Sunday, March 27, 2011

Intuitive Eating And Finding Balance With Your Body

Photo by Danbwr Photos
When I first got into the whole fat pride movement (I like fat pride better than fat acceptance- thanks Marilyn Wann!), one thing I came across was intuitive eating. Which means, basically, eating what you want, when you want. Sounds awful, right? The idea is that your body is able to naturally regulate itself and to signal to you (through cravings and such) what kinds of foods it needs to work optimally. It also includes the idea that there's no such thing as a good food or a bad food- food carries no morality. This doesn't mean that you can't cut out foods based on ethics, or even health- your body will start craving new foods that have the same nutrient values as whatever you cut out. I'm still not sure how this works for everyone (especially people who eat a small variety of foods that may not have the complete nutrition they need to begin with?), but I want to say that it has worked fantabulously for me.

I was wary at first.. I knew my eating habits- I'd eat until I was way too full, hoard certain foods, was never satiated even when full and could never manage to leave food on my plate. I thought this was just how I naturally ate and, therefore, I had to engage in food deprivation and control in order to stay healthy. Turns out that my body was driving me to eat like that because it felt deprived to begin with. The first several weeks after I stopped counting calories and depriving my body based on what I deemed good or bad (well, what society deems good or bad), I continued eating just as I had before- It was a no holds barred all out pig out. My body wasn't used to having that much available food or freedom and it was still in deprivation mode (evolutionarily when the body is deprived it seeks to get as much food as possible with the highest energy possible- calories- in order to survive the coming famine it believes there will be).

But then I noticed something else starting to happen. I would stop eating when I felt full with no desire to continue eating. I started actually noticing that I didn't feel like eating if I wasn't hungry. I don't feel the need to hoard food, or eat too much, or in any way prepare for deprivation. It seems like my body is finding it's balance and beginning to reverse the negative effects of  almost two decades of disordered eating.

Now, I'm not going to say that my body is fully recovered.. I think, given a few more weeks I think it may even recover fully or almost so. I do think that the progress it's made is amazing. I realize that all those years of doing what I thought was my only choice, I was actually abusing to my body. If you've spent a lifetime eating disordered then it's hard to imagine- it's certainly hard for me to describe- the difference in eating naturally and healthfully. To feel satisfied instead of overly full because I can stop eating when I want instead of feeling an almost panicky need to finish everything on my plate- or to get another helping which I then had to struggle to resist so that I could stick to my heinous 1200 calories a day.

At one point I obsessed and worried myself down to 300-700 calories a day! Did I start to lose weight at that point? I certainly did. And what worries me is all of the people who suddenly went "aha! see? you can lose weight by lowering your calories enough!". These people didn't care that I was starving- that I was eating less than what the average person with anorexia eats . No no.. because if you're fat, you have an obligation to have an eating disorder. Screw that and screw them- I'd rather love my body and keep it healthy than be thin just for their sake. The more regular my eating, the happier I am and the more I realize just how amazing my body is... and the more sorry I am that I ever abused it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jack The Ripper Is A Vampire

So I went to an open costume shoot at Castle McColloch with the Triad Strobist group. I had two costumes- the black ball gown you're about to see and an awesome pirate costume. I got plenty of compliments on my pirate costume but not many photographers wanting to shoot me in it. It's pretty common- the fat models don't tend to get a lot of attention. Of course, there are lots of photos I won't get back simply because they didn't turn out or the photographer didn't post them (there were 130 people there and no way to contact anyone individually!), but the hot girls in the chain mail armor? Yeah, they're getting more photos than me. So if you're upset that there aren't more in this set (total of 3 photographers although most photos from just one photographer) then blame society and it's preference for the thin- because I promise, I wasn't at fault- I looked awesome! :P And maybe I'll get the chance to wear my pirate costume some other time. If I magically get a rush of photos for some reason I promise I'll do a second post. Without further ado.. as someone on flickr said: "I don't like the look of your date". For good reason. I was walking along, minding my own business... down some stairs and then..!

SnapShot Photography

Brutcher Photography

By Anthony Piraino
Brutcher Photography
Brutcher Photography
Brutcher Photography
Brutcher Photography
Brutcher Photography

Watch out... those blind dates can be killer...

Friday, March 18, 2011

My interview with nutritional anthropologist Leah Baskett

I happened across Leah by accident- she was a member of r/bodyacceptance on and she had responded to a post with "as a nutritional anthropologist". I had no idea what that was or that it existed, but it sounded fascinating and I asked to know more. She told me that it had made her totally passionate about body acceptance and, happily for me, she's a fan of my blog and agreed to let me ask her some questions. Leah studied at the University of Arizona with a focus in nutritional and medical anthropology.

