Archive for the 'Fatism' Category

Real Beauty?

Earlier this week, Dove released an advertisement called Real Beauty Sketches, the latest video in their self-esteem campaign. Reception to this video has been largely positive, and while I understand why women are embracing the ad, all that glitters is not revolutionary gold.

We live in a society where we are told in many different overt and covert ways that a woman’s only value is her beauty. Smart? Successful? Courageous? Not enough. Germaine Greer wrote about the ridiculousness of this idea late last year:

“At an event in Amsterdam recently, I was ordered by a woman on the stage to take the hand of the woman next to me, who happened to be 76-year-old Hedy d’Ancona, and tell her she was beautiful. This would be more conducive to her self-esteem, apparently, than reminding her that, having served as a minister under two Dutch governments, as a member of the European Parliament, and as chairman of Dutch Oxfam, she was immensely distinguished and I was honoured to be sitting next to her.”

On top of that, this Dove ad tells us is that it is also not enough to be merely beautiful, you have to know it too. Those superficial messages of body politics – Love yourself! Nothing is sexier than confidence! You’re prettier without make-up! – is just another way of prescribing how women should look, feel, and act. It’s not your responsibility to be beautiful.

Not to mention that the form of ‘beauty’ that is being valued by Dove is the same beauty ideal that is presented by other beauty companies. I am loathe to rewrite things that have already been written perfectly, so I am going to quote a massive chunk of jazzylittledrop’s excellent post on this subject:

Let’s look at which descriptors the editors chose to include. When the participants described themselves, these were some of the things that were implied as negatives: fat, rounder face, freckles, fatter, 40— starting to get crows feet, moles, scars…  Whereas some of the implied positive descriptors used by others were: thin face, nice thin chin, nice eyes that lit up when she spoke and were very expressive (my actual favorite), short and cute nose, her face was fairly thin (this was said twice), and very nice blue eyes. So… I don’t know if anyone else is picking up on this, but it kinda seems to be enforcing our very narrow cultural perception of “beauty”: young, light-skinned, thin. No real diversity celebrated in race, age, or body shape. So you’re beautiful… if you’re thin, don’t have noticeable wrinkles or scars, and have blue eyes. If you’re fat or old… uh, maybe other people don’t think you look as fat and old as you do yourself? Great? Oh, and by the way, there are real women who look like the women on the left. What are you saying about them, exactly?

Indeed, for all their talk on real women and self-esteem, Dove has only ever presented a narrow definition of beauty in their advertisement campaigns. In 2010, Jezebel revealed a Craigslist ad seeking models for Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign that seemed at odds with their messaging:

DOVE “REAL WOMEN” PRINT CASTING JUNE 28-30, 2010 in NYC
ABSOLUTELY NO ACTRESSES / MODELS OR REALITY SHOW PARTICIPANTS or ANY ONE CARRYING A HEADSHOT!!!!
REAL WOMEN ONLY!
LOOKING FOR 3-4 REAL WOMEN for a DOVE PRINT CAMPAIGN!

AGES 35-45, CAUCASIAN, HISPANIC, AFRICAN AMERICAN, & ASIAN!

SHOOT: SUNDAY, JULY 18 in NYC! MUST BE AVAILABLE FOR THE SHOOT!
RATE: $500 for Shoot date & if selected for Ad Campaign (running 2011) you will be paid $4000!
USAGE: 3 years unlimited print & web usage in N. America Only

YOU WILL BE PHOTOGRAPHED FOR THE CAMPAIGN IN A TOWEL!
BEAUTIFUL ARMS AND LEGS AND FACE WILL BE SHOWN!
MUST HAVE FLAWLESS SKIN, NO TATTOOS OR SCARS!
Well groomed and clean…Nice Bodies..NATURALLY, FIT Not too Curvy Not too Athletic.

 Great Sparkling Personalities. Beautiful Smiles! A DOVE GIRL!!!
STYLISH AND COOL!
Beautiful HAIR & SKIN is a MUST!!!

 PLEASE SUBMIT SNAPSHOTS of FACE & BODY ASAP & WE WILL CALL YOU IN FOR A CASTING NEXT WEEK 6/28-6/30 in NYC!

