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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.

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