fat people

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Fat Liberation is for Fat People with Disabilities Too

Published July 30, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

So if you read my previous post, you’d know that almost two months ago I had a rather spectacular fall (total dignity stripper) and did myself some considerable injury, including a fractured ankle, which has me in a moon boot. I’m really lucky, I’m not in a huge amount of pain, more sore than acute pain, and I’m pretty mobile despite the moon boot. I can walk fairly well, and though my mobility is somewhat compromised, I can still get around and live my life not all that much differently to I was pre-fracture. I’m embarrassingly slow up and down stairs is the worst thing.

However, even in my privileged position, I have experienced some issues with other people’s attitudes and behaviour since my mobility has been compromised. People walking at me or into me, some make snide comments about my ankle injury being “because she’s so fat”, an old woman on the bus asking me if I fell because I’m fat and then saying, “Well with your size I bet you went down hard.” (FYI, I fell because a patch of footpath was old and lumpy.) Or people kvetching because I’m so slow on stairs when I can’t avoid them altogether. You try walking up or down stairs in a huge boot when your ankle doesn’t bend.

I can only imagine the garbage that other fat people with disabilities (fat PWD) are subjected to.

People with disabilities (PWD) already have to deal with enough stigma, discrimination and general douchebaggery from non-disabled people, but add fatness to the equation and a whole raft of new shittiness is added.

Fat PWD are accused of “causing” their disabilities because they are fat, are accused of “just being lazy” or treated like even more of an inconvenience than thin PWD. It’s hard enough for PWD to get the equipment and services they need, and for many of we fat people to get equipment, clothing and services that fit our bodies – the two issues compounded make it even more of a burden for fat PWD to bear.

Just as a small example, a friend mentioned to me when I said that I had to get a boot to be aware that it may be difficult to get one to fit me, as she had trouble finding one that would fit her calf, and that eventually they had to pad a very large boot out in the foot for it to fit her calf. I’m fortunate there, I have big feet, which means a bigger boot, and my legs are proportionately smaller than the rest of me. But I know how hard it is for many fat women to find regular wide calf boots, let alone medical ones!

I have another fat friend who has a chronic health issue that means she needs access to disability toilets. She’s not visibly disabled, so she cops a lot of heat from strangers who make comments about “you’re fat, not disabled”. Nobody should have to justify their use of accessible toilets to bloody strangers! She has the same issue with disabled car parks.

Fat people are already beaten over the head with the health stick, throw disability and/or chronic illness into the mix and we just can’t win. Even though many chronic illnesses and disabilities can cause or are correlated with weight gain, our bodies are scrutinised further simply because of their fatness, regardless of our physical ability or levels of health. We’ve all had medical professionals prescribe weight loss for things wholly unconnected to weight (sore throats, injured bodies, reproductive system issues etc), how difficult must it be for fat PWD to get proper diagnosis and treatment of illnesses, injuries and other conditions.

As part of the fight to have the full humanity of fat people recognised by society in general, we need to make sure we are including fat PWD. Fat PWD should be able to advocate for themselves, get adequate medical treatment and suitable equipment to fit their bodies, as well as the basic dignity of being able to exist in society without stigma or vilification for their bodies for either disability or fatness.

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Internalised Fathphobia is Still Fatphobia

Published May 20, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

First a tiny bit of housekeeping – thank you so much to all of those who have donated so far to my GoFundMe to get to Sydney for the Cyberhate Symposium.  Your support means so much to me!  If you’d like to know more about that, please click here.

Now, on to the topic of the day.

Yesterday I posted this to Instagram, and it struck some really strong chords with people:

I posted this because yet another high profile, supposed fat positive person in the public eye has cropped up in the mainstream media trumpeting about their weight loss surgery and how they are only doing it for themselves, their own health, their own happiness.  In a huge article in a mainstream publication where they were likely paid for the piece, if not they are going to get commercial benefit from doing so.  Simply because there is massive societal benefit in publicly trying to not be a fat person.

