118

It has been a long time between posts. I started being a boss at work – and all of my mental energy has been taken up by learning how to be a good one.

I’m still a work in progress FYI.

And just like I’m a learner boss I’m also a learner body-pos/ body-accepting/ body-neutral  work in progress. Goddamn it if that isn’t a hard road paved with brilliant intentions and all of the damaging feelings of the past 40+ years of being fat in a shitty body culture.

I blame society for making an environment where us women are in some strange and unending competition with each other to be the most f%@kable. It really is straight up bullshit, but don’t we all just buy into it?

Having been the subject of sniggers, cruel jokes and randoms yelling at me from cars telling me that yes I am fat (as if that fact had somehow escaped me), I know a thing or too about living with stigma. When it happens, we put on brave faces, knowing that any sign of weakness is a window for more of the same. So we fiercely shout it down or ignore it, or swallow our hurt feelings somewhere deep until we can find a small, private space to let them out slowly.

This past year (has it been a year?) has also been filled with pop culture moments that speak to fat experience. Dietland, Tess on Cosmo, Roxane Gay, Rosie Waterland are shining lights, Insatiable and Heathers sour disappointments. Then that article in Huff Post that has spawned a hundred think-pieces, and suddenly fat is having its ‘trans-moment’.

Moments in pop culture – are just that – moments. Fat is one of the last bastions of discrimination (although Trump and to a less extreme extent our PM by default #ScoMo seem hell bent on bringing them all back). Fat brings out the parade of concern trolls ready to dish unqualified opinions on what fat people should or shouldn’t be doing with their bodies.

Trans and non-binary people suffer a similar flippancy of concern for them and their experiences, as well as unwelcome/ unqualified opinions on their bodies. Devoid of the glamour of celebrity, trans and non-binary people struggle to access health care, stable employment, access to amenity that most people take for granted, and are more likely to be subject to violence without any provocation. It sounds familiar.

I’m 100% aware that being fat, and also white-passing, straight and mostly cis-gendered with all the privileges of education and professional employment makes me very lucky indeed. But I also have days when it feels hopeless, and far too much daily micro-aggression disguised as false concern for one human to take. And I sometimes have to cry in my small, private moments.

Which brings me to the point.

The other day a colleague commented she’d been ‘eating like a pig’. This person is fairly petite, and I imagine has never been in anyway overweight. I commented that I ‘couldn’t see her trough anywhere’ and thought that she looked to be eating like a human from as much as I could tell. She then remarked she’d been eating lots of sugar lately and felt guilty about it. I offered to her an out – probably something she’d never considered… I said that I’d noticed she’d had a lot on that week and was likely reaching for short sugar fixes to keep up with everything she had to do and over a rapid timeframe.

She stopped, and thanked me for the perspective.

Later that week, the conversation around the office turned to weight. Again, relatively ‘normal’ people bemoaning their slight weight gain over winter. And that was my ‘fat-moment’.

How much do you weigh? 

I asked. They flustered for an answer.

I’d say – looking at your build – between 80 and 85 kilos. Does that sound right? 

I offered. Yes – their face said

Can you guess what I weigh? Go on – I don’t mind.

The fluster increases.

Actually it’s 118. Kilos. Around about – it fluctuates. 

Oh. Um you have a big build, you’re tall…

No. I’m just fat. I’ve always been fat, and always will be fat. And I’m really okay with it. 

The silence roared.

118 – like other numbers that measure and define our bodies are just that – measures. It’s a scale that captures some aspect of physicality at a point in time. Its meaning is only relative to the other data that surrounds it – how tall, what size, how much? Without context, data is meaningless.

So my weight is the least important piece of data about me, my life, my health and what’s important – so why give it so much power?

I remember talking with another person in my world who identifies as non-binary; preferring the pronoun ‘them’. They shared with me that they put all of the most sensitive parts of their life ‘out there’ to take the power of other people’s judgements out of the equation entirely. It’s an approach I admire and have taken some time to act on.

So here it is internet – 118. Like it matters anyway.

 

An Open Letter About the O Word.

I sent this out to my colleagues today after yet another meeting where I felt that familiar rush of discomfort. You know the one.

When someone drops the “O Word”


Dear Colleagues

I want to talk to you about the “O Word” – obesity.

This is a word of oppression and violence for me and many others.

It is a word that speaks to a medical/ pathological model of human experience – something that is no longer accepted when we speak about disability, sexuality and gender identity, or race.

