representation

All posts tagged representation

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!

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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.

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…

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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

Plus 40 Fabulous – What Makes Me Happy

Published February 20, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

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Another month has rolled around and it’s time for my latest Plus 40 Fabulous post!  This month’s theme is “What Makes Me Happy”.  One of the things about fat activism work is that you’re dealing with SO much bullshit – from the media and government pushing out anti-fat propaganda, general arsehole behaviour from strangers, dealing with the frustration of not being able to find suitable clothes to outfit you for life, medical professionals that treat you like a child and refuse to give you fair health care, and a myriad of other things, that it can be extremely wearing on a fat activist.  And because you’re almost always responding to that bullshit, it can also seem like we are all just one dimensional angry fat ladies!

There’s nothing wrong with being angry at injustice, but it’s not the only aspect of me or any other fat activist as a person.  Quite the opposite, generally speaking I’m known for my sense of humour, my laugh and for, as a colleague puts it, the look of mischief in my eye.

When you’re dealing with social activism of any kind, you have to be able to find the joy in life easily, or you’re going to burn out very quickly.  There has to be someone, and some things, that make you happy, and you have to be able to access them when the activism starts to get you down.  It’s all part of self care, which is VITAL for all of us, let alone those of us engaging in activism.

So what makes me happy?  Well, it’s a number of things.  But first and foremost, for me it’s my friends.  I have THE most amazing friends – the local ones, the not so local ones and the ones around the world that I’ve been brought to by my activism and other interests.  I’ve never been one for huge groups of friends, preferring the company of one or two people at a time, but the ones I have are so amazing.   Whether it’s the very pragmatic duo of future fellow Golden Girls (apparently I’m Sophia) that I have locally who share my love of superhero movies, brunch and conversation over coffee; the quiet but razor sharp friend who I only get to see a few times per year but she always knows when to send me Adventure Time gifs and pictures of her ridiculously spoiled cat, those that I only get to catch up with occasionally who I feel like I’ve only been away from for five minutes, or the multitudes of friends I have made online (some of whom I’ve met in person and others I’ve not met yet) who have always got a kind word, an internet hug or a naked picture of Tom Hiddleston for me, my friends are the real source of joy for me.

A favourite photo of me taken years ago by my friend Kylie.

A favourite photo of me taken years ago by my friend Kylie.

Next on the list would have to be my day job.  I’m not in a job that brings fame or money, I’m in one that means something to me, I work in public libraries, specifically library technology.   I find it constantly challenging and thought provoking, and there is nothing more rewarding than setting foot in a library that is full of happy, excited, engaged customers.  Especially children.  When I was growing up, the library was sanctuary to me, and I love the thought of being able to give that back to subsequent generations.

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Another thing that makes me happy is Lego.  I can spend hours on it, just calmly sorting and then building.  It is one of those activities that immediately renders me calm.  I really love big kits, that I can spend weeks coming back to for an hour or so at a time, watching the build grow and take shape.

Here I am VERY excited about the Simpsons House which I saved up FOREVER for.

Here I am VERY excited about the Simpsons House which I saved up FOREVER for.

And finally, something that always makes me feel so much better and brings me such joy, is the ocean.  I am so lucky to live within spitting distance of the ocean (literally, it’s seven houses down) and can head down to the waterfront any time I like.  There is nothing like sitting by the ocean with a good book and a coffee, just enjoying the sea breeze as it lowers my blood pressure!

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Whatever it is that makes you happy, I hope you take the time to find it and recharge your batteries.  Self care is important!

Interview with Essence Magazine – Full Transcript

Published February 14, 2016 by Fat Heffalump

Sometimes I am really honoured by the things that come to me thanks to my writing and activism.  This week, I sent out a tweet (below) that was shared far and wide and ended up bringing me to being interviewed by a writer for Essence magazine, which for me is truly an honour.  I’m still a little stunned that my tweet, which was aimed at speaking to the white women writers in my sphere, could take me places like this.

