diversity

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Melbourne Fashion Week Plus – The Political

Published September 11, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

What a whirlwind 10 days I had in Melbourne for Melbourne Fashion Week Plus (MFW+).  I think I’m still reeling a bit from just how full on it was, I know I’m still processing a lot of the feelings that bubbled up during the entire week.  I’m going to split my rundown of the week into two posts, this first one is going to talk about the politics and my own feelings about the event, and then I’ll follow up with the pretty fashions later, because I’m still putting together the photos and videos I took – I took a LOT!

I’m going to cover a lot in this post, so strap yourself in for a bit of a long read!

I had a lot of really intense feelings about being invited as a special guest to MFW+, mostly for two pivotal reasons.  Firstly because I’m not a fashion blogger in any stretch of the imagination – I love clothes, and expressing myself through the way I dress.  I love colour and texture and shape and I love the way putting an outfit on can make me feel.  But my focus as a fat activist is changing the way that fat people are both perceived and treated.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe clothing and fashion are important in fat politics – after all, access to suitable clothing is important to be part of society and because fashion and clothing can be really empowering, especially to those of us who have been denied access.  But to be invited and supported by MWF+ as an activist to be part of the event, knowing that they wanted my very political, feminist, fat active perspective to be included in the event means a lot to me.

Secondly, because despite being an almost 44 year old badass angry fat bitch who takes no shit from anyone, there is still deep inside me that heartbroken teenage girl who sobbed into her pillow because the popular girls had laughed at her and told her that she had no place even trying to wear nice clothes, because fat girls should never be seen and would never be as cool as thin girls.  There is still that tiny kernel of her in there and the thought of attending an event full of fashionistas, even be they fat ones, brought on a massive bout of imposter syndrome.  Even though I know rationally that it really matters nothing in the scheme of things in my life, those feelings are deeply formative and there’s still that moment of “All the popular girls are going to turn their noses up at me.”

The reality is, they didn’t (well, the vast majority of them didn’t, I did spot a couple of noses in the air though!) and the rational part of my brain is strong enough to remind me that I honestly don’t give a fuck!

So I flew down on the Saturday before the soft launch started and stayed a couple of days with the lovely Sonya Krzywoszyja (aka GannetGuts) and her famous kitty Dodge, who is now my BFF (best furry friend) who got me completely addicted to Melbourne coffee within 24 hours and was with me when a lovely woman in Brunswick stopped me in the street to tell me how much she had loved my appearance on You Can’t Ask That.  You haven’t lived until you see someone literally drop their phone with a “OMG gotta go bye!” and stop you in the street!  (Waves to Sarah, if you happen to read this – you made my day!)  We were on our way to the soft launch of MFW+ when that happened, and it was the first of many times I was recognised in Melbourne.  Both from within the fat community and from random people on the street – or in candy shops – I walked into a shop and the young woman behind the counter went “OMG YOU WERE ON TV!!”  It’s a really weird feeling but it’s so lovely to get some positive responses to my work instead of the usual garbage that hits my inbox!

It was wonderful to be able to actually speak to some of the designers and other people from the brands who were involved with MFW+.  I am sure some of them didn’t expect to have a middle-aged pink-haired mega fatty bending their ear on how the industry is failing so many of it’s customers.  But I wasn’t there to build people’s egos, I was there to agitate for change!  There is some amazing stuff happening with plus-size fashion in Australia, but there are also some really horrible gaps in the market that are ignoring the customers who have the most at stake when it comes to finding clothes that are suitable and desirable for their bodies.

One of the best experiences for me for the whole week was the panel I was lucky enough to be on, Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies.  Not only were my fellow panelists Sarah Harry and Meagan Kerr amazing women who approach fat activism from different perspectives but similar politics to me, but the general atmosphere of the event was incredible.  Several women came up to me after the panel and told me that they were amazed to feel welcome and included in a fashion event.  This is what we should always strive for – to right the wrongs of mainstream fashion, starting with inclusivity.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

Meagan Kerr, Sarah Harry and myself at the Feminism, Fashion and Fat Bodies panel.