It is a word that conjures up trauma for people who have been bullied, abused and denied access to healthcare, housing and employment because of their weight and the conflation of weight with competency.

It is enough that fat people have to live in world where we are constantly bombarded with diet talk, negative media portrayals and unsolicited opinions on what we should or shouldn’t do with our own bodies. It is enough that we are never believed when we experience sexual harassment and assault. It is enough that we have to navigate places that aren’t made to be welcoming, comfortable or accessible for us.

We don’t need to experience that exclusion at work too.

And yes, language does matter because it is a signal of what is valued and what isn’t. We can have a conversation about health that doesn’t use that word; considering that weight is only one of a number of indicators of health.

Let’s talk about health enabling factors instead like access to fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise, economic access and freedom from violence, discrimination and vilification. I’d like to talk about those things.

And finally, I don’t expect a response – just for you to reflect. But if you do want to have a conversation about body positivity, fat acceptance and how we can collaborate to send out a positive health enabling message – I would love to talk to you.

Also – if you need to talk about these issues with someone who has lived it and come to a place of body peace, I am absolutely here for you.


And that goes for all of you too.

And yes I felt sick when I pressed send as the heaviness of maintaining constant resilience made itself felt. But honestly, I am done with this bullshit.

Really, truly, done.

Go well fellow humans.

The Wasteful Body

A curious thing happens when you dare to be fat in public – or really just live your life whilst also fat.  Somehow your body becomes a metaphor for world views, political flavours and individual insecurities writ large. 

As I sat through another moment of palpable discomfort around the meeting table, biting my tongue and swallowing my rage, I pondered how this dynamic came to be. 

How is the “genderless obese body” described here a metaphor for waste? Am I waste? Do you realize you are talking about me when you talk about this “largeness”? 

I am right here. 

It’s funny to me that any other form of micro aggression would be called and named for the slight or ignorance that it is. This would be done with vehemence and conviction, the social justice flag waving proudly. 

Yet somehow, my humanity and sensitivity are not considered. At all. 

This is not the first time either. I have been concern trolled and judged. Do you think my other forms of privilege insulate me from a lifetime of snide looks, whispers, assumptions, unfair judgements, lost opportunities and violence? Is that okay because it’s my fault? 

Imagine if another genetically determined or even socially determined form of difference was so casually used to illustrate a point? Tropes are tropes because they are a caricature of a monoculturally assumed truth. They harm in the same othering way that explicit exclusion does. 

It must stop. 

And to my other fat friends out there biting your tongue (again. still.) – I feel you. 

And remember our bodies are just that. Our bodies. They are for us to self-determine and self-ascribe their meaning. 

Performative Health

Is there anything worse than a "reformed fatty"?

If weight loss is something you want to do – awesome. Do I need to overhear about your surgery to acheive it while I'm making a cup of tea in the kitchenette we all share? No. I. Don't. 

Like many fat activists before me, I have complained about the constant violence that fat people experience with fat-shaming talk, judgements about what we do and don't do along with assumptions about our relative health status that you can apparently obtain through some form of unwanted mind-meld/ psychic abilty. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again – STFU. 

When I started to get sick – and I mean bone-deep daily painful sick – all sorts of qualified and unqualified people had advice to give about it. Resilience to this onslaught of judgment/ unwanted advice/  paternalistic coddling is exhausting. While I can politely smile and silently will your face to explode so I don't have to listen to your opinions that I didn't ask for on my private business – I shouldn't have to. And sometimes I don't smile and you're suprised that I react with cynacism and a hint of vitriol. 

Am I angry? Sure am. 

Hearing women encourage other women to choose to be unnecessarily cut up in the name of "health" is deeply disturbing to me. I feel violated for having to even hear it. 

Hearing women who have been unnecessarily cut up proudly chirp about how they'll fit back into to those too-tight clothes is just surreal – like they've swallowed their own negative thoughts and spaces to then regurgitated a new "improved" shadow version back up. 

If you want to persue surgery so that you can perform health – it's your choice. But remember you make that choice from an echo chamber of false and damaging messages that tell you that you're not good enough just as you are. 

No amount of cutting or bloodletting will change that simple truth. If you can't live with the reality of you. 

Under Pressure

This week marked the start of my return to yoga after quite a few years away (8 maybe).

The last time I practiced yoga regularly was when I was living in the Yarra Valley. I had a lovely teacher in Warburton who knew how to work with all sorts of bodies in a caring and non-judgemental way.