I have been trying to decide if I was going to publish this interview in full here, as it was a very long interview and only an abridged version appeared, but over the past couple of days having to endure a completely tone-deaf, self-entitled campaign by one butthurt white woman on Facebook in response to the article, I think I need to share it.  Not to speak for any black people but again to speak TO white people who just don’t get it.  Who just don’t get that sometimes, art or media is not produced for us and we need to just sit down and listen to what black people are saying.  Hopefully if I can reach one other white person by sharing this full interview, it will be one less person offering a “hot take” on something that simply isn’t theirs to comment on.

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So, without any further ado, here’s the interview reproduced exactly as I sent it to Aliya S. King of Essence…

What have you seen in the media that made you even think about Formation in this way? Were there other topics you felt white women tackled that perhaps they shouldn’t have? Or should have done so with more nuance or from a different place?



I’ve been a fan of Beyoncé for a long time, and over the years I’ve seen so many think pieces and “hot takes” from white writers, and men for that matter, that just made me cringe with how self absorbed they were.  One thing I’ve always believed is that not all art is made for everyone and music can be far more than something to tap your toes to.  Sometimes a piece of art is made to make a statement, or to speak to and/or for a particular set of people.  What a piece of art makes you feel is subjective and when that art is saying something in particular, if it’s not for you, then it’s best to leave the think pieces to those who it *IS* for.  

Not to mention that I’ve listened to countless women of colour write about how they are sidelined in the rush for white women to publish their hot takes.  One of the best things I ever discovered online was the work of WOC.  Tumblr and Twitter have been fantastic gateways to SO many amazing writers, artists and activists.

I know that your tweet was partially tongue-in-cheek and that you don’t really think white women can’t write about Beyoncé. But your point is plain: there are certain things (like Formation) that are so inherently steeped in a particular culture that it may be best left to those who actually have experienced it. Am I getting your point correct? 



Actually my tweet was 100% genuine.  It’s not that white women can’t write about Beyoncé and Formation, it’s that they shouldn’t.   I really do believe that in the case of this song, what we white feminists think about it isn’t important.  If we like the song, then great.  If not, it’s not for us, so time to shut up and listen to the people it is for.  I honestly believe that it’s time that in situations like these, white women writers do need to step back and shine a spotlight on the work of women of colour.  Being a writer I know lots of writers, and I hoped to reach them with that tweet.

The tweet that immediately followed that one was “Then SUGGEST some.  There are plenty out there.”  I think it’s one thing to say that someone else should write it but it’s also important to pass on names of people who are suitable.  I can suggest loads of great black woman writers who are often overlooked in favour of white women.

Have you ever backed away from writing something because you felt it wasn’t your lane? Example? 



All the time.  My work is about the intersection of feminism and fat politics, and more recently ableism, since I found myself with a chronic illness.  That’s my lane.  I get loads of media and marketing requests (some offering payment, many not) and far more of them are outside of my lane than those that are in.  It’s not my place as a cis, white, straight woman to write about issues that I am not affected by.  My job there is to signal boost the work of those who are affected.   If it’s content for my own platforms I’d rather do a link round up or something where I am sharing other’s work.  If it’s content for someone else’s platform, I know plenty of writers from a wide range of backgrounds I can recommend instead.

That said, I am 100% sure I’ve got it wrong myself in the past too.  I probably will again!  But it’s through listening to what other people have written and said that I learn and grow.

Have you ever read something that made you think: this person wasn’t qualified to write about this. He/She should have stayed in their lane. 

I couldn’t tell you how many I have.   These days they mostly get a frustrated “close browser” before I even finish them.  The number of thin people with hot takes on what it’s like to be a fat person sends me into despair.  My pet hate is thin people who put on fat suits and then write about how hard it was for them.  My body isn’t a suit, it’s me, and I think people need to actually listen to fat women, not fake it for their own take on it.

But I know that happens across all marginalised identities and I am glad I have been able to learn from other writers and activists work, rather than someone outside of that identity.

I also want to acknowledge that at the same time I sent that tweet, there were other people saying the same thing, many of them black women.  It’s no secret that often a white woman’s words will go further than those of a black woman saying the same thing, which sucks.  My intention was never to speak for black women, but to speak TO white women.

Are there references in “Formation” that you don’t necessarily understand? It’s so deeply trenched in Black culture that me, a 42 year old Black woman, had to think a minute about some of the references she was making! 



