#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!

Support Fat Community Projects!

This is a round up of current projects that need funding or support.

1. Abundant Bodies Track at the Allied Media Conference

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The Abundant Bodies track at the AMC this summer needs your help to support the work of fat activists with their workshops and activist organizing.

I’m part of two different sessions but there are so many amazing workshops and other activists who are coming to Detroit to talk about fat politics over the weekend. They all need financial support to not only get to the conference but also for lodging and other expenses over the weekend.

via the funding campaign,

Some of the most well-known fat activists (including Dr. Charlotte Cooper, Amanda Levitt, Virgie Tovar) will be sharing their brilliance alongside up and coming young qtpoc fatties. Some of the topics and issues folks are exploring include race & fat activism, the “dangers” of excessive selfie consumptions, exploring fat & kink, building an inclusive fat community, body autonomy vs. body positivity, reimagining desirability, fat activism for unruly people, and so much more!

From the program guide:

ln this track we will gather, share and celebrate the wisdom and abundance of our bodies. Abundant/thick/fat bodies are the target of so much hate, policing and negativity, even in our organizing communities. How do we unlearn mainstream ideas of what a body should look like and (re)-learn to celebrate the diversity, resilience, wisdom and beauty of all bodies? This track will explore these questions and create spaces to challenge the ongoing ways mainstream media shames and harms abundant bodies, to name fatphobia in our organizing and activism, and to create media and practical strategies for resistance, healing and community building. We will broaden the conversation around fat activism by centering this track on the voices of Indigenous, Black, people of color, dis/abled, super-sized, trans and queer fat folks. Through workshops, panels and skillshares we will transform mainstream ideas around abundant bodies and create resilient communities, media and art centered around abundant bodies!

Please support and share this campaign! There are a ton of awesome perks for donating too!

2. Suport a Fat Art Exhibition!

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Second Helping Exhibition and Performance Fatinee is raising funds for their event!

Second Helpings is a group visual art exhibition, a “fatinee” of multidisciplinary performance, and a queer intervention into American popular culture’s understanding of the fat body as a deviant body. Exhibiting artists fight the stigmatization of fat bodies, radically re-envision the notion of body diversity, and destabilize deeply embedded hierarchies of desire.

Second Helpings features works in many media by 20+ visual artists, and 8 solo and ensemble performances. Selected works deconstruct and reassess body politics to foster a collective understanding of fatness that empowers and heals fat-bodied people emotionally, sexually and politically.

A new theatrical work humorously addresses the correlation between body shame and cultural imperialism. A 5-piece band named after pastries snacks ritualistically onstage. A debut video work explores racialized and gendered experiences of fat-phobia. A chubby drag queen pushes back on the ways her body is treated as a dystopian object of desire. Come ravenous. Help yourself.

3. Help the Fat Nutritionist become a registered dietitian.

Michelle aka the Fat Nutritionist is raising money for an unpaid dietetic internship so she can become a registered dietitian. 

Becoming a Registered Dietitian will allow me to offer clinical nutrition counseling — as well as the Health at Every Size approach — and will also make me a powerful voice in the fight to end weight stigma. 

To become a dietitian, I must complete an unpaid dietetic internship. 

Internships are difficult to get into, require a more-than-full-time commitment, and offer no financial aid to interns. In March, I was lucky (THRILLED, ELATED, OVER THE MOON) to be accepted to a 9-month internship that starts in September 2014. 

Now I need to raise money to help me actually do it!

$7,000 is less than I need, but I’m trying to set an achievable goal. My stretch goal is about $10,300, which would cover the costs of the campaign itself, as well as my internship. The money is for tuition, transportation, professional membership/insurance fees, and 9 months of living expenses.

Any money raised over this amount (plus the cost of new perks and taxes) will be donated to an as-yet-undecided good cause.

She has already raised her original goal amount of the extra funds will help her time during the internship easier.

4. Support a fat positive movie about fat representation in the media

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The move Fattitude has been running a kickstarter campaign since the beginning of April and have already reached their funding goal. They could still use more funding to make the movie even better.

Support as many fat community projects that you can! If can’t donate with money, donate with your voice and share this post around your own social networks!

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

Fat Shame Porn – Fed Up the Movie

It feels like every few years another movie comes out attempting to expose the root cause of the “obesity epidemic” making my life as an activist and a fat person even harder. Last night on twitter I was asked if I had heard about the documentary Fed Up that’s coming out next month by someone who saw it at Sundance in January. You can read their review here but after watching the theatrical trailer that was released this week, it only confirmed what my initial fears would be about the film.

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(Photo from the Fed Up press kit)

At the 45 second mark commentary on the trailer states “this is the first generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents,” which first started circulating in 2002 and was again reinforced in 2005 by a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The lead researcher later backed off his assertion (downloads pdf), as did the first author in 2002, after he admitted that this statement was a prediction and not based on empirical evidence. Since then, especially after the study F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future was published in 2011, the idea that children today will live shorter lives than their parents is continually presented as fact when that simply isn’t true.

While the movie is focused on how policy changes have allowed for the food industry to create products that make it all but impossible for people to eat well, the way they frame it as fat being inherently unhealthy is harmful and doesn’t actually help fat people. By them following around fat teenagers to find out more about how they live, they have participated in the exploitation of the fat shaming they experience and reinforce the dehumanization fat people deal with from a very early age. The girl featured in the trailer talks about how her doctor has told her she could become a statistic, a grim outlook on her life, but frames the problem as being based on her body and not the society we live in. This has been a main tactic of the diet industry in general, where they have continued to imply the experiences fat people have due to fat stigma is not based at an institutional or structural level but instead on individuals for having the audacity to exist.

