media

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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.

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Marketing to Fat Women – This Is How You Do It

Published June 19, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Oh. My. Glob.  Have you seen the new video from department store JCPenney “Here I Am”?  No?  Ok, watch this…

I mean what can I say?  It’s wonderful!  Including actual fat women, including fat women of colour.  Doing kick-arse stuff.  With nary a word about “health”.  No “plus-size” models that wouldn’t actually wear the plus-size range.  No faux-bo-po slogan accompanied by a bunch of tall, hourglass, white women.  Fat women actually speaking about themselves and their own experiences.  Fat women showing that you can have an amazing life, exactly as you are.

I am not ashamed to admit that this made me cry.  In a good way I mean.  I was just so overjoyed to see how fat women are represented in this video, I burst into tears.  Which is really saying something.  I don’t cry about fat stuff any more.  None of it ever reaches me emotionally – I’ve grown so jaded and frustrated at the way we’re portrayed, the way nobody has listened to us, the way businesses insult and disrespect us and then expect us to give them our money.  I’ve never felt represented by marketing that was supposed to be aimed at me, and certainly not by the media.

But this… this is everything I’ve been banging on about for YEARS, trying to get brands and marketing to understand.  That they can market to us in a positive, aspirational way that INCLUDES us.  That says “We see you, and here are some products that we’ve got for you.  We’d like you to shop with us.”

It shouldn’t be that hard.  I mean we’ve known for years what we want from them.  We’ve been saying it for so long, and until now, none of the major brands and marketers have bothered to actually listen.

I really hope that JCPenney continue this kind of marketing, and that they don’t fold at any of the bullshit criticism that you KNOW will come.  All that crap about “glorifying obesity” and “unhealthy lifestyles” – as though a group of amazing, accomplished fat women are somehow a danger to society.  As though fat women don’t actually need clothing to suit their lifestyles right here and now.  I know the hot takes are going to be coming out very soon, all the armchair experts are going to crawl out of their holes and try to shout JCPenney into ditching this campaign.

Well, we’ll just have to be louder.  Tell JCPenney that they’ve done good things with this, use the hashtag #HereIAm to share your posts, pictures, outfits etc.  Tell other brands that you wish their marketing could be like this campaign.  And if you can, buy stuff from JCPenney – especially Ashley Nell Tipton’s new range when it comes out, which I believe will run to a size 34US, which is bloody amazing.  They also have another range I understand goes up to a 5X.  I know I will be shopping from them as soon as I can, even if they don’t have something totally my style, I’m sure I can support their plus-sizes somehow!

Well done JCPenney – keep up the good work, and thank you to all those involved in this campaign, especially the amazing fat women who have put themselves front and centre to represent us.

Dear Ashley Graham

Published March 16, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Dear Ashley Graham,

Please stop.  Just… stop.  Look, I know you’re the hot name of the moment in plus-size models and you’re getting a lot of media and marketing attention.  Congratulations, enjoy it.  But you seriously need to knock it off with the whole thing about not wanting the term “plus-size” to be used.  What am I talking about?  Well, there’s this…

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 7.56.39 PM
I get that you don’t want to be called a “plus-size” model because let’s face it, you’re not a plus-size woman.  Unlike myself and so many other women who shop at the stores you collect cheques from for modelling their clothes, your body is not fat.  To anyone walking past you on the street, you’re just a woman, and a very beautiful one at that.  But when I walk down the street, I’m a fat woman.  Nobody is going to dispute that fact.  That’s where the vast chasm lies between the models who are chosen and paid to showcase clothes for fat women, and the actual women who are buying them.

AG

A plus-size model.

 

An actual plus-size customer. (Photo by Paul Harris)

An actual plus-size customer. (Photo by Paul Harris)

The thing is, women like me need the label “plus-size”.  We know that the label doesn’t refer to us or our actual bodies, but refers to the section in the store that we need to find – almost always a dingy corner in the back with no signage, poor housekeeping and terrible lighting – if we are lucky.  You wouldn’t know what it’s like to need that section because your body is catered to in most standard “straight” sized clothing ranges.  When you want to buy a swimsuit, you need to know where in the store to go to buy one right?  So you go to the swimsuit section.  Well, we need and want to buy clothes that fit our body, so we need to be able to find the section that has those clothes, and for the last century, almost anyway, there has been a conveniently named section called “plus-size” that we can seek out.  This saves us from wading through the other 90% of clothing that doesn’t include us.

When you, who have far more access to the media and marketing than we do, by the blessing of your pretty face, hourglass figure and relatively small size (compared to actual plus-size clothing customers) start trumpeting that the clothing industry needs to get rid of the term plus-size, two things happen.

Firstly, you stigmatise fatness further than it already is.  You might not be actually saying that, but that’s what many not-fat people, including the businesses who are supposed to be serving us, actually hear.  The corollary of that is that not-fat people and businesses stop listening to us.  They don’t listen to us much anyway, but your efforts are causing them to shut us out even further.

