Big Fat US Adventure

So, I’m in the USA.  I’ve been here for 6 weeks now.  I meant to write about it sooner.  MUCH sooner.  I meant to write before I even left, but, as usual, study/planning/life/tv watching got in the way.  And then actual travel got in the way.  But it’s been amazing.  AMAZING.

I started in New York, where I met (and posed for) the incredible Substantia Jones of Adipositivity.  I went to the Breaking Boundaries: Body Politics and the Dynamics of Difference at Sarah Lawrence University, where I met the famous Marilyn Wann, the fabulous Zoe and Arun, and one of my all-time academic heroes, the fantastically brilliant Katie LeBesco, and too many others to mention.  I went to Re/Dress and found incredible vintage dresses (the amazing vintage Lane Bryant in this video).  I got to meet the ferocious Tauret, who is incredibly sweet and wonderful and took me shopping at Forever 21 (I have a whole other post I want to write about fat girl retail in the US).  I met Polianarchy and went to Rebel Cupcake and explored New York City and it was amazing.

I went to the University of Connecticuit in Storrs to look at the Mayer Collection of Fat Liberation in their archives.  It’s an incredible collection of letters and materials from the early fat liberation movement.  I also went to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard in Boston, where they have some more collections of early fat lib materials.  At both archives I met other researchers who were looking at the same collections – fat grad students are taking over the world!

I also got to meet my long-time blogging hero, Lesley Kinzel, and hang out with some other Boston Fats, who were some of the most generous and welcoming people in the world.  I went to Lafayette, Indianapolis and met Mychii, who is brilliant and driven and we had wonderful conversations about fat and fat studies and teaching and activism.

I went to Portland and got to meet Stacey Bias, who took me to a big fat queer cabaret.  I’m currently in San Francisco, where I’ve spent time looking through Judy Freespirit‘s papers at the GLBT Historical Society, and hanging out with Marilyn Wann.  I’m about to get ready to head over to Oakland to see the spectacular Ladymonster perform tonight, and tomorrow I’m off to Fatshion!…Turn to the left! before The Socialist arrives to spend my birthday week with me.

After that, I’m off to the PCA/ACA Conference, which has an awesome Fat Studies area.  I get to meet Abby Lentz who does amazing fat girl yoga. And I get to meet Hanne Blank, whose book Big Big Love changed my life (keep an eye out for the new edition, which I think is coming out later this year. I also highly recommend her erotic!). And finally, I head back to NYC for the Fat Girl Flea.

In short: This is truly the Fatty Dream Tour (TM).

I’m not writing this just to name-drop (although I am completely thrilled to have met so many amazing people!).

I’m writing this because I’ve always been scared of travelling as a fat person – of the physical inconveniences, yes, (and there have been some), but mostly the social isolation.  I didn’t do the youthful travel-as-right-of-passage for that reason (well, that and having no means to afford it).  I’ve always had the fear – the expectation – of social rejection, of not fitting in, because of my fatness (and it’s not an unfounded expectation; there’s a long history and plenty of evidence).  And while I’ve been friendly enough with my hostel roommates, I haven’t made any real connections that would be socially sustaining (which I’ve no doubt is partly a function of age and interest, as much as size and socialisation).

What has happened, though, is that I’ve found fat community on the other side of the world and felt  immediately welcome, understood, and connected.  I’ve had the audacity to ask people to spend time with me, and they have all, every single one of them, not only said yes, but gone out of their way to welcome and accomodate me.

What I find most remarkable is that this trip is happening – is motivated, enabled, and made so incredibly wonderful – not inspite of my being a fatty, but emphatically because of it.

To have grown up my whole life being bullied for my size, feeling isolated, unloveable, and unworthy because of my fat, to have never been able to fit in, it is truly remarkable to me that it’s the thing that has opened up whole new worlds of friendship, intellectual inquiry, love, and awesome adventure to me.  It’s especially remarkable given the efforts of an increasingly fat-phobic society to convince everyone that fat people can’t have love or joy or mobility or excitement.  This whole trip has been a big fuck you to that idea.

 

 

sovereign fictions

Yesterday I was re-reading Laurent Berlant‘s essay “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)”.  I think it’s quite a brilliant essay, particularly the first half where Berlant critiques the idea of sovereignty as it is used to describe individual agency.  Berlant’s argument revolves around the Foucauldian notion of biopower, that is:

“the power to make something live or to let it die, the power to regularize life, the authority to force living not just to happen but to endure and appear in particular ways [which are related to] the normatively framed general good life of a society” (p756).

