A Letter to Adam Hills

An animated Gif of comedian Adam Hills pointing angrily at the camera with the subtitle: "If you make fat jokes about Adele, YOU'RE BEING A DICK.  I'm referring to you Joan Rivers."

An animated Gif of comedian Adam Hills pointing angrily at the camera with the subtitle “If you make fat jokes about Adele, YOU’RE BEING A DICK. And I’m referring to you Joan Rivers.”

Dear Adam,

As a longterm fan of yours and a fat woman myself, I was really pleased and grateful to hear you slamming Joan Rivers on The Last Leg for her obnoxious comments about Adele. There are precious few women in the public eye who do not conform to Hollywood’s ideal body type, and as you said yourself Adele is a wonderful role model for young women. I was glad to know there are people like you who are willing to stand up for people like Adele – and, by extension, people like me – despite not being fat yourself.

You’ve always been one of my favourite comedians because while you tackle issues that can be taboo in comedy, such as disability, you don’t take cheap shots at vulnerable people. Your comedy is funny and insightful, rather than cruel, and you often use jokes to stand up for people who are marginalised or treated badly, as you did with Adele.

Then I saw last night’s episode of The Last Leg and your segment on the so-called “obesity epidemic” and Britain’s move to tax soft drinks, in which you said:

“I want to see an ad featuring an overweight diabetic with pizza stains on his top, pressure sores on his arse, looking like he’s three sips away from kidney failure. And then at the end he just looks at the camera and says ‘I haven’t seen my penis since 2003’.”

There was nothing insightful about that “joke”. It was just a tired old stereotype of fat people dragged out for cheap laughs. It was cruel, and contributed to exactly the kind of dickishness about fat people that you harangued Joan Rivers for not so long ago. A week after you took someone else to task for making cruel fat jokes, it was frankly shocking and disappointing to see you falling back on such cruel fat jokes yourself. It really undermines what you were saying in defence of Adele, and makes it look like you only disapprove of insulting and abusing fat people when they are pretty young women.

I hope you think about your joke in Wednesday’s show in the context of your own response to Joan Rivers and consider how hypocritical it was.

Disappointedly yours,

Sarah

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In Defence of Feminism

I was recently linked to this article on the Independent about the unpopularity of feminism amount younger generations – Can Feminism Survive The Next Generation?

It’s a somewhat old article, from September last year, but it’s a topic that comes up again and again: the idea that feminism needs a makeover to make it more relevant or appealing to younger women. I disagree that this is a major concern facing feminism today, and here’s why.

I can actually completely understand why some people don’t want to align themselves with “feminism”. I think this can happen because they have been misinformed about what it is, because goodness knows there’s a wealth of misinformation about who feminists are and what we believe. But I also think it is the case for some people because they and others like them have been historically disenfranchised and marginalised by mainstream feminists.

The people who label themselves womanists aren’t going to stop being womanists and become whatever we decide to call feminism if feminism gets a new name. Their concerns with feminism are not superficial or image-based, they are systemic. And of course there are many different feminisms within the overarching school of thought and activism that is referred to as feminism; plenty of self-identified feminists have beliefs I disagree with and beliefs I think of as harmful, such as those who claim all heterosexual sex is rape or that trans* women aren’t really women. But since I am not the arbiter of language or of feminism, I don’t get to claim they’re not the real face of feminism. Feminism has plenty of faces.

But then the Independent article isn’t about appealing to people who have serious and legitimate anger about the way feminism has treated them. That article was about appealing to young people who believe feminists are man haters. But I honestly don’t think changing the name will help there.

For one thing, a lot of the words suggested as alternatives to “feminism” are either already taken or don’t really represent the thing I see as most important about feminism, which is the specific position of women in society and the struggle against misogyny. I like that feminism centralises women, women’s experiences and women’s liberation, because so much of the rest of the world does not and I think it’s important to have an ideological space that puts women at the heart of the conversation. “Equalism” and “humanism” are both perfectly good things, but they don’t centralise the specific struggles of women like feminism does. “Womanism” is already a term coined by Alice Walker to talk about the experiences and social realities of Black women who had been largely excluded from mainstream feminism. To appropriate that term would be obnoxious in the extreme. And since feminist is an identity label, there are a lot of people who are very fond of it and won’t be letting go of it any time soon. I’m one of those people!

I know a lot of women and girls in my own sphere of experience are or have been uncomfortable with the feminist label, and I have encountered plenty of women, especially teenage women, who seem to believe the “bad press” about feminism that the article describes. I never experienced that, myself. I suspect it is because for as long as I can remember my mother has described herself to me as a feminist, and has been proud of being a feminist. My mum and I don’t agree on all aspects of feminism, and I think some of my politics are more radical than hers, but she was a woman I admired growing up who talked openly and proudly about being a feminist, and I think that made a difference to how I perceived feminism as a teenager compared to many of my peers. I hope if I ever have a daughter I’ll be able to model proud feminism to her in the same way.

