Fat on the air

Yesterday, I was interviewed on Triple J’s Hack program. For those of you outside Australia, Triple J is the national youth radio station. It’s part of the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it plays a lot of alternative music not heard on commercial radio, it fosters unsigned Aussie talent and it’s generally very cool. Hack is their current affairs program.

For context: On Wednesday, the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Councils in Australia released the results of their National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity survey. The research surveyed 12,000 students in years eight to 11 across 237 schools to determine their dietary and physical activity behaviours. The research memos can be found here and they make for some interesting reading.

Unfortunately (unsurprisingly?), the conclusions the organisations drew from the research fixated on the inevitable, detrimental effects of obesity. Despite finding that adolescents across the board weren’t meeting the recommended amounts of fruit/veg intake or the recommended levels of physical activity, the organisations chose to recommend the implementation of a “comprehensive obesity strategy”. Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, even trotted out the tired old line “We may see today’s teenagers die at a younger age than their parents generation for the first time in history” (an unnecessarily alarmist statement that has never been supported by any evidence).

This story got a run on Hack and, being the enterprising young go-getter that I am, I wrote to host Tom Tilley in the hopes of getting on the show to present an alternative, fat positive view. It worked like a charm! I even dragged in the coolest academic on the block, Dr Samantha Thomas, to provide some academic rigour to the proceedings.

Click here to check out the story on Hack. (I bloody love that the title is ‘Fat Defenders’ as it makes me sound like a superhero.) I sound Very Serious in this interview because I was sweating bullets. (My nerves were not helped by the fact that Lindsay MacDougall, the object of my deep pubescent desire when I was 14, was recording in the booth next door.) It’s mainly Fat Acceptance 101 stuff, but it’s amazing how contentious the idea ‘fat people are people too’ can be.

This whole thing is a pretty big deal for me. Triple J is awesome and this was my first go at live radio. (Luckily, Tom and the Hack crew are ace. Thank you again, guys!)

As is my way, I spent the entire night after the interview thinking about all the things I should have said. Above all else, I wish I had said this:

Even if all fat people are the way they are due to their bad choices, even if every single fat person is unhealthy, that does not justify sub-standard treatment. How can the health of strangers possibly inspire such vitriol? If you remain convinced that others’ bodies are your business and that people must justify their existence to you, perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are an arsehole.

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20 Responses to “Fat on the air”


  1. 1 Christopher 11 February, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I listen to Hack on the way home from work, and you made your points very very well. I was really impressed with what you had to say and I hope it changes a lot of people’s entrenched perceptions.

    Well done!

  2. 3 Tegan 11 February, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I heard you too but not until the next morning when they were discussing it on Breakfast with Tom and Alex. Then I logged on and listened to it online. You did a great job and came across really well.

    LOL, I totally heard you laughing at the caller with that tired old “If smokers have to go outside to smoke, why can’t we treat fatties as sub-humans?” chestnut. :3

    • 4 Frances 11 February, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      They talked about it on Breakfast? What did they say?!

      I was trying really hard not to snicker near the mic at that first caller. Before the interview, I was thinking “OK, so the callers will probably say something about fat being unhealthy, that we’re using up tax payer’s dollars and compare us to smokers.” THREE FROM THREE!

  3. 5 Anna 11 February, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I listened to it on podcast – I live in the UK – and I thought you were articulate and persuasive. Also, you have a beautiful voice!

  4. 6 sleepydumpling 11 February, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    You did a cracking job my sweet Frances. You sounded so balanced and measured.

    Love your work baby!

  5. 7 Bec 11 February, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    “If you remain convinced that others’ bodies are your business and that people must justify their existence to you, perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are an arsehole.”

    Oh Frances, you really hit the nail on the head here!

    We seem to be saying the same things over and over again to fat haters but they just keep coming back with their tasteless slander and blind assumptions, they don’t really pay attention and they hear what they want to so we should be making it reeeeaal simple.

    If you hate on some one for whatever- sexuality, gender, race, religion, body size, you are a douchecanoe and need to be taught the simple attribute of good manners. End. Of. Story.

    I was never brought up to be so revolting to another human being. I was raised to not stare, not judge and not discriminate. It’s just basic human decency. If you don’t like the look of my body, that’s fine, don’t feel obliged to date me, be my friend whatever. Just don’t oppress me, don’t make me feel like shit and don’t presume to know who I am.

    Dr Sam is doing a fantastic job with her ‘obesity, have your say’ study. It is the first time I have ever seen a study on obesity that actually seeks to listen to individual experiences of fat, rather then pathologize them.