One of the ways in which life in our late capitalist society is regularised is through the imperative of health (another is labour, another consumption).  It’s worth noting that, as Berlant points out, the definition of ‘health’ under capitalism equates to ‘fitness for work,’ a concept warrants a great deal more elaboration than I’ll giving it here.  In short, capitalism requires a ‘healthy’ population in order to secure a productive labour force.

The idea of health, the imperative to be healthy, to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, compels the population to certain behaviours – the regulation of diet and exercise, the consumption of products and services supposed to promote health, the allocation of time to particular healthful behaviours.  Such behaviours are posited as individual choices that individual sovereign subjects can (should) make for their own betterment and happiness.  Yet this elides the way that such ‘choices’ are compelled, and – this is Berlant’s concern in the second half of the essay – the ways that such choices are foreclosed by the very system which requires them.

The argument that emerges in this first part of Berlant’s essay is that the very notion of sovereignty is a neoliberal fiction.

That’s not to say the fiction should be done away with altogether – “some may want to continue using the concept because of the history of investment in it as a marker for the liberal sense of personal autonomy and freedom or because of the association of democracy with the legal protection of the body politic and subgroups within it” (Berlant 756).  It is (currently) a politically useful, and even necessary, fiction: “legal and normative ghosts have precedential power, after all” (p757).  It’s a fiction that is central to many of the aims of fat acceptance as a movement, and I think that’s important.  But I still think it’s a fiction.

In the second part of the essay, Berlant enumerates the ways in which late capitalism wears out its labouring population, and here we find familiar arguments about increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the ease and affordability of fast food, the lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables in poorer neighbourhoods, the spatio-temporal barriers to exercise, the comfort of eating, the horrific and life threatening consequences of obesity.  To be clear, I don’t think Berlant is invoking these consequences to promote fat hatred, but rather in an attempt to connect her arguments about the everyday exploitation of capitalism with real-life consequences – the ‘slow death’ of the labouring population.

The thing is, such a connection is overly simplistic and does a disservice both to actual fat people and to the arguments against modern labour relations.

I’m almost too bored with the argument to bother saying that actual fat people have a wide variety of eating and exercise behaviours, just like non-fat people.  That we eat out or eat at home or skip the gym or walk to the shops just like non-fat people.  I actually don’t want to argue that eating and activity have no bearing on weight, but that to equate fatness simply with sedentary-ness and over-eating not only perpetuates fat stigma, but obscures the real stakes of her anti-capitalist argument.

The conditions of workers and consumers under late capitalism, the slow death of the labouring population, is important not because it (maybe) causes fatness, but because of the conditions of workers and consumers under late capitalism. Access to fresh, tasty, and nourishing food is important, not because a lack of access might contribute to increased weight, but because access to fresh, tasty, and nourishing food is important.  Addressing the lack of time, space, and energy left to exercise is important not because being sedentary might make people fat, but because addressing the lack of time, space, and energy left to exercise is important.

These things are all extremely important issues in and of themselves.  There is no need to co-opt the ‘plight of the obese’ to make them matter, and doing so damages both sides of the argument.  I find this is a common problem with otherwise excellent critical work on fat done outside of fat studies.  What’s more, in talking about fat people as an abstract category, it misses the complicity of this approach with the frequent violence done to actual fat people.

cultural capital, fitting in, and standing out

So, um, hello again.  It’s been a while.  A long while, actually.  Sorry about that.  I’ve been super-busy.  It’s been (mostly) amazing, but also exhausting.  A lot of things have happened.  My first time teaching (amazing! terrifying! fun!).  The fat studies conference (completely incredible!).  Stuff and nonsense of all sorts.  I’ve had lots of thinky thoughts but no time to write them down, which means they get all kind of bottle-necked and jammed up and then when I finally do get a moment, it takes a while to untangle the ideas and lay them out in ways that make sense.  This post will be long and probably not very neat or coherent as I try to fit all these ideas together.

Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few months is cultural capital.  Partly because it got a fair bit of play in the subject I was teaching, but also because it’s highly relevant to both my research and to certain events in my personal life.

The idea of cultural capital comes from French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who wrote a lot about class, taste, and social distinction.  Cultural capital is closely related to the idea of habitus – roughly, the idea that not only tastes, but also behaviours, comportment, and bodily styles are a product of social and economic class.  One of Bourdieu’s most oft-quoted lines is:

“taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier”

In other words, what you like says something about who you are.  By declaring a fondness for, say, vintage sundresses, I’m not only affirming said frocks as beautiful and valuable objects, but identifying myself as a particular type or person – alternative, but probably not too threatening; quirky in a whimsical way; indie but not rebellious.  I’m not saying that every girl in a vintage sundress fits the same mould, but that dressing in a particular style will identify me as a particular kind of person and associate me with particular attributes and ideals.  That is, if I can even find a vintage sundress that fits.