Returning to the idea of giving feminism a makeover, I am troubled by the argument that because misinformation has been spread about feminists based either on a very small minority of feminists or outright fabrications – see man hating, bra burning, etc – that it is the responsibility of feminists in general (a huge diversity of people with often very different views!) to “reinvent ourselves”. I demonstrate every day that I am not a man hater, and people who claim that my feminist identity means I hate men are, quite simply, liars. I shouldn’t have to prove that malicious lies spread about me are false in order to convince young women that things like campaigning against rape culture are good and will make the world a better place for them. Nor should any other feminist.

I am especially upset by the implication – not explicit in this article, but a point that always comes up when talking about feminism’s image – that we need to prove to young women that feminism doesn’t have to mean being a fat, angry, ugly lesbian with hairy legs who never wears high heels or makeup. As a fat, angry, hairy bisexual who never wears high heels, I’d really like feminism to support me in those things, not ask me to hide them to make myself and my politics more palatable. If a woman doesn’t want to call herself a feminist simply because she doesn’t want to be associated with women who look like me then, to be honest, I don’t really want to call her a feminist either. My feminism will not ever be one that centralises the experiences and ideas of conventionally beautiful, thin, heterosexual women over all other women, because I became a feminist in the first place to get away from that bullshit.

Where feminism is hurting people by being racist, transphobic, ableist, fatphobic or otherwise propping up systems of oppression and abuse, then feminists definitely need to work to change this. Note that I say work to change this, not work to make it look like we’ve changed this. We need to constantly reflect to make sure we’re not stomping all over other women and other marginalised people in our own fight for liberation. But we don’t need a makeover so that more girls will want to call themselves feminists. I’m not concerned about feminism being trendy, I’m concerned about it continuing to do good and not doing harm. And changing what we call it isn’t going to make a difference if we’re not willing to check our privilege and listen to the criticisms of women who feel like feminism is failing them.

Finally, I think social justice movements SHOULD rock the boat. I’m not saying I think we should work to be unpopular and reviled, but I do think that if feminism is doing its job then there will be backlash, unless we have achieved perfect equality when I wasn’t paying attention (*checks* nope, we haven’t). Feminism takes many forms, but I think it should be radical and subversive and transgressive. I see no point in a feminism that has been done up nicely to appeal to and not ruffle the feathers of non-feminists. Feminism is meant to ruffle feathers. And I don’t intend to begin shaving my legs or calling myself an equalist so the cool kids will like me.

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Chrissie Swan’s Body Isn’t Your Business Either

So, today Chrissie Swan “confessed” to smoking while pregnant. I’m putting “confessed” in scare quotes because every media outlet seems to be using it and everyone, even Swan herself, is behaving as if she has committed a horrendous transgression against humankind. She made the revelation under duress, because a paparazzo photographed her without her consent (as they always do) and then her management team lost the fight to outbid Women’s Weekly for rights to the photos. Swan has spoken on her radio show and on television, obviously very distressed and breaking down in tears during both speeches.

There are so many things wrong with this situation, I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, I never stop being appalled at our collective lust for the private details of celebrities’ lives, especially our hyena-like hunger to tear them apart at the slightest hint of wrongdoing or flaw. Secondly, I’m disgusted by the way the media and audiences are treating Swan like a naughty child who needs to be scolded and patronised. It’s clear she knew perfectly well that smoking while pregnant was not ideal, and that she struggled desperately both with the smoking itself and the decision to keep it secret. She does not need to be schooled on the evils of cigarettes (I’d be surprised if ANYONE living in Australia is unaware of the health ramifications of smoking these days).

On that note, I’m sure everyone must realise this, but cigarettes are addictive. Nicotine, like any other drug of addiction, changes the chemical makeup of a person’s brain and makes quitting hard for most and all but impossible for some. Just because you – or your mum, or your auntie or your boss’s brother – have had success in quitting permanently does not mean everyone will have the same experience. We’re all dealing with different things in our lives and we all have different bodies which may respond differently to nicotine and to withdrawal. Lots of people quit multiple times before they are finally able to stop smoking for good and sadly plenty of people quit multiple times and still die of smoking-related diseases. It’s not an issue of sheer willpower. Willpower is not always enough.

There is a psychological and emotional component to cigarette addiction as well as a chemical one. When I was nineteen I smoked, at parties, bars and clubs, for a grand total of one month. I only got through one pack of light cigarettes before I decided to give up, so I was far from addicted and I didn’t so much have to quit as just not buy another pack. And even I found myself craving a cigarette sometimes, in stressful situations (especially social ones). As recently as last year – over seven years since my last cigarette – I smelled the nostalgic combo of bourbon and tobacco on a friend of mine and, to my great surprise, desperately wanted a smoke. There’s no possibility that I have ever been chemically addicted to nicotine, and yet the impulse remained.

I’m mostly in favour of the lengths the Australian government has gone to to restrict when and where people can smoke. I enjoy being able to go to a club or a bar without coming home smelling like an ashtray, and I imagine that would be even more the case if I worked in one of those places. I approve of making various public spaces no smoking zones, and from the research I have read on its efficacy in preventing uptake of cigarette smoking, especially in young people, the plain packaging initiative seems like an excellent idea to me.