I’m a firm believer that not only can we be better at inclusive and ethical fashion, but we already are.  That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement – there’s a lot of room for improvement.  But I do see that fat fashion is willing to question where our clothes come from, who they are accessible to, who made them, who is making money from the customer and why some customers are left out.  We’ve taken more steps towards building a more equitable industry.

There are two areas that we do have a lot of work to be done though.  Size representation and affordability.

Unfortunately way too many “plus-size” brands are excluding the larger sizes still.   There is no valid excuse for this.  I hear a lot of brands say they want to expand into larger sizes, but the truth is that brands should be STARTING with the larger sizes.  This is the most under-represented demographic and a clientele that is clamouring for options.  Want to jump ahead from the competition?  Provide what your competition isn’t providing.  It was dispiriting to see so many brands at MFW+ who simply do not cater to my size, a 26/28AU.  The few who did really stood out and they have a captive audience of women who literally have almost no other options.

I know the MFW+ team worked really hard to find brands that both included larger sizes and would use models over a size 16, and that there are simply very few out there.  The thing I want to say to all of these brands who refuse to cater to larger sizes is that you’re not doing anything revolutionary by creating a plus-size range that only goes to 20 or 22.  There are so many brands doing that, just in Australia alone from all kinds of types of fashion and price points.  Size 16 or 18 or 20 is in no way cutting edge, revolutionary or radical.  It’s the status quo and it’s incredibly disappointing that so many of you do not have the courage to step up and do something really radical, which is create beautiful clothes for larger fat women.

Affordability is the next issue.  Now this isn’t a criticism of the brands who are providing quality clothes at a good range of sizes directly – they’re needed.  We need premium product.  But the issue is, we also need product from ALL price points – and that means high end fashion as well as a range of budget options.  As much as I would love to throw down $300 – $400 on a dress, it’s simply not possible.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have premium product out there – it means we need the diversity that is available in straight sizes.

I guess that is what it all boils down to – diversity.  Diversity of style, diversity of size, diversity of price point, diversity of range (ie everything from activewear to formal wear and all in between!)  Until we see diversity, the plus-size market is failing it’s customer.

The second panel on the Sunday was an industry one, comprised of brands and the head of a model management company.  I’m not going to name names, but frankly it was SO frustrating to have the head of the model company speaking over all of the designers, pushing to “drop the plus” and crowing that she was a “proud size 16” who wants to get rid of the labels, without acknowledging the reality that larger women do not have the options she does.  All of the brand reps there mentioned that they couldn’t get professional models over a size 20 and that they mostly sourced amateur ones to use, and the woman from the model company kept saying that no brand wanted models over a size 20, and then when the brands said they do, she told them that they should use “professional models because they’re so much better”.  That would be the professional models you don’t have because you say they won’t get work, forcing the brands to use amateur ones.   Frankly I was glad when the panel was over so we didn’t have to listen to her voice any more.  I felt deeply for the other panelists and for the panel chair!  I was so glad to be sitting next to the delightful Kobi Jae of Horror Kitsch Bitch so we could groan in frustration together!

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I mean, damn, look how cute we are! #SpaceChips

And then of course, there were the runways, with all those fashions.  I had so many feels.  While yes, it is disappointing and frustrating to be excluded from so many brands because they refuse (or consider it too hard) to cater to my size, there is something incredibly powerful about seeing fat bodies walking down a runway.  MFW+ worked like hell to get a diverse range of bodies down that runway, and while I know they got considerable resistance from some brands, to see women with bodies that looked like mine, or shared some of the features of mine was so powerful.  Round tummies, thick thighs, dimples, wide hips, big boobs, round faces… they were all gorgeous!  It felt so good!  All of the models, professional and street style, did an amazing job and kudos to the MFW+ team for their hard work to really make a difference.

So there you have it, a rundown of my thoughts on the political side of Melbourne Fashion Week Plus.  I am still working all on my photos and videos of the runways so I can share with you the actual fashion, but it’s important to talk about the way that plus-size fashion is changing the world and the way fat women can represent themselves.

Good Weekend – Corrections and Clarifications

Published January 23, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well, hello!  There are a LOT of new people popping in to view my blog, and I can only assume that it’s because of the article published today in the Good Weekend magazine, which is a weekend addition to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Welcome to all of those who are newly discovering this little blog.  And to all of those of you returning, it’s good to see you back.