Which brings me to one way that cultural capital relates to fat.  Fat bodies lack cultural capital.  We’re devalued, othered, and outcast.  We’re desexualised, unfashionable, and made to bear the burden of failed citizenship. We’re excluded from participation in clothing cultures through sheer lack of options which accommodate our bodies (although this is, fortunately, changing).  Being excluded from being able to dress in a particular way has significant implications for participation in the rest of the world – in work, in leisure, in exercise, in social activities.  If I can’t find an appropriate outfit to wear to a job interview, I appear unprofessional and don’t get the job.  If I can’t find comfortable clothes to exercise in, it makes it harder to go to the gym.  If I can’t find bathers that fit, how can I join in with the fabulousness that is Aquaporko‘s fat femme (and femme-friendly) synchronised swimming? (But find a way because it is AWESOME!).  If I can’t find a cute vintage sundress, then what the fuck am I going to wear to hang out with my friends at whichever laneway bar we’re frequenting this week?  Even if I do manage to find a cute vintage sundress that fits (which is getting easier, thanks to uppity fats demanding fatshions, the internet and the relentless need of capitalism to always expand its markets), my body already classifies me as different.  I’m too big and too awkward and too solid for the whimsical femininity such a frock might attempt to reference.  Not only are fat bodies largely excluded from particular styles of dress, the presence of “too much” fat changes the meaning of those styles which are available.  Because no matter what I’m wearing, I am still a visual interloper.  The visible, visceral difference between me and them remains an obstacle to participation in this particular bit of life.

For some people the answer might be not to care what anyone else thinks, that it’s what’s inside, etc, etc.  Personally, I think that particular argument is so loaded down with neoliberal individualism that it exhausts me beyond words.

Being able to fit matters not only because I do care what people think, but because dressing in a particular style and going to particular places and participating in a particular form of cultural life of my city (ILU, Melbourne!) is important to my identity, is a part of who I am, is how I make myself in the world.

My concern with cultural capital isn’t only about fat.  Growing up, I was one of the least popular kids in school.  I was picked on for being different – for being fat, yes, but also for being poor, for dressing differently, for eating strange food, for having a dark-skinned father, for being excruciatingly shy to the point where sometimes I literally could not speak.  At one point in early high school, my best friend decided to stop speaking to me and the rest of the group followed her lead.  I had no friends for several months until we reconciled.  Traumatic times.

So when I say that I’ve had a background obsession with fitting in, with understanding and cultivating cultural capital for most of my life, I’m not exaggerating.  Not that I’ve been particularly successful in cultivating this capital, more that I’ve been acutely aware of my lack of success.  I’ve always known that my body (and my economic status, and my social inelegance) excludes me from not only certain fashions, but certain identities – hipster, for example, was never an option despite my “obsessive, often self-deluded, pursuit of inner-city cool” and aforementioned penchant for laneway bars.

Given my history, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me about my adult life is that I have a surprisingly large number of excellent friends.  From long-term, intimate friendships to drinking buddies, I’ve somehow become…popular?  I have a pretty full social calendar, anyway, and a sense that I’m incredibly lucky to be so well loved.  Which is not to say that my adult social life has been without challenges.  I’ve lost friends who’ve drifted away or fallen out or gotten involved and never been heard from again (where are you, S?).  Being chronically single for most of my life was also challenging.  There’s a huge amount of social (not to mention economic) capital which goes with being partnered, especially for women.  Knowing how little sexual capital fat people generally have didn’t help, despite my sound disdain for compulsory heteronormative coupling and a biting analysis of the damage done by the dominance of romantic mythology.  (I have a whole other post brewing on why sexual desire and desirability matters and is a valid grounds for fat activism.)

When I started dating The Socialist a year-and-a-half ago, I was painfully aware of his lack of cultural capital.  On our second date we went out for brunch, and was astonished to see avocado on toast on the menu as a breakfast food, thus demonstrating to me beyond all doubt an unforgivable lack of sophistication.  Fortunately, he’s an open-minded and adventurous type who ordered the damn avocado (and enjoyed it).  A year and a half later, he’s still not very sophisticated.  He doesn’t wear trackies to parties anymore, but he still says the wrong thing at the wrong time.  He can be painfully awkward in group situations and he doesn’t always pick up on social cues.  He doesn’t get irony and sarcasm.  But he is undeniably good-hearted and loving and generous, and still willing to go on just about any adventure I can concoct, and makes me happy in the most ridiculous ways.