So what is nutritional anthropology? According to Leah, "Nutritional anthropology studies the nutritional requirements of humans, as well as how different populations meet those needs with their food. NA also looks at foodways: how foods come to be developed and adopted and how they spread throughout and between populations. In addition to basic nutritional requirements, one must also take into account a culture's perception of what health entails as well as what foods are encouraged or are taboo to use. A good book for anyone interested in learning more about NA is Everybody Eats: Understanding Food and Culture by E.N. Anderson. It gives great info into the discipline. "

Like most people, Leah was entranced by the fantasy of thin and originally took nutritional anthropology as a way to figure out the best diet to make her thin (because thin is better, right?), but she was surprised to learn that our beliefs on thinness and health were, indeed, cultural beliefs, and not hard fact. Leah told me that "All cultures have a set of beliefs that are just accepted as fact, as reality-based and these beliefs feel "natural," but are actually very much artificially constructed. This is easy to see in some traits, such as racism or xenophobia or homophobia. It's why you will get very illogical reasonings for holding a belief: for example, a racist will say, 'People naturally want to be with their own kind,' insinuating racial phenotypes are the only natural way people divide themselves into their groupings. They may be able to pull out some bogus research to prop up their opinion, but they do not understand that their viewpoint is subjective, that it is not necessarily true, that it is an opinion." Considering this, it is fairly easy to see how sizists and people who who are fatphobic can easily justify their hate and violence against non-ideal people. It's not a stretch to say that one group of people feeling superior to another is the basis for quite a bit of history's violence and oppression nor is it difficult to recognize the violence against fat people if you're able to step away from your own culturally indoctrinated sizist beliefs- whether about yourself or someone else- in the form of psychological, emotional, and yes, even physical abuse. 

Leah told me, "My training thus far in my academic career had already pointed out that as anthropologists, we had to challenge our cultural biases and strive to be as un-ethnocentric as possible. Yet I had failed to ever challenge the belief about weight and health. This blew me away. I started seeing this same belief go unchallenged everywhere around me: in conversations between friends, at the doctor's office, on television shows, commercials, films, etc. This really made me get passionate about NA because I felt it was a huge problem and extremely dangerous to have bad info and downright lies being constantly spread. To me, these should be viewed as propaganda. The first time I read an article telling me that being fat did not mean I was headed straight for the damnation of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, I sighed happily and shut the book, smiling. I wanted to do the same thing that author did for me for others."  I can relate. When I got into the fat acceptance movement and even when I got more into feminism I noticed the sexism and sizism everywhere. You know all of those feminists that people complain about? Noticing sexism everywhere even when there supposedly isn't any? Well, it turns out that they see it because it's actually there. It's just so pervasive and so entrenched in our culture that even men and women who consider themselves to be free of sexism and even feminists themselves often overlook it because truly seeing all of the sexism in our culture means finding inequality virtually everywhere you look.. and let's admit it- that's exhausting and terrifying (especially if you're a woman). Nor do they want to admit how much society is against them as it is- they'd much rather believe everything was more or less fine- it's easier that way on so many levels. Sizism is no different."

But what about the scientists? They're supposed to be logical, objective, and develop conclusions based on the facts. But what are the facts? Paul Campos in his book, The Obesity Myth, points out that a large number of studies on weight and weight loss are funded by the diet industry or related industries- meaning that, as with all corporation controlled studies in which the industry benefits from a specific outcome, the data is generally skewed.  Newer studies and reviewed studies often find that there is little or no actual causal evidence between weight and negative health effects. Leah agrees that cultural bias interferes in scientific conclusions on weight. "Cultural biases are a huge problem within the scientific community. This is a big, gigantic point in both NA and in medical anthro. This is an argument anthros continually give...We have study after study flying in the face of this belief, but we still have doctors and academia just throwing out the info while embracing poor and shoddy research, often simply "checkbook science".... I think the good research gets ignored and even actively attacked because it violates our cultural understanding. It tells us that we're wrong. No one wants to be wrong. And fat people act as a valuable stereotype for us: fat people are a wonderful "visual shortcut" allowing us to transmit certain ideas visually. As we become more and more attached to visual media, we become more and more attached to our stereotypes in my opinion. Hence, fat people must be lazy, ignorant, stupid, slovenly, ugly, wasteful, slobby, greedy, insatiable, and (increasingly) poor or poverty-stricken, or else our visual shortcut no longer works. Often, when we need to visually show what a greedy, stupid and inefficient man looks like, what do we do? We hire a fat guy. The fat woman can barely find a piece of clothing without a cartoon character or other childish insignia. Why? To remind them that they cannot be sexy at their size, and to infantalize them. A fat man and a fat woman equal the same thing: a big baby. And babies are not tolerated in our society unless they are a trendy accessory or are "seen and not heard." "

