Guest Post – Queering Fat Embodiment Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from the new book Queering Fat Embodiment. It’s an academic text so it’s expensive but available online.

As fat studies scholars have maintained, fat bodies are particularly disadvantaged in terms of cultural capital (Gerber and Quinn 2008, Lebesco 2004). In a culture that values slimness over corpulence as not only more beautiful or desirable but also more moral and good, fatness has a negative effect on one’s cultural capital and, subsequently, one’s ability to acquire other types of capital. Importantly, Bourdieu argues that one of the most significant aspects of cultural capital is its embeddedness within the body: ‘the body is the most indisputable materialisation of class tastes’ (1984: 190). While ‘one’s taste might be expressed through the relatively transitory choices made in commodity consumption – how one dresses, the style in which one’s house is decorated – [it] is represented and reproduced in a far more permanent way through embodiment’ (Lupton 1996: 95). The thin body is read as moral/ good/controlled/refined. This is because, in part, the thin body is never regarded as a ‘natural’ body. as Bourdieu asserts, ‘the legitimate use of the body is spontaneously perceived as an index of moral uprightness, so that its opposite, a ‘natural’ body, is seen as an index of laisser-aller (‘letting oneself go’), a culpable surrender to facility’ (1984: 193). The thin body, for most people, is only attainable through rigorous effort, requiring time and money. And yet, as Gerber and Quinn assert, ‘efforts at controlling body size … rarely result in the desired bodily capital’: this has the effect of ‘guaranteeing the rarity of ‘ideal weight’ and thus its value’ as a kind of cultural capital (2008: 6).

Read any number of news pieces on the ‘obesity epidemic’ and it is clear that fat people have become a scapegoat of sorts for a lot of the Western world’s worst qualities. more often than not, they are imagined as one large homogenous group that exemplify all that is ‘wrong’ with Western culture: they drive around in gas-guzzling SUVs, watch endless hours of TV on expensive plasma screens, and eat mindlessly out of fast food containers, all while remaining miraculously ignorant of basic health principles and the environmental impact of their selfish consumption practices. As a culture, we seem to be unable to disconnect the metaphor of fatness from its reality. Fat folks, just like their thin or ‘average’ sized counterparts, consume food (healthy and unhealthy), buy cars (hybrids and gas-guzzlers alike), purchase homes, and consume many other necessary (and not-so-necessary) products. On the other hand, as cultural outsiders with sometimes-limited access to the capital required to engage in normative consumption practices, many fat people are required to consume differently. Importantly, this point is especially true with regard to the consumption of fashion. Due to historically unequal access to clothing in fat sizes, the consumption of fat fashion has happened in very different ways than the consumption of what is often referred to as ‘straight-sized’ fashion.

 

Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Fashion’s ‘Forgotten Woman’: How fat bodies queer fashion and consumption’, in Queering Fat Embodiment eds. Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and Samantha Murray (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 77-78. Copyright © 2014

Putting myself first – Anxiety and becoming a dog owner

My life has been a huge transition over the last year. I started and finished my first year of graduate school. I presented research at two different national conferences. I’m now working a steady job for the first time in what seems like forever. Overall, things seem to be going great but I’ve felt like something was missing. In March I started living without a roommate for the first time and it has given me a space to call my own. At the same time the anxiety I’ve dealt with since I was in my teens has become a more apparent and something I’m trying to tackle instead of just ignoring it or simply accepting it for what it is.

Social anxiety has been something that I’ve dealt with since my early teens. It came out in what would probably make people believe I was just shy or introverted when I was younger and even now, which wouldn’t accurately describe what I deal with daily. The truth is I enjoy being around people but my ability to cope with the anxiety that comes along from dealing with other people and every day interactions has been limited. Since 2010 it has meant I’ve had to be very conscious in what I do, how I spend my time and how I simply take care of myself.

I often like to joke that I retired from the service industry in 2011 but the reality was my body couldn’t take the stress, anxiety and long hours that comes along with those jobs. I wrote about having shingles during that summer but I didn’t connect it to my normal anxiety. Now I know that this wasn’t just one instance where I was sick but related to how my body copes with overwhelming levels of anxiety.

After that summer I was able to rearrange my life a bit by having a work schedule and job that gave me the ability to focus more on caring for myself during my free time. Being able to have more time for myself improved how I was able to handle my anxiety and meant I wasn’t getting physically ill on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I started applying for graduate schools that the anxiety that I had kept under control for a few years cropped up again.