Sigh…

I am not going to talk here about personal choice, the pressures fat women face and I am not going to to recite the litany of evidence that shows that weight loss surgery (gastric mutilation) does not cure any illness long time, does not cure depression and has vast detrimental health risks including a high death rate.  I’ve done that before and other people have done it time and time again and it’s all easily retrievable with some simple Google searches.

What I want to talk about today is the damage that these “personal journeys” in the mainstream media do to fat people in general and secondly, the sheer hypocrisy of people who have been in the mainstream media and big business arenas selling themselves as fat positive role models, only to turn around shortly afterwards and in the same media, throw fat people under the bus with their narratives of “personal choice”.

There comes a responsibility with public visibility.  That responsibility is that you are to do your best not to do any harm to those out there that don’t have the platform that you do – be they people you have privilege over, or those you share marginalised identity with.  I take that very seriously with my small platform, and while I will inevitably fuck up, I am always working to do my best to avoid doing so, and I will do my best to own it and fix it when I do fuck up.  I take the time to think about what I am saying, to ask myself who I am leaving out, and who I might be doing harm to.

Personal narratives are important, yes.  But there is always a time and a place that must be carefully chosen.  It is not OK to just jump out into the mainstream media or major business platform with your personal narrative when that narrative is going to do damage to other people.  Having a mainstream media or business platform is a position of power that most marginalised people simply do not have, so there is little to no reply or rebuttal to damaging narratives that are given air time.

Put simply, it’s in no way a big risk to put yourself in the media and parrot the dominant paradigm about fatness.  It’s a safe bet that is going to get you support from the majority, because the majority actually do believe that fat is bad, and that one must go to any length to not be fat.  This is not a brave step, or one that has never been heard before.  It’s a safe bet that to do so you are going to have people patting your back and telling you “You go girl, good on you.”

But what is also a safe bet is that people are going to read/see your story, and regardless of whether or not you’ve put any caveats in that it’s your own personal story, they’re going to see it as a reassurance that they are right, that all fat people are unhealthy, sad, depressed, gross, sickly and miserable – you are simply reinforcing the existing narratives.

The other problem I have with these types of stories is that they are so often coming from someone who has made themselves a name, a business, a career, money and fame from other fat women – as the post that Virgie Tovar shared on her Facebook page this morning says:

Image text: These celebrities are escaping their fat bodies to more fully engage in capitalism, period. Their justifications for doing so are gaslighting defined. They were willing to utilize the language of bopo/fat acceptance to open the door for themselves. They used the right coded language to tacitly ask for our fidelity, and they’re using the same coded language to disavow/escape us all the same. It is so insidious and hurtful when things play out like this. Fuck choice feminism.

 

Meaghan O’Malley is so right when she says this.  It is a deep hypocrisy to have stood up and said “I love my fat body and I’m here for you, my fellow fat women!” to build a career and platform, only to throw them under the bus down the track by using the same coded language to declare in a highly public platform that you are taking drastic steps to not be a fat person.  Particularly galling is that some of this was in a HUGE media campaign for a major department store less than a year ago.  It’s all well and good to jump on the bandwagon to sell yourself as radical self love, build a career, align yourself with several brands using the language and works of decades of fat activists, and in fact getting several very prominent fat activists to stand beside you, only to turn up in a major tabloid magazine not even a year later saying that all of those things you said are not true.  Particularly having launched a major new product line aimed at fat women mere days beforehand.

Of course, this is only one example of a prominent fat person declaring publicly the opposite to the very things they were saying and riding to their fame after gastric mutilation (or any other type of intentional size reduction).  We’ve seen it from singers, actors, models, writers, all kinds of very public people.

