Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How the term "plus size" effects our cultural ideas of body size

I'm not sure how much this post will mesh with the rest of the fat-o-sphere and, who knows, I may look back on this post in a couple of years and ask, "what was I thinking?", but here goes anyway. It started with all of the buzz around the Vogue Italia issue which featured three "plus size" models on the cover. While I was with everyone in applauding their efforts in portraying a more average body type, the fact that anyone was calling these women "plus" size was puzzling to me. I have always known that "plus" size started at a 12 or, in some cases, a size 10US, but the intellectual knowledge doesn't stop it from being shocking when you actually see it.

When I ranted about this a bit on facebook a friend replied that she had been browsing online clothing stores with larger (ie, average sized) models. She had been doing it long enough that when she went to a site with normal (ie, very thin) models she was shocked at just how thin they were. Normalization is important here because it's the basis for the anti photoshopping and the body image campaigns in regards to model thinness. When we're constantly exposed to one body as a certain idea it becomes so normal that anything outside of it seems odd. In this case the thinness of the models became very clear when my friend exposed herself to average sized models. But we don't see the thinness that way when it's the only thing we see in general.

So, in the same way, if we're touting average sized models as "plus" sized then we're still essentially saying that an average body is a very thin one because plus implies larger than average. So if average sized people are "plus sized" then what are actual "plus" sized people? It's still just another way of skewing perception of body types.

More so, these publicity stunts are just that- stunts. Gimmicks. Freak shows. A way to boost sales by saying "look! We can totally be aware and sensitive to needs of women!". Unfortunately the magazines go right back to displaying rail thin models cover to back- thus ensuring that we don't forget where the normalization is really supposed to stay.

I hope, I really really hope, that more realistic sized models become the norm. I have zero problem with featuring women who are a size 8 or 10 or 14 and I think that if these became the normal sizes for models that it would do a hell of a lot of good in our culture. But can we please just stop calling them "plus size"? If a size 12 model is a "plus" sized person then what the hell am I? What the hell do you call actual fat models like Beth Ditto (a size 28) or Velvet d'Amor (who is 5'8" and about 275lbs)? This doesn't seem like real progress. What it seems like is a glittery circus act designed to distract and placate us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fat and Rockin It

I got to rock my new "fat" necklace by Definatalie during a photography class being given by  the photographer's education and resource center inc in Raleigh, NC. I donned various costumes for students and finally got to do some shots with my fellow models there with me. I made a lot of great new friends and I couldn't believe how nice and supportive everyone was. The boys were great sports even though they're probably not used to posing with a larger model and the photographers were eager and really fun to work with. This is part one of several sets. Me and the others: street clothes set.

By Caroline

Roosevelt Conyers and Tyrone Johnson with me. photo by Caroline

Roosevelt Conyers and Tyrone Johnson with me. photo by Caroline

from middle to right all the way around: me, Briana Hawkins, Konisa Rhone, Tyrone Johnson, Roosevelt Conyers, ______ , and Tara Smitty. photo by Caroline

Friday, June 24, 2011

On Safe Spaces

Safe spaces are controversial. Usually contested by the privileged majority against the oppressed minority. Fat acceptance and body acceptance as a whole is unique in the sense that one does not have to be a part of the privileged in order to oppress. I don't know what it is, but we have a fantasy issue. This fantasy issue is why fat people, drowning in the fantasy of being thin, can actively engage in oppression of other fat people. It's why they don't understand why safe places for fatties often include no diet talk, no weight loss talk, and no "but health!" talk. The "but I'm fat too" argument just doesn't work here when you're still operating on a notion that you can and should be thin, even if you're not at the moment.

So the idea of a safe space is seen as "a circle jerk" as one person put it to me. Of people who agree with each other sitting around patting each other on the back for agreeing with each other. This is framed as a bad thing. It's called dictatorial and a repression of information and free speech. Maybe it is, but I can't say that I have a problem with it. Yes, we have to confront the bigotry and we have to work hard to change minds and to change a culture of sizism, fatphobia, and body hate, but where's the rule that says we have to do it all of the time? All day every day?