Once I started graduate school last year I spent a lot of time wrapped up in anxiety not just due to the work involved for school but juggling work, activism and the increased levels of trolling I was paying attention to as I was collecting data for my thesis. While I was still able to take care of myself, it often meant only making sure I was sleeping enough and eating regularly.

I’m at the point now where I’m still trying to figure this stuff out. My anxiety feels more at the surface than ever before. Something changed since I moved out on my own. Many things have been positive and having space for myself where I’m able to completely define who I am has been fulfilling but I’ve decided I need to stop just dealing with my mental state and instead be really truthful with what I need.

I’ve realized I need structure. The fatigue I feel after being overwhelmed with anxiety doesn’t just have the possibility of making me unable to function but often leads to not eating regularly. It also means I’m simply not interacting with other people or leaving my place for days. This summer I dealt with everything by sewing clothing and while it allowed me to work through the emotions I was feeling right then it didn’t help with me getting out of my head or being more functional.

I’ve been working as a caregiver for a girl whose family is looking for a service dog for her and when I was researching about service animals, as they haven’t had luck finding an organization who wants to help them and are now looking into hiring a trainer themselves, I started to find information that related to my own issues. I soon began to realize that while I love my cats I need something different than what they can give me as pets.

After having a really casual conversation about having a dog with someone during the summer I started to seriously think about it in August. I spoke with a friend to find a trainer who could help with basic obedience training if and when I found a dog. Everything changed when I was looking at rescues to see what dogs were available and I saw a dog named Itty Bitty.

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Itty came to visit while I was being approved to adopt her.

I wasn’t looking for a specific breed just a dog that wasn’t a puppy and a dog that was about 50 lb. I ended up going to an adoption event the next day and arriving 15 minutes before they were about to leave. I kind of fell in love in those 15 minutes. This was all at the beginning of September because what I didn’t realize was that my casual approach to getting a dog would soon have to be far more formal than I thought I needed to be.

When I moved into my building in March they were dog friendly. After filling out an adoption application for Itty I called my landlord to ask for permission to get a dog. They informed me that they had recently instituted a “no dogs policy” even though there are dogs in my building and my downstairs neighbor got a dog a few weeks before I called them. The next day I gave them a letter explaining why I wanted the dog and that I would provide the doctor’s documentation needed to bring an emotional support animal (ESA) into my care as a disabled person. ESAs are covered as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) so I thought it would be a simple process as all I needed was written permission from them to get the dog.

Since then it has turned into a month later, three letters to my landlords (one with the proper documentation from my doctor) and their only response has been to demand things that are not allowed. A few weeks ago they asked for me to sign a two year lease, pay $50 more a month in rent and a $150 pet fee. While it sounds like a reasonable request from them for a pet, ESAs are not considered pets. Itty wouldn’t just be a pet but would be helping with me being more functional and because of that the FHA clearly outlines giving conditional approval isn’t allowed.

Once I let my landlords know what they were asking me wasn’t acceptable and the documents I gave them about the FHA was clear about it they stopped speaking to me. At first I sought legal aid and let the rescue know what was happening. Itty’s foster mom agreed to keep her until it was worked out. As of me writing this my landlords have still not responded to my numerous requests so last week I filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) as they and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigate claims of discrimination related to the FHA.

As I have fulfilled my legal burden to give my landlord’s notice and documentation that I need a reasonable accommodation all I can do now is move forward. MDCR contacted me yesterday and I’m going in to formally sign a complaint against my landlords today. They will be giving my landlords notice at some point this week.

The best news though is Itty is coming home on Thursday. I’m ready to start focusing on living with her.

I’ve made a tumblr for Itty, because duh she needs one.

Tumblr Question – Arnt you afraid of health problems later in life like heart disease

Click here to see the original. To see more questions like this one visit the FAQ on my tumblr.

Not anymore than everyone else should be regardless of their weight. Studies show that fatness carries a heightened risk of disease but that does not mean the body or weight itself causes disease. In fact, there are no studies that show fatness causes disease, rather, studies show that weight and disease are correlated with each other.

When we consider that and see how similar research on the health of fat people is to people living in poverty, women or People of Color we see that the relationship or heightened risk of disease has more to do with the environments we live in. Fat people are more likely to live in poverty. Fat people are also more likely to be People of Color. Sociological literature about health disparities show that racism and classism have a HUGE impact on the level of health people are able to access due to the social constraints created by both of those systemic / institutional oppressions.

