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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?


on being fat and in love

Posted: April 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: personal, sex and romance | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments »

When I started writing this post, I thought it was going to be about coupledom and privilege.  It hasn’t turn out that way – it’s turned out as a post on my history of dating while fat.  I still intend to write that post on couple privilege, but I think this is important background.

I have some strange ideas about my relationship history.  Up to nine months ago, I claimed that I’d never had a ‘real’ relationship in my life.  I also claimed that all my relationships were bad relationships.  (See the strange yet?)  I’ve always been convinced that both of these things were because I was fat.  But NONE of these things are true.  I’ve had relationships, I’ve had good relationships, and I’ve had relationships both because of and regardless of my fat.

It is true that I’ve spent a lot of my life as a single person.  And it’s true that I’ve broken my heart a helluva lot.  But I have dated a respectable number of people (for some values of ‘respectable’, anyway).  And I’ve actually only had two truly bad relationships.  Only two.  Other relationships may not have gone the way I wanted them to, but there’s only two that have been really bad -  by which I mean emotionally or psychologically damaging.

The first of my bad relationships was in my late teens and early twenties. It lasted just over two years and is the longest relationship I’ve ever had.  We were never officially a couple, and the whole affair was kept secret, even when we lived together (twice!) – partly because we worked together, partly because he didn’t want the fact that he had a lover to interfere with picking up other girls, and mostly  because he didn’t want anyone to know that he was fucking a fat girl.  I’m not making that up, or extrapolating from anything – he told me straight out that if anyone found out he was it would be over (people found out, it wasn’t over, we just continued to deny it).  He also told me once that if I were thin, “we’d be married by now.”  I’m counting that as a lucky escape.

I accepted the lying, the secrecy, the other women because I thought I didn’t deserve any better.  Because I thought that I was so incredibly hideous that no one would ever want to be with me ‘properly’ and so this was the best that I could get.  I’m pretty sure there was also a bit of the myth that a bad boy will come good with the love of a good woman at work in there.  Romantic comedies have a lot to answer for.  I eventually met some new friends who made me feel like I wasn’t the most hideous person in the world and finally had the courage to leave.  I was heartbroken for years after.  I really and truly believed that no one could ever love me because I was fat.

The second really bad relationship was in my late twenties, and quite short (three months or so).  We started going out because she chased me.  My interest in being with her was primarily my interest in being pursued (even though she’s one of the most conventionally attractive people I’ve dated).  The sex was absolutely minimal (once) and absolutely non-reciprocal.  (Incidentally, sleeping with her made me very aware that fat bodies and thin bodies are incredibly, radically, different.  It was kind of shocking to be confronted with a body so different from mine when, both being girl bodies, they were ‘supposed’ to be so much the same.)  I raised the no-sex issue, but never pushed it because, well, who’d want to fuck a fat girl?  Even though at that stage I was well and truly into fat acceptance.  Even though I’d had experience of dating people who loved fucking fat girls, who only wanted to fuck fat girls, or who really liked fucking this particular fat girl, I was so indoctrinated with the idea that fat girls are unfuckable that I couldn’t actually stand my ground and say “This is not ok”.  There was, of course, more to the story: I was trying to do-things-differently from the past and not instigate a pre-emptive break-up; I told her that I was not going to break up with her and that if that’s what she wanted, she’d have to do it herself.  She kept reassuring me she really did like me but had “issues”.  After three months of this, I decided that doing-things-differently-be-damned, it wasn’t ok.  She had decided the same thing at the same time.

The way she told me was to say: “I was only pretending to like you”.

I wasn’t heartbroken, but I was psychologically devastated.  This was my secret paranoia in every relationship (which she knew, because I’d told her in order to reassure her that “everyone has issues”).  “Only pretending” has been my secret paranoia since year seven when Ben Richardson used to shout across the schoolyard, “Sizeoftheocean, you give me orgasms!” Since year seven means every single relationship I have ever had. EVER.  I always “knew” that anyone expressing interest in me was probably doing it to mock me.  To set me up as a punch-line. AND: She knew this.  SHE KNEW THIS.  Yes, I am still angry.  It was a cruel and deliberate thing to say (looking back, there were plenty of clues to this tendency, but I ignored them because, well, I’m fat and she’s not and surely I should just shut up and be grateful for the attention).

But back to the point: I’ve had two terrible and devastating relationships.  Hardly every relationship I’ve ever had.  I’ve actually had some quite wonderful relationships, even if they mostly haven’t gone the way I’d like them to.  But I always believed that I hadn’t had – and couldn’t have – the kind of relationship I wanted because I was fat.

