels good, y’know?

Fat hate, even that which is supposedly out of “concern” for us, is all about making us feel bad about who we are, about the bodies we inhabit.  It is meant to make us shrink down and disappear, out of shame and embarrassment.  So it’s really important that we make fun of it.  Ridicule those statements/accusations and show them as the ludicrous concepts that they always are.  Lampooning oppressors is an important part of radical activism, and if we can empower ourselves as part of the process, even better.

Think of it like a Boggart from Harry Potter.  A Boggart is a creature that takes the shape of the thing that you fear most, to paralyse you with fear before it attacks you.  For so long, we have allowed ourselves be paralysed by fat hate, by obesity rhetoric.  Like a Boggart, the best way to fight it is to ridicule it.  So flourish your wand and shout “Riddikulus!”

But remember this – WE are allowed to laugh at obesity rhetoric, to pull it apart and make fun of it, using ourselves as the characters in that humour.  But nobody is allowed to humiliate, ridicule or make us feel bad because of our bodies, our weight, our appearance or our health.  I personally have a zero tolerance of fat hate/shaming from anyone in my life, no matter who they are.  Nobody gets to shame/hate on people for their bodies in my presence.  It’s not easy, and people will walk away from you, but you really are better off without them.

So, what would your Agent of O.B.E.S.I.T.Y codename be?  What would your super-power be?

Dear You, Volume 3

Published March 11, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

Dear You,

Yes, you.  I know you’re reading all of this fat positive stuff, all this self esteem stuff and the general concept seems really wise and kind.  It makes sense to you on the surface, after all, generally speaking, that’s how you approach the world right?  You see everyone has value and is important in the world, and you don’t care about the size or shape of people in the world around you.  What matters is their mind, their heart.  How they treat people and how they behave right?

The problem is, I think you’re struggling with feeling that way about yourself.  You feel the need to be perfect, to be beautiful, to be confident and awesome and amazing right?  But you just don’t feel that way.  You’re feeling things like scared, lonely, unworthy, stupid, ugly, not good enough.  You just can’t seem to get those old recordings in your head to stop playing, all the times that you’ve screwed up, or someone has told you you’re not good enough, or that they think you’re ugly, stupid, worthless.  No matter how much you “get” self esteem on paper, you just can’t seem to grow your own.

Am I right?

Let me tell you a little secret.  All those confident people you see around you that you admire but think you could never be like them?  You are already like them.  Not only because you are taking that step out into the great world of self acceptance and positive self esteem (which is awesome!) but because they feel just the same way as you do.    They feel scared, they feel like screw ups, they feel like imposters, they feel ugly, stupid, not good enough.  The difference is, they know that those feelings are normal to have, and that they’re not always accurate depictions of themselves.  They acknowledge those feelings first, and then they examine why they are feeling them.  They realise they’re usually because of stress, because of carrying around other people’s behaviour and attitudes, because of tiredness, because of worry.  Sometimes they’re chemical – lots of us suffer depression and anxiety.

There are lots of things that you can do to help work through these feelings of inadequacy.  Surround yourself with positive people who value you for who you are in your heart and mind.  Engage in self care – be it a good night’s sleep, a swim or some yoga, a night out with friends, or a long hot bath.  Whatever it is that makes you feel good.  Fill your life with the things that inflate you, not those that crush you down.  Throw away those magazines.  Stop watching TV shows and movies that engage in fat hate or criticism of women over their appearance.  Don’t give media that engages in bullying your time and attention.  There are plenty of other fantastic things out there you can read, watch and do that build you up, rather than tear you down.

But most of all, you need to know this: You don’t need to be perfect.  Or beautiful.  Or pretty.  Or even confident.  You are valuable right now, as you are, with all your flaws and imperfections.  Because we ALL have flaws and imperfections.  Every single one of us.  Perfection isn’t compulsory, nor is it possible.

Start to see yourself as other people see you.  When they tell you they love you, for whatever reason they love you, there is your evidence of your value. Turn off those old recordings from the past.  They are just that – the past.  They no longer matter.  What matters is who you are here and now.  Learn from and fix those mistakes as best you can, and value who you are now.  It’s never too late – whether you are 16 or 96.

Something starts to happen when you do this.  It takes a long time, but you start to see those qualities in yourself.  You may not recognise it when it starts to happen, but you will feel it.  You’ll feel brighter and lighter.  You start to see yourself as the amazing human being that you are.

And you are an amazing human being.  I can see it already.

Lots of Love

Kath

Thoughts on Being “Othered”.

Published February 28, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just keeps going on and on and on.

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

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

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

Fa(t)shion February

Published February 11, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

It’s February, and you know what that means?  The second annual Fa(t)shion February!  For those of you who haven’t encountered Fa(t)shion February, it started on Tumblr, simply fat people posting their clothing choices for the month of February.  Pretty straight forward huh?

Though it doesn’t necessarily have to be an outfit one gets dressed up in – it can also be the things you wear every day to do the stuff you do.  Your PJ’s.  Your exercise gear.  The stuff you wear while doing chores.  Doesn’t matter – it’s all just to share the clothes we fatties wear with each other.  It’s really up to you to show whatever you like to of what you wear.