I don’t doubt some references have gone right over my head.  Not only because I’m a white woman, but also because I’m an Australian woman.  I’m pretty well versed in world politics but there are always references that are going to fly right by me.  Again, that’s where I turn to women of colour to learn from their work.

This video is such a hot-button treasure chest of issues: feminism, activism, Black-ism (I just made that up), sexuality, police brutality, governmental racism. It’s a lot to unpack. Is that part of the reason why you urged writers to allow Black women to handle the commentary and think pieces on this?



No not at all.  I’m not afraid to delve into the tricky issues – as an activist I consider that my calling.  My intention is to urge white women to allow black women to speak about art that belongs to them.   “Allow” is the wrong word though, it’s not white women’s place to give “permission” to black women… I guess I mean make space?  Hand over the stage/spotlight?  Take a seat and let someone more relevant to speak?

 Beyoncé didn’t make this song for me – except maybe to LISTEN and LEARN.

**Because** of your tweet, I feel like you absolutely could write about the video, from your own place of understanding. If someone said, tell us how YOU feel about this video and how it speaks to your experience, what would you say? Would you honestly follow your tweet and say, you know what? This is not my lane. You should speak to someone who’s lived this. 

I’m honoured that you feel that – in fact I’m honoured that the tweet has gone so far with black women in general.  I can’t tell you how chuffed I am at so many of the shares and retweets I’ve seen.  I saw Kat Blaque share it on Facebook yesterday and I was just a pile of mush!

I still feel kind of weird participating in this piece, but I’m deeply honoured as well.

  I would honestly follow my tweet.  Besides all I really have right now for it are superlatives, and that’s not earth shattering news.  It’s a killer song and video that has some incredible imagery and lyrics.  Beyoncé knocked my socks off with this one.  I saw the video of her SuperBowl performance too – also fantastic.

Why do you think so many people, (black, white, male AND female) connected so much with your tweet?

I could only hazard a guess – and probably for the same reason that I appreciate when a man, a thin person or an able bodied person steps back to let me speak – it’s so frustrating being spoken over by people who have privilege over me that when someone does speak up and say “step back folks, it’s not our turn”, it feels really good.  Plus I guess it’s nice not to have to be the one to tell white people to step back for once, you know?

What was your thought process when you tweeted it. Your account is protected so you knew it was likely going to remain in your sphere. Would you have tweeted it if your account was public? 

My account is private only to keep out the sheer avalanche of hate that a fat woman gets online.  I am happy to get new followers, I just need to keep out the randos who spend their lives harassing and abusing women online.  As a visible fat woman I deal with abuse and harassment on a daily basis – death and rape threats, being called horrific slurs, stalking and doxxing.  I simply don’t have the sanity points to deal with it everywhere so I have locked down my Twitter account for a little peace!  

I do have a lot of writers in my sphere as it is, and it was them I was addressing (the white ones at least!) but absolutely I would tweet it publicly!

What was your first thought when asked if it could be shared?

Alysse of @readytostare mentioned that she wished she could share it and I told her she was welcome to either screen cap or do the old style copy + paste share.  I don’t mind people sharing my tweets as long as they ask, as I am on private.  I was happy to extend the message to any white lady writers she might know.  I had no idea it would be shared as far and wide as it has been until another friend tagged me on Facebook and I saw the share numbers there.  I was completely gobsmacked!

How do you feel now, knowing that you literally have a role in the Formation news cycle?

I’m not sure I would go as far as a role, but as I mentioned before I am really honoured that people would share my tweet so far, especially by women of colour.  I learn so much by reading the work of so many awesome women of colour all over the world, to think I’ve said something they think is worth re-tweeting just has me glowing.

Sort of a sidebar question: What are your thoughts on Beyonce, before and after Formation. Are you a fan? Are you a member of her insanely loyal #beyhive. And what ARE your thoughts on Formation?
I’ve been a fan of Beyoncé for a very long time.  Destiny’s Child, her early solo stuff, her movie roles, she’s awesome.  I wouldn’t call myself a member of the #beyhive, because while I think she’s awesome I don’t think she’s perfect!  I’m not into all the tracks on her self-titled album (but love the ones I do like) and don’t expect her to be everything to everyone.  But she is a cultural icon in so many ways and is always pushing at the boundaries to shift the industry.