Secondly, businesses start thinking that they can “drop the plus” which means they start literally dropping plus-size product.  They downsize their collections.  They trim the size range, removing the larger sizes, which are already as rare as hens teeth.  So you are actively making it harder for many of us to find the clothing that we want and need.

While we’re at it, let’s touch on the “curvy sexylicious” thing.  I personally find it cheesy and childish, but you get to decide how you identify and you’re perfectly entitled to decide on that label for yourself.  But the reality is, the vast majority of women who actually buy plus-size clothing will never get to or want to be referred to as “curvy sexylicious”.  To start with, many of us a “boxy fat fabulous” or “roly-poly arse-kicking” or “shaped-like-the-magic-pudding awesome”.  We’re fat.  We don’t have neat little hourglass figures with a tiny tummy bump or a pair of thick thighs.  We have big, fat bodies.  Bodies that are still awesome, but they’re not being given the opportunity to model for Lane Bryant anytime soon.  Also, I can’t go to work in a lacy bra and tight skirt and call myself “curvy sexylicious” like you do when you go to work.  I need to wear something suitable for my job and call it “creative professional woman”.  Sexing up is all well and good, but we need more than lacy bras and sparkly evening wear (don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of lace and sparkle).  We need suits for the office, dresses for daytime, skirts and blouses to go to church in, smart casual gear to go to the school event in, all those sorts of thing.  When I go through my work day, I don’t make kissy faces and toss my hair – I have to answer phones and go to meetings and do a whole lot of innovative thinking, plus a lot of networking with people of all types – from management to politicians, from librarians to electricians.  That’s not exactly “curvy sexylicious” appropriate, you know?

Besides, not everything in plus-size has to be “sexy”.  In fact, not everything about womanhood has to be “sexy”.  Sexy is fun sure, and has it’s place, but women are worth far more than their worth to the male gaze.  We are more than valuable for our fuckability.  When I see models promoting plus-size clothing brands, they’re almost always naked, in lingerie or in some state of “sexyfication”.  I know why this is done – mostly for the shock value of seeing a body that has some small rolls or curves in a world where most models are ultra-thin.  We often don’t get to see the products actually showcased in the same way that straight-sized clothes are.  Which makes it so hard to shop for the clothes we want and need.  Particularly when our clothes are relegated to online shopping or badly maintained racks in the back of the store.  We need to see what an outfit will look like when we wear the whole outfit – very hard when we’re forced to shop online.  The lacy bra and tight skirt is cute on you in a promo shot, sure… but how do I know what it looks like with a jacket or blouse in the same range?   How do I know what it will look like on a body shaped like mine, rather than tall, hourglass and slim like you are?

What it really boils down to is that we need more clothing options than there currently are in our sizes, and we need to be able to see them in a way that reflects how we live, feel and look.  We need to see ourselves.  Your constant calls to lose the term “plus-size” don’t help that.  Perhaps if you don’t want to be called a “plus-size model”, it’s time for you to step back, stop collecting the cheques for jobs that are supposed to serve fat women and let some larger, more realistic to the customer, models take the jobs.

Yours sincerely
Kath
aka Fat Heffalump

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.

Reality Television – Modern Day Freak Shows

Published March 15, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

After 6 years of being a fat activist, there isn’t much that makes my jaw drop in astonishment any more.  I’ve seen every pathetic excuse for fat hate that is out there, trolls stopped being original about 5 and a half years ago, and you name the creepy, cheesy, fatphobic trope in media, I’ve seen it.

But this week, I got a request that absolutely astonished me.  Take a look at this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 7.18.02 pmMy first reaction was to just blink in astonishment.

My second reaction was to see red and for steam come out of my ears.

I think reality tv is crap to begin with.  It’s unimaginative, cut rate content that only exists because the industry is too cheap to pay for good content.  But this really takes the cake.

I am utterly astonished that in the year 2015 anyone would consider a fat person in a relationship as “unique”.  Do they honestly think that approaching a known fat activist looking for “couples that are either in extraordinary situations or in uncommon relationships” is an acceptable thing to do?  Do they honestly believe that a fat person in a relationship is somehow an “extraordinary situation” or an “uncommon relationship”?  If they do, that speaks volumes about their attitude to fat people.

We are not freaks.  We are not a fetish.  We’re not even “uncommon” – we make up 60% of the population.  Being treated like fat people in relationships as being something unique or extraordinary is really dehumanising.  The suggestion is that nobody “normal” could really love a fat person.  Only “unique” and “extraordinary” and “uncommon” people love fat people.  Which is a coded way to suggest weirdos and freaks.

Fat people live the same lives as everyone else.  We have careers, we have relationships, we have families, we pay taxes, we are educated… we have lives.  There is nothing “unique” about it.  The only thing different is the way people treat us because of our bodies.  As if we are not human beings.