#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.

tumblr_n8crfrtpXM1qgk1mco1_1280 tumblr_n8crfrtpXM1qgk1mco3_1280 tumblr_n8crfrtpXM1qgk1mco2_1280

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.

————-

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.
Advertisements

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 complexd and amazing people.

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

20140505192811-AMC2012_logo001

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!

20140423220138-10013948_10152082025949315_1942176443_n
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

30c652663da329d0b0ae5c453b6c9951

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.

Michigan Radio Interview

1382023437000-elle-07-nov-melissa-mccarthy-cover-xln

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.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

Speaking Hypothetically

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.