So am I “afraid” of health problems later in life? No. Right now I’m afraid of the lack of access I have to quality medical care. I’m afraid of how the stigma I am forced to navigate through impacts my physical and mental wellbeing. I’m afraid of people putting more emphasis on individuals transcending the constraints placed on us instead of creating a world where everyone has access to safe communities, equitable wages, fresh foods and stigma free medical care.

That’s what I’m afraid of.

#CropTopGate and A Letter to an Editor

At the beginning of July I posted on my tumblr about a situation that arose due to a photo of me that was photoshopped and published in a local magazine.

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This article was published in a local magazine this month and it took me a minute to realize that the photo had been photoshopped to hide the fact that I’m wearing a crop top. While I was at the shoot the photographer kept asking me to pull the shirt down because they thought the 1 inch of skin showing would distract people from my face.

 

Fat crop tops are not necessary but I think it’s important to note how the prevalence of fat phobia made the writer of the article, who I think was fantastic, not even notice or think about checking to make sure the photo wasn’t photoshopped. 

 

Bottom photo was taken the same day. Clearly my stomach is going to ruin the world.

I called it #croptopgate and tweeted along with the tag #mybeautifulbody, which was created by a follower on twitter who wanted to respond to what happened to me in their own way. There was some push back against the use of the second tag but I’m also very aware of how people are at different stages in their own deconstructing of fat stigma and self hatred. Being able to call yourself beautiful when you have spent your whole life thinking you aren’t can be revolutionary. 

Below is the letter to the editor I finally sent today. I’ve been taking a break from writing and that meant not getting this out when I wanted to.

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In the July 2014 issue of WestEnd Magazine I was featured in the “Faces” section to highlight the work I do to deconstruct fat discrimination and body ideals. While I know for many the issues fat people are forced to navigate in their daily lives is a new concept, I incorrectly believed that the magazine would be more thoughtful in how my photographs were used. My experience being interviewed was incredibly positive but I cannot say the same about the photo shoot or the final image that was used in the magazine.

From the beginning of the shoot the photographer made it very clear they were uncomfortable with the outfit I was wearing. I highly doubt that their discomfort would have been the same if I wasn’t a fat woman whose outfit drastically challenged the “rules” assigned as appropriate clothing for fat people. Most fat women are taught from a very early age that we are suppose to hide out bodies and be ashamed of them, thus wearing clothing that covers or diverts attention in an attempt to pretend our bodies simply don’t exist. I thoroughly reject the idea that I need to hide my body and wear clothing that I love regardless of how other people feel. Due to this, I wore an outfit that I made myself – a matching skirt and crop top with a lace upper – for the shoot.

On the day of the shoot one of the first things they asked was if I could pull my top down, saying they believed the top would “distract from my face.” Their comment may seem to be harmless but it is one that I have heard most of my life in other forms. Often fat women are told we have “such a pretty face” making a distinction between what is considered to be beautiful and not. Our bodies are considered to be distractions and my outfit didn’t hide that distraction but instead forced the photographer to look at it. It forced them to be distracted and actually see my fat body.

The photo shoot continued without any more comments but when the article was published I wasn’t surprised that the photo they chose not only was taken from an angle to make me look thinner but the outfit I was wearing was photoshopped to look like a dress. This experience has reminded me that while I can control the way I dress and present my body to the world I cannot control the way it is consumed and presented by others. This experience that ended the final photo is a complete disregard of my work and myself as a person.

I hope this experience makes the magazine think more thoroughly about the photographers they use and how they communicate with them about the subjects they are profiling. The bodies of marginalized people shouldn’t be presented in a way that makes other people feel comfortable nor should the magazine be completely unaware that a photo was digitally altered as was done in my case. We should have the autonomy to decide how our bodies exist in and out of print.

Sincerely,

Amanda Levitt
Scholar. Writer. Activist. Unapologetic Fat Lady.
FatBodyPolitics.com
@FatBodyPolitics

 

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

From this weekend – Detroit Dance: From the Street to the Stage

I was asked by Maya Stovall from Finite Studios to speak at the workshop she was organizing for the Movement Movement track at Allied Media Conference. Her original inspiration for the workshop was the idea of performing survival so I centered my portion around how I navigate the world to survive while as a fat person and an activist. I was really happy to be part of this workshop as it was the only non-Abundant Bodies workshop I was part of.