Every time this happens, there are those who have absolutely nothing to do with fat activism at any other time who get themselves in the media and start screaming for the “mean fatties to leave [insert famous ex-fat person] alone”.  When we critique the messages these very public people are putting out on their sizeable platforms, we are accused of being “mean” towards the person or being “bitter and angry because we’re still fat”.  It’s fucking exhausting to constantly have to argue straw man arguments from people who refuse to listen to what we are saying.  The other particularly galling argument is that by somehow critiquing the messages put out by these narratives that fat activists lack compassion or empathy.  Fuck that bullshit – nobody wants to have compassion or empathy for the fat people they are pummelling into the dirt with their lies about health and happiness being unattainable to fat people, or their faux-moralising to hide their open loathing of us, but the minute we raise valid questions about the damage being done by those who are suddenly pro-weight loss after having built careers off our backs, we’re the ones lacking compassion and empathy.

There is no shame in feeling disappointment and hurt that yet another of the people you believed were on your team is in the media very publicly trying not to be like you.

Nobody is saying that your body is not your own to do with what you will.  What we are saying is that if you have a highly public platform, perhaps you should examine the rhetoric you are spewing out and how it harms people who don’t have the same platforms.  It’s not like you’re saying anything new with these narratives that fat = miserable/unhealthy/disgusting.  You’re saying the same thing the world has been saying about you all along, now you’ve jumped the fence and are saying them about other more vulnerable people.  You have become one of the bullies.

How anyone can wear that on their conscience, I don’t know.

Not Now, Not Ever

Published April 8, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

Sigh… my dear fellow fats, there’s something you all need to know…

You don’t owe anyone jack shit.

No seriously, you don’t.  You don’t owe anyone any of the following:

  • An excuse for your body/health/size/weight.
  • Justification for your existence.
  • A “debate” (or argument, whatever they want to call it).
  • Justification for your fatness.
  • Proof of your “health”.
  • Proof of what you eat, or what physical activity you do.
  • Apologies for taking up the space your body happens to take up.
  • Answers to any of the private information people demand of you.
  • Proof that you are “happy”.
  • An education into the human rights of fat people.
  • Corrections for dodgy science.
  • Politeness or respect when they demand any of the above.

Further to Lindy West’s excellent piece in The Guardian this week, where she quite rightfully points out that after having answered the same question publicly for six years, she’s no longer going to bother responding to it any more, I think it needs to be expanded upon to include refusing to engage in any of the above activities with people who demand you jump through hoops for them, and then completely disregard your response anyway.

We’ve just got to stop doing this.  And we’ve got to stop tiptoeing around the people who demand we do this.  We’ve not only got to start saying “No.” but also we’re completely justified in telling them exactly where to shove their intrusive questions and demands.

Oh I know, those same people demanding you do all of those things will say “Well you’ve clearly got no argument then.”  Or they’ll say “I’ve approached you respectfully and now you’re being RUDE to me.” while clutching their metaphorical pearls in horror.

Here’s the thing.  Demanding fat people justify our existence, asking intrusive personal questions, trying to force us to “debate” them about your rights as a human being, and expecting us to educate them are all acts of violence towards fat people.  These intrusive, disrespectful behaviours are deliberate attempts to push us into a “lesser” category of humanity, to waste our time in repeatedly answering their demands with absolutely no intention of either believing us or allowing us to move on and to generally just be disrespectful.  It is NOT polite or respectful discourse to demand or expect you to respond to these things, and therefore you’re not beholden to some kind of polite response.

Tell them where to shove their damn demands for you to justify your existence.  Because the truth is, even if you were to respond, you’re not going to change their mind anyway.  Trust me, I’ve been doing this for YEARS now, rapidly approaching a decade, and I have never, ever had anyone who came at me expecting me to either justify my existence or prove my life to them in any way, actually change their mind and start recognising my right to exist in this world as I am, a fat woman.

The people who are genuinely going to change their minds actually just listen – they don’t demand you jump through hoops for them.  The people who are going to respect you are going to take their time to do their own reading/research.  They’re going to listen to you when you speak in the first place.  They’re not going to demand you politely respond to their intrusive grilling of your right to exist fully as a human being.  This constant waving of “Well I WAS going to consider your argument but… “ under our noses as though if we just answer them the right way, and show them the right aspect of our humanity, they’ll treat us with respect, is so false.  You’re not going to get respect from anyone who expects that of you.  Not now, not ever.