There are literally thousands of places on the web to discuss these issues and I feel there should be at least one place where people aren't guilted, shamed, accused, or judged based on their bodies. There are very very few places (and when i say few I mean a handful only) where people can go and be safe from body shame.. I'll divulge to you this: many of the people who have to defend against those accusations have to do it constantly in the rest of our lives.. and i don't just mean bloggers.. i mean all of us BA activists/advocates. We have to defend body acceptance to friends, family, strangers, internet trolls, seemingly concerned citizens, our doctors, and everyone else. We have to constantly worry about bullying and discrimination and the very real and damaging effects thereof. It's nice to have one place- just one! (because I haven't found many others believe me!) that we can go and just chill. To be in good company with other people who are all for body acceptance and to just pat each other on the back and say "yeah.. you're fine the way you are.. sit back and take a break". This also sometimes means that spaces are designated just for fat acceptance instead of overall body acceptance (I know from experience that a lot of thin privilege denying sneaks into body acceptance areas- hence the need for a space just for fat people).

 This isn't about someone's right to their bigotry, it's not about the right to free speech, it's not about the need to intellectual and civil discussions. It's about the importance  of looking after our own health, including our mental well being. It is not okay for anyone to force constant emotional stress upon us, including complaining about our attempt  to get away from emotionally draining and never ending abuse. It is our right to take a mental health day every once in a while.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fat Girl Pinup

I want to talk about how I felt about this shoot, but I'm having trouble putting it into words. It wasn't awful.. a couple of photographers shot a few photos. It was a group shoot so I was one of several models and it seemed a bit like I had to beg for scraps. Many of the models were fawned over- half a dozen or more photographers circling them. I spent most of the time walking in circles, talking to friends, and just waiting. Some friends couldn't get away from photographers long enough for me to speak to them, but I seemed to have plenty of time on my hands. One of the few times I felt awkward and self conscious.

As the photos began being posted on the group's website I began feeling more and more alienated and I saw page after page after page, hundreds of photos, go up of every model except for myself. Now, a few people finally posted- a good friend posted several and there were two others. Another photographers emailed me photos. And still it seemed like I had to fight for those. I don't like feeling like the obligatory model. The one people take photos of so she doesn't feel left out (which generally doesn't happen to most models, of course).

Now is that what really happened? I have no idea. It's probably partly colored by my perception, my mood at the time, maybe my outfit wasn't good enough, and maybe that I drove an hour and a half for it so my expectations could have been too high. It's just so much different working with a photographer one on one. When I work with a single photographer I know they want to work with me and I know why. I've spoken with them, they know my mission, and they have ideas just for me. In a group I feel insignificant and overlooked.

One more thing to work on. It's interesting that I spent most of my fat life trying to blend in and fade into the background. So afraid that if I was noticed it would be negative and now I spend so much of my time trying to be noticed. To challenge people's perceptions and to figuratively rub my body in other people's faces. To  try so hard to do that and then not be chosen, or noticed is an interesting new feeling and not one that I particularly like. I'm reminded that I'm not as far down the road of real acceptance as I like to think most of the time. But then I also have to remind myself that I'm further than I was and that I have to be grateful for that.

By Tyson Carroll

 By Susan Bryan

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Bikini Body

As summer approached I saw fat acceptance bloggers begin to write about beach bodies. In short- there's no such thing. Or rather, to clarify, every body is a beach body. My own friends began talking about losing weight in those precious few pre summer weeks in order to be deemed worthy enough to show their faces in a bathing suit. Bikini bodies were even more elusive. A special super class of bodies that are only available to an elite few. If you do not posses one of these super bodies then you had better not have the audacity to show up in anything less than a tankini. And the better your body, the skimpier the bikinis get.

While searching for some more posts about fat acceptance and swimsuits I came across several sites that had tips on how to not look fat in a bikini (yeah, I don't think I'm avoiding that one- nor should I want to) which dictated everything from style of swimsuit to what colors you can wear based on your skin color (apparently I can't wear anything other than brown until I get a tan that's dark enough to allow me to wear colors). Now, I bought black because it's all I could find on short notice, but if I want to wear jewel tones I damn well will.

Personally I've always liked bikinis. I found one piece suits or full coverage two piece suits to be uncomfortable. Even during my days of  disordered eating full of diets and dreams of being a thinner me I never imagined I'd be able to wear a bikini. Until last summer I wouldn't even wear a bathing suit. I wore long pants in the summer and just didn't go swimming even though I love the water. Last year's swim suit was one of necessity and was an ill fitting and awful looking tankini that was slightly too big. This year my bathing suit fits much better and the freedom that I felt when I took my new bikini to the beach was amazing.