Furthermore, the fat children and the shots of headless fatties that are flashed throughout the trailer, in-between shots of grocery store isles and spoons in sugar, are not a true representation of what this “epidemic” looks like. All of the images show bodies that most people would visually identify as fat or “obese” yet people of that size take up 6.3% of the US population. This kind of imagery creates a false idea of what this “epidemic” looks like and creates an even less safe society for fat people to live in by removing them from what this reality looks like. This in turn creates a heightened focus on people who are visually labeled fat.

One positive from the film appears to be them trying to combat the idea that willpower has anything to do with body size, but even then by blaming sugar and Michael Pollen talking about how sugar is a drug they are counterproductive in their attempt to challenge this misunderstanding. Most fat activists are well aware of the argument that too much sugar causes fatness and diseases like diabetes. By comparing sugar or food to a drug like heroine, I already know that people will continue to push the need for fat people to have the willpower to fight their sugar addiction and only eat foods who don’t have added sugar.

While the film apparently talks about the structural and class issues related to food access I am unaware of is how they talk about those issues. The inclusion of Bill Clinton in the film seems counterproductive within itself when his presidency gutted welfare and made access to health behaviors in general even harder for people living in poverty. When the Clinton Initiative and their Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s main goal is to end “childhood obesity” by only focusing on the food children have in schools, free time out of school and healthcare, but doesn’t try to build a social safety net for their families or communities they are setting themselves up for failure. This is even truer when we simply don’t know how to make fat people thin people long term and again focusing on people’s bodies not structure doesn’t help much.

The food industry does need to be reformed but focusing on one industry as the root cause for an “epidemic” that many people don’t believe exists is harmful. The health of our society is not purely caused by the food industry but overwhelmingly is related to social conditions created by poverty and inequality. It harms people regardless of body size who desperately need structural changes in our society to create more access to health behaviors and for people to find real solutions other than focusing on individuals to overcome the constraints of their lives.

It’s harmful to the incredibly small segment of fat people with a BMI over 40 who are continually shamed for their bodies and face a higher risk to their health due to weight based stigma. That higher risk is more directly correlated to social conditions like inequality and poverty than biology, as no research has found a causal link between fatness and disease. While fat people are more likely to live in poverty they are also more likely to be a Person of Color and female forcing them to navigate the constraints of fat stigma, racism, classism and sexism while attempting to access health in whatever way they can.

All of this is why I won’t be giving my money to a film that attacks an industry in the name of fat people existing. The experiences fat people are not pawns for filmmakers to use and exploit anymore. If people were seriously invested in creating a healthier society, they would be fighting to end stigma and inequality, not using fat people to point fingers at one industry when there are many other people / industries who need to be pointed at as well.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

#NotYourGoodFatty – The Performing Fatty

Last night I got an email from a friend asking for my advice on how to respond to an acquaintance who viewed fat positive blogs on tumblr. After looking at a few blogs on tumblr they came away with the idea that fat stigma is an issue that only impacts white cisgender middle class women while also being horrified that we clearly disregard our own health. The first point, while being completely untrue, has far more to do with the hierarchy that has been created in fat spaces where fat people with the most privilege due to gender, class, race and even body size are given the most space.

That does not mean the community is a true reflection of fat people, as much as I wish it were, because if that were true the community as a whole would look drastically different and if this person looked a little further they would see that there is a good portion of the community that reflects that reality. The issue I’ve found are people disregarding the reality of who is impacted the most by fat stigma because they ignorantly believe that fat community is a true reflection of our society. This is part of the reason my own tumblr will rarely have anyone that looks like me and is filled with content that moves outside of the archetype created by fat community.

The lack of diversity is a huge issue in the community and that even harms the reality of what it means to be a fat person in regards to health, because when everyone thinks that fat people are white and middle class they falsely believe we all have access to health behaviors. This places soul blame on individual fat people for performing health in a way our society deems acceptable. For fat positive people that means preaching about health and proving to others that we may be fat but we are healthy. I’ve rejected this argument over the last few years for numerous reasons. People who demand we conform to an inaccessible performance of fatness, one that is based on proving health, are not actually interested in the humanity of fat people but in us performing for them and their comfort.

Those demands also harm fat people in the community who don’t perform fatness in a “socially acceptable” way due to numerous reasons but overwhelmingly you see that it has more to do with lack of access to health behaviors than just purely not caring. The emphasis outsiders place on fat people to perform fatness for their comfort is based within a neoliberal politic that demands individuals overcome whatever constraints on their lives to meet the demands of society. This was applied to the concept of health in the 80s by Robert Crawford when he coined the term healthism and the expectation that people can be healthy, transcending whatever barriers to health they have, if they have the will to do it.

I’m not here for that. My politic starts from the bottom up, so I’m not interested in performing fatness in a way that is socially acceptable to make other people comfortable. That is why I tweeting about the email I was sent and it turned into my dear friend @mazzie tweeting back with the hashtag #NotYourGoodFatty. I’m not interested in performing fat positivity in a way that harms other fat people by letting outsiders know I am meeting their demands on my body. I want to challenge those demands. I want people to work harder. I want them to think more about how if they were seriously concerned about the health of other people they would be fighting poverty not people.

Check out the hashtag here but here are a few tweets to get you started.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.