As for Formation, I’m still in full squee mode over that song.  The personal and political statements in both the lyrics and the video imagery, her brilliant choreography and that iconic wardrobe!  My first thought on watching the video was that someone needs to be awarded for that red outfit, because it doesn’t budge a millimetre on her body despite her intense dancing.  I can’t get a top to sit right on my body while sitting still, let alone a plunging neckline while dancing vigorously!

But most of all, as I said on Twitter last night, I think that anyone who says that music can’t drive serious political and cultural discourse isn’t listening properly.  Just look at how that one song and video has stirred up conversation about so many things – that’s pretty revolutionary stuff to drop as a surprise release.  More power to her for it.


 

Footnote: Here are some pieces on Beyoncé and Formation written by black women.  Read these!

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.

Around We Go Again – The Plus-Size Retailer Merry-Go-Round

Published December 19, 2015 by Fat Heffalump

It seems every week we see the same conversation hashed out in social media/articles over plus-size retailers.  It goes like this.

·         Plus-size clothing brand puts out new set of photos of “curvy” women (all too often in their underwear rather than the clothes they are selling) with “Everyone is beautiful” strain of slogan.  (Note: “curvy” models are usually straight sized with breasts and hips, ALWAYS hourglass shaped, usually white and femme.  “Curvy” models are not fat models.)

·         Media sites interview the models.  Models say that they don’t want to be labelled “plus-size”, they want to be just models.  They say “plus-size” is derogatory.  Curvy models collect paycheck for a job they clearly don’t want to be doing.

·         Actual fat women who are forced to shop at these brands because there are little to no other alternatives (particularly in budget price ranges), say to the brand “We need the label plus-size, it saves us from having to wade through 90% of stock that does not include us, and we aren’t ashamed of being plus-sized.  Please use models who look like us.”

·         Plus-size clothing brand completely ignores what their actual customers want.  Actual customers have no option to purchase elsewhere.

·         Trolls turn up and say “Curvy is fine, but ew, not obese!”

·         Rinse and repeat to infinity.

I want off this merry-go-round!

merry-go-round and round and...

The problem really lies with the plus-size clothing brands – a) co-opting fat activism language to try to sell us products and b) refusing to employ models who look like their customers to promote their products.

The big box brands have realised that more and more women are hearing the messages that fat activists have been working tirelessly to get out to them, so they have started to use anything they can sloganise to cash in on that success.  They take all the touchy-feely bits, the easy positive stuff and repackage it as their own and then because they have a wider audience than fat activists do, sit back and enjoy the kudos that they are somehow “revolutionary”.  Yet those of us who have lived in fat bodies and worked to liberate fat women from the hatred, stigma and shame that is heaped on us know, this is in no way new or revolutionary.  It’s a vastly diluted version of the appreciation of fat bodies that really only celebrates bodies that are slightly outside of the margins of mainstream.  They take the work that is about improving the quality of life for fat people, and water it down to an advertising slogan to sell products.

The second part of the problem is that these same brands continually hire models who would not ever buy or wear those brand clothes in their day to day lives, often pinning the too large clothes or padding the models in photo shoots.  Not only does this create an unrealistic expectation of how the clothes fit on their customers bodies, but it also means that the customers of those businesses never see themselves represented in marketing that is FOR THEM.  And, with the way that the media works now, instead of asking the customers how they feel about products and the messages that these businesses send out, the media immediately turn to the models, many of whom do not want to identify as a customer of those businesses (ie, a fat customer).  One thing that is raised repeatedly by so many amazing fat activists, bloggers, tweeters etc is that these models are more than happy to collect the paycheque from these businesses, but they don’t want to be seen as a customer of the same business.  That’s pretty hypocritical attitude to take.