What you do owe is to yourself.  You owe living your life to the fullest you can, in whatever circumstances you find yourself in.  You owe yourself kindness and value for your body, even if it doesn’t always look or behave the way you want it to.  You owe yourself the right to exist in the world, as you are, right now, no matter what changes might or might not come in the future.

You Are Not Subtle With Your Hate

Published February 20, 2017 by Fat Heffalump

Inspired my my dear friend Ali over at Mean Fat Girl, I want to expand upon her post That Thing Thin People Do.  The thing is, we see you, thin people.  You think you’re being OH SO SUBTLE in your little judgements and smirks and insincerity towards us, but there’s one thing I can promise you – you’re not subtle.  You’re not even original.  Because when I sit down and talk to other fat people, particularly fat women, I hear the same things over, and over, and over again.  So perhaps if I lay them out in a nice, easy to read list, you can all see just how blatantly obvious you are with your cruddy behaviour, and maybe you’ll understand why so many of us simply don’t trust you, or even like you.

Oh you might not do all of these things, nobody is saying that.  But I’m quite sure you do some of them, because I and other fat people have seen you do it.  Time and time and time again.  And if you are one of the few who DON’T do these things, then this is not about you.   Don’t get all “not all thin people” at me – it’s no different to #NotAllMen or #NotAllWhitePeople

Things Thin People Do

  • Expect their fat friends to hang out with them for hours on end while they try on clothes that are not available to them, without ever returning the favour, or being cognizant of how fat people are excluded from clothing
  • Scowl at fat people in public
  • Laugh at the idea of fat people dating, being in love, having sex.
  • Laugh at fat people in public
  • Assume that fat people are all lazy gluttons
  • Decide how much and what fat people should eat.  Those “Are you sure you want that?” comments.
  • Nudge their partners, friends, family and point out fat people in public
  • Take photographs of fat people on their mobile phones
  • Talk about our bodies to other thin people, particularly about whether you think we are lazy or gluttonous.
  • Say things like “If I ever get like that, kill me.” In reference to our bodies
  • Inspect our shopping carts and baskets
  • Watch us eating, staring, following every morsel of food from our plate to our mouths.
  • “Compliment” us only when we wear dark colours, or clothes that hide our bodies, but if we wear anything colourful or that shows skin, you’re suddenly silent.
  • Talk about how fat you are, in front of us, like being fat is the worst, most disgusting thing you could be.
  • Use us to make yourself feel better about yourself – “at least I’m hotter/better/thinner than her.”
  • Speak to us as if you’re our intellectual superiors.
  • Assume we’re exaggerating or over-sensitive when we talk about how rude and hurtful people are to us.
  • Talk over us about fatness, bodies and eating disorders, as if you have more expertise on our bodies than we do.
  • Tell your children “You wouldn’t want to get fat now.” Right in our hearing, again, as though that’s the worst thing that a human being could be.
  • Laugh when your children parrot the hateful things to us that you have taught them.  As if saying something mean to a fat people is funny or cute.
  • Do absolutely nothing when someone says something hurtful or hateful about fat people in front of you.

And most tellingly;

  •  Get offended when fat people point out the many ways that you behave rudely or hurtfully towards us.
  • Make excuses for all of the above.

That’s right.  Ask yourself right now – has the list above pissed you off, or offended you?  If the answer is yes, then I’m talking about you.  If you’re bothered that I and others are pointing out all of these appalling behaviours, then perhaps ask yourself why you’re so invested in being “allowed” to treat fat people with such disrespect and hate.  What kind of person are you that you think any of the above behaviours are acceptable towards another human being?  Would you accept people behaving like that towards you?  Would you respect, trust or want to be around people who exhibited those behaviours towards you?

As I said at the beginning of this piece – fat people see you doing this stuff.  It’s not subtle at all, you’re not sneakily engaging in something that nobody will notice.  We see you.  And instead of internalising your disrespect and hatred of us, we’re learning to shine a spotlight on it for what it is.  That might make you feel uncomfortable, or ashamed.  Good – that’s how you’ve been making us feel about our own bodies for so long.  The difference is, our bodies are not harming you, they are just that – OUR bodies.  None of your business.

