stories

All posts in the stories category

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.

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Keep Telling Your Story Until Someone Listens

Published September 25, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Let’s get something REALLY clear.

When someone says they “respect your choices” as a fat person, but continues to publicly vilify fat people in general… they actually DO NOT respect anything about you.

I know!  It’s a bit of a bombshell, isn’t it?

But this is the same thing I come up against every time I or anyone else in the Fatosphere (or our allies) challenge someone who speaks publicly about the fat stigma they are spreading.  It almost always goes like this:

  1. Public persona is published in the media talking about how unhealthy/sedentary/uncontrollable/irresponsible/costing the taxpayer fat people are and how society needs to take control/shame/tax fat people to make them “wise up” to the ZOMGBESITY CRISIS!
  2. Fatosphere says “Other people’s bodies are none of your business, and what you are saying stigmatises fat people.”
  3. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But everyone knows fat = unhealthy!”
  4. Fatosphere says “Health is not a moral imperative, and you cannot judge someone’s health by their size.  Shaming or hating someone for their own good doesn’t help.”
  5. Public persona (and their fan club) says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!”
  6. Fatosphere says “Help them by reducing fat stigma, and allowing them to advocate for themselves.”
  7. Public persona says “But I respect your choices!  I just wanna help those who need help!”
  8. Fatosphere says “By vilifying fat people in the media, you are not helping them, you are shaming them.”
  9. Public persona says “But I don’t hate fat people, I want to HELP them!  I respect their choices!”

See where I’m going with this?

I’ve said before, the problem we have here is that these people are not listening to us.  Oh they might be hearing the words, but they are not actually listening to what we are saying.  They’re not hearing that their words and actions are harming people.  They’re not hearing that they are hindering us, not helping us.  Whether this is because they don’t want to hear these things, or that they just cannot fathom that there is a disconnect between what they are pushing and reality or it is because they’re too horrified at the thought that they might have to be responsible for the things they say that harm people, I don’t know.  But I do know that when we see this pattern over and over and over, it is because we are not being listened to.

It makes me think of a friend of mine who is a school teacher, and she would say to her very small students “Now, do we all have our listening ears on?”

Just this week I’ve been reading the most beautiful book, Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.  It is peppered with the most wonderful quotes about oppression, justice and personal experience.  I particularly fell in love with this quote, that just fits perfectly with the post I am writing tonight:

The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name, and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating.

Is that not the most beautiful paragraph?

I am struck with the thought that despite this being the words of an African woman sold into slavery over 200 years ago, it rings true for many marginalised people even today.  How many people SAY that they consider us their equal, be we women, fat people, people of colour, people with disabilities, queer people or any other marginalised people, but  yet they do not hear what we are saying, and cannot even identify us individually?  To how many people are we still the obese, the disabled, the homosexual, the blacks, etc, rather than people, their true equals?

While I would never compare my life to that of the character of Aminata Diallo from Someone Knows My Name, I too have long loved the written word, and understand it’s power.  I too believe that while people are not listening to us now, we can write our stories, share our experiences and talk about how we are affected by the behaviour of those who see us as “other”.  The more of us who do so, who put down our stories somewhere for others to read it, those stories accumulate and grow in power.  And they will also provide a record in later times, when people start to understand the damage being done now.  That while there may be many who do not listen to us now, we are reaching those who do, and by telling our stories we reach even more, and leave a legacy to those who follow us.

After all, marginalised people have spent their whole lives listening to those who oppress them.  We’ve had no choice but to do so.