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Dear fatshion retailers

Posted: August 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: fashion | Tags: , , , , , | 26 Comments »

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?


There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ body

Posted: March 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: fat politics, media | Tags: , , | 18 Comments »

This is my response to Donna Simpson aiming to become the ‘world’s fattest woman’.  Actually, no, this is my response to other people’s responses to the story.  The horrified, the disgusted, the morally outraged, the pitying.  The responses from fat-haters and fat-accepters.  Almost all of them are pissing me off (check out Charlotte Cooper’s take for the one thing I’ve read that hasn’t made me shouty; check out the comments for an example of the things that have).

One things that almost all of these responses have in common (and that Cooper’s take doesn’t) is that they’re all resting on an unexamined idea of a ‘natural body’.  AND THERE IS NO SUCH THING.  There, I said it.  I know this is an unpopular notion in Fat Acceptance.  Set point theory has been incredibly useful for many people in re-conceptualising fatness as genetically determined rather than the result of gluttony, sloth, a lack of self-will, a moral deficit.  I’m not coming out for or against the theory – I’m rather decidedly not interested in engaging with the statistics wrangling that characterises so much of these debates around fat.  The theory seems to make a lot of sense in a lot of cases, though I’m not sure it can account for everything.  But beyond the question of veracity, there are political implications to the idea of a ‘natural’, pre-determined fatness, and that is that “moral protection is founded on a loss of political control” (I’m quoting from my favourite chapter of Kathleen LeBesco’s wonderful Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity).  As LeBesco says:

While I understand the impulse to contravene declarations that fat folk are voracious, eating-obsessed pigs … I believe that allowing oneself to engage in such a debate drains pro-fat rhetoric of its power.  Saying “I don’t eat any more than anyone else” basically says, “I can’t help it – I’m not fat because of anything I did – so leave me along”.  It also says, “I will allow my right to exist as a subject (reflective, reasonable, with power to act) to be predicated upon how much I eat or don’t eat” – and this is ultimately a self-defeating move.

Again, this isn’t an argument for or against set point theory (which was never the point of this post anyway – how did I end up here?); it’s an argument against the political usefulness of the idea of the ‘natural body’.  Lesley at Fatsionista recently posted a take-down of the nature argument, and even though my argument is slightly different, I still recommend reading it (and not just because, despite my profound disagreement on the matter of Gaga, Lesley is one of my favourite fat bloggers).

One of the points Lesley makes is that the idea of ‘nature’ is actually a cultural construct.  What do we mean when we say something is ‘natural’?  I think that, in general, we mean that it hasn’t been altered or intervened with in anyway.  Which is completely impossible.  Everything we do changes our body in some way.  Not doing something changes our body in some other way.  Everything you eat becomes a part of you.  And if you don’t eat, well, that has other implications.  Breathing air, drinking water, wearing clothes, walking, driving, sitting, standing, sleeping, all of these things alter the body in some way.  The body is always in flux, and we can’t live without taking in things from our environment, things which change us.  An unaltered body is, by definition, not alive.  (This is highly influenced by a presentation I recently attended by Rachael Kendrick on metabolism, and while I’m sure I’m this is an obscene misappropriation of her argument, I found it very interesting.  Kendrick isn’t always entirely fat-positive, but she does an excellent critique of medial science and obesity epidemic discourse.)

The ideal ‘natural’ body is also frequently invoked in anti-fat rhetoric, particularly in the figure of the ‘caveman’.  In fact, some people call for a return to this way of eating (if not this way of living).  The idea is that the human body is ideally suited to a palaeolithic lifestyle and that our digestive systems work best if we eat only foods that were around 2 million years ago, and avoid all that new-fangled stuff like ‘grains’ and ‘beans’.  This idea basically harnesses the discourse of evolution in the service of what amounts to a creationist argument.  It posits that the ideal human design was arrived at somewhere in the deep and distant past, and has remained constant ever since.  It denies evolution as an ongoing process, and most importantly, ignores the fact that the caveman body was as much a product of its environment as the modern human body is.

Again, this post isn’t really about evolution vs creationism.  It’s about the idea that there’s a perfect, or ideal, or just pre-determined way that the human body should be, and that any deviation from that is a sign that there’s something wrong. In anti-fat discourse, fatness is seen as a deviation from the ‘naturally’ thin body.  In fat-acceptance, dieting or otherwise deliberately changing the body is also seen as a deviation from the ‘natural’ body.  Neither of these positions interrogates the ‘should’.  Neither of them adequately accounts for the interactions of the body with the world.  Neither of them acknowledge that the body is always being altered, is always changing, adapting, becoming.  That the raw biological material of the body does not exists apart from the culture, the environment, their interactions.  That there is no unaltered, unmodified, unchanged, ‘natural’ body.