When we first started dating, I wasn’t sure what to do.  For the longest time I was conflicted.  I would warn people of his awkwardness, his lack of cool, in advance of introducing him.  Trying to manage the potential impact. An old friend once described this sort of thing as “trying to cover your ass while saving face”.  It’s a tricky manoeuvre.   I was afraid that by associating so intimately with someone who not only didn’t have, but didn’t care about the cultural capital I had worked so hard to cultivate, I’d loose what little I had.  I was afraid that my friends would reject him and in doing so, reject me.  After the trauma of highschool, it was the worst thing I could imagine.

Well, the worst thing I could imagine is actually what happened.  We’ve been effectively ostracised by one group of friends; him directly, me by association.  And it turns out, it’s not that bad.

It’s hard to say why without reducing it to the same individualist narrative that I find and misleading and useless.  It’s not because I suddenly stopped caring about cultural capital (I certainly didn’t), or because romantic love is the most important thing (it’s definitely not, and if the rest of my friends weren’t saying how lovely they think The Socialist is, I’d be writing a very different post).  I think partly it’s ok because I was always on the edges of that particular group anyway.  I didn’t have the history (one of the things about having moved cities several times is that other people will always have been around longer than me), or the indie music credentials, or access to quite the right kinds of clothes, or the ironic sense of disregard for the impact my words might have on others.  And while I still care about those things (well, not that last one), there’s some small pressure that’s dissipated.

Mostly, though, I think it’s about you.  Fat community.  The blogs and the twitters, and the fat studies conference and aquaporko and hanging out at hipster bars with other rad fatties.  With changing the context and the meaning of fat, even if only in little corners of the world (at a time).  With the ways that we’re making spaces both on and offline where fat bodies are normalised and valued.  It’s what we do when we write and talk and swim and dress up and dress down and move and sit and eat and hang out and offer support and make theory and tell our stories.

And what we do is fucking amazing.

Sydney Fat Studies Conference

Wow, that was AMAZING!  It was an extraordinary couple of days, incredibly nourishing intellectually, emotionally, and physically (all those fatty hugs)!

It was wonderful to hang out with a bunch of awesome fats and allies, some of whom I knew already, some of whom I knew on the internets, some of whom I’ve been admiring from afar, and some who I met for the first time.  I now have a bunch of new friends on facebook and twitter and in real life.

It was a little scary to give my first conference paper outside of my uni, and to chair panels for the first time, but I think it went well.  It was fantastic to hear other papers which connect with my work and inspire me in new directions.  I want to post a write-up in the next couple of days, but we’ll see how that goes time-wise.  There’s so much I really do want to say, though!

The Bodies Abound art and performance night was completely, utterly, unbelievably amazing.  There was a bunch of beautiful fatty art on the walls, and some great spoken word performances.  Jenny Lee’s memoir piece had me crying and unable to stop.  I even read a story I wrote a couple of years ago, which was heaps of fun – it’s been so long since I’ve done anything ‘creative’ (not that academic work isn’t creative, or isn’t at least as invested with my identity, but it is different).

It was extraordinary to hang out in fat space for what I realised was the first time.  I’ve come back inspired, energised, excited.

One of the things that was most inspiring was the Fat Femme Front/Aquaporko panel, which has me wanting to start a Melbourne chapter of Aquaporko (fat femme synchronised swimming).  It will be FABULOUS!  If you’re interested in being part of it, comment or email me, and I’ll let you know the deets – once they get worked out.  Natalie is starting up the Brisbane chapter, so if you’re in Brisbane, you should totes get in contact with her.  Also, no matter where you are, hop on over and have a look at her fabulous photos of Aquaporko and other fab fatties from the conference.

Fats in a magazine

Last Sunday, News Ltd’s Sunday Magazine ran an article on fat stigma and fat acceptance, with interviews with Frances and Sam and Bri and…me!  (Hello and welcome to all the new people who found me via the article.)

It’s a great, positive article, and I think the writer, Jane Hutchinson, really ‘gets it’ with regard to fat stigmatisation.  It’s so encouraging to see these ideas being aired in mainstream media in Australia.

Click through for higher res files (look at that picture of Frances! Isn’t she incredible?! Also: So much yellow dress envy!)

It’s been really interesting for me being involved in this story (which is the first bit of media I’ve done).

