Archive for the 'Health' Category

On Stocky Bodies, and on being a fat dancer

Almost a year ago, a handful of Aussie fat bloggers and I agreed to be part of a fat embodiment research project led by Dr Lauren Gurrieri of the Griffith Business School. The purpose was to document the everyday lived experience of fat people, and the end result of our discussions was Stocky Bodies.

Stocky Bodies is a stock image library that aims to provide positive and diverse representations of life as a fat person. It stands in opposition and as an alternative to the typical ‘headless fatty‘ photo that accompanies most stories on fatness and obesity. Photos were taken by Lauren and by Isaac Brown of the Queensland College of Art.

When organising the photo shoot, Lauren and Isaac explained that the images should show my life and what I do with this fat body of mine. For me, that meant eating out…

going to the beach…

and dancing.


Let me tell you, rocking up to dance class with a couple of photographers in tow was by far the most confronting part of this whole process.

Fat is pretty taboo in the dance world. The ideal dancer is seen to be long, lean, and muscular. In the dance community, there’s a lot of discussion of weight loss, the relative goodness and badness of different foods, and negative self-talk about certain body parts. The negativity surrounding fat in dance is so well-known that I think a lot of fat people are discouraged; even though I’m only a size 16, I am frequently the fattest person in my classes.

This feeling of exclusion is not helped by the fact that dance attire is not made for fat bodies. Workout gear is notoriously hard to find in plus sizes (though Cult of California is doing their best to change that). Costumes for performances are another obstacle. I am a samba and Afro-Brazilian dancer; when we perform samba no , we wear tiny bikinis and feather headdresses like this:

(John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these bikinis are very hard to find in plus sizes. I have had to pull out of a performance because I couldn’t find a bikini in time that fit. There are also very few fat samba no dancers, which makes the idea of jiggling (and, lord, do I jiggle) in a g-string bikini all the more intimidating.

So, with all this knowledge and baggage, I was pretty uneasy about bringing Lauren and Isaac to class. Not because I’d find them intrusive, or that they’d see me at my most red-faced and sweaty, but because I’d have to explain why they were there. I knew that I had to come out to my fellow students as fat. As proudly fat.

Being a fat dancer is challenging and definitely tests my comfort zones, though I am finding my way. I’m lucky enough to have found a dance group that is reasonably body positive. I found a company in the UK that makes samba bikinis for any size (though plus size bikinis have a 25% surcharge); I finally have one to call my own and it is a beauty. I will be wearing it onstage for the first time in a week and a half, and to be honest, I’m a bit nervous about it. But that apprehension is why I feel almost obligated to go through with it. If I want to see a diverse range of bodies in dance, I should be up there showing some diversity. I should, and will, be showing people what this fat body can do.

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.


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…


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.

The Corpulent Declaration

I’ve been getting a few emails from people and companies that have profoundly misunderstood what I’m about and what I stand for. Sometimes this means that they haven’t read my stuff closely enough, but I suspect that I haven’t signposted my core views as much as I should have.

In order to avoid having the same three conversations over and over again, I present to you the Corpulent Declaration.

1. Yes, I am fat

I should not be required to defend the way I classify my body, and yet…

I am fat. According to my measurements, I am plus sized. I weigh 95kg/210 pounds (give or take a few). According to my height and weight, I am obese. When people talk about the obesity epidemic, they are talking about people like me. I have had people tell me that they are worried about my health because of my size. I’ve seen the frenzied whispers when I wear something ‘too tight’. I’ve heard people snickering over the size of my arse. In my view, I have fulfilled the selection criteria.

I recognise that I am not very fat. I’m conscious that I have a measure of thin privilege. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, yes, I actually am fat. As Kate Harding said in a really awesome article on Salon:

It’s … OK to point out that I’m not that fat, so I’ve never personally been the victim of the worst fat hatred our culture has to offer — that’s the plain truth. But telling me I’m not fat is a goddamned lie.

2. My fashion doesn’t flatter

This is aimed at the clothing companies – and PR companies representing clothing companies – that email me promoting their “tips to look slim and sexy instead of fat and frumpy” or “Sizzling Swimsuits to Flatter Any Figure” (those are direct quotes).

I’m down with people wearing whatever they want. Some fatties want slimming clothing and that is their prerogative. But I wear miniskirts, spandex, bodycon, horizontal stripes, bright colours, shapeless sacks and leggings as pants. Fat girl fashion rules mean nothing to me.

3. Good health is a fine goal, but it’s not what drives me

The argument that fat and health are not mutually exclusive is a worthwhile and valuable one to make (and one I make fairly often). Having a fat body is not a health problem in and of itself except in the most extreme of cases, and fatness is no barrier to healthy behaviours. Health at every size (HAES) is a fantastic alternative to weight loss and absolutely deserves to be promoted.

However, I am not a HAES advocate and Corpulent is not a HAES blog. It is not my job, nor my purpose, to encourage fat people to lead the healthiest lives they can. I don’t advocate for fatties who meet a certain set of criteria. I just advocate for fatties.

I know that some people are fat by choice. I am well aware that some fat people don’t exercise, don’t eat well, have health issues or have mobility problems. I’m not ignorant; I just don’t care. No matter our situation, we are all worthy of respect and dignity from ourselves and from others. That’s the point of it all.

The All Bodies Directory (Australia)

All Bodies Directory (Australia) logo

Not too long ago, the radiant Kath and the fab Bec spoke to Triple J’s Hack about their experiences, as fat people, with health care professionals (the story is ace, go listen). As part of their research, producer and host Tom Tilley called me to see if I had a list of body positive doctors. I didn’t.

I realised what a massive gap this is. Going to get a check-up, a consultation or a pap smear can be a hugely stressful event for a fat person. Finding a GP, a psychologist or an OB/GYN that won’t stigmatise your body is primarily down to luck.

So I’ve set up the All Bodies Directory (Australia) This is a site that will collate health care professionals from across Australia who treat all bodies carefully and respectfully. Listings will be organised by state, by regions and by specialisations. I want this to be a really valuable resource for the fat community.

The site will rely on user submissions, so if you know a body positive health care professional anywhere in Australia, please please please email me at Make sure you include the following information:

Area (e.g. GP, psychologist, OB/GYN):
Private or public:
Contact number:
Comments (optional):

The site is brand new (and I mean brand new; I thought of it this arvo), so if you have any suggestions or feedback please leave me a comment here or over at All Bodies.

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”


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.

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