But this incident and people’s reactions to it are not the same as a public initiative to restrict smoking and deter people from smoking. This is the court of public opinion attacking a single individual person for smoking while pregnant. The government initiatives, even where they add to stigma against smokers, are about reducing the harm caused by cigarettes (to smokers and others) and assisting people to make good decisions about cigarettes, by deterring them from starting to smoke or helping them to quit smoking when they want to. This furore isn’t about trying to help Chrissie Swan or anyone else quit smoking, and I suspect if she wasn’t pregnant there would be little scandal around the photographs at all, even though it might be embarrassing to her. This isn’t even about reducing the harm caused by cigarette addiction during pregnancy, or people might recognise that by limiting her smoking as much as she can Swan is trying to reduce harm to her foetus, and struggling.

This is about pregnant women’s bodies being public property. Because Swan’s uterus has a future person inside it, people not only believe that her body is no longer solely her own – which is a larger issue for another time, perhaps – but that her body is now THEIR property to comment on. Even when they have no relationship to her or the foetus she is carrying. Even when they don’t even know her. And pregnant women get this all the time, over all sorts of things; their eating habits, their weight, exercise, medication, alcohol and so on. Not just from the health professionals they deliberately engage to discuss their pregnancy, but from family, friends, and complete strangers in the street. The more information we have about possible risks during pregnancy, the more people think that pregnant women’s bodies and behaviours are their business.

My mother told my a story as we watched the news this evening about when she was seven months pregnant with me. She went to a bar with some friends and had a single glass of wine, her first since she started trying to get pregnant, and a friend of hers came up to her and said “you’ve waited so long to have a baby, do you really think you should risk drinking while you’re pregnant?” This was a double shot of presumptuousness because mum hadn’t been trying to get pregnant for long even though she had been married for around eight years, but furthermore it was fucking rude.

Perhaps if there were not such stigma and shame associated with people being unable to quit smoking (or other drugs), and if it were not compounded with the additional stigma and shame associated with being seen as a Bad Mother (TM), it would be easier for someone like Chrissie Swan – who wanted to quit smoking while pregnant and found she couldn’t – to seek help and support from a doctor and those close to her.

It’s the golden rule all over again: Not your body, not your business. Not even if that body is pregnant. Not even if that body belongs to someone famous. Not. Your. Business.

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Inconceivable!

Name playing thingy in the movie The Princess Bride.

Wallace Shawn playing Vizzini in the movie The Princess Bride.  Inconceivable!

During a camping trip I went on late last year (during which I stayed in a cabin and most of my friends camped in tents), I was talking to some friends about how I wished tent camping were more viable for me. I have bad knees due to injuring both of them at different times in my life, which makes getting up and down off the floor difficult and painful. The others suggested I could try and buy a camp bed that would be off the ground, and when I said I didn’t think I’d be able to get one that would hold my weight, one friend said I’d be safe with a double-sized one because they’re usually rated for two smaller people around 80 kilos and “I don’t know how much you weigh, but you don’t weigh 160 kilos.”

I don’t weigh myself any more, but she was kind of right. It’s more like 170 than 160.

I let the error go by without comment. I knew she wasn’t being nasty and I didn’t want to embarrass her by making a big deal about it. But it struck me that the reality of someone weighing what I do was so far outside her worldview that even with my physical body right in front of her, where she could see exactly how fat I am, she couldn’t imagine anybody weighing that much. It’s not like I’m particularly muscular or dense – I know people who weigh more than they look like they do, but I am not one of those people. It’s just that 160 kilos was so far away from my friend’s reality that she dismissed it out of hand as being some unimaginably huge size.

I encounter the same issue with clothing sizes, too. I’ll complain about not being about to find specific clothing items (such as trying to find black concert dress for choir performances) and suddenly a flood of my thinner friends will inundate me with suggestions that, while well-meaning, are completely useless to me because the clothing companies they suggest don’t make my size. It isn’t that they don’t know what I look like, in fact they probably have a better picture in their minds of my appearance than I do, but once again imaginable clothing sizes for them extend a little past their own size and then vanish into the amorphous mists of “really really big”.

On the flip side, I can usually guess what size a woman wears and roughly how much she probably weighs from looking at her (though I usually don’t because what does it matter?). This was possibly a skill acquired through years of “thinspiration” in my dieting and eating disordered years (ugh), but it’s also the upshot of being exposed to far more information about thin people’s – especially thin women’s – bodies and clothing sizes and weights in popular media and everyday life than fat people’s.

Partly that’s because the thin bodies, sizes and weights are held up in advertising and other media as the ideal to which we should all strive, and partly it’s because the stigma against fat pressures a lot of fat women into hiding or lying about their own size or weight. I never would have even thought about publishing my real weight or dress size on the internet five or six years ago. As a result of this embarrassed secrecy about fat weights and sizes (which doesn’t, of course, trick people into not realising you are fat), people who aren’t fat themselves often don’t develop a visual vocabulary of fatness because the information to connect with the visual simply isn’t available. And what follows is an incredulity about the perfectly real bodies of fat people that only compounds and exacerbates the stigma and embarrassment associated with being fat. It is difficult and painful to have a body that’s not only not socially acceptable, but so socially unacceptable that your friends can’t even imagine it being real.

