Susie O'Brien

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Guest Post 2 – Enough is Enough by Dr Samantha Thomas

Published July 11, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

I am more than thrilled to share with you the news that Dr Samantha Thomas, sociologist specialising in weight and body image issues, is back with another guest post here on Fat Heffalump.

I talk of the inflaters of the world, those people who raise people around them up rather than crushing them down, and for me, Samantha is one of the inflaters I have in my life, and I believe she inflates people all around her.

She joins us today to talk further on the double standards of several “Body Image Advocates” here in Australia, and to issue a call to arms for all who wish to change the climate of body shame not just here in Australia, but around the world.  Over to our guest:

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Enough is Enough

I don’t often get away with my dudes to a place where I have total isolation from the media. The last 4 days have been a media free zone for us – no phones, no computers, no newspapers. It was HEAVEN.

Well you can run, but you can’t hide. And it was slightly amusing that literally a couple of minutes after arriving back home and picking up the Saturday paper I came across this article in the Courier Mail. Australia’s Next Top Model (ANTM) banned a 16 year old from the catwalk because, at a size 8, she was too fat. Now look, I don’t really have any opinions about ANTM. Sorry! I’ve never watched the Ozzie version, and I’m a bit smitten with Miss Jay and the dude with the white hair on the American version. So I’m declaring my conflict of interest and not commenting on the show.

But I WILL comment on the fact that once again a member of Australia’s National Body Image Advisory Group has been caught in another dodgy set of circumstances around the promotion of fat hate. Most of you will know that Mia Freedman, the Chair of the committee has also been criticized for the inconsistency between her role on the committee and the material she promotes on her website. This time it is Sarah Murdoch. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sarah Murdoch she is a former model and host of ANTM. According to Minister Kate Ellis she chose Murdoch and Freedman, “for their work in their industry, not for their looks”.

And so I landed with a thud back from my holiday bliss. And you know what.

I’ve had enough of these inconsistencies.

I’ve had enough of people who are supposed to be advocating for body image declaring “it’s not like I hate fat people”. There is a reason you would have to declare that out loud at a press conference.

I’ve had enough of the confusing messages that are sent when our National Body Image Advisory Committee includes some high profile individuals who then actively promote that certain types of bodies are the beautiful ideal.

I’ve had enough of the new saviour that is obesity surgery. Because when you get an email from a 17 year old who tells you that her obesity surgeon told her to turn the heater off in the winter so that she would shiver and burn more energy thus losing more weight, you realize that this is a profit driven industry out to exploit, not care for people.

I’ve had enough of articles that say that fat stigma will be reduced if we find a cure for obesity. Or that we should tackle fat stigma because it will make it easier for people to engage in healthy activity – oh and lose weight.

I’ve had enough of the emails from people who have asked me if I have any ‘miracles’ because they have been told by their doctors that they have got themselves so fat that they should just give up and wait to die.

I’ve had enough of people being paid lots of money to promote the diet industry, which promises everything, and only delivers physical and emotional pain.

I’ve had enough of the stupidity that somehow has us believe that we will protect young people from eating disorders if we give a magazine a ‘tick’ for declaring its airbrushing practices, but that we still allow that same magazine to run ‘diet’ articles, and advertisements for the weight loss industry.

Most of all, I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy that surrounds the body image/obesity/health debate in this country. And that includes everyone being allowed to be an expert on fat… oh except fat people.

I don’t think there is one person that is reading this that at one time or another hasn’t disliked what they saw in the mirror (or on the scales). I also don’t think that there is one person who is reading this that hasn’t been made to feel bad about their body by someone else. Some of you reading this will encounter this much more than others. And I am standing up and applauding you for the amazing strength and resilience that you show in the face of such a negative public gaze for what your bodies look like, and how they got to be how they are. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

But I do want to let you know that I am with you.  Standing side by side until we sort out this ridiculous situation that we have gotten ourselves into with ‘weight’.

And I will continue to advocate with you for change.  Because when we stand together, we are a very powerful voice indeed.

A voice that is getting stronger.

A voice that is becoming an amazing tool for highlighting the hypocrisy that exists around body acceptance, weight and health in Australia.

Let me give you a great example of the power of that voice in action.

Last week Herald Sun columnist Susie O’Brien weighed in (again) on the obesity debate. But before I write about that, lets have a little recap of some of the things Susie O’Brien has written about body image in the past. First up, in January, when supermodel Jen Hawkins bared all for body image acceptance, Susie wrote:

“I have written so many articles about body image… I have told women to be proud of themselves and told men to adore the flaws.”

She goes on to write.

“We are never going to have genuine body acceptance until people start getting used to seeing real, average, beautiful bodies.”

Now obviously I have issues with these statements. But I could see where she was coming from.  Not helpful, but a little bit heading in the right direction (even in the lets all strip off and show each other we don’t look like Jen Hawkins love fest that we all seemed to be going through at the beginning of the year).

So how then, just a few months later, can Susie O’Brien write this?

“Yes, it’s important that young people feel good about themselves. But it’s also important that young people have the best chance of living a long, healthy life without the serious life-threatening illnesses that come with obesity. Not to mention the teasing and bullying and low self-esteem that many fat kids face. So I want to know what’s being done to help young people who need to lose weight, and who need to get motivated to change their unhealthy bodies, rather than accept them as they are.”

Once again, the same old rhetoric emerges. Lets accept everyone’s real, beautiful bodies, flaws and all.

UNLESS YOU ARE FAT.

But what’s worse is that somehow it’s okay to then invite a bunch of people to participate in a live hate fest on fatties. That fat individuals are lazy. That fat parents were in essence abusing their children. That we should all aspire to be like Susie because her kids ask for broccoli when they get home from daycare.