Now if you’re not someone who is interested in fatshion, who prefers to dress totally for practicality, that’s ok.  Not everyone does, it’s a personal choice.  You can come back next post if you’re not interested, I won’t mind you skipping this one, really!

I didn’t really get into Fa(t)shion February last year, other than to enjoy watching other people’s posts, to see what other fab fatties were wearing and to see bodies like mine.  But through the year last year I got more into posting my outfits of the day (OOTD’s) to the Fatshionista Flickr group, and sharing them with friends on Facebook.  Plus for the first time in my life, I’m enjoying partaking in fashion.  Thanks to the generosity of Autograph Fashion, who gifted me a lot of clothes over the past year in return for a whole lot of work around giving them constructive feedback, I’ve been able to play with my style and fashion far more in the past year than I had the whole of my life.  Not only did I get to build my wardrobe up, but it also has taught me to look at the clothes I already had, and the way that I wear them, with a whole lot more confidence and personal flair.

When it comes to fashion, I personally believe it’s about far more than what the fashion industry presents to us as “fashion”.  Fashion is about self expression, fun, style, self love and care, and community.  There is nothing quite like the connection that sharing our personal style and tastes can create between people.  I know myself I’ve met loads of people through my own personal fashion.  From the woman in the line at the movies with the Lego minifig earrings that I got chatting to, to Brisbane’s own Marilyn Monroe who I always trade compliments with on our outfits/accessories when we encounter each other around town, to the fatshion blogs I follow online, all of those have brought me fantastic new relationships in my life.  It’s a great ice-breaker and a great way to connect with someone you already know.

Recently, s.e. smith wrote an excellent piece on fat positive shopping that really spoke to me.  In it, ou says:

Fat-positive shopping isn’t just about having a rack of clothes that fit, or even a whole store of clothes that fit. It’s also about creating an environment that is positive for the customers, that embraces the full range of expressions and styles. Just as people of other sizes don’t dress uniformly, fat folks don’t have a single fashion sense, nor do they want to march around in lockstep wearing the same kinds of garments. Some people want to wear torn leggings, sparkle sweaters, and rainbow skirts. Others want sharp business suits. Some people want fabulous wrap maxidresses, others want tunics to layer over jeans.

That’s what I love about fatshion – it allows people to express themselves far more than mainstream fashion does.  I find that really powerful and certainly far more fun than being restricted to what the fashion industry tells us we should be wearing.  I love how creative we are with fatshion and our own personal style.  It sucks that we have had to be that way because we have had such limited resources available to us, but it really is one of our strengths – we’ve evolved so much more creativity and personal style, and a solid sense of community around that creativity and style.

The other thing I think that fatshion has over mainstream fashion is that we’re far more embracing towards diversity.  We are usually (not always, but usually) far more open minded to how other people dress and express themselves.  We’re far more open in trying new things ourselves.  And we’re generally a whole lot less critical about other people’s bodies and style choice, and we’re not focused on youth, thinness and whiteness like mainstream fashion.  I think this piece by Fatty Unbound really illustrates that.

To me, fashion is about following an industry, but fatshion is about us collectively leading an expressive community.  Whether  you’re hitting up the thrift stores and big box retailers, or making designer stuff work for you, or anywhere in between, fatshion is about finding your personal style and rocking the hell out of it.

So, have I been contributing to Fa(t)shion February?  Yes I have, and I’ll share the first few outfits with you here.  I’ve not been documenting every day, but I have had a few to share already.  I hope to do more as the month progresses.  Let’s see:

Paper bag dress. 1/2/12

I found this “paper bag” dress at Big W of all places.  It’s not something I would normally wear being a real neutral, but I loved the almost silk feel of the fabric, and it’s SUPER cool.  We’ve had some stinking hot weather, so cool is important.  Of course, at work I cover up my tattoo (partially, just the naked lady’s boobs really), so I have to have a shrug over a sleeveless top like this one.  The shrug is actually a coppery, sparkly knit from Autograph Fashion that I picked up on sale.  And I’ve got that old staple of leggings (Big W) and ballet flats (Rubi Shoes) underneath.

Leopard Print and Lycra. 3/2/12

I was being photographed that day for an article that I believe is due to be in tomorrow’s Sun Herald (Sydney – I’ll share it if I can find it online!) and I wanted something funky and fun.  So I decided to go with leopard print and Lycra.  The leopard print shirt is from Autograph Fashion (one they gave me), the cami is from Evans Clothing, skirt is from Target, tights are from We Love Colors (gold) and the leopard print Converse are ones my friend Kylie found for me in Scotland.

Snakeskin With Sparkles 7/2/12

I got this dress on sale for $20 from Autograph.  It is currently my absolute favourite dress, and I am encouraging them to make more in different prints and colours!  Here it is without the sparkly shrug (also picked up on sale at Autograph).  The pink sparkly ballet flats are from Diana Ferrari, I got those on sale out at DFO a while back.