One of the things I’ve been teaching my students at the moment is the idea of ‘framing’ – that is, what gets selected for show, what gets left out of view, what gets put around it.  We’ve been talking about it in regards to images, but it’s even more relevant to the construction of stories (and blog posts, for that matter).  I’m fascinated, both intellectually and, in this case, personally, by the way an hour and a half of conversation gets condensed to three or four quotes, and also by what kinds of quotes get selected.  I’m pretty sure I said some Deep and Fascinating and Profoundly Insightful things about fat stigma, but it’s the personal – and especially the emotional – bits which made it in.

Also, I think it’s hilarious that I’ve been quoted saying why I prefer the word ‘fat’ to ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ and the very next paragraph talks about how many overweight and obese people there are in Australia.  It seems terribly apt that we’ve been talking about irony in class today.

This isn’t a criticism of the story or the process or anyone involved – I think it’s a really great and positive piece, and the quotes were selected because they serve the story and the angle.  But deconstructing media is kinda what I do, and it’s completely irresistible given something I was actually there for.

ETA:  I also meant to address the whole “last acceptable prejudice” thing.  I talked to Jane during the interview about how I think it’s a bogus claim – there’s all sorts of prejudice which is enshrined in legislation, used for political gain, and casually bandied about.

I’m also amused that the headline on the cover reads “Proud to be fat: The women who say bigger is better”.   Pretty sure the message wasn’t about being ‘better’ so much as not being worse.

I do, however, think Jane’s analysis of the photos used to illustrate the Christine Nixon stories is very astute, particulary when she says:

…the implied message behind the photo was clear: this woman is obviously unable to manage her appetite and body weight.  how can she be trusted to manage anything else?

Now that’s the kind of analysis of framing I hope my students will make!

Dear fatshion retailers

I have a request.  It’s quite simple, straightforward even.  But it’s so important.  Are you listening? Are you ready?  Okay. Here we go.

Please make clothes that people would actually want to wear. Please.

See, I told you it was simple.  At least, I think it’s simple.  But apparently you – all very few of you – don’t seem to think so.

What I want is not so hard.  Clothes that are age-appropriate (for someone in their very early 30s), vaguely stylish, reasonably comfortable, and made from fabrics that don’t disintegrate on the second wash.  Options other than black would be wonderful, but I’m not actually that fussy.  Options other than black that aren’t aggressively loud would also be nice.  I know some people dig them, but they make me look like a clown.  And since I want to be an academic and not a clown, avoiding clownishness seems like a fairly high sartorial priority.

I don’t mind showing a little cleavage, but there are occasions when a neckline that plunges all the way to my belly-button is just not appropriate.  You know, like work days.  Or in a classroom.  Or catching the last tram home on a Friday night.  Sometimes strapless isn’t the best option either.  Come to that, there’s only so many occasions where a girl can wear satin (and fewer where some of us would actually choose to).

Is it too much to ask for natural fabrics? Even natural blends? A nice cotton/lycra jersey would be great.  Even better if it didn’t pill the moment you look at it.  Just a thought.  Chances are I’ll put up with the pilling because I don’t have any choice.  But you know that already.  That’s why all my clothes are sad and pilly.  I refuse to wear polyester, though.  I refuse to pay ninety bucks (on sale!) for a printed polyester sack.  I won’t do it.  I certainly won’t pay a $130 for a more-shapely version.  I did, however, layby this dress today, which has most of what I want – it’s cute, and natural, and scrapes in under $100, which is something of a miracle for a fat girl dress.  It’s not even black. But it’s still a bit…meh. The fabric feels like it should be used for curtains.  Or maybe upholstery.  Something that doesn’t require drape.  That doesn’t matter if it clings.  Something that no one will mind when all the stray bits of cotton in the room stick to it.  But it was the only thing going. The ONLY thing.

I’d also like work-out gear.  And sports bras.  Actually, just any comfortable bra that fits would be great.  Preferably one that doesn’t show under that plunge-to-the-belly-button neckline.  I’d also like some cardis.  Just plain cardis with full-length sleeves.  My wrists get cold in winter, too.  I used to have a magnificent cardi, actually.  It was blue with sparkly gold thread through it.  I don’t even usually like sparkly, but I loved that cardi.  But I loaned it to someone one night, and now it’s gone and I’ll never get it back.  Sometimes this literally makes me so sad I could cry, because magnificent cardis in my size are truly rare and special things.  If I find another in my lifetime, I won’t be so careless.  I won’t lend it to anyone.  I won’t even let anyone touch it, unless it is safely and firmly buttoned around my ample body.

Am I being unreasonable, dear retailers? I’m not even asking for things I really want.  Things in ‘my style’ – or rather, the style I wish I could have.  Things with a little vintage, a little whimsy, a little edge.  I know that’s far too much to expect.