According to Dove’s description for their latest video, “Women are their own worst beauty critics … Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful.” What Dove fail to explain is the part they play in this statistic (and the part of their parent company, but I’ll get to that in a minute). Dove claims to promote ‘real beauty’ in ‘real women’ but only if that beauty is accessible, and more importantly, marketable to a mainstream audience. Which gives you a strong sense of their motivation.

Dove is owned by Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company with products from foods and beverages to cleaning agents to personal care. Two of Unilever’s brands are Pond’s and Fair and Lovely, both of which market skin whitening products in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Timor Leste. In 2007, Fair and Lovely had to withdraw television advertisements that depicted sad, unemployed, single, dark skinned women suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after they had lightened their skin. There is a very clear message there that stands in stark opposition to Dove’s “You are more beautiful than you think” rhetoric.

(The hypocrisy of Unilever owning Lynx/Axe, renowned for its sexist advertisements, has been written about by people more intelligent than me.)

No matter how unethical you think that is, Unilever is well within its rights to send those kinds of mixed messages because they are a company responsible for many brands in many countries selling products for profit.

This is not to offend or dismiss people that have gained something from this ad. I certainly value my body-confidence and, as someone who’s first positive thoughts were the result of compliments from others, I know that there is no ‘right’ path to a strong self-esteem. However, Dove’s campaigns deserve to be critiqued. To paraphrase @definatalie, a multinational company is not the best source of empowerment (particularly when that company is actively trying to disempower your brown sisters).

Fat stigma is so passé

I’m pretty aware that there’s been a lack of Serious Content on this blog for a while. The month long (or more) hiatuses punctuated by the odd outfit post have not been intentional. I haven’t run out of opinions and the world certainly hasn’t run out of fat stigma. I just get so bored of it, you know?

Today I read an opinion piece by satirist/writer/radio host Dominic Knight talking about fatness and happiness and how it doesn’t matter how happy we are because we’re too fat… or something. I started picking it apart and refuting his arguments before thinking to myself, “HOLY CRAP, THIS IS SO BORING.”

The same dull statements about how fat Australia is. The same tired old fat jokes (sumo wrestlers! LOL!). The same predictable conclusions about eating well and exercising more.

AnnaNicole

I’m at the point now where I don’t really get angry when I see yet another anti-fat article. I’ve been in fat activism for so long, and have so many friends with rad body positive attitudes, that the only reaction I’m capable of is “Really…? Are we still talking about calories in/calories out like no one’s ever thought of it before?! REALLY?!”

It bores me. But since the same arguments keep coming up, I guess the same rebuttals need to be made. Second verse same as the first…

BUSTED: SUPER ULTRA MEGA BORING OBESITY CLICHES

I’m positive that this list is not exhaustive. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Australia/New Zealand/America/UK/[insert developed, English-speaking nation here] is the fattest nation in the world.
Nope. When a country is breathlessly declared by journalists as being THE FATTEST NATION IN THE WORLDDDDDD, what they actually mean is “The fattest nation out of a list of approximately 30 nations that make up the wealthiest countries in the world”.

According to this 2010 list (with data sourced from the International Obesity Taskforce), USA is 18th, Scotland is 32nd, New Zealand is 35th, England is 38th and Australia is 47th. So there.

But HEALTH!!!!!!!!!
1) Health is determined by a set of behaviours, not a set of body shapes. Moving regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, not smoking, drinking in moderation, maintaining a work/life balance… they improve health outcomes for people of all sizes. And here’s the rub: You don’t know a person’s healthy, or unhealthy, behaviours just by looking at them.

2) Health is a privilege. People who treat eating well and exercising regularly as things that are easily achieved are putting their ableism on blast. Those behaviours aren’t possible, or are only possible to a certain extent, for some people with physical, mental and/or psychological disabilities.

3) Fat stigma is more pervasive than you think. It’s pretty challenging for a fat person to go to a gym when they know that judgemental eyes will be watching their every move. It’s intimidating for a fat person to go for a run when they’ve had insults, or even rubbish, thrown at them from passing cars. (If you can’t imagine such things ever happening to anyone, that’s your thin privilege in action.)

4) Diets don’t work long term and may cause more harm than good.