Unfortunately, unlike straight sized clothing customers, most plus-size customers, particularly those of us in the larger size bracket, can’t make the choice to simply no longer shop at these businesses.  Either because there is no alternative in their size bracket, or in their location, or simply because these big box companies are the only ones who are able to offer clothing in a lower price range.  I myself would LOVE to only shop with small, indie brands but the reality is that very few of them offer products in my size, and if they do, I do not have the budget to be able to spend a large amount of money on one or two items.   I have to maintain my entire wardrobe for my entire life (work, leisure, events, underwear and swimwear – everything!) with a budget that would only buy me one party dress or maybe two skirts from many indie designers.  This is not a fault with the indie designers – their products have more overheads and are usually far better quality than a mass produced product – it’s just that many of us just don’t have that kind of budget, particularly in these harsh economic times.

Shopping is serious business when you are a "Trendsetter"

IMPORTANT: That is not and will never be, the fault of the plus-sized customer.  I have no time for any business of any size/type which blames the customer for their business failures.  But it’s only plus-sizes really where you see the customers blamed for a failure of a business.  We are expected to hold up businesses whether they provide us a product or a price range that suits us.  You never hear of a business that sells only straight-sized clothes saying “Well, people won’t pay for quality.”  Because people WILL pay for quality IF they can afford it and if that quality is a product that they want and need.

Straight sizes have the luxury of choice – they can and do pick and choose which businesses they buy from – there are plenty of budget options for straight sized clothes out there.  If they don’t like how a business is marketing to them, they have the option to shop elsewhere.

To be honest, I wonder if the big box plus-size businesses intentionally foster that environment.  They perpetuate the myth that the customer is somehow at fault for there not being range, price and quality, blame us because “Those lines just don’t sell.” knowing full well that we don’t have the luxury of choosing to go elsewhere.  It’s a very effective method – keep the options to a minimum and perpetuate the myth that variety doesn’t work so that other businesses don’t bother to try, and know that they have a captive market that can’t go anywhere else.

So what has to be fixed?

The first thing that needs to happen is that plus-size businesses need to be proud of their product – or start stocking product that they can be proud of.  How often do you see website front pages and storefronts for plus-sized clothes that don’t even  have the clothes front and centre of their marketing!  I mean why are they promoting plus-size clothing with naked or underwear-clad women?  Or why do they use other props in their windows instead of proudly displaying their product front and centre.  I think a lot of them know their product is mediocre at best so they try to distract their customers with gimmicks and cheesy props.  Show us the clothes!  And if people aren’t attracted to the products when they see them, get better products!

The next thing is they need to start marketing their products properly.   They need to stop trying to co-opt body politics and start actually promoting their products in a positive and aspirational way.  And when I say aspirational, I don’t mean thin, white and hourglass shaped.  Aspirational means so much more than that.  By marketing their products as fun, luxury, quality, fashionable, stylish, and positioning themes around friendship, success, professionalism, entertainment/enjoyment etc.  I want to see aspirational marketing campaigns for plus-sizes that have messages that we see all the time in other marketing – simple things like “Spoil yourself – you’ve earned it!”  or “Look great – feel great!”  Give me some happy fat women modelling the clothes front and centre any day over another “All bodies are beautiful” with only white, small, hourglass shaped models in their undies.

And most of all, we need to see the actual women the clothes are made for modelling them.  That means no more “plus-size models” which are anything between a size 8 and 14 and some actual models size 16+.  Preferably a range of sizes between 16 and 32.  I need to be able to see what the clothes look like on a body like mine.

Heil Shopping

What can we do to drive that fix?

This is the toughest one since we ARE so limited in our options.  We need to keep telling these companies we want to see their clothes and we want to see them on bodies like our own.  Where financially possible, we need to support indie businesses who DO market well and provide things we want and need.  We need to stop expecting models to be the spokespeople for body politics and we need to tell the media that they’re not appropriate spokespeople for body politics.  We need to tell the big box companies that we have money that we want to spend, if only they would provide us the clothes that we want and need.  We need to tell them when their product is poor quality, over-priced, or simply just un-fashionable.

But our biggest power lies in word of mouth.  That’s what sells a product, and particularly so in the fat community.  If a company is doing great stuff, tell people about it.  Tell your fat friends.  Post it on your social media.  Blog about it.  Post on the company’s social media telling them that you love what they are doing, please do more of it.  They ARE listening, the fact that they’re co-opting our work is telling us that, so get out there and speak up!