Leah also points out that our idea of what's healthy and what body type is "good" or "bad" is fluid and changes from culture to culture and time period to time period. Many fat bloggers have pointed out that the fuller figure was often preferred and seen as healthy in ancient cultures- from fertility goddesses with large rolls of fat, to rubenesque ideals of femininity. In the one season TV show, Huge, one character posts historic art clips on her bed as "fatspiration" (a counter to the "thinspiration" other girls were putting up). Leah's study as a nutritional and medical anthropologist has led her to the same opinion that many others have reached- and that is that body ideal is often linked with wealth. In days long past being fat meant that you had the money to eat well and the means chillax a little- inside out of the sun which made fair skin also the preferred ideal. Now fat often symbolizes being poor. "To hypothesize for why fatness would not always be bad: prior to modern medicine, and now among poorer populations that must live without access to such medicine, illness and malnutrition was common. A higher BMI could allow for longer periods without food during illnesses when one can't stomach food or couldn't do the work to obtain the food." 

But if being fat equaled being well off because you weren't starving in the streets, why is is fat connected with being poor now? The fact is that we now all have access to plenty of food- in the US and other industrialized countries very few people are actually starving. There are a few possible reasons why poor seems to correlate with fat. Firstly, as Leah says, "we really are just starting to study how things like stress, anxiety, etc. directly affect the processes of the body through hormones and other factors. " but we do know that some studies have linked both depression and stress with weight gain. Combined with the fact that fat people receive lower quality of health care- meaning that other issues that cause weight gain often go undiagnosed or untreated, and that fat people make less money and are less likely to even be hired to begin with- it seems the system kind of sets fat people up to get pushed down. I have a personal theory too that being bullied your entire life makes you less likely to be ambitious or to take risks that would provide opportunity. Many fat people are afraid of getting too much attention or of being noticed. Of course, that's just a personal theory.. all of the articles I looked through seemed to think poor people were fat because they consumed more calories- odd since fat children eat less than thin children and that there are plenty of thin people who can over eat and never become overweight. 

I asked Leah why she thought obesity was increasing (or if it even was) and she replied, " I would say it is a tough call. I would point out that we know that pregnant rodents, when put on a diet with limited fat and protein, have offspring that are far more likely to develop obesity as well as diabetes. Women have been put on diets for many decades now, and when a woman gets a positive pregnancy test she immediately gets her list of "don't" foods. this is considered normal. She will often be told how much weight to gain and encouraged to keep from gaining too much. This means that our pregnant mothers are dieting. I would guess this is one reason why we see an increase in obesity and diabetes outside of the stated fact that people generally have more access to medical care than prior eras and so we are seeing and diagnosing people that in prior generations, would not have been to the doctor in the first place. There's also the little problem of obesity being medicalized as an illness and therefore receiving more exposure."

"People are being told day in and day out that lots of illnesses are caused by obesity when we know that studies do not support this belief. I will be a scientist nerd here and stipulate that certainly, it is in the realm of possibilities that two people with the same exact height and weight and BMI could have very different health situations. I cannot just state that being fat is always good or always bad because the individual is unique and needs to be judged as such. I will just say that it seems highly unlikely to me that the level of obesity in this nation is much more than previous generations."

"I think rates of obesity are exaggerated by 1.) The classification of obesity increased to include weights that used to be only labeled as "overweight"; 2.) The instance of people being diagnosed increased because of better access to medical care; and 3.) Not having long term medical data for differing populations within our society as a whole. For the last point, white men have always been established as a norm that everyone else was just seen as auxiliary. They were targeted the most to participate in medical testing, in medical studies, for pharmaceutical studies, etc. So we don't really have a lot of data for anyone else. This is starting to change as we become more aware of this bias and I believe medical findings will change as well. "

"In other words, there is no obesity epidemic. I remember learning that following World War II, the average woman's dress size decreased dramatically from before the war. This is one example of how skewed data can be problematic. If we are measuring ourselves in comparison to a particularly brief period of time in which the population had a lower average BMI, we will seem huge and obese in comparison when we are not. It's all about context. I think the population fluctuates in weight overtime in response to both environmental and cultural cues. I think what's more important is how a culture looks at such normal variations in their midst and why they choose to villify and actively attack those who have said characteristic. Many, many groups have suffered under this phenomenon in our history and yes, medical science was used to justify, excuse and even approve such abuse. "

"We have better nutrition now which is suspected as to why we are taller and all around larger. We also have proper sanitation, water and sewer systems, something that stops the spread of disease. We have medications that lower dangerous fevers, kill dangerous pathogens, and surgeries that can save lives. All of these work together to explain why the Western world is at the best health its ever had. I would say all of these things interact to create this lengthening of the life span and certain physical changes."

"To me, the focus on attacking obesity and labeling it an epidemic (meaning in the general public understanding a great and serious threat, not its original intended use in epidemiology) is attacking what we find as a society as bad. To me this is embodied in the feminine. The feminine is associated with weakness, softness, roundness, vulnerability, "illness," fatter than male, developed mammary glands, etc. Masculinity is associated with strength, resolve, security, health, etc.  Misogyny is the root of fat phobia. We believe if we can eradicate these qualities, we will always feel safe, secure, and have great health, because what we are actually trying to attain is masculinity. This obsession with being thin is simply a mask for our true desire to eliminate the feminine."