This disconnect is part of why I am writing this blog, why it is called what it is, and why I love seeing blog posts and tumblrs and instagrams and tweets and Facebook posts and everything about other fat people just living their lives and being seen doing it. I want us to be visible and known and understood, not freaky unicorns that people – even the people who know and love us – can’t quite comprehend. I want us to be free of embarrassment about talking about our weight and what size we wear (men and genderqueer people and genderless people as well as women) and demystify the reality of being really fat. I want people to hear 170 kilos and think “ah, that’s someone about the same size as my friend Sarah” and not “170 kilos, NOBODY weighs that much!” You keep using that word “nobody”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A photo of me, a fat white woman in a black and white polkadot one piece bathing suit, posing with hands on hips in front of a hot pink background.

A photo of me, a fat white woman in a black and white polkadot one piece bathing suit, posing with hands on hips in front of a hot pink background.

To that end, here is a picture of me – in my cute ModCloth bathers, so as to give a good idea of my body size without the obfuscation of normal clothes – along with my clothing size (AU 26-28) and my weight as of this very moment (171.3 kilos, or roughly 378 pounds). Just for information purposes. Because yes, I am very real.

Not that I wouldn’t make an amazing unicorn.

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Comfort Eating or Eating Comfortably?

A lot of junk food including burgers, chips, ice cream, donuts, popcorn, cake, nachos and macarons.  Superimposed in front is a black rectangle bearing the words "KEEP CALM AND OM NOM".

A lot of junk food including burgers, chips, ice cream, donuts, popcorn, cake, nachos and macarons. Superimposed in front is a black rectangle bearing the words “KEEP CALM AND OM NOM”.

I know I said not that long ago that I didn’t want to talk about food, but it turns out I do. Hurrah! TRIGGER WARNING: The following post discusses mental illness and eating, and may be triggering for folks with depression, eating disorders or a history of mental illness in general, so proceed accordingly!

Yesterday I went to the doctor. I’ve had chronic depression to varying degrees of severity for my entire adult life, and right now I’m in a particularly severe depressive episode. So the doc and I were talking about my mood and how it is affecting my day to day life. I mentioned that most days I only get around to eating one meal, because I just can’t see the point of eating and don’t have the energy to prepare or find food. Non-ideal! Luckily at dinner time I usually have someone around to make food and thrust it at me, which is an excellent thing and ensures I get fed well at least once a day.

When I said this the doctor looked at me and said “if you’re only eating one meal a day, why are you the size you are?” I rolled my eyes (internally) and said “well, I’ve always been this size” and he went on to ask whether I was “comfort eating”. This post isn’t really about fat hating doctors; it’s pretty awful that fat hating doctors have become de rigeur for me and fat blogging in general, but they have, and that’s not what I’m writing about today. What struck me as I brushed off the doctor’s ignorant question was the concept of “comfort eating.”

It’s an interesting and loaded question – “have you been comfort eating” – and it got me thinking. Have I been comfort eating? What is comfort eating exactly?

What I usually think of when I hear the term “comfort eating” is binge-eating. “Eating your feelings.” I certainly have experience with binge eating as disordered eating; I don’t mean eating a whole! bag! of chips! in one sitting, I mean eating half the pantry in a self-hating, panicky frenzy. Not especially comfortable, let me tell you. Comfort eating is also seen as things like having a block of chocolate on the first day or your period, or ploughing through a tub of ice-cream after a bad breakup. I’ve done that kind of comfort eating too, choosing to eat something because I know it will feel nice and be calming and enjoyable when I am feeling awful. Homemade Prozac, in other words.

A screencap from The Simpsons.  Homer is in the kitchen, looking thoughtful as he tastes a bowl of pink goopy stuff.  Marge looks on from the table in the background.

A screencap from The Simpsons. Homer is in the kitchen, looking thoughtful as he tastes a bowl of pink goopy stuff. Marge looks on from the table in the background.  “My only hope is this homemade prozac.  Hmm…needs more ice-cream.”

There’s plenty of stigma attached to comfort eating of both kinds, which strikes me as rather silly in the second situation (and outright vicious in the first, which is a symptom of mental illness). In Australia and the US at least, we seem to have developed this idea that food is SOLELY fuel for the body and has – or should have – no other purpose. Shame on you if you eat anything when you’re not actively hungry, or eat anything that isn’t “nutritious” as determined by the food fashions of the day. And the kind of food matters too. Eating a slice of cake is “being bad” and chocolate is “wickedly sinful”, even when it’s soap! There’s a wikihow tutorial on how to “resist naughty foods cravings” but I’m not going to link to it; as far as I’m concerned, the only “naughty” foods are cakes with swear words on them (tee hee). If you’ve never heard someone say “no thanks, I’m being good” when you offer them some food, I want to trade lives with you. Feeling guilty about food is awful but common. And the kinds of food that people, myself included, usually think of when we think of “comfort eating” (whether it’s binge eating or the “homemade prozac” kind) are precisely this sort of high energy, fatty, starchy, sugary food. Dangerous food! Out of bounds food! Naughty food!

When I think about it, yes, I have certainly been eating more high fat, high sugar, high starch foods than usual lately. But I don’t intend to feel guilty for it. On the one hand, guilting people for eating anything at all is rubbish, and I don’t believe that any food is morally inferior to any other. But furthermore, I feel like I need to defend this kind of eating even more than social eating (like having cake at a party) or self-medicating comfort eating. I feel like I need to fight even more fiercely to be allowed to have this kind of eating guilt-free, because it feels less like eating solely for comfort and more like eating in the way that is comfortable, because that’s been necessary for my survival lately.