Dog Reads Newspaper?

*Deep breath*  Today has been a little intense and it’s a new kind of intense on top of an already intense week.  I’ve had a lot of people contact me today thanks to the aforementioned article, some of whom with very valid questions and critique.  Quite a few talking out their arse, but I pay no mind to those.  I just wanted to write a little something to go with the article.

Now I don’t think that Tim Elliott has written a bad article, quite the opposite.  But I have been misquoted/misinterpreted a bit, and I don’t know whether that was a communication error, misinformation or just bad copy editing (do newspapers even have copy editors any more – or were those all made redundant too?).  Generally speaking the article is far more fat positive than most pieces we see, and it’s so good to see some actual fat women represented.  I had loads of fun doing the photoshoot for it by amazing photographer Paul Harris, who was really fun to work with and seemed to just “get it”.  My hair and makeup were done by Monique Zalique who was an absolute sweetie and made me look super glam, despite it being a roasting hot day!

So, a few things I would like to set right.

Firstly, for some reason, the amazing Jessica West, at fashion organiser and advocate, as well as my friend, has not been credited at all.  She’s the mega cutie in the video with the black and gold headscarf and babely glasses.  She was interviewed and photographed for the article but it wasn’t used, but footage of her was used in the video and she is the only one whose name isn’t published!  So I want to acknowledge her first and foremost.  She has a killer instagram, go follow her.

Next I’d like to address the way I’ve been described.  The “fat prider” thing – I’ve never called myself that, though I do believe in fat pride and fat liberation.  I identify as a fat activist and my focus is on fat politics.  The article implies some kind of leadership role, but I have never called myself or inded wanted to be a “leader” in any form of fat politic movement.  Personally I believe that activism should have no leaders, because activism is about pushing and growing and evolving, not a direct hierarchy.  In Australia, there are many fat activists, doing their thing in their own way.  All of us are needed.  I’m just one that will put myself in front of a photographer or journalist and do the media thing from time to time.

I also want to correct a couple of statements.  While I have had my workplace contacted by harassers, I’ve not had one show up there thankfully.  Not that that diminishes the actual harassment that has happened.  I also did not actually catch anyone slipping an abusive note in my mailbox, though I did contact the police about it at the time, who suggested I should “just get off the internet” and “not be so confident”.  The young law student from UQ that I caught was creating fake accounts on Facebook to send me harassing messages, and I was able to link those fake accounts to her real one.  Since I named her, she has not been back to my knowledge.

As for the suggestion that fat activists harass and bully people who lose weight, by choice or accident, that is absolute bullshit.  While we may object to those who start (or return to) “fat is bad” attitudes, and we will call out those who use stigmatising and hateful language to describe fatness and weight.  Saying “It’s not acceptable to vilify fatness.” is not bullying, abuse or harassment.  Unfortunately those who promote weight loss and/or dieting refuse to accept that by it’s very nature, eliminationist rhetoric about fat, the idea that fat should be prevented, cured, eradicated, it is harmful to fat people.

What you do to your own body is your business.  When you start promoting that some bodies are better than others, then I’m going to point that out as unacceptable.  That is not bullying or harassment from fat activists, and that does not make us “neo-fascists”.

One of the biggest problems with people who have privilege pointed out (especially if it’s new privilege, through weight loss, popularity or financial gain) is they refer to anyone pointing that out as “hate”.  Hate is sending threats, telling someone they are disgusting or sub-human, or ridiculing someone for who they are.  Pointing out that someone is engaging in behaviour or rhetoric that is harmful to others is not “hate”.

And finally, there is one statement that really, really bothered me.

Indeed, many fat activists regard their battle for acceptance as akin to the civil rights movement, or the struggle for gay and lesbian equality.

I really, really cringe at this.  Yes, I understand there are SOME that still see fat activism that way and conflate it with other movements.  But here’s the thing.  Marginalisation is diverse.  Each kind stands on it’s own as a valid thing to fight.  Many people have intersecting identities that are marginalised.  Some of those identities are in more peril than others, which makes the fight for their rights crucial and urgent.  Black people and trans people are currently extremely vulnerable.  There is no such thing as “another civil rights movement” – they’re all facets of the same fight – the right for ALL people to be treated equally.   The “struggle” for equality belongs to all of us, we just have to realise that some of us have privileges that others don’t.  As a white, cis, heterosexual woman with a regular income, I have privileges that others don’t.  As a very fat woman with disability, I am not afforded the privileges of thinner people, able-bodied people and men.  There is no sliding scale.  All of this is complicated and intertwining and every bit of fighting for human rights of any kind is needed.  None of them are new or taking over.  Can we please let go of that thinking right now!