I wore this outfit to a photo shoot a few days ago. The photographer asked me to pull the crop top down because they were convinced the inch of skin showing would distract people from my face.  As someone who thinks about bodies professionally my mind instantly began to question whether they were assuming people would be distracted because I’m wearing a crop top or because I’m a fat lady wearing a crop top.

I could tell the photographer was unprepared for my response, “Regardless of what I wear my body will be a distraction.”  They stopped for a moment but quickly began to right themselves, as they had to readjust the foundation under which they had been taught to think about fat people.

My work exists in those small moments. I exist in a space where I redefine the very idea of who fat people are and how we are perceived. The photographer didn’t know the first line of the article that shoot was for reads, “Amanda Levitt is fat.” So I’m already prepared for my body to be a distraction for whoever gazes upon it.

I learned a long time ago to stop caring about how my body is a distraction for other people when I first realized the way I was taught to hate my body had little to do with my body itself and more to do with living in a society that was fat hating. I cannot stop other people from ascribing a narrative to my body that I haven’t created. To most people my body is the embodiment of an epidemic and the way I navigate through the world, the way all fat people navigate through the world is as people who are under constant surveillance. As are so many people with nonnormative bodies.

A few months ago Janet Mock, a trans women of color, spoke about how the simple act of leaving your house was powerful. Being visible for me means the act of being in public has turned into a performance. That is the only way I have learned how to survive. I am reminded on a continual basis that I am not suppose to exist in the state I am in, as a fat happy person who doesn’t care about being thin. I am reminded every time someone tells me I need to hide the fact that I’m wearing a crop top. The casual glance at the food I’m buying, eating, standing next to and the imaginary food they assume I eat by seeing my body.

When I told that photographer that my body would be a distraction regardless of what I wear it’s because I don’t fit into the script many fat people are told they should follow. I wear clothing without sleeves and skirts and half of my wardrobe has horizontal stripes. I take up the space around me without feeling like I need make excuses for my body. I eat in public. I eat in public.

But outside my body I also reject the normative discussions surrounding fat bodies and really all bodies that so many of us feel like we need to be part of. I normally respond to someone talking negative about their own body with something positive. When someone tries to talk to me about dieting I divert the conversation, because clearly as a fat person all I think about is how to no longer be a fat person.

I move through the world hoping that those small moments of challenging the narratives people have been taught to believe about fat people and our existence will change.

But even with that I still have these moments where I think about how just existing without feeling constrained by fat hatred has turned these small actions into something that is far larger than myself. Because regardless of the script I was given to follow other people still reinforce it by reminding me I’m acting out of turn. On a daily basis I am asked by people who read my blog or talk to me on twitter how they should deal with a situation that happened at work, at home, on the street, in a store, at any place a fat person exists.

They ask me how do I deal with being fat shamed while working out. How do I tell my parents I’m trying to learn how to love myself and get them to stop making negative comments about my body? How do I get my doctor to stop suggesting I lose weight when I’m in recovery from an eating disorder? How do I get my doctor to treat for what I actually came into see them for? What do you do when someone makes a comment about the food you are eating? How do you respond when someone yells at you from a moving car about how you’re fat? (They are always in a car with me) The questions never end.

Sometimes people are too tried and angry to perform. Sometimes I’m too tired of performing to respond to fat hatred and the consistent onslaught of hatred that feels like it comes at me at every angle. Sometimes I am unable to give people the right advice because how someone decides they want to navigate through the world needs to be set by their own standards. There is no right way to live and when people ask me for advice I tell them what I’ve done to make my life easier. That I have a really good bitch face. That I don’t own a television. That I try to feel really powerful about the fact that I’m so scary people cannot yell ridiculous insults at me while standing right next to me but instead do it from their car so they can get away quickly. That I spend the entire time driving to any family event preparing myself for the consistent erasure of my work and passions because they are more invested in fat hatred than my humanity. That sometimes survival means to be silent.

So many of us are also taught to believe that in order to fight back against the constraints on us and how we are dehumanized it means you need to be out there in the way I am. That’s a lie. I truthfully love the work I do but in no way do I advocate for people to speak out at every moment. When I was in my teens the best way I learned how to navigate fat hatred was by being a sarcastic asshole. I found out that if people didn’t like me in the same way I didn’t like myself they would leave me alone. As I’ve gotten older being a sarcastic asshole has given me the ability to brush off the moments when I’m too tired to redirect or challenge. I’ve also found that being a sarcastic asshole that likes themselves and doesn’t reinforce fat hatred makes people hate me more than when I was just mean.