Now every cloud has a silver lining. And the day that Susie chose to have that live blog was one of the most silver lined clouds I have seen for a while. Because not just one, or two, or three but at least TEN of us joined that live blog to SMASH HOLES in Susie’s arguments. We very clearly and rationally outlined our arguments, and in the process absolutely discredited what she and a bunch of others had to say. We all brought a slightly different perspective to the table, and I know I felt a whole lot better about being in the discussion because I knew others were there with me.

It’s not easy to be a lone voice. I have learnt that the hard way. And I guess that is the point of this post. If we want change, we have to start acting together. There is no doubt that the critics are there. I was on Catalyst about obesity surgery for kids a couple of weeks back and ABC journalist Melanie Tait (who has had a lapband) took it upon herself to very publically try to discredit me. And so many of you jumped in and supported me. And I cannot tell you what a difference that made.

Speaking out also brings emails like this.

“We’ve never met but I recently read your piece ‘Mama Mia and Body Image’ and it was a lifesaver. A total no holds barred lifesaver. Finally someone clearly explaining that I shouldn’t have to hide my body to make it acceptable to others. And that while there is nothing wrong with promoting physical health in the right context, mental health is equally important, and the guilt and shame brought about by being told in a /body image/ setting that you are freaky and need fixing (read here 5 foot 1 and size 20) is incredibly damaging. You have helped me reframe my thinking about this and regain some much needed sanity and perspective. I have sent copies of your piece to my women friends who are all shapes and sizes.”

This is why we do what we do. And why we need to work together. All of us will be able to contribute in different ways. Some of us will want to be on the front line. Others will want to join the discussion in safer spaces. Some might just want to listen and perhaps share pieces with their friends and family members. Some might want to offer a shoulder to lean on (or some much needed spell check skills!!). Everyone has a role to play in creating change.

So who is in? !!!!

By the way. Keep your emails coming. I love them really.  Or follow me on Twitter @samanthastweets

Oh and I reckon Susie is a shoe in for the next vacancy on the National Body Image Advisory Committee! What do you think?

When Lady Journalists Attack

Published September 8, 2009 by Fat Heffalump

Well, have I got something for you tonight! This article was published in the Courier Mail (Brisbane, Australia) today with the dramatic title of “Plus-size Models Doing Big Girls No Favour”.

In it, the author, Susie O’Brien suggests that the increase in plus-size models in the fashion market are not a good idea because it gives the impression that it’s ok to be fat. She also criticises television shows like Drop Dead Diva and the fact that retailers are starting to provide fashionable clothing for plus-sized women. To quote her directly:’

But there are also many larger people who are just plain fat, and who would be better off being encouraged to lose weight rather than always be told it’s ok to be overweight.

Now firstly, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never experienced being “always told it’s ok to be overweight”. ALWAYS told that Ms O’Brien? I am wondering where you got that idea. Perhaps it was the people on the street who yell encouragingly at fat women “Go for it sister!! Rock that hot fat body you sexy thing!” Or the constant news pieces about how AWESOME it is that there is an obesity crisis going on in our country. Maybe it’s those doctors that tell us that our wonderful fat bodies protect us from disease and illness?
Oh hang on… that’s in the reverse universe! Silly me. *eyeroll* Ms O’Brien dear, back to this universe hmmm?
She then goes on to say:

But it’s time to get real – fat people may be happier but they’re also digging their graves with a fork, and we’re all paying for it.

Firstly, last time I looked I was a tax payer, in fact a taxpayer that has one of the highest quotas in relation to my income, because as a single, woman without children who works full time, and has private health cover, I’m not collecting anywhere from the Government for the tax I pay. So am I not entitled to a piece of my tax dollar coming back to me? Fat people pay tax too y’know Ms O’Brien.
And secondly, here we go again, the old fat people shame trick. All of us fatty pigs that are going to die and make the rest of “normal society” pay their hard earned dollars for us to be happy and fat.
Now, they didn’t publish my comment that I left on this article, probably because it makes sense, but what I asked is this – If shaming and pressuring people into thinness actually worked to make the “obesity crisis” go away, wouldn’t we have seen evidence of this by now? After all, Westerners have been heavy into the diet thing for some decades now. I know that my Grandmother has been dieting and felt shame about her weight all my life, and as you know I’m past 35. I daresay she was doing so before I was born. It was really the 50’s and 60’s that saw the diet/body obsession culture kick off, and then it kind of went nuclear in the 80’s. So if all these decades of shame and body obsession and thin = beauty actually worked, wouldn’t the levels of obesity in our culture be decreasing, not increasing? Wouldn’t the average be smaller than in the past, than larger?
Perhaps, just perhaps, by empowering people with confidence, strong self esteem, and a sense of achievement and a place in society, they’re more likely to be productive, healthy members of that society? They’re more likely to have the confidence to take on a productive role in society, to be active and willing participants in life rather than shutting themselves away in shame and embarrassment.
I certainly think so.
But what I think sums up Ms O’Brien perfectly is this sentence.

Losing weight is hard work. It takes sacrifice and effort. As a mother of three in my late 30’s with a new gym membership, I know this first-hand.

I think I understand. Perhaps Ms O’Brien doesn’t like her own body. If she doesn’t like her own body, how dare anyone that she considers fatter than her like theirs? Everyone should put in all that sacrifice and effort that she is. Let alone all that money she spent on her fancy gym membership. Perhaps if Ms O’Brien stopped worrying about how everyone else is living their lives, and focused on letting go of her own body issues, she might realise that it’s none of her business.