"I think the best example of the above is in how the ultimate epithet in our culture is to call someone "fat." Fat not meaning being of a larger size, but meaning unattractive to the one doing the insulting, unlovable to them, and *gasp* unfuckable to them. Our greatest shame is that someone does not wish to use our bodies for their sexual pleasure. Sad, isn't it?"

Whew- that last one was a long quote, but Leah said it perfectly and I couldn't bare to only post part of it.  Leah's last paragraph touched on the desexualization of fat people which I may cover in another post, but for now we'll side line it. Talking to Leah gave me a unique and fascinating view of body shaming and a culture which, now, heaps that shame on fat people specifically. I want to say a huge huge thank you to Leah for talking with me and I hope that everyone else enjoys and benefits from her observations and expertise. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Big Ass Heart (Glee spoilers)

I was planning on posting a different blog today- my interview with nutritional anthropologist Leah Baskett. I was really looking forward to posting that but, damnit, I caught the latest episode of Glee last night on my DVR and I had to postpone my interview post before it was too late to talk about this.

So Sue sabotages glee and they have to find new songs to sing at regionals and decide to write original music. Everyone gets a shot at it. We all remember Puck's first serenade to Lauren- the new fat addition to the glee team and Puck's love interest, Fat Bottomed Girls. At the end of the song Lauren tells Puck that it was an offensive song and made her feel like crap.

Compared to the song he came up with on his own... it was nothing.

For some reason Lauren loves the new song Puck sings for her.. somehow not finding it offensive at all. It's called Big Ass Heart and the lyrics are as follows:

My girl went to the doctor cause her heart had palpitations
He said cut the carbs, or else she'd end up pushing up carnations
She stepped up on the scale and the doctor said, "Oh Lordy"
If you don't drop a few, girl, you won't make it past age forty

My girl said, "Hey lookie, on my fancy x-ray chart"
Said the doctor, "Holy hell that's one G.D. big ass heart"

I'm telling you my friend, my girl's got a big ass heart
When she shops for groceries that heart gets its own damn cart
That big ass heart can pump two tons of love through her chest
And then sit down and win a lovin' pie-eating contest

I love that big ass heart so much I think it isn't fair
Like how your heart won't pay me back for breaking all my chairs
So sick with love I think I'm coming down with rickets
When that big ass heart flies coach it has to pay for two plane tickets

Oh, that big ass heart
Oh, that big ass heart

While we can assume it's supposed to be non offensive because it's supposedly talking about her personality and not her body, it's clear that the song takes real life discrimination and comically relates it to her personality. Either Puckerman's character really doesn't get it, or the writers don't. Think of any other group of discriminated against people and think of some kind of analogy between their personalties and the discrimination they face- it wouldn't fly. Not with anyone. Breaking chairs, paying for two plane tickets, winning a pie eating contest... dying if she doesn't "cut the carbs"? This simply won't do. Some fat people actually do face discrimination and calls of deathfattie at their doctor's (even if they're in otherwise great health), some fat people do break an occasionally chair (or at least are afraid of it happening- I know I am), quite a few fat people are forced to pay twice as much for the same service- such as buying two plane tickets. And these aren't props for a love song or comic relief. They represent real pain, real discrimination, and real bigotry. 

Glee, if you were trying to win over your fat audience, you failed miserably. Half of us didn't even mind Fat Bottomed Girls, but this? The alternative? It is offensive, it's beyond unacceptable. You reach so many people and have such a great opportunity to include messages of loving yourself and how to deal with serious issues and to speak out against discrimination.. and you've done a wonderful job with that on the topic of homosexuality... but you're failing at this. You deserve some credit for making Lauren confident in her body, for standing up against Fat Bottomed Girls, and for including a love story where a popular badboy is into the fat girl, but you've got to step up here. Dare I say, be a musical Degrassi. Then maybe I'll just be able to love you... instead of hating loving you.  Do you wonder why you are getting so many critics even though you're a young show and other shows don't get this kind of flack? It's because of how popular you are.. the sheer number of people you're reaching with your messages. Please... do it right. We don't need more bigotry instilled in young minds. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Women's History Month- honoring a wonderful woman in fat history: Marilyn Wann

It's been women's history month for about two weeks now and I've noticed something. No one knows it's women's history month. No one except a few feminist blogs and forums, but the general population seems to either not know or just not care. When March hit I expected some noise- a few news mentions, lots of talk on facebook, something on Sprout (a preschool-esque kid's channel with zero commercials). Okay.. maybe not lots of talk on facebook.. but a few mentions? Two weeks in and I haven't seen anything. Not in the news, not on facebook or plurk, not clips in between TV programs.. nothing. I myself posted on facebook hoping to get some reposts and some mentions going but all stayed quiet. Of course, I'm just another female blogger joining other feminists in talking about women's history month while the rest of the world ignores it, but here goes.

