jennifergearing: photo of jen looking at the camera (Default)
2010-11-01 01:18 pm

On Being Fat in Public, and Beyond Responding to Hate

Crossposted at Hoyden About Town

So, most folks with some familiarity of the fat/size acceptance blogosphere will be aware of the recent furore involving Marie Claire (US) publishing a blog from a journalist about CNN sitcom Mike and Molly (a show which focuses on an fat couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting). Apparently the reason was that there has been some issues raised about the volume of fat jokes on the show (having never seen it, I can’t comment). The path the journalist took in the blogpost in question was quite different. She chose to focus on the fact that she finds the sight of ‘obese people’ (as opposed to some of her friends who are ‘plump’ – apparently signifiers of her not being “a size-ist jerk”) kissing as something which would ‘gross her out’, along with “watching a very, very fat person simply walk across a room”.

In something which was a pleasant surprise (sad that it should be such, in my view), there has actually been a significant backlash from a lot of Marie Claire’s audience; the comments to the post are predominantly focussed on calling out the author. Similarly, there have been some great responses both from within and outside of fat activist circles (see the bottom of the post for some links), and there has been a good deal of discussion about responding to the author v. responding to Marie Claire. It has come out that the author has a history of ED and related body dysmorphia, and there has been some acknowledgement on her part that this may have had an impact on her views here. Others have raised a fairly valid concern that Marie Claire has made the larger error here in giving that sort of viewpoint, however prompted, such a large stage (and honestly, I have no patience for ‘it’s just a ladymag’ arguments, because it dismisses the very large and predominantly female readership these magazines have). I haven’t mentioned the author’s name here, because really, it’s not about her. She’s not alone in her views (and comments on some of the stories about this bear that out pretty clearly), and although this particular article is one of the more blatant in terms of its expression of fat hatred, fat hate is everywhere.

Being fat in public is, so often, a political act, but just as often it’s an almost inescapable act. As a woman of colour who is often read as white, and a queer woman in a relationship with a man, these aspects of my identity are, in many cases (though not all, because so often it’s heavily dependant upon the ‘audience’), not as front-and-centre visible. My fat, however, is always here, with me. Even at my smallest adult size, which was directly related to a close personal relationship with amphetamines (which is likely not unrelated to my current size, given what that stuff does to one’s metabolism), which was around a size AU 14 (US 10-12), I heard ‘fat slut’ and ‘fat bitch’ and mooing sounds coming from cars driving past me on the street at a horrible frequency. That frequency has only increased as I’ve gotten larger; though I’ve been steadily around a size AU 22-24 with occasional drops below that due to illness for the last 5yrs or so. I’ve had co-workers, friends and family members express quite a bit of really ugly sentiments in the guise of ‘concern for my health’. I’ve had people turn my frustrations about the inability to find clothing of a quality and style I prefer in my size into an obvious indicator that my fat is making me unhappy; despite the fact that I’m usually pretty upfront about where the problem with clothing lies (hint: it’s not me). I’ve had doctors ignore legitimate health concerns and lecture me about things like blood pressure and cholesterol before actually testing it (at which point one discovers my numbers are pretty damn perfect, particularly for a family history of high BP, but that’s not the point, because even if it was bad, these doctors have assumed it was bad without measuring it).

One of the things I loved seeing in response to this whole thing was my Twitter stream filled with tweets from some of the awesome fat ladies I follow talking about how they were going out (to the shops, to the beach, etc.) to be fat at people. I myself spent part of yesterday at Stonefest, being fat at people and enjoying a music festival. I even had one of the official folk doing the wander around videotaping the crowds wander over to where I was sitting on the grass and prompt me to wave at the camera, so there is video evidence of me being fat in public somewhere (with a head, even!). I love outfit posts on fatshion blogs; I love things like Lesley’s Museum of Fat Love; I love posts talking about the kind of exercise we like and that doesn’t revolve around shame about our fat. Because Marianne is right – it shouldn’t always be about the haters. We are worth more than that.

This is not a new idea; it’s something I’ve seen in various social justice circles; in feminist blogs and woc blogs. A good takedown of haters can be awesome, so I’m not intending this to be a criticism or a ‘you’re doing it wrong’; takedowns and the like can be an outlet for the legitimate anger that comes from existing in a society that marginalises you, and they’re an important part of responding to that marginalisation. But so much responding to hate can burn folks out, and working positively and talking positively for ourselves can be restorative. It can be beautiful. It can be powerful.

It’s November, and I’ve seen some folks are doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). I’m not sure it’s going to work for me this year what with planning an interstate move, but I’m considering making a concerted effort to post more, and to concentrate my posting on that kind of restorative stuff, and joining in on conversations that are for us and about us, not just in terms of fat and size acceptance, but across the different spectrums.