5) People are able to prioritise health for themselves. That means they can choose to not prioritise it. That means they can be the Bad Kind of Fatty. And if someone chooses that lifestyle for themselves, they still deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

There’s overweight, and then there’s obese
OR I’m talking about people who are fat because of their lifestyle

No, you don’t get to be a jerk to anyone. There is no level of fatness, or pathway to fatness, that justifies arseholish behaviour.

No one enjoys being fat
First of all, if people don’t enjoy being fat, I’d wager that a good deal of that is due to the stigma they experience and the stigma they have internalised. For most people, having a fat body is not a barrier to anything.

Second of all, there is a great number of us who are happy with our bodies, thank you very much, and do not take kindly to people making gross assumptions about our happiness.

There were no fat people in concentration camps.
This argument is beyond vulgar and yet it is trotted out all the time.

People in concentration camps were starved and tortured. Their suffering is not a motivational “See? You can do it too!”-style example of thinness.

“There were no fat people in concentration camps” is a longer way of announcing “I am a massive tool”.

Fat people are ugly.
No one’s forcing you to enter a marriage with a fat person; your long years of passionless misery broken only by gin-fuelled screaming matches, torrid affairs in dingy motel rooms, and enduring the spiteful tongues of your resentful children over the dinner table at their annual Christmas visit. We don’t want that life either.

Find someone you do find attractive and try to have sex with them. Fatties will do the same. Everyone wins.

[Insert fat joke here]
Making a joke at the expense of any socially and culturally stigmatised group of people is lazy comedy. Do better.

Me and my links

My planned takeover of the internet is progressing steadily…

1. @FatStigma

Dr Samantha Thomas, Elizabeth of Spilt Milk (blog and tumblr) and Brian of Red No. 3 have a new twitter: @FatStigma. Here’s a post explaining the purpose of the twitter. Basically we’ll be keeping an eye on stigmatising articles, obesity campaigns and reports etc. If you want to send articles our way, tweet us, use the hashtag #fatstigma or email us at fatstigma@gmail.com.

2. Cosmopolitan Australia

I’m doing some blogging for Cosmopolitan magazine (Australia) about their Say No to Fat Talk campaign.

I know that similar campaigns, like Fat Talk Free Week, have copped some criticism in the fatosphere because it’s seen to further demonise the word ‘fat’ and shut down useful discussions about what’s it’s like to live in society with a fat body. That’s why I’m doing this. I want the fat perspective included. I want to recognise that there is a difference between feeling fat and being fat, and I want that difference to be recognised by others.

Click here for my introductory post and, if you’re so inclined, leave a comment! Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing about things like health, sex, fatshion, stigma… I’m pretty excited.

3. Like me!

I’ve finally set up a facebook page for Corpulent (/Hey Fat Chick!/All Bodies): http://www.facebook.com/corpulent.blog. Like me! And once you do, don’t be a stranger – I want the page to actually be interesting to youse, so say something.

Is Frances OK?

Until I did that interview with Hack, I had no idea that so many people out there were so heavily invested in my wellbeing. This is just a sample of the ~500 comments the story got on Triple J’s facebook page:

“Can she run 5km?… What are her cholesterol levels?… Does she still get a period (many obese women do not due to their size and are unable to conceive)?”

“Id like to hear what her diet and exercise regime is if she feels so healthy.”

“Frances needs to wait until she’s a bit older and suffering from osteathritis, unable to move due to the risk of her excessive body weight shattering her bones”

“Are Frances’ parents happy with her health/size? Are they happy with their own?”

“While Frances may not feel unhealthy, she is not doing herself any favours long term.”

“imagine how good she would feel if she was healthy and not obese then!”

“If she is technically obese then the reality is she is unhealthy wether she feels that way or not.”

“Being a fattie for 10 years till last year I lost my 14kgs of weight and feel great! Maybe Frances should do the same.”

“Frances may not feel unhealthy, but unfortunately, if she’s obese because of excessive fat mass and too little muscle mass, then the reality is that her body is not healthy.”

“she can feel fine with her body if she wants to but she’s not going to live past 50″

YOU GUYS. I AM SO TOUCHED.

Under normal circumstances I would be totally creeped out if a strange man living in another country was thinking about my untimely death, or if an unknown woman was speculating about the regularity of my menstrual cycle. But this is different. This is borne from an unselfish and unwavering concern for my precious, precious health.

