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?
* 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.email@example.com by Friday, 26 November 2010.
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.
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.