  • Lesley at Fatshionista has a great takedown – which led to her being asked to write a counterpoint piece for Marie Claire.
  • Coverage made it all the way to Australia’s Morning Show – featuring Dr. Samantha Thomas (VIDEO – if anyone can get a transcript, that would be awesome, or I will try and get one done tomorrow), who is a pretty awesome lady.
  • Marianne Kirby has a piece at The Guardian’s Comment is Free (SERIOUS COMMENTS WARNING NO I AM SERIOUS REALLY DON’T DO IT).
  • The Huffington Post actually has a great piece, from a self-confessed ‘foreign affairs guy’ (I am out of energy for comments at the moment, so read at your own risk, though a brief skim at the latest few suggests the author is moderating and deleting more hateful stuff).
jennifergearing: photo of jen looking at the camera (Default)
2010-08-07 11:15 pm

Life Update

  • Health: Well, since last update, ulnar nerve entrapment has been confirmed at the elbow, and I’ve seen the specialist and am booked in for surgery on September 10th. Shouldn’t be a difficult procedure; probably an overnight stay in hospital after (perhaps discharge that day depending on how I pull up) and I should be able to go back to work a few days after depending on pain and swelling and stuff.

  • Blogging: For reasons unknown, tigtog and lauredhel over at Aussie Feminist Blog Hoyden About Town have graciously invited yours truly to join the author roster. Given my recently renewed desire to start blogging social justice again; I could hardly say no. So, provided I can get my brain to co-operate, you may see me blogging over there once in a while, I might even link a couple if I’m feeling mean.

  • Location, Location: Plans are well underfoot to secure things for Operation: Return to Brisbane. Things are on track for a return in early December. I am well pleased about this plan. I am growing weary of this cold and I miss my Brisbane peeps. I may have opportunity to return earlier, depending on secret squirrel discussions at work; but early December is the definite plan given Stephen has to finish out the semester.

And that’s pretty much me, at the moment. I’ve reached the point about the election where I am just holding my breath and continuing to be terrified that the people who told me, back when Tony Abbott became Opposition Leader, that he was unelectable and my fear was an overreaction, are going to be proven wrong in 14 days.

jennifergearing: photo of jen looking at the camera (Default)
2010-06-14 12:50 pm

Not Your Science Project (A Rant)

Chally recently posted at Feministe about her experience of a racist comment in the classroom when she was in highschool. She didn't recount the comment in question, but she did go through some details of the aftermath.

This brought back to me a news report I heard on the radio recently about the recent furor in the Rugby League NSW State of Origin team camp when player Timana Tahu walked out and quit the side for the second game of the series after assistant coach Andrew Johns made a racist remark about Qld player Glen Inglis. It was reported without specifying what Johns said in the report I heard on TripleJ.

I recall being quite impressed with JJJ for not giving details of the remark, though I am unsurprised other news outlets have reported the specifics.

The reason I was impressed with the JJJ reporting, seems connected, to me, to the comment thread in response to Chally's post. There are a number of comments, from folks who afaik identify as white, who seem quite insistent on knowing what the comment that Chally's teacher made was. I can't help but wonder, if Chally did specify the comment, how many people would be commenting about whether the comment was racist, or 'racist enough' to warrant Chally's reaction to it.

And suddenly, I'm reminded of a comment thread some time ago, where, to be honest I can't even remember the post topic, but the thread ended up being about whether PoC was a valid term to use to describe PoC/non-white/racial minorities in Australia. The thread resulted in me staying the hell away from blog comments for a good 3-6 months. The best way I could describe it was a bunch of whitefolks having an abstract discussion about what racial minorities should call themselves. I remember commenting about feeling like a unicorn amongst all the white people talking about how their non-white friends never described themselves as PoC; and I remember talking about the reasons I use it and the reasons some of the people I know use it as a sign of alliances. I remember one white woman in the thread leaping on the comments of another non-white woman who talked about not liking it much, and pretty much ignoring my comments. I do recall one of the blog owners called her out on that, but I don't think it was responded to.

That comment thread made me feel like some kind of science project under a microscope; being poked and proded and talked about. It was dehumanising and hurtful. The fact that this same white woman, some months later, came back to the blog in question and participated in a round of discussion about feeling 'unsafe' at that particular blog caused my blood pressure, and my desire to set things on fire, to spike to an all time high.

That's why I completely understand that Chally didn't specify her teacher's comment, though there are a number of reasons why she may have chosen not to do so, and I don't presume to know what they are. Because I have no doubt in my mind that the comments would've included multiple discussions of how, 'objectively', the comment wasn't racist, or okay, it was racist, but it wasn't 'racist enough' to warrant Chally leaving the class. And why I wouldn't be surprised if there are discussions going on right now about whether Andrew Johns' comments were 'racist enough' to justify Tamina Tahu walking out on the NSW team; whether he should put his career before his 'sensitivity' when what we're talking about is him seemingly put a position between his career and having to sit through comments that disparage his humanity as some kind of motivation to do his job competitively.

This is why racial minorities have closed communities. This is why one of the unspoken rules is that intra-POC discussions are locked, to avoid white folks playing 'gotcha' and 'lookit the racist PoC' as much as possible. I am tired of being a science project. I am tired of whitefolks having 'objective', abstract discussions about the realities of my life and the lives of people I care about.