Today I want to honor Marilyn Wann. We all (hopefully) know her. For those of you who don't, she wrote Fat! So? which was published in 1998, about 4 years after her magazine by the same name came out.. right about the time that "the obesity epidemic" started becoming a wildly popular idea as a way to blame all the world's ills on fat people... oh, and to sell billions of dollars worth of diet products per year.

While it was Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby who first got me into fat acceptance and who changed my life through their book, Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere, I'm honoring Marilyn because in many ways she's the mother of the modern fat acceptance movement. Though fat acceptance and fat pride can be traced back to the 1960's (while some hippies were staging the famous bee-in a group of fat acceptance activists were staging, in NYC, a fat-in in which they ate ice cream), Marilyn's witty book really started making the rounds and exposed so many people to FA in the second half of the 90's and helped make the idea more mainstream. While there was fat pride and fat acceptnace before her, she made it popular (well, as popular as fat acceptance can be in an overly sizist and fat phobic society) and has never stopped fighting for human rights.

Marilyn is also the creator of The Yay Scale and has been a major activist in fat rights, especially in health care discrimination. Marilyn is not only an amazing activist, but also just a really nice person. She let me ask her a few questions  and her answers were incredibly insightful, completely inspiring, and wonderfully interesting to read.

Q: Firstly, you got into the FA movement back before the internet was really common place and there certainly wasn't the kind of easy searching and networking that we now have. Because of that the FA movement wasn't as well known or as popular.. what kinds of challenges did you face when you first became an activist and how (if at all) do you think the internet has made it easier? 

Thanks tons for interviewing me! First, I have to say that I don't call it the FA movement. When I came into fat pride community (I like that name!), that acronym was already totally owned by people who identify as being attracted to fat people (or fat admirers, FAs). I also don't tend to use acronyms because I believe that the world needs to hear us speak about our experience, so I say the whole words and I type the whole words all the time because so many people have not heard them. I admit I also don't use the word "acceptance" because it sounds like one might be accepting something one still doesn't like. (I don't say "size" acceptance because it sounds closet-y to me; we're talking about our experience as fat people.) I like to aim high and go farther. So I talk about fat liberation, about celebrating weight diversity, and about fat pride. (I want to include people of all sizes, because I think we all suffer from weight-based stereotype, prejudice, and discirmination and we all have a stake in ending them.)

To answer your question: I first read "Shadow On A Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression" in 1992 or so. (I found it at a book fair.) The first issues of the FAT!SO? print 'zine came out in the summer of 1994. I didn't get email or go online until 1995, as well as I can recall. A friend made the FAT!SO? website (which is still up there, totally outdated), at that time. (Yes, I'm working on setting up a new, updating, interactive FAT!SO? website!)

As I recall, there were actually a lot of fat pride community resources in the mid-90s, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live.

I enjoyed Radiance magazine and Fat Lip Readers Theater and Laurie Toby Edison's black-and-white photography project and book and Patricia Schwarz's color photography and a weekly swim for fat women and Cinder Ernst's fat-positive aerobics class and Pat Lyons's advocating for an anti-diet approach or what we now call Health At Every Size. Pat also hosted a quarterly meeting for people in the Bay Area who were interested in HAES, which is still going now. AHELP was a short-lived HAES organization that held ground-breaking conferences. I got to attend the last one in Chicago. Nationally, I joined NAAFA and attended my first NAAFA convention in 1995. There was a fat activist group in Seattle that put on conferences for fat women, called SeaFATtle, which were total fun. Miriam Berg of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination organized fat women's gatherings on the east coast and Judy Freespirit ran NAAFA's fat feminist caucus which held several conventions here. (My first big fat gathering was the event Judy created in fall of 1994.) There were cottage-industry plus-size clothing makers that people would shop from by mail-order or in person at fat conventions. I remember Peg Lutz, who's still making fabulous clothes. Also Jody from Myles Ahead and others whose names I've forgotten. Soon, Cathy Miller founded Big On Batik and Janelle Lowe started Love Your Peaches (with the goal of getting fat women into bikinis and thongs). (I'd had to have Fat Girl collective member April Miller make me a thong to wear to my first fat pride community pool party. It was political, dammit!) Which brings me to the beautiful, fierce Fat Girl 'zine collective, which had parties at Max Airborne's house, just five blocks from where I happen to live in SF, so I got to hang out with a wonderful group of rad fatties who inspired me so much. I also got copies of Nomy Lamm's landmark fat 'zines from up in Olympia.

