the uses of social media, or, another navel-gazing post

I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media is, by definition, social.  I mean, obviously.  But in some ways the implications of that have not been something I’ve really come to grips with.  I get upset when I’m misunderstood on the internet, which, I mean, it’s the internet, that’s what happens here.

Obviously not the only thing that happens here, but to expect that I should be able to expound my ideas with such perfect clarity that no one will ever mistake my meaning is frankly absurd.  Yes, I have thought I should be able to do that.  And no, I’m not a perfectionist; I never do anything perfectly.

One of my main aims with this blog is to share ideas that are beyond the 101-type posts.  There are plenty of people doing that already, with far greater patience and clarity than me.  I have enormous respect for that work and the people doing it, but it’s not the work I’m interested in doing here.  I want to get past the normal structures of thinking around this stuff to something new.  When I talk about fat sexuality, I want to get at more than the same tired discourses of ‘body image’.  I’m not interested in claiming that every body is beautiful, but looking at why beauty has come to stand in for worth, at what the idea of beauty does.  I think fat acceptance is far more radical and fundamental than the vague, insipid blathering about ‘self esteem’ that goes on in ladymags and self-help books.  To me, fat acceptance is about the management of bodies and the body politic.  It’s about the production and regulation of identities and subject positions.  It’s about class and gender and race and citizenship and labour and capitalism and power.

Actually, what I’m talking about is probably more fat studies than fat acceptance.  While the two are by no means separate, there is a difference, and it’s that difference which draws me to academia despite the angst it sometimes (often!) induces.  Trying to push past the normal structures of thinking is always going to be a difficult thing, but I think it’s necessary.  More than that, I find it thrilling.  New ways of thinking are exciting, dammit.

Ok, now I really have to finish up that paper I’m presenting tomorrow.  (Yeah, it’s mostly angst at the moment).

against a cause: the (mostly) quotes edition

ETA: Apparently my efforts to block spambots have unintentionally stopped all comments.  Um, yeah, technology fail.  Should be all fixed up now, but drop me a note at if you’re having problems.

I’ve been toying with a post about eating histories.  About my eating history.  I think it’s an interesting thing to reflect on (for me, anyway).  And I’m interested in food, in how people eat, in the development of tastes and habits and patterns.  I’ve been noticing lately how differently everyone cooks, and I find it fascinating.  But I’ve been reluctant to make that post because … well, it seems too personal.  More than that, it seems too diagnosable.  Oh, you were neglected as a child and didn’t get regular meals?  That probably messed with your metabolism and that’s why you’re fat.  You probably think food is love.  You probably binged as compensation.

Yeah. Not where I want to go.

Instead, I’m going back to the first fat studies work I ever came across, Kathleen LeBesco’s Revolting Bodies: The Struggle To Redefine Fat Identity.  I first read it in 2005 when I was in third year, and I devoured it in three days (unheard of for an academic book!).  It crystallised all these things that had been going around in my head at that time, that I hadn’t even been able to properly identify let alone articulate.  It enabled me to see, to say, after all those years in classes about ‘the body’, that fat mattered.  That fatness was an embodied difference.  A socially dis-empowered identity.  And that it was a valid object of scholarly enquiry.  It gave me the way forward for my honours thesis, which led into the research I’m doing now.  It literally changed my life.

When I read back over the book now, I don’t have quite the same breathless excitement about it.  But I keep going back to it, and I keep quoting from it, and it falls open at my favourite passages.  Like this (all emphasis mine):

An essentialist position on fat identity can take a biological or sociocultural perspective; the common theme is the idea that the condition of fatness is necessary, could not be otherwise, or is the outcome of some essential (usually failure-related) cause.  Whether tracing along a biological path to bad genes or hormones, or along a social path to traumatic childhood experience, proponents of essentialiat positions argue that fat identity is the unfortunately inevitable outcome of a causal relationship with some original variable cone awry… In contrast, an anti-essentialist position on fat identity does not attempt to reveal causal factors; instead it focusses on the ability of human actors to participate in the creation of meaning (including the meaning of material bodies) through the discursive processes of communication and politics (p14).


We’ve heard about genes, hormones, fear of being sexually attractive, and dozens of other causes for fatness … each one advanced with the understanding that finding a remedy would be a financially rewarding proposition.  Why, though, do we need to explain (away) these modes of being, when few scientists are hard at work on finding the cause for slenderness … When we engage in cause-seeking rhetoric, we presume that some intervention into the ‘problem’ is necessary (p85).

And the bit I quote again and again, from the chapter ‘Fat Politics and the Will to Innocence’:

Fat is treated as volitional – “a choice made out of laziness, hostility, social disdain, or other moral shortcomings like lack of willpower, failure of motivation, greed and dependence” – so the tendency when dealing with this regressive attitude is to suggest that fatness cannot be helped.  I wonder what would happen if, instead of giving up our volition, we worked to alter the terms of the choice, to emphasize that subjectivity mustn’t be predicated on perception of innocence (P117).

I wonder, too.  I recognise the impulse to explain (away) my fatness.  How could I not – the idea that bodies are ‘naturally’ thin, that fatness is the result of something going wrong*, is central to this culture’s understanding of bodies, to the hysteria of ‘obesity epidemic’ discourse, to fat hatred.  I’m aware that an eating history could be so easily co-opted into this framework of causation, even if that was never the intention in telling it.  I’m all too aware of the easy equation of eating (especially women’s eating) with pathology.  I know that the current meaning of material bodies which are fat lends itself to a pathologisation of eating habits and histories, no matter what those habit and histories are.

I love food. I love cooking and I love eating and I love sharing meals.  Sometimes I am greedy.  Maybe that contributes to my fat, maybe it doesn’t.  Like LeBesco, I think cause-seeking is a limited political strategy.  And I don’t want innocence.  I want a different choice.


*Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why body size changes, and all sorts of very valid reasons for intervention.  But I’m talking about the idea that all fatness is cause by something going wrong, and should therefore always be ‘cured’.


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

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!


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 by Friday, 16 April 2010.