On Being Fat in Public, and Beyond Responding to Hate

Haters Gonna Hate CatCrossposted at my personal journal

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.

===

Links!

  • 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).


  • Categories: media, Sociology

    Tags: , , ,

    8 replies

    1. to be fat at people

      I love this. Seriously love this.

    2. My response to the Marie Claire debacle, though I didn’t label it as such explicitly, was to post an outfit of the day pic on my blog :-)

    3. Thanks for posting on this. I’ve been reading a lot of the blogospheric reaction, but hadn’t quite marshalled my own thoughts.
      Shakesville has had a series of posts encouraging readers to share their experiences of being body-policed through Fat Hate and Fat Shaming:
      Today in Fat Hatred (Liss’s original post about the Marie Claire article, and sharing a personal experience that is utter WTFucktastic)
      Then:
      Discussion Thread: I Fat-Shamed Someone
      Discussion Thread: I Was Fat Shamed
      Discussion Thread: When Fat-Shame Didn’t Stop Me
      Discussion Thread: When Fat-Shame Stopped Me

    4. The very large audience that this thing has got has been something of a positive in my little corner of the ‘verse. I’ve had the opportunity to have really positive conversations with people who would never have been able to look past the fat (their own or others’) before. Sometimes seeing something so blatant is exactly what people need to realise how wrong everything they’ve been living with is.
      I’m focussing on the positive in a more general way for NaBloPoMo too. I’m feeling the need for lots of feel good vibes. Thanks for sharing some.

    5. @Mindy: I love it too. There’s a certain absurdity to it that rather tickles me.

    6. “We are worth more than that.”
      AGREE AGREE AGREEE AGREEEEE :) Great post from an amazing woman herself :)

    7. Hi Jennifer,
      I love this post! Especially the part about women mis-reading you as white or straight. People’s perceptions are very interesting.
      To be honest, I used to be very judgemental about people being obese, until I figured out that it had to do much more with how happy I felt in my own skin-something I’m still working on. So now rather than looking at body shape, I look at how happy the other person looks. If they look unhappy, I judge that instead. (Wouldn’t you know, I can only cure one judgement at a time, but I AM working on it)
      My point – for the women that respond angrily, of which there are many, the article probably hit a nerve. For the rest that have been supportive and have offered open minded perspective, like yours, congratulations, you make me proud to be woman, size and weight notwithstanding.

    8. Kaiti: Here’s some material for you to be getting quietly along with: Smile! (Your Face Is Making People Unhappy) by s. e. smith at Feminists With Disabilities
      Jennifer, I love this article. I’ve been reading some of the USAn footage and discussion of the Tea Party rallies, and been just disgusted with the hatred expressed toward “fat people on scooters” – who are, a priori, apparently, according to self-identified progressives, lazy, gross, bigoted, greedy, gluttonous, faking disability, and a whole host of other mortal sins. (I briefly went to go look for the link, but stopped when I got to ”Whenever I see a fat person on a scooter, I have the urge to crash a cart into them and tip them over like a cow.” Go google “fat people on scooters” if you really want to know.)

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