It was a bit less convenient not to have email or the internet, but the challenges then were basically the same as the challenges now. I think there's a value to in-person community gatherings that can't be duplicated when we connect via computer. For example, there's that wonderful first-timer feeling of not being the only fat person in the room, and often not being the fattest person either. I think people value their experiences attending NOLOSE conferences or the Fat Girl Flea or a Big Moves dance concert, for this same reason. As human beings, we'll fully explore all possible means of interacting.

Q: When your book first came out what kind of (if any) backlash did you face?

There was no backlash when the FAT!SO? book came out. Readers have been overwhelmingly kind and are the reason the book is in print even now, 13 years later.

About the same time the FAT!SO? book was published, a gym in San Francisco had an evil billboard put up. It showed a space alien and said, "When they come, they'll eat the fat ones first." NAAFA leader Frances White gave a great interview to local tv news, but they didn't run it. She said, "If this were any other group of people, this billboard wouldn't be funny or acceptable. We advocate healthy exercise, not hate." I sent around an email (it was 1999 by then!), asking if local fat people thought it would be fun to gather outside the gym and wave signs that said, "Eat me!" People said that sounded totally fun, so we did it one day. We got massive news coverage. A local politician, Tom Ammiano, took an interest. He had the city's human rights commission hold a hearing about height/weight discrimination. I worked super hard, along with Frances White, Carole Cullum, Sondra Solovay, and Jo Kuney to organize people to testify about their experiences being denied housing, education, access, jobs, and medical care based on weight or height. It was so much fun to participate in political change! San Francisco legislators voted unanimously to add height and weight to protected categories in local anti-discrimination law in summer of 2000. (The wankers at the gym never apologized. They said their billboard was a public health message. They used our protest for all the publicity they could get.)

Backlash is just another word for opportunity.

Q: Also, how do you feel that FA connects to feminism and women's rights specifically? 

I'm a feminist and a woman. I have used feminist analysis and history to get ideas for how to fight fat oppression, of course. Also, women are especially targets of fat hate because of sexist notions about beauty and gender roles. I've also been inspired by queer community and anti-racism work, getting ideas and cause for hope. But I've also learned crucial things from transgender community and disability acitivists. A class analysis supports identity politics, too. There are so many ways that fat people's oppression connects with all other forms of oppression. Also, when people have multiple identities that make us targets of hate, the oppression magnifies. The haters make these connections too. If someone makes a racist comment, they're also likely to add on something homophobic and something fat-hating. I want to avoid playing oppression Olympics. If we're not addressing all forms of oppression, we're undermining everything we do. Like my colleague Jonny Newsome at San Francisco's And Castro For All group says, "The freedom bus doesn't leave until we all get on."

Q: Do you feel like books or articles written by men on the topic of body acceptance or fat acceptance are taken differently than ones written by women and what do you feel those differences are? 

Yes. We live in a sexist culture, so men's words and men's experience is valued more, given more respect. I think men can (and do) use their unearned privilege to leverage greater awareness of fat oppression. By the same token, thin people who challenge fat oppression will be accorded a different sort of respect. Linda Bacon has written brilliantly about thin privilege. I think it's powerful when fat and thin people advocate together, because it prevents people from dismissing either position. Likewise, it's powerful when people of different genders work together.

Also, when I started FAT!SO? I chose to include people of all genders. I've always especially welcomed participation by men because I see that fat men have very few places (and sometimes nowhere) to go to talk about their experience of fat oppression. Fat gay men have social resources in the bear/chub scene, but straight-identified fat men have no resources. Admittedly, if they want them, they may also need to create them. But I imagine that male gender role makes it difficult for men to talk about what it's like to be fat. I'm also concerned for trans men. I've seen some great writing and online community, but not enough, of course. Even if fat women face an extra burden of fat oppression, that doesn't mean we shouldn't also acknowledge and sympathize with what men (of all sizes) are also suffering.

Q: Have you seen any progress in society as a result of the FA movement? 

Yes. Of course! NYU Press just published the "Fat Studies Reader." The fat studies field, itself, has developed since 2004. A whole new generation of fat activists are creating fabulous cultural change online and in person. (The kiss-in response to Marie Claire (and that sad, hateful blogger) in New York was wonderful!) Instead of people saying, "What's that?" when I talk about fat activism, they're saying, "Oh, that." or even better, "That's you!?!"

Unfortunately, I also see an intensification of the witch hunt on fat people that governments, healthcare, advertising, media, and corporations are engaging in. Welcome to the dialectic!

Q: and one more- what woman do you most admire or are the most grateful to for their contributions? 

