At some point I will actually write an essay. Promise. Until then here is the interview I did this morning on WJR 760 in Detroit.
At some point I will actually write an essay. Promise. Until then here is the interview I did this morning on WJR 760 in Detroit.
Here is a link to the video from the interview today. “Defending Against Fat Prejudice.” They cut out the intro and the ending but otherwise I was really happy with everything. CNN was awesome and was promoting the segment throughout the hour I was on. They also tweeted the segment from all of their different twitter accounts.
Haley, my friend and founder of Redefining Body Image was awesome and put up a post on RBI’s tumblr with screen shots right after I finished since she was live streaming the interview online.
The past 24 hours has been an overwhelming outpouring of love from so many people within the fat positive community as well as new people who have found my blog.
If you aren’t already aware, I was featured in an article at the Detroit Free Press and it was picked up by USA Today. Since then I have been contacted by CNN and will be appearing on the show at 8:30 am eastern today (December 30th). If you aren’t able to tune in I will be posting the video later, as long as they put it up online.
Wish me luck!
For those of you who own a TV and would actually spend time watching Barbara Walters’ interview people her yearly special on people she thinks are fascinating is airing soon, mind you she’s interviewing famous people. I’m pretty sure she isn’t interviewing activists, community builders and others who spend their lives helping people in need (but that’s another post entirely.) If watch her yearly special you will be able to see an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, where she talks about how Jennifer has been critical of the way the media talks about the bodies of women on red carpets and elsewhere.
If you aren’t aware Jennifer has made comments about body policing quite a bit in the past and continues to make comments that appear on their surface to be body positive. Though overall her career she has also made quite a few problematic statements that make me wary of almost anything she says.
This is what she had to say,
Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?
Most of what she said about how the media creates and participates in a culture of body policing is true. They are pivotal in the way women in the media are spoken about and continue to create new media that feeds off of promoting white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals. The issue with her statement is the way she is blaming this kind of climate on people using the word fat and not on how they use it as a weapon.
This kind of thinking has been around for awhile, particularly within body positive spaces where discussions about “fat talk” or negative body talk are being discussed. The framing of fat as a negative word, a word that hurts people, is completely ignorant of how the word is being used and the context of the statements being made. The word fat is nothing more than a description of someone’s body type, but when someone like Jennifer Lawrence is telling the world it should be illegal there is a huge issue.
When people are calling someone who looks like Jennifer Lawrence fat we shouldn’t be telling them that they shouldn’t use that word. We should be thinking about how fat phobia and stigma is so pervasive in our society we body shame people who live in thin bodies by making them fear fat people, appearing to be a fat person or becoming fat themselves. It’s not a coincidence the people who are telling others to not use the word fat are more often than not never going to be defined as “overweight” or “obese” and revel in a thin privileged reality by being able to frame words like fat as something that should be considered illegal. Nor is it a coincidence that the people who face the real harm are fat people, not the thin people being called or taught to fear fatness.
Their bodies will never be pathologized or thought to be inherently diseased like fat people’s bodies are. They will find no problem in denying how fat positive communities have used the word fat to build spaces where fat political identities are empowering fat people daily. That’s why when I hear statements like the one Jennifer Lawrence said; I know that those words are not for me. They are only for the people who look just like her.
If we wanted to actually challenge the media to create a landscape where white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals aren’t able to thrive, we need to deconstruct how body policing isn’t just about saying mean words but a structure that denies people with specific bodies access to it. We need to question why we fear the word fat but are completely comfortable with using medicalized terms that imply pathology like “overweight” and “obese,” in all of my years dealing with the media they fear using the word fat but will drop o-words in a second. We need to question why we are only talking about the media being critical of the bodies of women who already have access to those spaces, but not the people who are regularly denied jobs within the industry due to issues with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia etc. (the list continues).
Once Jennifer Lawrence starts talking about that, I may take the time to listen.
The photo above was taken in 2008 when I was 22 after spending 16 years in hiding. Over those 16 years my photo had been taken by family members or other people where the way I was photographed was more about how others settled their gaze upon me and I wasn’t able to control or dictate the way I was captured. Much like what Melissa from Shakesville wrote, having my photos taken before the age of 22 meant it wasn’t for myself. I lacked the ability to move beyond how others decided to view my body and instead was forced into being visible in ways I wasn’t comfortable with.
Yesterday Jezebel posted an article declaring that people who take selfies are really “crying for help,” not only pathologizing those of us who take selfies but also completely ignoring how the dynamics behind selfies are more than just taking a photo or about vanity. Like many other people on twitter wrote, selfies can also be incredibly powerful in the way they directly challenge how marginalized people and their bodies are viewed by the world, while also challenging how mainstream imagery of marginalized people rely on stereotypes.