A few memory images of that practice have stayed with me; one during Shavasna where I experienced violent visions of crows smashing into the windows of the old church where the classes were held, another where all the women who were menstruating were snuggled up with bolsters and blankets during some of the more demanding poses.

Reflecting on this as I embarked on a yoga practice once more, I remembered that this was going to be as much about stretching my mind as stretching my body.

Over the past year Fat Yoga has emerged as an alternative space for people who want to experience the benefit of yoga without the pressure or perceived judgement of their bodies. It is an extension of the body positive movement which encourages paying attention to how we feel about our bodies and repairing some of the damaging messages we may have internalised about them.

For me, as I confront the changing state of my body, the (still) undiagnosed pain that radiates throughout it, the unpredictability of energy levels and the emotional work of processing all of this while balancing life’s demands, opening up a space to be with my body seems like a deep need that I must fulfil.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the One.

Sounds like a post on finding love in the digital age right? Sort of. But what I want to talk about is an essentialist approach to FAT FASHION.

Yes. I said the “f-word” – FASHION.

Growing up fat there were fewer options for me than the other girls I hung out with. Mine was a wardrobe dictated by what would fit/ what Mum could make for me/ what I could scrounge as hand-me-downs from my cousin Ann. Even back then I knew that the options available for fat girls and women were terrible.

Trying to develop personal style, an expression of who I wanted to be, was complicated by the pressures of being a teenager in what was in hindsight a very toxic high school environment. This was typified by the popular fashion amongst the girls of wearing 3-4 pairs of sports socks, carefully arranged so that the brands could be seen and giving the appearance of giant puffed up ankle boots – this was the early 90’s after all and allegiance to brand was just becoming a “thing”.

Like anyone in their late teens/early twenties I too went through a goth phase, an op shop (grunge) phase and lastly a “I’m over the patriarchy and dressing in man trousers and a tie as a statement” phase. I then started to make my own clothes…

Flash forward to the past few years where there has been an explosion in fat fashion. Like any fat girl in a lolly shop I am part excited/ part afraid of my own ability to rapidly consume to the point of illness. Online shopping for beautiful/ cute/ interesting clothes  produces the same physiological and psychological response as any other form of addiction and I have been an addict. I have also experienced the post-purchase cognitive dissonance that comes when you realise you spent that much. Again. And on what?

Now, as I consider how to simplify my life and my surroundings I am also trying to simplify my wardrobe. This doesn’t mean adopting an anti-aesthetic, monochromatic, or layers of only “ethically sourced beige cotton” style. Rather, for me it is taking a position of sourcing clothes that I always feel good in, that don’t have conditions dictating how they are worn (like needing a cardigan), and supporting local makers when I can.

Fat women have always faced a compromise – we have not been given choices, therefore we create no market demand. We adopt certain styles as they are the only ones supplied to us. We participate in the socially and economically damaging worlds of cheaper and cheaper fast fashion that relies on the exploitation of others, because finding ethically produced and affordable clothing for fat women is almost impossible. 

There is a deeper meaning at work here too. One which tells us to not invest in good clothing for ourselves because our bodily state is only temporary. We might think that embracing a minimalist approach to fashion is exclusionary because we’re under much more pressure to appear polished and not just lazy.

Which brings me back to the essentialist approach to fat fashion. I was reading Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and it struck me that what I had been doing in consuming vast amounts of brightly coloured fat fast fashion was trying to play out all the characters I could be without focusing on the person that I am. It was a hollow attempt to develop a sense of identity beyond the expectations of others, or maybe in spite of other people.

This led me to a deeper thought. Perhaps the reason I consistently say yes when I should say no is an attempt to feel acceptance; acceptance I had never received just for purely being.

To be a fat minimalist, to work/ behave/ consume/ create less but better means self-acceptance without all of the layers of junk getting in the way. It is about paring down to what is essential.

What is essential is different to different people.

In this way I am inspired by my father who is the ultimate essentialist when it comes to clothing. As a young adult I took great delight in teasing him for having that one type of pants/ shirt/ socks/ underwear/ shoes in tones of blue and grey. Now, I see the wisdom in finding “the one” – the one essential just right style in each essential item of clothing.

So I will be looking for “the one” – every time I click on my favourite local designer’s sites, whenever I have a need for an item of clothing, when I’m pinning away on Pinterest, I will ask myself “Are you the one?”

Disclaimer: My dinosaur dress and my bat dress will ALWAYS be essential!

Image: Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na #batdress