stareable bodies

All posts in the stareable bodies category

Stares, Sneers and Snickers

Published February 14, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

If you follow me on my Fat Heffalump Facebook page, you may have seen this article I posted yesterday.  Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has documented the reactions of people around her, a fat woman, in public.  If you go to Haley’s page, you will see the full suite of photographs called Wait Watchers as she documents people laughing at her, sneering, and generally just being douchey.

Now I don’t advocate reading the comments on PetaPixel articles (actually, on any articles about discrimination and bigotry for that matter), but I did, and I also saw them elsewhere, suggesting either that Haley just captured “general expressions” (not necessarily aimed at her) or that perhaps they weren’t deriding her because of her weight but because of the way she dressed (which is no different than most of the thin people around her – only fat people are considered “sloppy” in shorts and a top), her looks, or as one said “Those people aren’t looking at her because she’s fat! It’s because she’s doing x, y, z. But if she doesn’t want to be ridiculed in public, maybe she should lose some weight.”

Wait, what?

Regardless of the reason why people behaved like they did, they were behaving in a judgemental manner, and judging her negatively, which their expressions and behaviour showed.

Well, I can tell you now, I have further proof to add to Haley’s testimonial of the derisive surveillance fat people are under.  Because some time ago, I engaged in an experiment with Stocky Bodies photographer Isaac Brown, where I spent time in the Queen Street Mall here in Brisbane doing things that I am normally likely to do in public, as anyone else is (reading, using my phone, eating a salad, eating an ice-cream) and Isaac blended into the crowd and photographed people’s reactions to me.

Before anyone says “But it’s because you have bright pink hair!” let me address that.  Firstly, lots of people have bright coloured hair these days.  But many of them are not ridiculed in the street.  I am a fat woman with pink hair, I get a very different reaction from Jo Public than a thin woman with pink hair.  Secondly, I currently have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and I get the same treatment no matter what colour my hair is.  Just two days ago I spotted a guy on the opposite train platform to the one I was standing nudge the woman next to him, point me out (brown hair, tattoos covered up, wearing quite a conservative dress and plain ballet flats) and they both laughed at me.  When they realised I had seen them pointing me out and laughing, they both clearly knew they had been busted by me.

And finally, do people with pink hair or any other bright, bold appearance deserve to be ridiculed in the street?  No they do not.

Others suggest people stare because “You look awesome Kath!”  People do not scowl, laugh derisively, or have expressions of disgust at people they find awesome.  They do not nudge and point.  When people find me awesome, and yes, some do, they smile at me.  They pass and say “I love your hair!”  Their faces are open and friendly, not closed and hostile.  Believe it or not, fat people are emotionally intelligent enough to be able to distinguish between negative and positive reactions to them.

I asked Isaac to send me some of the photos he took, so that I could share them with you.  You will see quite clearly that these are not the expressions of people who are thinking “That pink haired, fat lady is awesome!”

KathQSM-14

Some people just stare.

Sometimes I'm stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Sometimes I’m stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

It's not just women that stare either.

It’s not just women that stare either.

Even "nice little old ladies" stare and grimace at me.

Even “nice little old ladies” stare and grimace at me.

Some don't even bother to hide their laughter.

Some don’t even bother to hide their laughter…

... until their companions stare too.

… until their companions stare too.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Even sunglasses don't hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

Even sunglasses don’t hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

As you can see, it’s not just a phenomena that Haley Morris-Cafiero experiences.  I do too, as do many other fat people who spend time in public places.

But what is most offensive is the routine denial of those experiences, as though we are either imagining the stares, disapproving/disgusted looks, the nudging and pointing and laughter, or they are somehow our fault.  Having our experiences dismissed is actually part of the systematic oppression of fat people.  Portraying us as overly sensitive, or imagining the way we are treated is also a form of abuse.   It labels us as “deluded” or emotionally damaged.  It is ironic, many of us do have emotional damage, not because we are fat, but because of the way society treats us as fat people, which includes the regular dismissal of our experiences.

The thing is, it’s not just me that notices the way people behave towards me in public.  It affects my relationships with others as well.  I have had a boyfriend leave me because he couldn’t handle being subjected to so much derision from strangers (yes, I am aware that I am better off without such a man!) and it often diminishes the enjoyment of time out with friends, because they see how people behave towards me and because they care about them, it upsets them and makes them angry, as they want to defend me and respond to the general shittiness of strangers behaviour.  Not to mention that even though I’m mostly pretty thick skinned about it, some days it gets too much for me and affects my mood – it’s hard to relax and have fun with your friends when you are being subjected to the kind of derision and judgement shown in the photographs above.