I know fat acceptance as a movement works pretty hard to dispel the idea that fat women will accept anything just to get sexual and romantic attention. But at a certain time in my life, this was absolutely true for me, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.  I think it’s also important to acknowledge that being fat does actually make it likely you’ll encounter extra challenges in dating (because there aren’t enough challenges already), even if it’s just in the constant, endless, relentless message that no one will ever want a fat girl.  A message which is rubbish, by the way, but still extremely powerful.  A message which taught me to put up with being mistreated.  A message which taught me to pre-emptively reject myself before anyone else could, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy because I foreclosed any possibility before it could become a reality. A message that brought with it the nagging idea that because being fat precluded me from having a “real” relationship (despite ample evidence to the contrary), it meant that I was precluded from being a worthwhile person, someone who really mattered.  Romantic love and coupling-off are culturally positioned as profoundly desirable, deeply necessary, and ultimately validating. “You’re no one until somebody loves you” and all that.  A message which taught me to negate my personality and desires in order to become what someone else wanted (yeah, that worked out real well).  A message which has been the hardest thing about fat acceptance that I’ve dealt with, because it’s necessarily completely wrapped up with other people’s opinions and desires.

For the last nine months I’ve been dating a boy (let’s  call him ‘The Socialist’).  I wouldn’t say our relationship is perfect by any stretch, but it’s good.  We have fun together.  I’m completely myself around him, which is a revelation.  I don’t feel the immanent threat of being dumped for someone else, someone thinner, someone more interesting (it’s amazing how trying to be what someone else wants actually makes you incredibly dull).  More importantly is that I’ve started to seriously deconstruct the ideology of romance and coupledom, and what exactly a ‘real relationship’ is anyway.

I think there are a lot of reasons for wanting the kind of relationship privileged by the dominant culture. Primarily, that is THE ONLY KIND OF RELATIONSHIP that is ever depicted as valid in the dominant culture.  I think this message is much stronger for women, but men certainly don’t escape it. There are all sorts of privileges which accrue to couples – economic, social, and cultural privileges. There’s the incredible benefit of emotional support and knowing that someone’s on your side and always having a friendly face at parties, of not having to go it on your own all the damn time*. Of knowing that you’re loved. Of having visible social approval in the form of someone who loves you and publicly acknowledges that fact.

The privileges and social validation that comes along with coupledom have become more and more blatant the longer I’ve been seeing The Socialist.  And that will be the subject of another post.

____________

*I am, of course, speaking only of functional relationships, where there are tangible emotional benefits. Obviously not all relationships are like that, and sometimes being in a relationship can actually be emotionally damaging rather than nurturing. I also realise that this is a bit idealistic even for good relationships.


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.


That Kevin Smith Thing

Posted: February 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: celebrity, media | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

So everyone has heard about the whole Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines thing by now, yes?  (Just in case you haven’t, you can find out all about it here, here, here, or, well, a whole bunch of other places.)  Basically, Kevin Smith got kicked off his flight for being too fat, and there’s been a whole of a tweet/blog/cast explosion about it.

It’s been really interesting to see some of the things that Smith has said, especially given that he’s not by any means a fat-positive guy.

I’ve been listening to his SModcast about the incident, and along side his anger and indignation at being publicly humiliated and treated with something less than dignity, there’s some really interesting discussion of thin normativity and fat self-policing, like in this exchange:

K: I live my life fat, and I have to navigate through a thin person’s world all the time.  And as such, you would never put yourself into harm’s way, so to speak, um, in regards to your girth or size.

J: You wouldn’t set yourself up.

K: Never.

I can sort of sense an almost apologist streak to some of what Smith says, but what’s interesting to me is that he’s talking very clearly about self-policing, about being acutely aware all the time that the fat body doesn’t fit, and avoiding situations where that’s going to be a ‘problem’, where fatness is punished with pain or shame or public humiliation.

He also talks about being at a ‘bear convention’ and being able to relax and not ‘suck his gut in’ all the time:

K: I was in a room full of people who looked like me.

J: How was that?

K: Muscle-y and gay.  No, they’re fat, they’re dudes who look like very large dudes who look like me.  It’s awesome!

Yep, I think that’s some fat solidarity right there!

Coincidentally, all this has happened just as I’ve been reading Joyce Huff’s fantastic ‘Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces’ in The Fat Studies Reader.  Huff interrogates Southwest’s policy of forcing fat passengers to buy two seats and the arguments which are used to justify it.  As Huff points out, ‘the “average” customer, for whom Southwest presumably designs its seats, represents and ideological construct rather than a statistical average’.  She goes on to argue that:

The underlying ideology that determines the size of the so-called average customer to whom Southwest supposedly caters is a capitalist one.  Although airlines and their supporters may invoke average customers who represent cultural ideals, in fact seat sizing has a lot more to do with profit margins and maximizing the number of paying customers.

This arbitrary allocation of space is normalised and the ‘corporately constructed environment’ is rendered invisible by invoking as ‘average’ the ideal passenger for whom the seats are a comfortable size, and stigmatizing (and penalising!) those bodies which fail to conform to this arbitrary ideal.  Blame for everything from lack of space to increased fares is shifted onto the offending bodies, and individuals – rather than corporations or cultures – are stigmatised and held responsible not only for these problems, but also for their solution (ie, in this case, weight loss).

As Huff argues:

Southwest’s policy assumes an audience accustomed to capitalist modes of thought, one that will endorse the premise that businesses need to continually increase profit margins, one that will believe that this need is sacrosanct to the degree that they will subordinate their own needs and desires to it.

I for one am glad that Kevin Smith is a loquacious dude with a platform, and that he’s not willing to subordinate his needs to the rhetoric of corporate profit.


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.