So, that’s my clarifications/corrections to the article.  Again, while there are some issues with details, I still think this is a very positive article and I’m proud to have been able to participate in this get some light shed on fat liberation in the mainstream media.

Each and Every One Of Us

Published March 29, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

The fatosphere has a problem.  Put simply, it’s too nice.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be part of the fatosphere, and I think amazing work is being done.  But too many fat people are being left behind.

We spend far too much time trying to accommodate people who hold us back from our rights.  We make space for people who refuse to acknowledge that fat stigma exists.  We allow diet and weight loss rhetoric in our spaces, despite the fact that both are the product of fat hate.  We fold the minute a thin person says “But what about skinny shaming?!” as though they’ve ever been there for us while were dealing with people who would eliminate us altogether, the same people whose silence in the face of the hate and bullying fat people receive is deafening.  We rush to prove that fat people can be healthy, pretty, fit, fashionable, successful, which on the surface is stereotype-busting, but is only a thin veneer over the stigmatisation of less privileged fat people.  We don’t have to be health, fit, pretty, fashionable, successful etc to earn our rights as human beings.

We have rights by default.  They are not something that has to be earned.

There needs to be room for more than just young, white, affluent, able-bodied, straight, smaller-fat, femme presenting, cis-women showing how beautiful they can be and how they’re “valuable” to others.  Because by focusing on the “acceptable fats”, we are inadvertently drawing a line that creates “unacceptable fats”.  And there is something important you all must know…

There are no fat people who are unacceptable.  Not a one.

Not the sick.

Not the disabled.

Not the queer.

Not the trans.

Not the poor.

Not the people of colour.

Not the old.

Not the weird.

Not the ugly.

Not the mentally ill.

Not the extremely fat.

Not the masculine presenting.

No fat person is unacceptable in fat activism.  It is important that when we take up the challenge of demanding dignity and respect for fat people, we need to include ALL fat people, especially those people who aren’t considered “valuable” to society.  Because human value isn’t about being pretty or fashionable or worthy.  All humans, by right of their existence, are valid, valuable people.  Fat people shouldn’t have to prove that they “contribute to society” to be included in fat activism.

I’m not saying that we have to open up the floor to every fat person who wants to have an opinion – plenty of fat people are chock full of internalised fat hate.  Fat liberation to me has no place for diet talk, proselytising weight loss, or any other form of anti-fat rhetoric.  But we need to be making sure that the people who don’t meet the standard of the cute fashion fatty have a seat at the table.

How do we do that?  Well, mostly we do it by watching our own behaviour and making sure we’re not building standards and barriers that exclude and de-value certain people.

We need to stop entertaining those who throw health questions at us.  Firstly it’s none of their business, nobody’s health is their business but their own and secondly rushing to declare that we are healthy throws those fat people with health or disability issues under the bus.  Not to mention that no human being is 100% healthy, all of the time.  We all age, go through illness and injury, and most of us will be subject to disability at some point  – it’s called age.  I’m sure many people mean well when they respond to the health policing with “But my blood sugar levels are fine!” or “I exercise every day!”  But that implies that there is something wrong with people who do have illness, or who are not active.  Again, health and physical activity are nobody’s business but your own.  The answer to the fat hating “But it’s bad for your health!” is not “My health is great!”, the answer is “Other people’s health is none of your business, and my human rights are not affected by my health or lack of it.”

We need to talk about more than access to fashion when it comes to clothes.  That doesn’t mean that we should never talk about plus-size fashion, it means that we need to open up the other issues around clothing for fat people.  When we squee over a new range, do we take notice whether or not that range is accessible to larger fats?  Or is affordably priced for fats on a lower income?