After all my ranting about weight stigma and thin privilege, it never occurred to me that these people actually loved me. Why else would they care about my parents’ approval of me? Or the details of my food intake and physical activity? Why else would they ignore my lived experience to insist that I am not living my life to the fullest? Their concern is not a general ‘I care about my community’ sort of thing; they genuinely want to know microscopic details about my life.

Some cynical folk may try to say that comments like these are intrusive and offensive. And maybe that’s true of some, as Triple J did have to explicitly state that personal attacks on me would not be tolerated. Fortunately, however, others have been able to recognise that it’s all just a bit of tough love:

“[H]ave any of you ‘no fat chicks’-type commenters (excluding anyone who is genuinely concerned about people like Frances) thought about the impact of your comments?” (emphasis mine)

See? That woman knows that most were just being cruel to be kind.

Please know, random facebook folk, that I truly appreciate your concern. Unfortunately, I’m pretty busy and I don’t think that I have room for all of you in my life. I have a full-time job, a relationship, a great circle of friends I don’t see nearly enough, a family, a social life and an internet life. I just don’t have the energy to constantly reassure a few hundred people that I’m doing alright. But it is clear to me that, without this reassurance, you are going to keep fussing over whether my femur has shattered into a million pieces due to the sheer bulk of my arse.

To put everyone at ease, I have created a twitter: @IsFrancesOK. That way, no matter where you are or how little you actually know me, you can see daily updates about how I am faring. No longer will you have to spend sleepless nights worrying about whether I’ve developed Type II diabetes or if I’ve suddenly died as the result of a massive heart attack.

You’re welcome, babies. I love you too.

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.

Obesity and disgust revisited

You may remember that in May of this year, I blogged about a study conducted by Dr Lenny Varatanian that found that negative attitudes towards ‘obese’ people are based on an emotional response of disgust. The study was fascinating as it confirmed what fat people had long been aware of: that fatness, due to the notion that body size is infinitely malleable, was seen as disgusting as it transgressed people’s morals.

Dr Vartanian followed this research with a study, published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, into whether the use of the terms ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ impact societal attitudes. In the study, a target group of 425 undergraduate students (side note: I do wish that Dr Vartanian would test a more diverse group than undergraduates, but that’s a rant for another day) were asked to answer questions about a range of social groups, including overweight individuals. Compared to ‘fat’ people, ‘obese’ people were rated as less favourable and more disgusting. In addition to this, participants saw themselves as being less similar to obese people and less likely to become an obese person than a fat person. Dr Vartanian posits that this is due to ‘obesity’ being a medical term, whereas ‘fat’ is more familiar.

I would add that media reporting of obesity is also a strong factor in these attitudes, given that the vast majority of obesity-related articles and stories are accompanied by grossly objectified ‘headless fatties’. After all, it’s difficult to identify with something portrayed as less than human.

So far, so interesting. Unfortunately, the coverage of the story descended into the medicalisation of fatness. A Sydney Morning Herald article about the study stated that Dr Vartanian believed that ‘obese’ should continue to be used medically to refer to those who have a body mass index of 30 and above and those people “are at increased risk of type two diabetes and heart disease … [Fat] doesn’t have a place in (public health) forums, and while obese might be seen more negatively and as less desirable to obese individuals themselves, at least it has an official definition.”

It pains me that, despite his research into societal attitudes towards fatness, Dr Vartanian still does not/will not/cannot question the usefulness of the BMI. The BMI is a deeply flawed concept and not at all reliable indicator for determining the health of a population, let alone an individual. The medical profession and health policies should be moving away from its reliance on the BMI, not continuing its use – and further stigmatising fat bodies – because it provides a convenient definition. My body is not a medical condition.

Two Piece Swimsuit, Two Middle Fingers

I love the beach. I spend all summer there and spend the rest of the year pining for summer so I can park myself on the sand again. For most of my life, I’ve lived in the same house in a small coastal town with a beach literally down the road. When the Boyfriend and I move in together, we want to live in eastern Sydney so the Pacific isn’t too far away. I’m emotionally dependent on the ocean. I feel my whole body relax when I smell the sea air and I physically ache for a swim when I’ve gone a while without a dip. My love runs deep.