It is sadly just another example of the way fat people are viewed as inferior in our society.  Not only do we “deserve” the vilification, ridicule and judgement, but if we acknowledge it, we are viewed as irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.

If you are experiencing these things, you are NOT irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.  Your feelings and experiences are valid, and you are not alone.

Note: Any comments denying my or anyone else’s experience with judgement and ridicule in public will be marked as spam and have you blocked from commenting.  You are welcome to state that you are fortunate enough to have not experienced it, but DO NOT suggest that I or anyone else is imagining our experiences, as you will be doing exactly what I call out in this article.

Advertisements

On Stareable Bodies

Published June 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

It has always happened, but it happens more now than it used to.  Or maybe I just notice it more than I once did.  But I think that my level of confidence and fairly good self esteem either contribute to, or highlight it more than when I was depressed and self-loathing.  Perhaps it’s because I now walk with my head held high, my gaze lifted and my shoulders back, where once I walked eyes downcast, trying desperately to minimise myself in the eyes of the world around me.

But whatever the reason behind it, one thing is very clear.  I have a stareable body.

Stareable bodies are those outside the very narrow band of what is culturally considered “normal”.  That can be for reasons that are because they don’t meet those standards (fat bodies, disabled bodies, visibly ill bodies, bodies that are dressed or marked in some way “different” to what is the acceptable norm for example) or it can be because the starers view those bodies as above the standards, particularly female bodies (exceptionally conventionally beautiful bodies, bodies with sexual features that are exaggerated etc).  But stareable bodies are those bodies that members of the general public feel the need to stare at and take extra notice of.

As a very fat woman, it happens to me all of the time.  Yesterday I was walking back to work from a quick jaunt to the nearest chemist on my morning tea break (I have a cold, ick), and as I passed an outdoor patio style cafe, I spotted a man at a table of about 6 men, nudge a couple of the other men, and they all turned and stared at me.  When I returned the first man’s gaze, he had the audacity to look angrily at me, as if I had done something to offend him.

Thing is, I had offended him.  I was a visibly very fat woman, passing in his view, that was my first offense.  I was also a visibly very fat woman who was walking with her head held high, with visible confidence  and his nudge and point routine failed to force me to lower my head and my gaze.  His pointing me out to his buddies failed to result in what he clearly expected it to, and that was my embarrassment and shame.  I had offended him deeply.

To be fair, it’s not just men.  Recently I went to an afternoon tea with friends, and while one friend and I waited in front of the cafe for the others to arrive, I noticed a woman say in a loud whisper to a younger woman sitting in front of her “Look, look at her!”  Unfortunately for her, the younger woman, looked the wrong way, and she was forced to desperately try to get her to turn her head towards me.  When the younger woman finally did, she saw that I could see and hear them, and looked embarrassed, but the older woman was going on “Oh my God!  Look at her!”  So I did what first came to my mind, and I leaned over as we walked past and said discreetly “Hi, would you like me to pose for a photo or something?”  The older woman had almost the same expression at this as the aforementioned man – she was clearly offended at my acknowledging her behaviour.  I was supposed to be embarrassed and ashamed, not confident and speaking up.

It’s not easy, speaking up, staring back.  Most of the time I’ve got better things to do with my time than confront some rude narrow-mind about their behaviour.  Sometimes I’m in a setting that isn’t conducive to making an example of someone’s bad behaviour, like at work or if I’m a guest of someone else.  Other times I just don’t want to and don’t feel that I should have to.

And I don’t have to.  Not if I don’t want to, I’m not under any obligation to fix other people’s bad behaviour, only my own.

But I’ve learnt that by challenging the starer, I regain something that is mine – my right to be in public, as I am, without apology.  I’ve also learnt that I place the negativity that the starer throws at me squarely back on their shoulders, where it belongs.  It is not mine to carry.  And most importantly, I’ve learnt that every time one of us with a stareable body challenges the cultural messages that it’s acceptable to single out, to make example of, to point and stare at those who are outside the narrow band of “acceptable”, we shift the status quo, just a tiny little bit.  I am reminded of this quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in Staring: How We Look that Margitte from Riots not Diets shared a little while back:

When people with stareable bodies […] enter into the public eye, when they no longer hide themselves or allow themselves to be hidden, the visual landscape enlarges. Their public presence can expand the range of bodies we expect to see and broaden the terrain where we expect to see such bodies.

[…] These encounters work to broaden the collective expectations of who can and should be seen in the public sphere and help create a richer and more diverse human community. This is what starees can show us all.

What it all boils down to for me, is that other people do not get to dictate whether or not you can be visible in public, and what is acceptable for you.  You do.