I'll admit- it's a struggle. I still find myself comparing my own bikini body to other fat bikini bodies (in that I often feel that it looks great on them but not my body). We all have a few periods of relapse though right? And despite that, I still managed to stay out long enough to get a sunburn (despite putting sun block on three times!). So enjoy these photos by Digitime Photography who was wonderful to work with. (Bottoms were from target and top was from herroom.com)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

All We Need is Love

Okay.. maybe it's not the only thing we need but it sure would go a long way in this world which is dominated by hatred. Anyway, warm weather is back which means more photo posts for you- aren't you just all excited?  This is part one from a hippie inspired flower-child-ish type photoshoot by Mike Williams of SeeMyImagesNow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm fine the way I am and so are you

Photo By mike Williams

I love all of the fat positive sites and forums that I see. On tumblr alone I follow several body positive blogs including awesome photo blogs where anyone can submit. One forum is "Curvy women and the people who love them". Love them, huh? So why do we seem to have such a hard time loving ourselves? Why do I see post after post about losing weight? If you love your body, you don't seek to change it. You don't say "I love my body but.. i'd love it more if it were smaller" or "i accept my body but omg i can't gain more weight!". Body acceptance, fat acceptance is about loving your body regardless of it's size or shape.
And I know, I know.. we're all going to jump on the health bandwagon. Some of you have said you feel like crap, you're always tired, you're depressed, etc and you feel the need to improve your health- eat better.. exercise.. to that i say great!! Seriously! I'm all for getting healthy!! But let me drop some facts for you:
98% of people who lose weight will regain it within 5 years. The majority within 3 years, and 2/3 within one year. Many of them will gain more weight than they lost. 
Dieting is bad for your health.
Dieting makes you gain weight in the long run. The more diets you go on, the heavier your body will be- the body resets it's favorite weight every time you diet- and it always sets it higher. Why? It thinks you're in a famine and it makes the body more and more efficient at storing fat in order to prepare for future famines.
The fat gene (and weight is 80% inherited) is a good thing- it's allowed us to survive as a species. Throughout history, during times of famine, 2/3 of the given population would die because they couldn't store fat efficiently enough. You are a product of millions of years of evolution. Don't knock mother nature- she'll knock you back.
You do not have to lose weight to wear a swimsuit, a short dress, shorts, sleeveless shirts, or any other article of clothing. You do not have to lose weight to find love. You do not have to lose weight to go sky diving. You do not have to lose weight to live your life the way you want it. Do those things NOW because now is all you have. You can't live your life for everyone else- because of their bigoted and superficial expectations of what a body should be and should be able to do. There are fat dancers, fat aerobics instructors, fat weight lifters, fat ballerinas, fat singers, and fat models.
Studies show that fat people do not eat more than thin people. Fat people do not exercise less than thin people.
Fat people are not inherently unhealthy and thin people aren't inherently healthy. You do not have to lose weight to be healthy.. which is good since you probably won't lose weight anyway (though there's that 3% chance and you can make that chance healthier by simply following HAES).
Eat right and exercise if you care about your health.. but DON'T care about the number on the scale. It says NOTHING about you or your health or your happiness. It is a meaningless number.
I, like most of you, have spent my entire life hating myself. Engaged in disordered eating (dieting) which turned into an eating disorder (starving, binging, purging, diet pills, etc). And no, no one cared because I was fat and therefore eating disorders were expected.. it made me a "good fattie" because I was trying.. because I was properly ashamed of myself- properly disgusted and I knew that my worth and my place were lower than other's. This is no way to live- this is the ONLY life you get.. do you really want to spend it being anything less than ecstatic? Anything less than loving yourself completely and wholly?
I will eat healthy foods and exercise because I love my health. I will have chocolate cupcakes if I feel like it and fried greasy french fries when I want to because I know that a healthy eating style is a balanced one. I will never shame my body or anyone else's. I will wear a bikini at 265lbs and not give a fuck what anyone has to say about it. And mostly.. when I see fat hate flying around like it's migration season I will speak out against it because I don't deserve to listen to fat hate- hate that, while directed at your body, spills over onto mine. Spills over into an overall culture message that fat is bad and gross and evil and unhealthy. I'll fight it because my child doesn't need to grow up in a world like that. I will never tell my body that it's not good enough. I won't celebrate if I lose weight, I won't cry if I gain weight.. I will just be.. because no body is better than another body. A thin body is not better than a fat one or visa versa.
So please.. can we cut it out with the diet talk and body shaming in groups that are supposed to be all about body love and acceptance?