Autumn Tones - 9/2/12

Another top picked up on sale at Autograph – I love the scalloped lace around the neckline and that apricot/terracotta colour is everywhere at the moment.  I’m standing kind of weird and one of my shoes is hidden, but the khaki wide-legged pants are from Target – I got those for TEN BUCKS!  Damn I love a bargain!  And the shoes are from Rivers.

So there you have my first four Fatshion February outfits.  I’m looking forward to doing more as the month progresses, and I’ll definitely share them here when I do.

Are you doing Fa(t)shion February this year?  Do you think you’re a creative person when it comes to fatshion?  What makes you feel good about fatshion?

The Gift of Our Stories

Published December 14, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Up until a few years ago, I thought I was the most worthless creature on the planet.

I believed that I had no right to speak, have an opinion, share my beliefs, ask questions, or  talk to people without a being prompted directly.  Even then, I often held back, or made jokes about the situation, rather than actually sharing my thoughts or feelings.  I was full of guilt and shame.

But then I found fat acceptance.

I don’t remember exactly where I first encountered the concept, but I guess someone shared a link on Twitter or Facebook, and something piqued my interest, and I had a look.

Fat acceptance opened up a whole new world for me.  It changed my life so much that I can’t express fully just where I was and where I am now.

Where I am now, literally now, as I type this, is sitting in one of my favourite blogging spots, a little tabled area not far from my office, writing this blog post on a laptop as I’m photographed and filmed by a couple of academics as part of a documentation project about fat embodiment and activism.

When I look up, this is what I see. Lauren and Isaac.

Me.  Being photographed.  There are moments that I still can’t believe that I’m allowing the above to happen, not just allowing it but feel relaxed about it and even enjoying it.  I have a gap of about 20 – 25 years where there are only a handful photographs of me in existence.  More years I think, I’m not really sure.  I destroyed most of the photographs that were taken, simply out of self loathing.  I’ve had more photographs taken of me in the last 25 minutes than I did in that 25 years.  In the past few months, literally hundreds of photographs.

We found some photographs at work recently from 2003, and many people wouldn’t believe that the woman in those photos was me.  My self loathing is actually visible in most of them, even if I’m smiling on the surface.

It’s a massive shift in my paradigm.  To just allow someone to photograph me and relax (well mostly!) while they do so is so radically different to where I was years ago.

That’s fat acceptance and fat activism that has led me to that place.

An aside… it’s weird.  Every now and then a giant lens appears over my shoulder like a shark swimming into view.  I keep expecting to hear that music from Jaws, you know the bit with the cello?  It’s also kind of funny to have someone seeing my writing as I do it – normally it’s only seen by someone else when I have given it a tidy up and clicked on “publish”, not while it’s flowing out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen.  It’s a challenging exercise in the writing process.

Giving Isaac a taste of his own medicine!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, fat activism has brought so much to my life and radically change how I think about myself.  From a girl/young woman who received the dual message of “It’s lucky you’re smart, cos you’re not much to look at.” and “You shouldn’t get too big for your boots girlie.” to a 39 year old woman who has the confidence to allow people to document her life, and to share it with the world.

Telling my story is really important to me.  I think the most powerful thing about fat activism is the empowerment it gives to people to tell their stories.  Not to mention to hear stories of other fat people, which we simply don’t get in the mainstream.  Fat people in the mainstream are  one dimensional parodies – the sassy fat sidekick, the angry fat bully, the sad fat loner sitting at home in front of the television shoving food in their face.  We’re not seen in the mainstream as everyday people, with multi-faceted personalities.  We’re not seen as having jobs and careers, families and friends, hobbies and interests, passions and convictions.  Part of the power of being a fat activist is putting a representation of a real person, with all of those things, out in the world for other people to witness.  Both our fellow fatties, who often feel alone and isolated by the mainstream representation of fatness, and to non-fat people, who are sold this view of us that is not real.

Storytelling is a powerful, powerful thing.  Religions grow from it.  History is determined by who gets to tell their story and which of those stories is documented – which is how privilege is born.  That’s what marginalisation is – the silencing of people’s stories.

Fat activism not only allows me to tell my story and document my own history, but it also allows me to create a place for you to tell your stories, and to encourage you to create your own spaces to tell your stories.

And sometimes, if you’re really, really lucky like I am, you get other people who want to tell your story as well.

I’m having a lot of lightbulb moments while I work on this project.  I’m thinking about a lot of new things and learning a lot about myself.  From personal stuff – my own identity and embodiment – to the broader perspective of what it means to be telling the stories of fat people in general.  It’s become this strange meta process – the more immersed I get into a project about fat embodiment, the more I find myself defining my own identity and what I embody.

As I just said to Lauren, one of the best things about the internet is that we all have the power to document our stories and share them with the world, and to possibly have those stories heard by others, who then weave them into their own stories.  My story becomes entangled with yours, which then becomes entangled with the people in your life, and so on.

So thank you, dear Heffalumpies, for entangling your stories with mine.  That enriches my life far more than you can know.