Help Get This Fatty to New Zealand!

Published March 29, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Well, I’m tickled pink to announce that I have been accepted to present a paper at the 2016 New Zealand Fat Studies: Identity, Agency and Embodiment Conference in Palmerston North in June.  My paper, with the tongue-in-cheek working title “Hey! Fat Bitch!” will be on the long term abuse and harassment that fat people (particularly women and girls) face, be it from family, peers or strangers and how that affects our quality of life.

But… I need some help.  I have been working as a fat activist now for over 7 years without ever seeking any funds from anywhere.  I’ve been able to go to conferences in Sydney in 2010 and Wellington in 2012 (you can read my papers for those conferences at the links provided), done countless events and projects at my own cost and have been engaging with the media all over the world for free to fight to make the world a better place for fat people.  Unfortunately, what with the growing cost of living… it’s getting harder and harder to participate in these things when they are costing me my limited funds to do so.  I do not have advertising on this blog (except for the WordPress one that only people without a WordPress account can see, which I get no revenue from) and don’t even do reviews for product any more.

So I’m asking if folk can help me get to New Zealand with a GoFundMe campaign.  I am seeking to raise the cost of flights, accommodation and the corresponding insurance, plus registration for the conference.  Or at least put a significant dent in those costs!

As well as attending the conference, delivering my paper and reaping the networking rewards that I hope to be able then plough back into my activism, I hope to be able to write complimentary articles about the conference and the people involved that I can publish here for all of you.  I am also hoping to be able to engage the media in both Australia and New Zealand in some fat positive articles, because every little bit of positive  media helps shift the narrative from “the war on obesity” to “fat people have rights too”.  I hope to be able to blog both on the road (I’m already thinking of some pieces about flying while fat, and the cultural differences between New Zealand and Australia when it comes to fatness) and around the actual date.

The other good news is that there will be an online registration available for those who wish to either live stream or view on demand the presentations from the conference, which will include mine!  For more information on the conference, go to the conference page here.

So, all it leaves me to ask here is that if you can donate, any amount at all, it would be most appreciated.  And if you could share the link to either this post or my GoFundMe page around your social media, you’d be doing me a huge favour.

Let’s Get This Fatty to New Zealand!

A Tribute to Nurse Kellye

Published March 27, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Do you ever watch an old TV show that you thought you knew really well, and find a whole bunch of new things about it that you missed when you first watched it?  Especially watching something as an adult that you watched as a kid – you notice characters that you didn’t before, story threads that weren’t easy to pick up on unless the series was seen in order, brief roles by people who later became famous, or just understanding jokes and references that went over the head when you were a kid.

Like most people of my generation, I grew up on a solid diet of M*A*S*H – it started the year I was born and I can’t ever remember it not being on television.  It was a firm favourite of everyone in my household – which now surprises me as it’s very progressive for it’s time and I would not have expected it to be popular with my conservative parents.  If it was showing somewhere on TV, then the channel got switched over so we could all watch it.

Recently my library service added the entire collection of M*A*S*H to the catalogue, and as it had been some years since I’d even seen an episode, I decided to wade in and watch the entire 11 seasons.  It’s been MONTHS since I started and I’m only up to Season 10 right now, but I’m on the home run and while I’m sure I’d seen every episode already, I have learnt so much about the series and characters while I’ve been watching.  Like what?  Well, let’s see…

  1. It’s highly likely that my first love as a child was Major Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) and even now, my heart still flutters at the mere thought of him.
  2. Loretta Swit never got near enough credit for where she took the character of Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan over the life of the show – from a goofy comedy foil to a nuanced, complex woman character whose storylines really pushed the boundaries of women’s roles even in the 70’s, let alone the 50’s in which the series is set.
  3. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) can be a colossal jerk at times.
  4. The most consistently good acting (both comedic and serious) in the entire series was Gary Burghoff, who plays Walter “Radar” O’Reilly.
  5. As an adult, I like Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan) more than I liked Colonel Blake (McLean Stevenson) as a kid.
  6. BJ Hunnicut (Mike Farrell) was probably the most decent character amongst the core cast.  All of the characters were flawed, but BJ seemed to always be a good guy.
  7. Klinger (Jamie Farr) was hilarious in his dress up days, but a much more nuanced character once he got out of the frocks.