Lynn McAfee from the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, and from the Fat Underground before that. I don't know how she survived being the only fat-positive fat person for years at FDA and CDC meetings. She's fierce. I treasure my friendship with Lynn. I remember sitting with Lynn next to the glass case that holds the Soap Lady in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia and hearing her tell the story of how doctors got drunk one night (during the 1800s) and broke off a piece of her corpse to see if she would lather. One of Lynn's first jobs was working as a page in the library at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which owns the Mütter Museum collection. (The Soap Lady is the body of a dead fat woman whose flesh turned to soap due to specific conditions in the ground where she was buried.) I think this story helped me understand how Lynn could advocate for fat people in such fat-hating settings, and it continues to inspire me to go outside my comfort zone to challenge fat oppression. As Lynn says, "Be afraid but do it anyway."

I love Marilyn's upbeat and positive attitude and she is truly a woman to be honored this month. She has done so much for women and for the fat community. Thank you Marilyn Wann and happy women's history month! 

Sunday, March 6, 2011


     Big boobies, small boobies, asymmetrical boobies, saggy boobies, perky boobies, boobies with inverted nipples.. boobies come in every conceivable shape and size and an array of color. I think fat bloggers, and society in general, have discussed fairly well the narrow image of beauty we see in regards to thinness. Sometimes they also touch on.. yes.. boobies (er.. no pun intended). We saw the Lane Bryant commercial that got pulled because the models were too busty. Boobs get a lot of two things: hate and objectification. While our society, as a whole, loves boobies, they don't love boobies. We get a very small range of breasts in the media. They're generally big, but not too big, perky, round,  and with generally smaller nipples. 

     We get this double message that women have to have large breasts to be attractive but also that too large is unattractive (except in a push up bra and only then generally as a fetish). Not to mention this ridiculous idea that you have to have the right breast to body proportion size. You have to be a size 4 with C's. Do you know how common that is? Not very. Bust generally increases when fat increase. This is why a lot of female athletes have smaller breasts (though not all).  Like the rest of the beauty ideal, the breast beauty ideal is almost impossible to achieve (naturally).

     In the fat-o-sphere (fat blog-o-sphere) I see a lot of bloggers talking about the largeness of their breasts- this is a completely valid concern and a big problem.. with a lot of larger bras being matronly and, let's face it, ugly. Full coverage? What if they want their breasts to have uber cleavage?! Breasts that are "too" big are supposed to be hidden. They're considered, in many places, as unprofessional and slutty. This means that a small breasted woman and a large breasted women who wear the exact same top, will be treated entirely differently. Women with larger breasts are taught to be ashamed of them- and no wonder since they're considered almost entirely as sex toys- not like they're attached to actual human beings or anything. In other words, women with large breasts are hypersexualized- one of the many problems that large busted women face. 

     But you know.. I think my sisters in the fat-o-sphere have big boobs pretty well covered. I want to talk about small boobs. I mentioned it once in a former post, but I have small breasts. I don't mean small compared to everyone.. I mean small for a fat girl. They're C's which aren't small, but for my weight they are. One of the most difficult parts of doing my first nude shoots was overcoming my issues with my breasts. The fat I could accept- afterall, I've spent the last four months browsing and looking at lots of bare fat to accept the fact that it is just as beautiful and acceptable as any other body type. Looking at nude fat art is very empowering. But none of those beautiful ladies had boobs smaller than D's.

     The first time I realized that my boobs weren't "average" was when my mom bought my sister and I silky nightgowns when I was a teenager. Something girly and feminine.. mine was pink and my sister's was purple and when I tried mine on, my mom looked at me and said, "you know Heather.. you have pretty small boobs for a big girl". I became instantly aware that I was different.. and that she was right. My other fat friends were sporting double D's while I, at a size 16/18, was sporting a B cup. Now, at a size 22, I'm up to a C cup.. but barely. And I'm constantly reminded that small boobs are not what's expected of fat models. Or fat women in general.

     But fat people with small boobs aren't the only people who have self confidence issues with small breasts.. plenty of thin people do too. A survey of about 2,500 women found that 1 in 5 women wouldn't even undress in front of their partners, a quarter were depressed about their breasts, and 40% said they wouldn't wear a bikini because of their breasts. The worst part though? A quarter of those women said their concerns over their breasts prevented them from going to the gym or jogging. That means a very serious health  impact on women's health just because of their breasts.

     On one women's health forum a woman writes, "I hate this obsession with big breasts. Every time I turn on the TV I see a huge pair of breasts. Every magazine. And all men seem to ogle are big's everywhere and I'm becoming really self critical and depressed. Even though I know I'm not ugly I just feel unattractive because of this."

     And she's right.. obsession with large breasts is everywhere. And just like the societal obsession with thinness, it's damaging and it's damaging for all women, not just thin ones, not just fat ones, all women. Body acceptance and fat acceptance aren't mutually exclusive, but they aren't mutually inclusive either. Fat acceptance and body acceptance usually go hand in hand, but there are plenty of people who accept their fat but not other parts of their bodies- it doesn't mean they failed at fat acceptance, it just means that they haven't conquered body acceptance yet. And thin people certainly can benefit from body acceptance even if they have no fat to accept (although fat acceptance also means accepting the fat on other people which I encourage all thin people to do). 