I’d be willing to pay for what I’m describing.  I mean, I can’t really manage what seems to be the going rate, but really, $550 for a shirt dress is a *tad* out of most people’s range, don’t you think?  But surely we can find a middle ground? I know I’m not the only one who wants this.  And yes, I have heard of the internet.  But dear fatshion retailers, is it really so strange to want to try things on before handing over my cash?  Is it really so unreasonable to not want to spend around $50 on round trip shipping when most of the order turns out to be too big or too small or just plain wrong for my shape?

Dear retailers, I have wanted to give you my money for so long now, and you seem totally uninterested.  I’m starting to despair.  I fear you will never let me love you the way I want to love you.  I’m almost at the point of giving up.  I do have a sewing machine, you see, but I have so little time to sew, what with all that time spent at work and in classrooms and actually studying.  Maybe if I spent less time scouring your ultimately barren racks, I could change that.  Maybe it’s time I started to think of myself.

This is not some frivolous complaint, dear retailers, not at all.  It matters.  Access to clothing matters, in a way you can’t possibly imagine until you don’t have it.  Access to clothing can enable or deny access to professional opportunities, to social spaces, to activities, to romantic situations, to certain possibilities of identity, in short, to the whole of life.  It matters.  It matters a lot.

All I really want is some clothes to wear.  Nothing special.  Clothes for work, and for working out.  For going to uni and to brunch and hanging out drinking.  For this work dinner that’s coming up.  For this conference I’m going to.  Just ordinary clothes for living a life.

Is that really so unreasonable?

Call For Papers – Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

* PLEASE DISTRIBUTE WIDELY. APOLOGIES FOR CROSS POSTING *

Special Journal Issue of Feminism & Psychology
Guest Editor: Dr Samantha Murray

While cultural anxieties about fatness and stigmatisation of fat bodies in Western cultures have been central to dominant discourses about bodily ‘propriety’ since the early twentieth century, the rise of the ‘disease’ category of ‘obesity’ and the moral panic over an alleged global ‘obesity epidemic’ has lent a medical authority and legitimacy to what can be described as ‘fat-phobia’. Against the backdrop of the ever-growing medicalisation and pathologisation of fatness, the field of Fat Studies has emerged in recent years to offer an interdisciplinary critical interrogation of the dominant medical models of health, to give voice to the lived experience of fat bodies, and to offer critical insights into, and investigations of, the ethico-political implications of the cultural meanings that have come to be attached to fat bodies.

This Special Issue will examine a range of questions concerning the construction of fat bodies in the dominant imaginary, including the problematic intersection of medical discourse and morality around ‘obesity’, disciplinary technologies of ‘health’ to normalise fat bodies (such as diet regimes, exercise programs and bariatric surgeries), gendered aspects of ‘fat’, dominant discourses of ‘fatness’ in a range of cultural contexts, and critical strategies for political resistance to pervasive ‘fat-phobic’ attitudes.

This Special Issue of Feminism & Psychology will showcase critical fat scholarship from around the globe by gathering together research from across a spectrum of disciplinary backgrounds (such as Cultural Studies, Fat Studies, Critical Psychology, Philosophy, Sociology, Human/Cultural Geography, Public Health, etc) as well as activists and health care professionals. The Special Issue seeks to begin a critical conversation about the productive and enabling critical possibilities Fat Studies offers for rethinking dominant notions about health and pathology, gender and bodily aesthetics, political interventions, and beyond.

  • Papers are sought that engage with topics such as (but not limited to):
  • Interventions to normalise fat bodies (such as diet regimes, exercise
    programs, weight loss pharmaceuticals and bariatric surgeries);
  • The ethico-political implications of the medicalisation of ‘obesity’;
  • Constructions of the ‘fat child’ in childhood obesity media reportage;
  • Representations of fat bodies in film, television, literature or art;
  • Intersections of medical discourse and morality around ‘obesity’;
  • The somatechnics of fatness;
  • Critical psychological responses to eating practices and body politics;
  • Histories of fat activism and/or strategies for political intervention;
  • Fat and queer histories/identities;
  • Fat embodiment online, the Fat-O-Sphere;
  • Feminist responses to fatness;
  • Constructions of fatness in a range of cultural contexts;
  • Systems of body quantification, measurement, and conceptualizations of (in)appropriate ‘size’;
  • Fat as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, disability and/or ageing.

Contributions will be expected to orient themselves to the core aims and mission of Feminism & Psychology, which is concerned with publishing work that fosters the development of feminist theory and practice in ­ and beyond ­ psychology, and that provides insights into the gendered reality of everyday lives.