We need to talk about access to comfortable clothes and how fat people wearing comfortable clothing are stigmatised as “sloppy”.  We need to talk about access to work uniforms for fat people, and how without that access fat people are held back from employment opportunities.  We need to talk about access to surgical gowns, wound dressings and medical supports that fit our bodies, and how we are already humiliated in medical settings, without the embarrassment of ill-fitting hospital garments and discomfort of too small dressings/supports.

We need to talk about how larger fats (myself included) are routinely excluded from all of the “exciting” new fatshion collections and ranges, and why this is about more than just business.  We need to talk about how the plus-size clothing industry is terrified of the word fat, or acknowledging that their customers are fat people at all, and how this further stigmatises fat people.  We need to talk about how plus-size customers are treated with shame in retail, both by shaming us and by being ashamed of us.

When it comes to fat activism, we need to make sure we’re not walking over other fat people to raise ourselves and our own needs higher.  We need to examine our own preferences and tastes – why do we share the things we share, and follow the people we follow?  Do we uphold the very prejudices that we’re supposedly fighting against, because we have internalised the same societal bullshit as everyone else?  Are we making sure we represent a diverse range of fat people in all of our work?

What are we doing for the older fatties?  The fatties of colour?  The super fatties?  The ones that don’t care about fatshion?  The ones that can’t afford fatshion, or basic things like medical care and food?  The disabled or chronically ill (physically or mentally) fatties?   The queer fatties?  The trans* fatties?

We need to move beyond focusing on just the cuties, the fatshionable, the young, the social butterflies in the fatosphere.  We need to make it clear that fat rights are for all fat people.  There will be no real valuable social change until we do.

The Realities of Fat Activism

Published January 11, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

It’s time I spoke up about a little something that’s going on in the fatosphere at the moment.  I don’t have a very big platform in the scheme of things, I do have a loyal group that stick around and are very supportive, and I’m forever thankful and honoured by that.  But I don’t have access to being published on mainstream websites, nor do I have friends who are high profile people in activism circles.  I have worked very hard for over 5 years to get the little bit of following and media notice I have had, and I’m thankful that there are people who appreciate my work and signal boost it on a regular basis.

But I am SO done with people who write on mainstream websites (where one article gets more shares than I get hits on a post) whinging that they don’t have representation, and then holding up MY tiny patch of the internet as an example of how fat/size acceptance is “doin’ it wrong”. (No, I am not linking to it, most of you will know the piece I’m referring to.)

Firstly, I have said for years now that I do not identify as part of fat acceptance, size acceptance or body positive movements.  I am a proud fat activist who believes in fighting for the human rights of fat people to live their lives in dignity and respect, without discrimination or vilification.  I believe in the liberation of fat people from a society that has treated us as second class citizens for almost a century now.  I do not believe “acceptance” is enough.  Body positivity has long excluded very fat bodies like mine.  Nobody has the right to hold me up as an example of either fat/size acceptance or body positivity as I reject both of those movements myself.

Secondly, I have no place speaking for anyone but myself.  If you want representation, do not look to me to speak for you.  I can only speak for my experience – that of a very fat (I personally prefer the term “deathfat”) woman with chronic illness.  I am a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault.  I have lived through poverty.  These are the things I am qualified to speak on.  I can, and will not presume to speak for anyone other than myself, however, if other people identify with my experiences, I appreciate the connection with them.

Unfortunately, I get a lot of people criticising me (more often than not they’re just trolling) for not writing about how fat hate affects men, or disabled people, or women of colour, or LGBT* folk.  I am not qualified to speak on these perspectives as I do not belong to them myself.  It is not appropriate for me to write about other people’s experiences.

I am not running a media website.  I am not editing any collections or aggregating other people’s posts.  This blog is me.  JUST me.  I stopped allowing guest posts years ago, and I write about my experiences.

If you want to be represented in fat spaces, you need to speak up for yourself.  But you also need to be aware that visibility in the fatosphere is not something that is either automatic, or without serious issues.  I blogged here for two years before I started to get any audience outside of a small group of friends.  In that two years, I spent the equivalent time and effort of a full time job in research, outreach, discussion with other activists and self-promotion on growing my blog, my visibility and my audience.  Once I started to get established, I spent just as much time lobbying the media, academia,  businesses and other organisations asking to speak, to be interviewed and to be included in events to further my activism.  In fact, until last year, I worked a full time unpaid job in activism on top of the full time job I have that pays my rent.  It’s only when it began to take a toll on my health and stress levels that I cut way back on the activism work I was doing, for my own self care.  Consequently, my audience has shrunk again, but I am very grateful for those who are loyal enough to stick around for my more sporadic posts.