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"my body is not a symbol of oppression"

Marianne Kirby reblogged a piece of art on tumblr today which showed a fat white man squishing a very thin black man in a circle- yin and yang in disturbing imbalance. The message of the western white world's overindulgence and greed and it's effects on the poor and starving were obvious, but the fact that we all know what fat and thin symbolize, especially in political cartoons, doesn't make it less offensive. Being well known doesn't make it right. This was Marianne's response to the art piece (Marianne in bold):

It’s also the conflation of fatness with overconsumption - which makes me wince even as I WANT to support the message it’s trying to send. As a fat person, I get nervous when fat people are used to illustrate the oppressions perpetrated by *fill in the blank* Western culture. My body is not a symbol of oppression.
(reply to Marianne:) overindulgence and greed have been associated with fat dating all the way back to ancient greece. i’m not saying i agree, i’m just saying this artist is illustrating his point with means in which a general audience can and have been able to understand for a very very long time. also, i think this painting is extremely evocative.
OF COURSE it’s evocative (I didn’t say it wasn’t, nor did I imply that the audience wouldn’t get it) - but it’s evocative in a way that does active harm to how fat people are viewed and treated. I’m not going to use offensive stereotypes of other oppressed groups to raise up fat activism - I’d appreciate it if my body weren’t villianized in return. Again, my body is not a symbol of oppression - nor is it a symbol of overindulgence and/or greed.
I am with her 100% on this.
As Marianne points out- this is a message that I want to believe in. The fact is that we do revel in our greed and our excess while almost literally stepping on the poor to get what we want. This doesn't just apply to starving people overseas but even the classism that goes on in our very own country. The bottom classes are used and abused so the wealthy can get where they are and then have to endure accusations that they're the lazy ones and that they are worth less as human beings. It's a good message. But, as Marianne also points out, it's a message that piggybacks on the oppression of others. It spreads it's message by contributing to a culture of fat hate. 
This piece of art uses every stereotype of the fat person available- they're greedy, gluttonous (as the fat man sits with a piece of pizza balanced on  his chest, crumbs trailing across him), and, apparently, the cause of world hunger. It's not the first time I've heard that accusation, by the way. When I asked some people on reddit.com what they thought of fat people more than one said that they thought of how many people and families could be fed with what the fat person ate. Cause that's what we do you know.. we eat. A lot. Apparently enough for several families.. and thin people eat only enough to survive. According to Marilyn Wann in Fat!So? "One group of researchers tracked six thousand people, but could find no correlation between what they weighed and how much they ate" and a recent study from our neighbors to the north found that fat kids ate less than thin kids. Yes, a starving person will eventually get very very thin.. but the solution isn't to blame and mock people just because they're not starving. 
Fat people have been blamed for everything from world hunger to global warming to disease. I've seen perfectly reputable environmental sites say that fat people were behind climate change because we drive to eat fast food so often, use more resources, waste more, etc. We are causing the end of the world! Sounds a bit over dramatic and sensationalist doesn't it? I know that it's symbolism and it's just to make a point.. but it's making a point with my body. And it's not a cautionary tale or a warning or a symbol or a metaphor for society's woes. Fat people have to actually live in their bodies. We have to work and cook and clean and have sex and raise children and socialize in the bodies we have. You don't live in them, you can't judge them. Not your body, not your right. 
Statements like the one made in this art piece are relying on judgmental stereotypes to make sure everyone knows what the point is- without the fatphobia and sizism that exists in our culture, no one would get the message- it specifically relies on bigotry to portray it's point. There is just something inherently wrong with that. Worse, it contributes to that bigotry. Making a statement by oppressing and abusing another group of people is probably not the best way to go about it. 
(*If you don't follow Marianne on tumblr do so! It's awesome!)

Dreaming of Wheels

I finally dreamed of myself in a wheelchair . How we view ourselves is often hard. What we think of ourselves, even how we picture ourse...