The Special Issue will consist of papers in of the following formats:

  • Papers between 5-­ 6000 words in length;
  • Observation/Commentary-style papers ­ up  to 2500 words in length

Please note that all word counts include reference lists.

Contributions will be selected following an anonymous peer review process.

For further information regarding referencing styles and formatting guidelines, please go to http://www.uk.sagepub.com/journalsProdManSub.nav?prodId=Journal200868

Please send full-length papers, as Word doc attachments, to Dr Samantha Murray via email at Samantha.murray@mq.edu.au by Friday, 26 November 2010.

Fat Pig

I haven’t posted anything here in a while.  Partly that’s down to plain old busy-ness.  Partly – and probably a more significant part – is that I’m grappling with the fact that this tiny little anonymous blog of mine is changing.  Specifically, it’s becoming more and more identifiable with me and my academic pursuits.  Which poses a problem for me re how to manage what has so far been an essentially-personal-if-somewhat-theoretically-inclined style of writing in light of possible recognition by colleagues and even future employers.  On the one hand, I’m feeling that the essentially personal is now too personal.  On the other, I think the personal is absolutely central to the (or at least my) project of fat studies.  It is quite blatantly because I live a fat body that I am doing this work, that I am interested in this research, these conversations, these experiences.  My academic pursuits are about my body; they could not be more personal.  My thesis research is directly motivated by my experiences of sexuality as a fat subject; it could not be more intimate.  The reality of this is blatantly apparent every time I stand in front of an audience and give a paper, and as much as academic language can provide a sort of distance, the material fact of my body refuses any attempt to hide.

I think the personal is important, is a real a proper subject of inquiry.  I think auto-ethnography can be a wonderfully illuminating methodology (see Sam Murray’s work for an example of just how brilliant and important it can be).  I’m not doing auto-ethnographic research for my thesis (though in many ways, I might as well be), but I do use this blog to connect my personal experiences with theory (though not always explicitly, and not always successfully).

There’s a wonderful quote I came across in an undergrad creative writing class, which sums up what I’m trying to say:

“There is no theory that is not a fragment, carefully preserved, of some autobiography”
 – Paul Valéry

All of which is to preface another essentially personal entry that I’ve had a hard time coming to write.

Two weeks ago, The Socialist and I headed up to Brisbane.  The impetus for the trip was to see the Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, which I’m thesising about.  I also had the pleasure of (briefly) meeting Natalie, Nick, Sonya, Janey, and Zoe, who just happened to be going to the same performance.  You can read Natalie’s thoughts about the play here.

[I’m going to warn for spoilers, even though the production run has finished now.]

I saw another production of Fat Pig by the Sydney Theatre Company back in 2006, and it was a markedly different production, which leads me to a slightly different reading of the production.  I think Natalie makes some excellent points, particularly that, this production especially, is essentially “a story about how terribly hard it is for hetero men to select partners and play mates alike when there are only thin, shrieking women and fat pigs on offer”.  As Natalie says,  Jeanie is a horrible caricature of all the worst traits misogynist culture assigns to women – she’s shrill, shallow, posey, emotionally unstable, insecure, needy, obsessed with finding a husband, manipulative, aggressive but essentially powerless, uses her physical beauty to get what she wants . . . she’s a walking stereotype.  Jeanie’s opposite, Helen (the eponymous ‘fat pig’) is much more appealing – she’s funny, smart, self-deprecating, and genuine.  She’s probably the only likeable character in the play.  A generous interpretation of the direction might assume that playing Jeanie as hyper-shrill and completely obnoxious was an attempt to show Helen as even more sympathetic, and more desirable.  For me, though, it was simply shrieking misogyny.  It leaves no options for women – you can either be a lovely person but a fat pig who will end up alone; or you can be a shrill bitch but beautiful, and end up with an equally obnoxious and shallow male counterpart (Carter).

To be fair, the men fare little better.  Tom, the supposed ‘nice guy’, is an emotional coward.  The play’s central conflict is his inability to be honest with his friends (‘friends’), his paralysing fear of judgement.  He won’t admit to being with Helen because he fears being mocked and ridiculed – and when Tom and Helen are outed as a couple, that’s exactly what happens.  He won’t tell Jeanie honestly and straight-forwardly that he doesn’t want to see her anymore.  He won’t tell Carter that he doesn’t really like him or want him around.  It’s telling that all Tom’s ‘friends’ are actually workmates.  It’s telling that he doesn’t really enjoy their company, but that he is nonetheless completely beholden to their opinions.  The play doesn’t leave any options for men, either – you can either be a complete, unapologetic douchebag, and end up with a shrieking-but-skinny girlfriend; or you can try to be genuine and find something that actually makes you happy, but be unable to bear the judgement and end up alone.