As a fat woman who has been told repeatedly I don’t have the ability to be attractive, beautiful and shouldn’t be visible the use of selfies not only has allowed me to reclaim a part of myself I was told I wasn’t allowed to have, but has served to be part of a larger form of political resistance against those people who gaze upon my body. My visibility politic dares them to not look at me. Being visible as a fat person happens regardless of how you perform your visibility politic. As a fat person, much like other marginalized identities, your body is hyper-visible and are often reminded through interactions with others that they disprove of the way you present yourself. In the media, visibility is only allowed if you conform yourself to specific tropes related to the identities you possess. As a fat woman I am limited to only being visible if I am participating in a weight loss show, am attempting to no longer be fat or headless and completely dehumanized. (Edited to add link to “Headless Fatties”)
Selfies change all of that, they allow me to reclaim that part of myself I was told to never allow to be visible. They allow me to remove my body from the constraints on how others think I should be looked upon and instead let me shift their gaze elsewhere. They let me look back on past photos and be reminded how blissfully happy I was when I’m having a bad day. They also allow me to see how I have evolved as a person over the years and have found my more authentic self. Viewing the selfies other people take reminds me that I am not alone. There are other amazing, gorgeous and powerful people out there who are also reclaiming their own visibility. They are sick of letting other people dictate how they should present their bodies.
Aside from that for those of us who are still not ready to be visible, it’s ok. Being visible isn’t mandatory; it’s a process that sometimes we aren’t ready for or want to be part of. Visibility politics can still be limiting and I totally understand people who don’t feel the need to be visible, I still feel that way some days. The most important thing is living how you want to, not allowing others to attempt to change or dictate how you do it.
For further reading,
I was on Michigan Radio’s show Stateside talking about Melissa McCarthy’s Elle cover as well as the state of fat activism in Michigan. From the interview,
Four covers were shot with four different stars: Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Penelope Cruz and Melissa McCarthy.
Witherspoon wore a fitted black dress, Woodley wore a swimsuit and Cruz recently gave birth to her second baby, so hers was a close-up face shot. Curvy, full-figured McCarthy was swathed and bundled up in a big coat.
That led to criticism that McCarthy was covered up because she’s full-figured — though it should be noted that Melissa McCarthy herself said she was glad to be a part of the cover.
But it does raise the issue of society’s attitudes toward overweight or obese people.
I’m pretty happy with the interview but I do wish I had more time to talk in depth about other fat women in the media who are also taking up space in the way Melissa does. Specifically women like Queen Latifah, Amber Riley and Gabourey Sidibe, among others.
You can listen to the full interview at the link above.
Yesterday there was a post floating around on tumblr that was a drawing of a fat disabled woman with the signs “Fuck Diets” covering her naked flesh. What many people saw was a person rejecting diet culture and the shame that comes along with not only being fat but also being disabled. Something that was suppose to be positive was turned into a conflict due to a few trolls that wanted to decide that this fictional person was disabled due to an illness not being taken care of. I find it pointless to discuss the semantics of the whole conversation because I find the idea that people are putting a label of disease on a fat body, a disabled and fictional drawing of a body ludicrous. It is truthfully the sign of how much fat stigma is alive in our society that even a drawing meant to be positive and show body diversity is turned into something it isn’t.
What I want to talk about is the reaction from the people who were trashing the drawing by saying that their response was a hypothetical situation the drawing could be depicting. When people say that they are speaking hypothetically what they really mean is that they are not talking about you, so you don’t have the right to find what they are saying offensive. This kind of response to a push back against negative comments is not only meant to try and negate the emotional reaction of those people who are offended, but is also a way to try and silence the ability of anyone who takes issue with the person’s harmful stance. By saying that they are talking about a hypothetical situation it also makes it so that a person who has had their own body read in a similar fashion has no space to speak out, because clearly they are not speaking about actual situations that have happened to actual people.
Attacking a drawing, that doesn’t depict a real person, gives people who are blinded by their own prejudice an ability to try and remove their own responsibility that is connected to the harm their words cause. The issue really isn’t that they are reading a drawing of a person that was meant to be positive, but that they are trying to negate the reality that their words have been said about real people, with real bodies that live in reality. Their lives and body should never be used as a hypothetical situation
When fat disabled bodies are read as a being the result of an inability to take care of ones self that is not only fat phobia but also ableism in action. When someone sees a fat disabled body and automatically assumes that the state of their body is the end result of mismanaged care that is directly related to growing up in a society where you are socialized with fat phobic thinking. We are continually taught fat people have X illness and that illness results in X state of body, then our minds fill in the blank. Without challenging social conditioning no one is able to break away from the fat stigma that is so ingrained within our society.
By not breaking away from prejudice, people create these hypothetical situations while forgetting that there are real people with real bodies who have and continue to deal with people who do not think hypothetically about the way they read their body. All of us learn to read bodies in a way that doesn’t allow for us accept difference in others but question why someone else’s body exists as it does. Instead of allowing for bodies to merely exist many react with fear and push back trying to understand through ableism and fat phobia, speaking in hypothetical’s to try and protect their own discomfort.