     I went to a burlesque show several weeks back, and was surprised and pleased to see that the performers had such a huge amount of body diversity- including their breasts. While one performer there had what society would deem "ideal" breasts, the rest ranged from larger (in various forms) to the almost non existent. And each and every performer, with confidence and pride, showed us their oh-so-sexy tassels and pasties. I know it's odd, but up until that point I had seen very few diversity in bare breasts. The only exposure I had were the larger breasts of fat women that I saw once getting into the fat acceptance movement and seeking out fat art. And none of those women reflected me in terms of breast shape or size. It was at this show that I realized the truly huge range of bodies even outside of weight. 

     What we see every day, every place, all of the time-  it's such a tiny narrow look at beauty. Let me tell you- no one fits it. Push up bras, photoshopping, pads.. like everything else in the media, most of what you see is fake. And many women resort to dangerous cosmetic surgery (with possible side effects including infection, skin necrosis, chronic breast pain, and even a possible link with autoimmune diseases. Implants may also interfere with breast cancer screening.) just to reach a completely arbitrary and made up ideal. Breast acceptance is just as much a feminist issue as body acceptance and fat acceptance. So come on ladies.. accept those boobies! Love those boobies! Get past the objectification and misogynistic boob hating messages around you. Expand your boobie horizons and know that yours are fantastic exactly how they are. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Privilege Deniers

By Peggy Brutcher
People tend to think that body shaming is cut and dry- it's not. It's so ingrained, so saturated in our culture that we do it without thinking. We tell fat people "well it's your choice and you should love your body, but it's not healthy". We tell thin people "eat a sandwich! you obviously have an eating disorder!". We give tips on how to improve someone else's appearance according to our standards, and tips on how to minimize or maximize certain qualities so that their "more attractive" parts show through. We, as a society, are all about deceiving through body masking because of an idea that a person's natural body is just not good enough.

Because the issue has a lot of cultural, social, and psychological aspects, I want to emphasize the complexity of body acceptance and body shaming. It's important to recognize that body shaming changes from group to group based on social misconceptions. For example, someone noted a study in which the results found that heart patients who had a larger body mass fared better than those who had a lower body mass. Would this be considered fat positive or thin negative? It was posted because there are different standards in place for thin people and fat people. This is where thin privilege comes in.

Privilege is "a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all". In health that means that thin people are automatically assumed to be healthier than fat people. Though this varies depending on the level of thinness, all thin persons enjoy benefits which fat people do not socially speaking. No one assumes that you are automatically going to die of heart disease, however, fat people do get that assumption. So articles like this are challenging common misconceptions- and ones that are incredibly detrimental to the health and well being, both physically and mentally, of larger people. Even among larger people there is a spectrum of privilege, so it's important to judge on a case by case basis instead of applying hard lined rules when we get into the gray areas.

Part of body positivity- part of making it positive for everyone and not just yourself, is recognizing your own privilege. I personally have white privilege and able bodied privilege (again, on a spectrum because I am not completely able bodied but I can still recognize my privilege compared to someone who is less able bodied than I) as well as class privilege (spectrum again- I'm not wealthy but I'm also not in poverty). Recognizing how our situations differ from others and how others have it compared to ourselves is very important in understanding each other, in extending empathy and help to those in this community, and in creating a truly positive environment for all.

Thin privilege denying is a huge issue. Now, I'm not bringing this up because we should shame thin people- I'm bringing it up because denying thin privilege is a form of body shaming larger community members and body shaming is unacceptable. But because it's not one of those well defined, obvious, body shaming techniques, it appears to need some clarification.

Thin privilege means that thin people automatically have an overall easier time than their larger counterparts. This does not mean that they have an easy time. It does not mean that they do not experience body shaming and it is very important to recognize that thin body shaming is not acceptable. What it does mean is that by "virtue" of being thin, they enjoy certain benefits automatically. This is seen especially in discrimination against above ideal people in our culture.

Fat people receive worse quality of care in the doctor's office, they receive less pay for the same job, they are less likely to be hired or promoted, parents of fat children are less likely to pay for their children's college education, they have to pay extra on planes to go the same distance, doctors give them less time and explain less to them, their health concerns are dismissed and blamed on their fat. The list goes on and on, and this is only the direct discrimination. In social settings there are far far more privileges that thin people get.

It is important to remember that thin is the preferred body type in this country and that anything else is automatically seen as inferior by the general population. Denying thin privilege is no different from a man who says sexism no longer exists and denies his own male privilege- or to claim that sexism is not harmful. It is and so is sizism which is predominantly perpetrated against larger individuals. Thin privilege denying is sizism and it is body shaming. Don't worry, I also don't approve of any other privilege denying- because the only thing more hurtful than another group getting preferential treatment, is those people denying that they're getting it.

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