Now, I get why people are reacting strongly to the Donna Simpson story.  It’s confronting.  She’s already a fat woman and she wants to get fatter.  It’s almost incomprehensible.  And there’s the feederism aspect, which understandably draws some concern and criticism.*  There’s the question of weather her weight gain is ‘freely chosen’ (I have issues with the idea of ‘freely chosen’ anyway, but that’s a whole other post) or directly coerced or something she’s had to resort to.  There’s the predictable fat-bashing rhetoric about health, mothering, responsibility, and being a burden on society, which doesn’t actually bother me all that much because, predictable.  What bothers me is the claim that any deliberate modification of the body is ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘unnatural’.  Is ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ because it is ‘unnatural’.

Nobody’s – NOBODY’S – body is ‘natural’.

____________________________

*I am, however, really keen for a re-thinking of the automatic and outright condemnation of feederism.  I think that yes, it is undeniably problematic, but I suspect it’s not a straightforward as the “No! Bad! Wrong!” responses claim.  I think the responses to feederism need to be understood within the context of fat-hatred, especially since it’s so easily posed in opposition to dieting, which may draw criticism but not the same level of disgust and outrage.  I also think it needs to be re-thought in terms of fetishism; I think that the idea of sexual attraction to fat bodies is still so taboo, that the desire for a fatter body is seen as reprehensible.  Similarly, taking pleasure in fat embodiment is inconceivable, so getting fatter could never be ‘freely chosen’.  ALL of this rests on a bed of fat hate, which is why it attracts much more vicious reactions than many other fetishes.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if I were to tie up my boyfriend and spank him for his/my/our sexual gratification, it would draw much less criticism and condemnation than if I were to deliberately gain weight for his/my/our sexual gratification.  And before anyone asks, no, I’m not going to do that, I’m just illustrating a point.


Confirmation

Posted: March 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: academia | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

Well, I’ve been neglecting this little blog of late because I’ve been busily preparing for Confirmation.  I submitted my report on Monday, and my defence is in another week, then, all going well, I will be confirmed!  I’m a little nervous – even though everyone tells me it’s a congenial kind of affair, I’m still stuck on the notion that ‘defence’ implies ‘attack’.  Eep!

Aside from the stress of deadlines, nervous anticipation, and a bad case of imposter syndrome, I am really loving academia at the moment! In stark contrast to the horror stories I’ve heard about professional isolation and jealousy and bitter competitiveness, the fat studies scholars who I’ve connect with (some through this blog, which absolutely thrills me!) have been amazing!  Generous and friendly and welcoming and supportive and warm and all the things I’d been told didn’t exist in academia.  Huh!

It’s a strange experience to be invited in to this club of amazing women (so far) because of my fat (well, because of my engagement with fat, but still).  Especially when I’ve felt for so much of my life like my position anywhere was extremely marginal and tenuous because of my fat.  It’s actually not an entirely new experience – I’ve been warmly invited into other groups and events before, but – damn imposter syndrome! – have never felt like I deserved to be there, and so involved myself in only a marginal and tenuous way.  Because of my fat.

It’s tricky to talk about this stuff because it ends up sounding like an individual self-esteem issue.  And while yes, sure, that’s part of it, what I’m trying to get at is the larger cultural forces at work.  The cultural forces that produce individual self-esteem issues, that produce cultural marginalisation as an individual psychological issue.

I think there’s a friction within fat acceptance where we (generally) recognise that the ‘problem’ is cultural (a fat-hating society) rather than individual (a fat body), but the ‘solution’ is still located on the individual level, but has been shifted from the individual body (loose weight!) to the individual mind (change your attitude!).  Sam Murray says all of this in her excellent book, it’s not my idea, but it’s a contradiction that bothers me.  Not least because I think there absolutely is value and benefit in reforming individual attitudes.  That the whole entire world doesn’t have to be fat-positive for me to be ok in my body; the that whole entire world doesn’t have to want to shag me in order for me to feel sexy and have great sex.  At the same time, I think that part of what fat acceptance forums like the fatosphere does is to build communities, so it becomes about something much larger than the individual.  But there’s a disconnect there, and it’s niggling away as I work through these ideas.

Has anyone else noticed it? What are your thoughts?


Call For Papers – Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

Posted: February 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: academia | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am about this!  A fat studies conference!  In Australia!  With Charlotte Cooper!  And the absolutely brilliant Sam Murray!

PLEASE CIRCULATE TO ALL INTERESTED PARTIES

Call For Papers – Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

To be held 10 ­ 11 September, 2010 Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

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, gives voice to the lived experience of fat bodies, and offers critical insights into, and investigates the ethico-political implications of, the cultural meanings that have come to be attached to fat bodies.

This two-day event will put Australasian Fat Studies into conversation with critical fat scholarship from around the globe by gathering together scholars from across a spectrum of disciplinary backgrounds, as well as activists, health care professionals, performers and artists. This conference seeks to open a dialogue between scholars, health care professionals and activists 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.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

* Charlotte Cooper (Department of Sociology, University of Limerick)

* Karen Throsby (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick)

Abstracts 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 Œfat child¹ 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;

* Fat performance art, fat positive performance troupes;

* 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.

Please send abstracts of 300 words, or panel proposals, to Dr Samantha Murray via email at Samantha.murray@mq.edu.au by Friday, 16 April 2010.