As well as being hard work to get any visibility as a fat activist, most of us have to deal with some pretty horrific abuse.  Abuse that is unrelenting – despite my reduction in activism, the abuse has not tailed off even mildly.  It is relentless, always waiting in my email, on my social media accounts, and sometimes in my “real life” spaces.  It will appear on this post, and I will have to get rid of some horrific stuff.

You need to be aware that while it may look like all fun events and free shit for a fat activist on the surface, many of us spend hours and hours dealing with hate groups discussing how they’d like to see us die and suffer, sending us death and rape threats, constant harassment by abusive emails, tweets, Tumblr asks etc, theft and vandalism of our photographs, violent images and horrific pornography sent to us, things that before I started blogging, I would never have believed that another human being would do or say to someone.  Not to mention that it spills over into offline life as well.  I have had people stalk me, death threats sent to my home, hate notes left in my mailbox, been signed up to “obesity clinics” and weight loss centres, had vexatious letters sent to my employer, people abuse me in the street, all manner of crap I’ve had to deal with.  And let’s not get started on the creepers that think we should be grateful for their “fat admiration”.  Sending me unsolicited dick pics is not “admiration”, it’s sexual harassment.

You don’t see it because I don’t want to inflict it on others.  I don’t want to promote the bullying and hate.  I don’t want to give them the attention they crave.  And mostly because I just hit the delete button and get on with my life as best as I can.

Are you willing to deal with these things as a visible activist?  Are you willing to put in the work to get representation in fat spaces?  Are you willing to even acknowledge that these things unfortunately come with the territory of being a visible activist?

Does that mean that I don’t have privilege as a white woman?  No.  I am fully aware that as a white, heterosexual, mostly able-bodied, cis-woman who is lucky enough to currently have full time employment that I have advantages that other people don’t have.  Does it mean that nobody has privilege over me?  No it does not.

What I can, will and already do is signal boost those activists who are speaking up.  I am not trying to win any ally badges, or be given any ally cookies.  I want to promote those who are standing up and speaking out as best I can, because I know what it’s like to be under-represented.  I know what it is like to be on the margins.  Not to mention that I personally prefer to hear the perspectives of people outside of the median.  I can see a dime a dozen pretty, white, smaller fats with plenty of disposable income blogging about fat fashion.  But after a while, the shine wears off and I want to hear about the people who have also fought societal pressure like I have, for whatever reason, even if it is different to mine.  I want to see bodies that both look like mine, and bodies that don’t but are rarely seen anywhere else.  I have more in common with other marginalised people, despite our differences, than I do with the pretty white fatshion bloggers.  My social media platforms are all full of people on the outside, of various identities, because that’s where I have always been myself.

I wholeheartedly support the call for more diverse voices in fat activism.  I want them as much as anyone else does.  But I will not now or ever sit by in silence while someone on a far larger platform than I have access to passive-aggressively holds me up as someone who is “doing it wrong”.   If you don’t like how I dress, represent myself or engage in activism, you go out and do your own.

If you already follow my Facebook feed, my Twitter or my Tumblr, you will already have access to the activists I choose to signal boost.  But I will also do so here, because it seems this is where I garner the most criticism for a lack of representation.

I invite you to share your blogs/accounts and those you like in the comments below as well.  I know I could always use some more.

Note, these are in no particular order, and are not sorted into categories, they’re just as I dig them up from my bookmarks. And are only some of those I follow (I left out any that haven’t posted in a while).

*Unfortunately there are very few men blogging about fat issues, and some of those that are have been caught bullying, harassing and trolling fat women, so I will not support them.  A couple of very good fat blogging men have stopped blogging, which is a real shame.

**Note – please keep this comment thread to sharing links to non-mainstream fat activism and fatshion.  I am not entering into a discussion of whether I’m doing fat activism “right” or that it’s my job to speak for anyone other than myself and those that wish to identify with me.