But there’s one thing I’ve really discovered as I’ve watched the series.  My favourite character isn’t any of the above central characters.  My favourite character is lucky to have one or two lines per episode and her story isn’t always consistent.  In fact her name isn’t always consistent.  She is a short, chubby woman of colour.  She is Nurse Kellye, played by Kellye Nakahara.

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Nurse Kellye is probably in more episodes than anyone else, except Hawkeye, who was in every episode.  She’s always there – in the background in the mess tent, working diligently in the OR or Post-Op.  She dances with almost every major male character in the Officer’s Club at some point over the series.  In the later series, she has a line or two in almost every episode, and in the final series she has a whole episode to herself.  Her surname changes repeatedly throughout the show (sometimes they even use the actress’ real surname Nakahara for the character – it’s never really outlined what her full name is) as does her heritage.  At one point she mentions that she’s part Chinese, part Hawaiian, but later on she’s referred to as Japanese-Hawaiian.  We do know that her rank is Lieutenant at least.

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But she’s always there.  How many other women that look like Kellye Nakahara can you name in ANY television series, let alone one from the 70’s and 80’s who is always there, and is always shown as smart, competent, compassionate and professional?  How many chubby women of colour characters can you name that aren’t the butt of a joke, or portrayed as klutzy, or incompetent, or over-sexed, or silly?

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But there Nurse Kellye is, with her cute pigtails and sweet face, pretty much every episode, working beside the doctors and even respected by all of them – which is saying something when you remember Hawkeye’s attitude to the nurses.  She’s multi-lingual, a dedicated and more-than-competent nurse whom the doctors look to for information and advice on more than one occasion.  I particularly like that she was repeatedly shown socialising with Major Winchester – from being his dinner date when Klinger had set up a fancy restaurant in the mess tent, to asking him to dance (and he accepts graciously) in the Officer’s Club when a visiting USO performer strikes up a polka.  She wasn’t the butt of a joke in those scenes, she was just a woman socialising with her male colleague.

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When she does get to participate in a joke, she gets to be part of the gag, rather than be the butt of it.  Her flirting with Hawkeye when he is working in Rosie’s bar is not a joke at her expense, it’s her being cheeky to her colleague, an officer who outranks her, who has ended up serving behind the bar in the local den of iniquity, subverting the joke that has her as the GI chasing the bar-staff, rather than it being his usual role.

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In an era when women of colour were scarce on our TV screens and women who were not slim and “pretty” by conventional standards were almost always the objects of ridicule, seeing a consistently positively portrayed Asian-American woman with a short and chubby frame is SO refreshing.  We know that Nichelle Nicholls is a trailblazer in television with her role as Uhura in Star Trek, but has anyone ever acknowledged Kellye Nakahara for her 165 episodes of pure badass awesomeness in M*A*S*H?  We almost never see women like her in roles today, so there is no doubt at all that she too, was a trailblazer for her time.

Street Harassment – An Update

Published March 20, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Just a quick place holder and update for anyone who is interested.

The man who harassed me on Friday afternoon has been positively identified by police and I am happy with their handling of the case, so I have closed down the post seeking his identification.

This was my aim, to find out who he was, and ensure that he was held responsible for his actions.  As that has now been achieved and I have been given good advice by the police of what to do should he approach me in any way in the future, the post has achieved it’s aim and is no longer required.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to all of you who reached out with support (it has been overwhelming – hundreds of you!) and who shared the info in the hopes of identifying the man responsible.  But most importantly, I would like to thank the brave people who contacted me to tell me that they knew who he was, and told me their stories.  You are all incredible and I am honoured that you would speak up for me.

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