The STC production was a lot more subtle.  It was still the same story, of course, and the same bleak ending (it’s Neil LaBute, after all).  But Carter was not quite so purely douchey, and Jeanie was actually relateable as a character.  I won’t say likeable, or even sympathetic, but she was played in a way that made you understand that the culture at large manoeuvres women into just these sorts of roles.  Helen (played by the divinely gorgeous Katrina Milosevic, who I once had the pleasure of serving when I worked at My Size and was completely smitten with her) was a slightly more subdued character.  Tom was . . . still an emotional coward.

The QTC also made some interesting choices in the mis-en-scene, most specifically the inter-titles.  Each scene in the play text is titled, and QTC chose to display these titles on a screen which provided the backdrop for the stage.  The first title “That First Meeting With Her” was displayed in yellow, san serif text on a red background.  Sound familiar?  Yep, just like a McDonald’s ad.  The title for “A Surprising Night Out Together” was a Japanese-inspired background, which made sense given they were at a Japanese restaurant.  The decision to add the word ‘Sumo’ to the background (presumably to indicate the name of the restaurant), however, was entirely unnecessary, and confirms my sneaking suspicion that the production was trying to have it both ways – playing up (and even creating) fat jokes for cheap laughs*, at the same time as telling a story about the incredibly destructive effects of fat hatred.

And fat hatred is incredibly destructive.  Unlike Natalie, I have dated people who’ve given in to societal pressure rather than admit they were attracted to a fat girl.  My First Really Bad Relationship was kept secret because of the shame and disgust around fat sex.  I saw the 2006 STC production with an ex-lover who had a declared preference for fat girls.  After the show, he talked about how closeting sucks, how in the past he’d dated thinner girls than what he was really attracted to because of that social pressure.   Hanne Blanke also has a great section on ‘the case of the closeted fat admirer’ in her excellent book Big Big Love.  This shit is, unfortunately, real.  And it’s really, really painful.

I saw the play this time with a current lover who was saddened and appalled by what happens.  When we talked about it afterwards, he admitted that there was a time when he might have been more concerned about other people’s judgement about having a fat lover (although The Socialist is technically obese according to BMI, I wouldn’t exactly call him ‘fat’).  I admit that I’m still concerned about other people’s judgements of who I’m with, not least because I have a culturally-conditioned fear of judgement along the lines of  “Oh, she’s so fat, that’s the best she can do” (which is something the play talks about, too).

Official, scholarly research-y reasons aside, the trip to Brisbane was also a slightly early anniversary celebration for The Socialist and I.  (Huh. Almost a year. And I thought this would just be brief fling.)  We stayed in a fancy hotel with a view of the river and a pool and motherfucking king sized beds and a two-person bathtub and a tv in the goddamn bathroom and we got room service breakfast and played at being rich for the weekend.  Hell yeah it was awesome.  It’s also far beyond anything I could have afforded as a single traveller.  It was more fun and more relaxing than most of the travel I’ve done previously, which has been almost exclusively travelling on my own.  It brought home to me, once again, just how much privilege is involved in coupledom – not only in terms of finances, but also in terms of emotional resources.  To not have to psych myself up to go out for dinner alone, to not have to deal with a stranger’s resentment at my hip encroaching on their plane seat, to not feel sad that I was there alone with all the attendant cultural baggage, was a huge relief.  And that’s why the personal matters, because it tells me about the cultural, the theoretical, the political.

__________________

*Check out Fat Heffalump’s ‘Debrief’ for more evidence of this.  Thankfully, the audience was not so vile the night I went.

Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

Still catching up!  Second: Registration is open for the fat studies conference in Sydney in September.  I’m gonna be there.  So are a bunch of other bloggers, activists, and academics, like Natalie, Bri, Kath, Francis, Dr Samantha Thomas, and Rachel (who most of you don’t know, and who isn’t strictly fat studies, but she’s asked me to let you all know she’s not evil.  I’m pretty sure she’s not evil, y’all.)  Oh yeah, and Charlotte Cooper is the keynote. CHARLOTTE COOPER, YOU GUYS! And the whole shebang is being being run by Samantha Murray, who is one of my long-term intellectual crushes and all round fat-studies academic hero of awesomesauce!

In short, it’s gonna be ACE!  You should go here for more info about the conference and registration.  DO IT.