    The Hack interview was a huge step forward in listening to these voices, the more we talk, the more people will have to listen. If we speak with the same voice, we will be louder and make more of an impact. I encourage everyone here to challenge fat hate when it pops up on your social network sites and in everyday life. If everyone in FA stands up and challenges the stereotypes and assumptions, eventually, hopefully, we can outnumber the messages of hate with critical thinking and a more positive outlook on fatness.

    Anyway, I really admire your spoons Frances, keep fighting the good fight babe xo

    Bec (@trashyteacake)

  6. 11 hanna 11 February, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    honestly, i couldn’t tell you were nervous at all! also – did you get to meet lindsay?

    i just wanted to say how impressed i am by what you do here, as well as everything you said during the hack interview. after reading all the nasty, uneducated, UNFEELING comments on the jjj facebook page i was left feeling pretty shitty – couldn’t help but let it all get to me. but then you presented such a strong, reasoned voice!
    thank you. really. as someone who has struggled with eating disorders on BOTH sides of the weight spectrum, having someone like as yourself be such a positive and articulate representative for the ‘fat cause’ is refreshing and gives me hope.

    • 12 Frances 12 February, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Thank you, Hanna. I learnt pretty early on to stay away from comments on obesity articles as they’re always just horrible. Even when I’m in a good mood, they can leave me feeling really shaken and anxious all day.

      The best way I’ve heard fat acceptance described is ‘kindness’. It’s a kinder way of treating yourself, your body and others. Check out the links off to the side to find more body positive blogs (Two Whole Cakes and The Rotund were my introductions to the movement.)

      PS. I didn’t get to say hello to Lindsay yesterday, but I did meet him when I was 15 or 16 after a Frenzal Rhomb show. He gave me his pick!

  7. 13 The WellRounded Mama 13 February, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Good job!! It takes real guts to do something like this, so congrats to you for having the courage to put yourself out there and do it!

  8. 14 Veronica 13 February, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Congratulations on your radio appearance! (That last paragraph was pretty fucking amazing.)

  9. 15 Torbjorn 15 February, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Good showing on air. Must have been nerve wracking! Pity that it didn’t get through to many on Facebook.

    With regard to this post: I understand your concern about the language used in calling for a “comprehensive obesity strategy” but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the actual strategy outlined by the National Preventive Health Task Force being referred to by Kathy Chapman?
    http://www.health.gov.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/nphs-overview-toc~nphs-overview-4~nphs-overview-4.1

    It’s almost entirely focused on physical activity, nutrition, and the social/environmental drivers of those behaviours as opposed to obesity, weight loss etc.

    My apologies if you’ve written about it before.

    • 16 Frances 16 February, 2011 at 9:39 am

      I’m not surprised that the strategy has that focus as it’s a preventative strategy, not an interventionist strategy. It’s supposed to be about preventing obesity from occurring in the first place, rather than ‘fixing’ those that are already fat.

      I still find the language problematic. The BMI was initially developed to be an extremely broad indicator for health and yet now it is used almost like a diagnostic tool. Obesity is not a disease in and of itself and yet the Taskforce paper states:

      The World Health Organization defines prevention as ‘approaches and activities aimed at reducing the likelihood that a disease or disorder will affect an individual, interrupting or slowing the progress of the disorder or reducing disability’.

      That is hugely problematic to me.

      It is possible to encourage healthy eating and physical activity without stigmatising an already stigmatised group. Even if all of the Taskforce’s recommendations were adopted, even if everyone had access to nutritious food and ate well, even if everyone got adequate physical activity we need to be ok if some people still end up fat. We need to develop other indicators for measuring health rather than relying so heavily on a flawed tool.

  10. 17 Belinda 15 February, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Hi! I randomly got to hear the Hack story on my drive home, and as soon as they introduced a Frances, I was like: “This is gonna be winner. Any ignorant person who trots out the usual shit is going to sound like a slack-jawed yokel.” And lo and behold, idiots nil, Frances a billion.

    Also, douchecanoe. Best. Word. Ever.

  11. 18 Liam 21 February, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Woo! You sound like a smart, articulate grown-up. WHO ARE YOU? =P So proud of you, possum!

  12. 19 Rebecca 4 March, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    I LOVE that last paragraph. So very true


  1. 1 34th Down Under Feminists’ Carnival | Spilt Milk Trackback on 3 March, 2011 at 7:57 pm

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