Surviving also means accepting the parts of the script that you can live with and makes your daily life easier.  It means wearing clothing you know will minimize the comments people make about your body. It means not leaving your house on days you can’t deal with the onslaught of hatred.

For me on the days I am unable to deal it has meant connecting with communities of people who are invested in my humanity. It means helping build a community of fat people that gives everyone that one space where people can feel safe enough to be the person they dream of. It means acknowledging that the world is unsafe for so many people but we can still build connections with others by acknowledging how our experiences are not the same but come from the same fear of difference.

I cannot remove myself from the reality that I embody so many different things. I embody an epidemic even though discourse around obesity treats it like an autonomous thing that is outside of whom fat people are as people. I also embody fat positivity as I move through a world that tells me I should hate myself. Part of being fat positive has meant that I also live in my body. That may sound weird because we all clearly live in our body but I’ve found that body hatred teaches us to feel disconnected from ourselves. I am in my head constantly so I often need to make a conscious effort to reconnect and recenter myself in my body.

For me that means partaking in self care when my body disassociation gets to the point I feel like my mind is floating away. When you are wrapped up in hating your body it means you often aren’t thinking about how to center yourself in your body. You have spent so long ignoring it. Pretending your body isn’t part of who you are that you need to take a moment to reconnect yourself with it. For me it means doing little things. Doing yoga. Painting my nails. Taking an extra long shower. It means flexing and stretching my muscles. It sometimes is as simple as reminding myself that my body is a good body, that all bodies are good bodies.

For me survival often comes back to remembering that I have the right to envision a world where all people given their humanity. That we should all be allowed to move through the world as complex and amazing people.

Amazing FAT stuff going on this weekend at Allied Media Conference.

program_coverHere is where I will be on Friday and Saturday!

First I’m talking about performing survival while fat for a Movement Movement track workshop. “Detroit Dance: From the Street to the Stage”

Can an individual moving body represent or embody society? How does human performance on the street and on the stage shape us? In this session we will view work of Detroit-based dance artists; discuss bodies and politics through conversations and experience embodied movement workshops designed to empower and excite all movers, inclusive of all bodies, and experience levels. (Presenters: Maya Stovall, Piper Carter, K. Natasha Foreman, Kristi Faulkner, Seycon Nadia Chea, Chris Braz, Amanda Levitt , Quaint, Efe Bes plus Collaborating Dancers)

I’m on a panel about how to center fat activism and uplift the voices of marginalized people in the community. “Race, Fat Activism & Media”

How can fat activists centre the voices of the most marginalized in their organizing? How can we make the movement (and the media) more accessible to folks with different, multiple identities? This panel will bring together long-time fat activists to discuss their own personal experiences with organizing, unpack the historical whiteness of Fat activism in North America, explore alternative media that challenges more than just body fascism, and discuss critical strategies for making Fat activism more inclusive for everyone.

Finally, I’m co-facilitating a caucus titled “Building Inclusive Fat Communities Online”

How can we build fat-positive communities online that actively resist social hierarchies of race, class, gender, and ability? What do fat-positive communities gain when we value all of the intersecting identities of fat people? This caucus is for anyone who wants to build stronger, more inclusive fat positive online communities that are committed to challenging all forms of social hierarchy.

I wish everyone could come! It’s going to be an amazing weekend. ❤

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

Things are happening!

This summer is going to be jam packed with so many amazing things I cannot wait for everything to happen. I thought I would give a rundown of where I will be and what I will be up to the next few months.

1. I just had an article about trolling posted on Bitch Magazine’s blog. You can find it here - Trolls Don’t Just Want to be Rude—They Want Power Over Us

2. Body Policing: Hit From All Sides - I’m co-hosting a tawk (that’s what they call it) on Thursday June 5th at 8pm to discuss trolling, #notyourgoodfatty and other fun fat stuff. Please join us!

3. The Allied Media Conference June 19-22 – I posted about the conference organizers raising funds for the Abundant Bodies track and I will be involved in three different workshops over the weekend. I am not only talking about visibility and surviving fat hatred in one workshop but racism within fat community in another. Lastly, I am part of a round table / session talking about how to create an inclusive fat community.

4. I won the Netroots Nation scholarship and will be going to that conference in July 17-20. I’m so excited about it and thank you to everyone who voted.

5. Finally, I am presenting a paper about trolling at the Society for the Study of Social problems in August. It is held in San Francisco so it will be nice to travel a bit as well.

I hope to connect with fat community all summer!