Let me explain by referencing Satter’s hierarchy of food needs, which I recently read about on The Fat Nutritionist (great post, by the way – it’s about eating and poverty, and it’s important stuff that is well worth reading). As the Fat Nutritionist says, “the idea is that, before we worry about nutrition […] we’ve first got to HAVE food. Enough of it.” She’s talking about this in reference to a scarcity of affordable food, but I think it also works when the thing getting between you and eating is your brain.

On a particularly bad mental health day last month, if I didn’t eat, say, a bag of chips for lunch then the alternative was not a salad or a sandwich, it was not eating at all. Chips felt unthreatening and, yes, comfortable, but it was not a matter of eating just for fun (it was usually 3pm and I was ravenous) nor was I choosing “comfort” food over healthy food. It was simply that I didn’t have the energy to both get out of bed AND prepare food, so the food I was going to eat had to be both appealing and pre-prepared, ready to eat, in order to convince me to try and eat it. And, as the Fat Nutritionist points out, fatty, starchy, high sugar foods are really, really appealing to most of us (especially when we’re hungry) for perfectly sensible biological reasons – when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from and it’s been a while since the last, pick the food with the most immediately accessible energy and the most energy to store for later.

Obviously I’m privileged enough that I’m not usually unsure where my next meal is coming from. But I’m not making these decisions consciously, so it makes sense that when I need a quick energy hit (because I’m really hungry) and I need to not have to think about it or do much to get it into edible form (because I’m severely depressed) the things I reach for are fatty, sugary, starchy junk foods.

So no, I haven’t been comfort eating. I have been eating comfortably, to keep myself from starving because I was too depressed to eat. Even though years ago – when I still subscribed to the idea that eating is something nasty you do when you run out of willpower – I probably would have described the eating I do on a bad mental health day as “comfort eating”, it really isn’t.  I refuse to feel guilty for keeping myself alive with “unhealthy” food, and neither should you if you find yourself in similar circumstances.

Of course, even if I were comfort eating in the true sense, that isn’t something I should feel guilty for either.  Because eating is not a moral issue.

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Thin People Problems

A straight-sized friend of mine who has an interest in fashion and always looks fabulous recently posted the following link on Facebook. The article advocates a curated or “capsule” wardrobe as an antidote to the problem (caused by so-called “fast fashion”) of having a huge collection of average, mismatched clothing items and never knowing what to wear, which seems like a cool idea. The thing is, I’ve never had that problem. The article states:

The ability to access fast fashion has grown at a rate faster than Zara have been able to open their 1,700 stores. Comprehend that figure and add to it the an imaginary figure of just how many stores there are for other fast, fashion-foward brands such as H&M and you realise that fast fashion, and the dream of the massive wardrobe that it enabled with an affordable price tag, is now commonplace. It’s not just available to everyone, it is everyone. – Fashionising.com

But Zara doesn’t make clothes in my size. Neither does H&M, not even in their plus size and “Inclusive” collections. The line between “fast fashion” and “high fashion” is blurry and indistinct in the plus size world, because the plus size clothing industry is so much smaller and the options for fat shoppers so much more limited, so even items that have the quality and lasting value of fast fashion (i.e. not much) are often priced like high fashion.

I find this whole concept of the overflowing wardrobe fascinating. I’m a size 26-28. My wardrobe is “curated” in the sense that there is nothing in it I don’t regularly wear, but that’s because it has to be, because shopping at my size is an exercise in frustration and careful planning. Because plus size clothing is expensive in general and hard to find in my size, I can’t afford to ever buy something that I don’t know I can wear straight away. I don’t have drawers overflowing with skirts and t-shirts and random bits and pieces that don’t go together because I simply never buy them; not because I’m a particularly clever or stylish shopper but because I have about fifty dollars a month to spend on clothes and accessories (including underwear and shoes) and if the item is not something I can either wear on its own or immediately mentally slot into an outfit with pieces I already have, I do not buy it even if I adore it. I just can’t guarantee that I will ever be able to find anything else affordable and in my size that I can pair it with. There simply isn’t the same variety, even of perfectly ordinary basics or disposable knockoffs, in size 26/28 that there is in, say, size 12.

Do straight sized women really have this problem of trying on multiple outfits of a morning and not being able to find one that “works”? I always thought that was just in the movies, not the lives of real people. For the most part, me deciding what to wear for the day or to a particular event involves picking a dress and then accessorising it or, more often than not, putting on one of my three pairs of shoes – two black, one white – and just going with it.

I’ve got about ten day dresses now, far more clothing than I have had at any other point in my life, thanks to internet shopping and staying the same size for several years (this is the first time in my life I’ve been a consistent size for more than a year at a time, thanks to previously either being young and still growing, or being on or off various weight loss diets). My dresses are all variations on a theme – high waisted, stretchy, knee-length and usually A-line, although a few have straighter pencil-style skirts. This is because that style suits my shape, and it’s pretty much the only option in plus size clothes other than sleeveless empire-line maxi dresses, swing dresses and bodycon. I’ve got three cocktail dresses (two of them are the aforementioned swing dresses) and one ball gown, so if it’s a formal style event it’s fairly easy to choose. I imagine most women my size – actually, most women in general – probably don’t own a ball gown, but I do actually go to a formal ball once every couple of years. Plus my mum bought it for me.