When I go for a swim, I wear a bikini. I’ve been wearing two piece cossies since I was about 10 years old. I find them more comfortable, it’s quick and easy to change out of my swimmer bottoms right there on the sand when I come out of the water (to avoid getting thrush) and – the Cancer Council will have me hanged for this – I like having an even tan.

I’ve been planning a bikini post for months. I was always going to show my half-naked self on Corpulent to tell everyone that I’m not ashamed of my body (and hopefully encourage you to not be ashamed of yours). I was going to wait until it was a little warmer and I had a bit more of a tan to take some photos and write this post. However, my schedule was pushed ahead by this gem of an article by Natasha Hughes.

Hughes’ article questions suitable beach attire; namely whether “overweight Australian women” should wear bikinis. The article itself is tiny – less than 250 words – but it made me furious. The most bilious section states, “I know there’s going to be two schools of thought on this but I’m with the Fat Should be Camouflaged College. Who wants to be exposed to someone’s rolls? Where is their sense of style, of decency?”

Decency? DECENCY?! How’s this for fucking decency:

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The article was published on Tuesday and, 6 days later, Hughes’ spiteful words still make me angry. I hate the sense of entitlement that comes with a question like, “Who wants to be exposed to someone’s rolls?” Hughes’ tone is reflected in many of the comments. According to them, displaying our bodies becomes a vicious action – we are “subjecting”, “inflicting” and “confronting” – because our fat is “disgusting”, “nauseating”, “gross” and my personal favourite “pollution for the eyes”.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I despise the idea that all fatties (and indeed, anyone with bodies outside the beauty ideal) must shield the eyes of the poor, unsuspecting public from the offensiveness of their bodies. Listen and repeat after me: Life is not a beauty pageant. We do not exist to be aesthetically pleasing to the judgemental eyes of strangers.

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As Lesley wrote on Fatshionista,

You do not have to be beautiful. It’s not your responsibility to be beautiful, for yourself or for anyone else, not for your family or your partner or your friends or some stranger on the street who finds your face unpleasant.

Similar sentiments were written by Erin on A Dress A Day,

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

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There is a fabulous quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh that states, “One learns first of all in beach living the art of shedding; how little one can get along with, not how much. Clothes, first. Of course one needs less in the sun. But one needs less anyway, one finds suddenly … One finds one is shedding not only clothes – but vanity.”

That beautifully encapsulates what I love about the beach and what I hate hate hate about Hughes’ article. The beach necessitates freedom but Hughes is trying to apply bullshit sartorial decorum to it. True style and true decency is borne from a comfort in one’s skin and a confidence in the image one is presenting to the world. Fat hate masquerading as bland fashion advice? How terribly passé.

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Fancy “inflicting” your flesh on others?

  • By Ro Designs has cute bikinis and monokinis from size 1X (which equates to a US size 18/20) to 6X
  • noXceptions is an Australian online store that stocks a few two piece togs from an Australian size 16 to 40
  • Stacked on etsy has adorable custom retro two pieces
  • Midnight Black has adorable 40s and 50s style bikinis up to a 2X (more styles are available in their Newtown store)
  • Pin Up Girl Clothing also has retro bikinis, but their plus size stock is a bit low. I saw a couple of US size 18s and 20s, as well as a few 14s and 16s in their main range.
  • Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore stocks bikinis up to an Australian size 20
  • Big Gals Lingerie has bikinis in a number of different styles in sizes 1X (US size 16/18) and 2X (US size 20/22)
  • Love Your Peaches has two pieces from 1X (US size 14/16) to 6X (US size 34/36). However, their website states that their clothing runs large and recommends ordering a size down.
  • Monif C sells saucy high waisted bikinis
  • If you’re on the smaller side of fat,  Asos sells bikinis up to a UK size 18 and Outdoor Girl sells bikinis up to a 2X (US size 18)
  • Smaller fats with smaller boobs: Don’t disregard straight size surf/swimwear shops. I found my bikini in a Rip Curl shop. That said, I found it after looking in many other stores, so if you’re going to hunt for a straight size bikini be prepared for some frustration.

Menfolk, I don’t mean to exclude you. I love seeing a man in a pair of swim briefs so please feel emboldened to “expose” your rolls too. I know that Speedo’s only go up to a 44”/110cm waist, so if anyone knows where to get plus size swimwear for men please leave it in the comments.


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