I’ve also got three or four jackets and cardigans, which keep me warm or extend the wear of some of my dresses to a more corporate type context, graphic t-shirts, mostly bought from clubs I am in, a black three-quarter-sleeve stretchy top I wear exclusively for choir performances, and two skirts, one black and one leopard print, both long and stretchy. The black one has a hole in it and needs repairing. Then there’s a lot of leggings, some tights and socks, two bras and a bunch of underpants. I have quite a bit of cheap costume jewellery too, because it’s an easy way to spice up an outfit without spending much money or having to find the right size.

It is a capsule wardrobe. There’s nothing I don’t wear regularly (apart from the ball gown) and no pieces that don’t currently fit into an outfit of sorts. I don’t think of it as a luxury, except in as much as being able to buy new clothes at all is a mark of privilege. To me, being able to buy something without working out where it would fit in the collection would be a luxury. My “curatorship” of my wardrobe is the resourcefulness and care that comes from caring about clothes at all when you are fat. It’s a necessary response to the dearth of options out there for people like me, not the result of me being more stylish than other people or having the resources to make more of an effort in planning my wardrobe. Like plenty of other fat women, especially those of us who are 26+ and sized out of even many plus size collections, I simply have no option but to make an effort. And I’m lucky enough, though it seems hilarious and horrible (horrilarious) to say it, to have more options than just “baggy black” – if I were any bigger than I am now, my “capsule wardrobe” would probably be entirely long black skirts and baggy black tunics unless I made the clothes myself.

So no, a massive wardrobe full of fast fashion isn’t “available to everyone”, even if you are only looking at the financially comfortable middle-class. And a smallish, carefully selected collection of clothes that has no redundancy or frivolous items isn’t luxurious and special for everyone, even those of us who do care about fashion. For some, it’s just how clothing works.

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I Don’t Care if You’re Healthy

A button style badge, half pink and half white, with the slogan "NOT YOUR BODY. NOT YOUR BUSINESS".Source: Everyday Feminism Shop

A button style badge, half pink and half white, with the slogan “NOT YOUR BODY. NOT YOUR BUSINESS.”
Buy from the Everyday Feminism Shop

Let’s be clear. I don’t actually give a flying fuck whether being fat is or can be healthy or not.

A person’s right to an enjoyable life, to be treated with respect and to have access to all the things I want fat people to have access to, such as quality medical care and clothes that fit, is not predicated on how healthy they are.

I am not interested in proving my worth to others by living up to anybody else’s standards of healthiness. My worth, like the worth of every human being, is self-evident. The right to basic human respect is not conferred upon us once we fulfil certain conditions, every one of us is inherently entitled to it.

How healthy I am and how much effort I put into developing or mainting “good health” is nobody’s business but mine. Not mine and my friends’ and family’s. Not mine and my doctor’s. Not mine and taxpayers’. Mine.

Undoing harmful stereotypes is valuable work, and I completely understand the desire of fat athletes to push the message that you can be fit, athletic and fat, and that fatness does not preclude displays of physical prowess. I think fat dancers and fat marathon runners and fat gymnasts and so on are excellent, and deserve as much credit for their skills as any thin athlete.

But where does promoting the existence of fit fatties leave those of us who are not athletes, who are not paragons of fitness, who have chronic illnesses or disabilities, or simply don’t care very much about jogging or eating all our vegetables? To me, the dark side of “fat people can be fit and healthy too” is an implicit support of the notion that being fit and healthy is what confers on fat people the right to respect and fair treatment. It isn’t. Being people is why we have a right to respect and fair treatment.

That only healthy fatties deserve respect is not the message fit fatties are trying to promote; I don’t for a moment think that activists like Ragen Chastain or other fat athletes who spend time pointing out what they can do believe fat people who are less fit or flexible or active than they are don’t deserve the same respect they do. But it’s a message that sometimes comes across anyway. Fat activists seem to spend so much of our time and energy debunking myths about what fat people can’t do, and yet fat stigma persists (as is clear from Ragen’s numerous posts about confronting fat hate with demonstrations of her own fitness). How many times have I heard thinner people or media say “I’m all for body acceptance, but you’ve got to be healthy” or “fat acceptance is fine as long as you’ve got a healthy lifestyle”?

No. Fat acceptance is fine, the end. If your “lifestyle” is not hurting anyone else then it is nobody else’s business.

You know what does make fat people unhealthy? Internalised fat stigma. And as long as not being fit enough or healthy enough or active enough or not putting some arbitrarily determined amount of energy into “being healthy” is an excuse to treat fat people like subhumans, then fat stigma and its negative health outcomes for fat people will persist.

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The Best Thing

A pen and watercolour illustration by Colleen Clark of a fat woman with light brown skin and dark hair who is naked apart from white underpants with a frilly trim. A ribbon is twined around her bearing the words "your body is not the best thing about you, your body is not the worst thing about you".

A pen and watercolour illustration by Colleen Clark of a fat woman with light brown skin and dark hair who is naked apart from white underpants with a frilly trim. A ribbon is twined around her bearing the words “your body is not the best thing about you, your body is not the worst thing about you”.

I love this illustration by Colleen Clark. It’s beautifully drawn and has a beautiful message. You can even buy a copy of it here in Colleen’s webstore!

But, actually, I think my body IS the best thing about me.

I don’t mean that my appearance is the best thing about me, or that my flesh is all I amount to.  I have far more to offer the world than beauty or fuckability or fertility, the traditional value measures applied to the female body by the sexist society I live in.

But my body is how I experience the world and participate in it. My body allows me to see and hear and smell and touch. My body enables me to think and speak, to type and draw and to communicate in myriad other ways. Without my body, I’m not sure I would be anything.

Even when I don’t feel happy about the way it looks or the way it feels or functions, even when I am demoralised by the aforementioned sexist measures of my body’s “value”, I try and remember that. My body is my link with the world, and that makes my body awesome.

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IT HAPPENED TO ME! I Changed my Mind About Wanting Kids.

A very young pale-skinned child is sitting in a pink car seat, apparently asleep, and cuddling a large marmalade cat (almost as big as the child!) who is also apparently asleep.  Awww.

A very young pale-skinned child is sitting in a pink car seat, apparently asleep, and cuddling a large marmalade cat (almost as big as the child!) who is also apparently asleep. Awww.

It wasn’t because of that image, but I really wanted to post it because it’s SO CUTE, and this is probably the only post for a while on which it will be relevant!

When I was eighteen, I decided I was never going to have children. I did not like kids very much. I didn’t feel comfortable around them, find their antics cute, or want to cuddle other people’s babies just because they were babies. I didn’t think I would be a good mother and, furthermore, I had no desire to become one.

I heard all the responses you can imagine. You’re so young, you’ll change your mind when you get older. Oh, when you find the right man, you’ll want to settle down and have a family. It’s different when they’re your own kids. I’m sure you’d be a great parent! At the time I developed a really negative attitude towards children and parenting that I’m not terribly proud of today; children are human beings who are learning how to be part of society, and “hating” them all en masse is pretty bigoted, even if you don’t want to be involved in raising them yourself. But I think this attitude was largely a backlash against the way everyone refused to take my decision about future parenthood – or rather, non-parenthood – seriously.

They were all missing the point. Like Christina Yang says in Grey’s Anatomy, “I’m not a monster. If I had a baby, I’d love it” but I did not want one.

I saw, and still see, parenting as something you shouldn’t just assume will happen to you eventually, but something you make a deliberate decision about. Sometimes it does come unexpectedly, and that doesn’t mean that unexpected parents can’t be wonderful parents, but I knew at eighteen that I did not want to be a parent. And a few years later when I started having sex with a man for the first time, I knew that if I accidentally got pregnant I would have an abortion, and I made sure he knew that too.

As our relationship got more and more serious, my feelings about having children did not change, but my position was complicated by the kind of relationship I was (and am) in. I’m polyamorous, and my partner had – and still has – another serious relationship with another woman. Over time we have developed into a family unit, and in the same time it became very clear to me that while he wasn’t so invested in having kids that my stance on parenting was going to be a problem, she was.

Even so, it wasn’t a matter of me thinking “well, my partners want a baby so I’ll just have to give in”. Parenting is an enormous, life-changing thing. I don’t think anyone should ever enter into it as a matter of compromise. I suspect that way lies resentment and horrible emotional trauma for everyone involved. But it did mean I needed to think about the situation again.

My perspective also changed, interestingly enough, as my lack of desire for a baby became less of an issue for the people around me. I got a new gynaecologist who was much more relaxed about me not wanting to get pregnant. I got older, so people in general were more inclined to believe I had given the issue real thought, and if not accept it, then at least leave me alone about it. I found I had other friends who did not intend to have children, so the assumption every woman will one day be a mother was less prevalent in my social group.

I also had friends who did have children, and got to meet some kids who weren’t just generic sticky babies that I resented because I was expected to love them (purely because I had a womb and they came from one), but individuals that I got to know and like as cool little people. The idea of my family creating a cool little person started to seem like it would be okay. And then from okay, it started to seem like it would be really wonderful.

But that troubled me a bit too, because it made me feel like a Bad Feminist. That’s not to say that mother are Bad Feminists, but that I felt as if I were capitulating to a sexist paradigm of what I was supposed to want. When I went to pick up something from my partner at his work and had a weirdly vivid daydream about walking into the office with a toddler on my hip to visit her daddy at work, I felt like I had crumbled under pressure and given in to a fantasy of a womanhood that I had never wanted. I worried that I was only entertaining it now because I wanted to make my partners happy, and most of all I was worried that everyone I’d ever told “I don’t want to have children” would suddenly shout “AHA!” and take my change of heart as proof that all ladies really want babies after all.

But that’s not what it means at all. It’s okay to change your mind. People aren’t ideas, we’re messy and complicated and we’re subject to all kinds of influences. Of course my decision – not to “give in” to the idea of being a parent, but to WANT to be a parent, and even daydream about it – was influenced by the world and people around me, because every decision I have ever made was so influenced. But that’s okay too. I have thought about this a lot and I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up. I feel like I’m looking at a new opportunity.

I still don’t want to be pregnant. It’s complicated.  If I were to get pregnant by accident (all but impossible for a number of reasons) or my partners were unable to conceive for some reason, that would be a serious issue that would require some soul searching for me. It might seem bizarre for me to tell you that although I now actively want to help parent my partners’ baby – and will think of that baby as “mine” also – I might still want an abortion if I myself were to become pregnant, but there it is. Pregnancy is not something I have any desire for, nor is it something that would be good for me, physically or psychologically.

I’m impatient to meet our baby, and that baby hasn’t even been conceived yet. It is a very odd place to be, when five years ago I did not want a baby at all, and felt really uncomfortable holding or talking about other people’s babies. I still occasionally wonder whether I am giving in to some broader social pressure, that on some level I am aware that the pop cultural narrative assigned to people like me – in a stable romantic relationship and nearing thirty – involves babies around this point and that is what’s driving me. But I don’t think that’s true (or the whole truth, anyway), and in any case I don’t think it matters too much. The decision I’ve made has changed the course of my life, of course it has, but it hasn’t changed me very much. I still applaud other women who have chosen not to have babies, and support their right to exercise autonomy over their own bodies and lives. I am certainly not about to start telling women who don’t want kids that they are “selfish”, because that’s ridiculous, or that they’ll change their minds like I did, because they probably won’t. I think I am actually quite unusual in this.

If for no other reason than to spare other people the angst of wondering if their decisions are their own, I’m quite happy with that!

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Rebel Wilson’s Fat Girl Comedy

Rebel Wilson playing Fat Amy in the movie Pitch Perfect.  Amy, a fat blonde white woman, sings into a microphone on stage in front of a group of other singing women.  She has ripped open her white shirt to reveal a tight white tank top underneath.

Rebel Wilson playing Fat Amy in the movie Pitch Perfect. Amy, a fat blonde white woman, sings into a microphone on stage in front of a group of other singing and dancing women. She has ripped open her white shirt to reveal a tight white tank top underneath.

“Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what counts.”

So says Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy at the climax of her recent film Pitch Perfect, an ensemble comedy about college competitive a cappella singing (kinda like Glee, but without any backing instruments).

From what I understand, a lot of Amy’s lines in Pitch Perfect were ad libbed on set by Wilson. That’s how she does her thing, she’s a comedian rather than a comic actor per se. A lot of comedians do movies this way; Robin Williams is famous for it, and check out the out takes for Scrubs to see some of the bizarre ad libs from the Janitor that didn’t make the final cut (hilarious!).

And actually, knowing that is really awesome, because it makes me realise that the fat jokes in Pitch Perfect – and there are a LOT of fat jokes – aren’t comedy at Amy’s (and Wilson’s) expense, they’re a great big Fuck You to fat stereotypes.

The line in Amy’s introductory scene says a lot about what Wilson is doing here, and often does with her particular awkward deadpan brand of comedy. When she introduces herself as “Fat Amy” and uptight Aubrey replies “you call yourself Fat Amy?” she explains: “Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” That’s what Wilson is doing throughout the whole movie when she slaps her belly as she sings “I got game by the pound”, when she yells “I’m going to finish him like a cheesecake” and when she says “yeah, don’t put me down for cardio”. Those fat stereotypes are ridiculous, and she’s showing up just how ridiculous they are. She’s not making fun of fat people with Fat Amy, she’s making fun of the people who think real fat people are food-obsessed and prefer “horizontal running”.  She’s thrusting her fatness in their faces and forcing them to look.

And she totally owns her body, too. I know Wilson has expressed a desire to lose weight before (she was a Jenny Craig spokesperson at one point), and I don’t know if that has changed or not, but Amy the character loves being fat, she doesn’t shy away from it or act self-conscious at all. It’s wonderful to see a fat character on screen who calls herself fat unashamedly, and who is so physical. Unlike the fat chicks in Glee, she doesn’t get relegated to the fat lady versions of the costumes (gotta cover those arms!) or background dancing. She moves, she throws her whole body into the performance, and she rips her clothes off on stage, too.  And she’s funny!  There are definitely some jokes – from her and other characters – that made me cringe, like the “deaf Jews” bit, and the film isn’t at all without problems.  But, perhaps surprisingly, the fat jokes aren’t the bad part.

In fact, the only person who ever insults Amy’s appearance is the guy we are absolutely supposed to hate from the first moment we meet him.  For a while I was worried he was going to be a love interest for Amy, but while there’s an in-text hint that she may have used him for sex, it’s not one of those stories about a fat-hating douchebag being the best the fat girl can hope for.  Amy has lots of boyfriends (whom she is “bored with”), and we see her lounging in the pool with several conventionally attractive, muscle-bound guys on Spring Break.

In general, I do wish awesome fat comedians like Rebel Wilson, Magda Szubansky and Melissa McCarthy got to play more roles that weren’t centred on how fat they are. They are talented women and they can do more than that. But I really like what Wilson does with the fat jokes in Pitch Perfect. They really made me laugh! I hope it’s as confronting and embarrassing to fat phobic audiences as it is clearly meant to be.

And I hope you all appreciate how hard it was for me to avoid making a “rebel with a cause” pun in the title of this post.

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