Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cross-Post: Finessing the Holidays

Cross-posted from my other blog. I think this is relevant for lots of folks.

My heart goes out to folks who find this time of year difficult, daunting, draining, and somewhat or completely debilitating.

I have not quite found a way to finesse the holidays, but I am sure working on it.

Sassafras Lowery does finesse the holidays and has a great post, "Queerly Reclaiming the Holidays," which I first read last year...and which I think is pretty broadly useful.

I've worked on #2 and #3 this year, and at times it has helped me feel better and also bond with my partner and friends. But at the same time, if the holidays already feel like a lot of work for you, you might end up even more drained.

My advice is do what you can when you can to the extent that it makes you feel good OR to the extent that it helps you work through the bullshit and baggage that might emerge or present that you can, potentially, feel good. For example, there is so much pressure to be and feel happy this season that my impulse to repress feelings of depression, grief, guilt, etc. is strengthened. But rather than ignoring it, I am trying to face it, express it. I have also tried harder to keep my emotional lines of communication open because my instinct is to cut those channels off in an effort to be happy (for others). I have been finding myself on my steadier ground by working on this. Importantly, I find myself more able to access joy authentically.

Especially at this time of year, take care of you. *BIG HUGS*

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Love and Laughter

If you are as in love with Robyn as I sometimes am, you will likely die a sweet death of laughter if you are not careful, so take a deep breath first as SNL's Tarran Killam recreate's Robyn's video for "Call Your Boyfriend" with the help of some cast and writers, at 4:30 in the morning in a relatively small room filled with people. In my mind, it is a serious homage to Robyn and the dedication is clear. I loved every single minute. Enjoy.

Aside from the obvious, one of the most hilarious parts, for me, is the complete and unwavering straight face on Bobby Moynihan and the way he starts to turn his body away at the end, still with the straight face, as though he is spent and totally *done* with this silliness in which he was obviously compelled to participate.

For those of you unfamiliar with Robyn, here is the original video:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fat in the Classroom: What NOT to Do

Hi, folks! For awhile now I've been working on an "Intro to Teaching Fat Studies" presentation with a colleague, which we plan to make into an online workshop. Thus far, our focus has been on a Fat Studies 101 sort of deal and topics and activities which might be useful in the classroom.

We had bounced around ideas about a practical section that addressed the issue of desks, though I had tabled it--in part because there's no simple solution. However, the issues of desks and chairs has come up a good bit in my dissertation interviews with size accepting fat women, and this week I started recalling other disastrous classroom experiences friends have told me. Teaching teachers how not to be assholes about fatness should really be our first priority...and a bare minimum for educators interested in being, you know, good educators.

So my goal is to have the first section of our online workshop deal with these sorts of practical issues--in large part, a "What NOT to Do" or a primer on "how not to shame and alienate fat students."

Thus far, I start out by suggesting that teachers don't comment on students' bodies at all, noting that marginalized folks live in a world which thinks nothing of commenting on their bodies as if they are public property and open to commentary/scrutiny. 

Obviously, another important suggestion,  for all kinds of reasons besides not shaming fat students, is not to WEIGH students or have them weigh themselves.

Also, educators shouldn't use fat or body-shaming photos or other imagery or analogies in an uncritical way. For example, teachers shouldn't engage in the popular meme that fat folks are the de-evolution of the species (Google "evolution fat" if you are unfamiliar with this increasingly popular imagery/meme).

But I need some more ideas. Have your educators engaged in body shaming and/or privileging of certain bodies in your classes?* Hearing from you all about your own experiences will help me give teachers more concrete examples and alternatives. Let me know what teachers are doing wrong, so we can try to educate folks and improve the classroom experience for fat folks.**  

Edited to add: Please, if you are willing, also share how this experience made you feel. I think it is important to voice the impact this stuff has on real live people.  

Edited to add Pt 2: If you don't feel like leaving a public comment, feel free to email me confidentially at withoutscene at gmail dot com. 

*The workshop will be about fat, but I plan to address the larger context of bodies and embodiment in the classroom.
**We focus on the college setting, but experiences at all levels of education are surely helpful.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fat Feminist Resilience

Fat feminist.
Academically out of control.
Outrageous embodiment
Discomforting to you.
Professional perplexer
Defying your logic.
Unapologetic and indefatigable.

So I'm no ace at poetry, but there's that. I was having trouble writing anything with conviction today, so I tried to think about what this blog is about and started with the first line.

I believe in being defiant and indignant despite the unease and disruption it causes others, but sometimes it takes a lot of resilience to be someone who makes people so uncomfortable...merely by being. I'm certainly not the only person to experience this, especially in academia, but it remains a challenge nonetheless.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blog Update

I'm going to do that thing where you write, acknowledging that you haven't written, to say that you are going to write.

I was really inspired by the Crunk Feminist Collective's session on digital literacies at the National Women's Studies Association conference. I often eschew blogging because I feel it distracts from the "things I should be doing" aka publishing, dissertation, job applications, teaching, etc. And while those are all worthy and prioritized endeavors, the idea that one set of activities is "productive" and the other is not is, well, a false dichotomy.

So here I am, announcing my game plan. From now on, I will try to post on Mondays. Having set posting days is another tip I got from the fab CFCers. This also gives me set parameters, and thus thinking about blogging might start to feel less overwhelming. Not to mention you the reader will know when to look for posts. I also hope to do some guest blogging other places, and I'll let you know if that works out.

So, what will it be?
Should I muse about my dissertation?
Should I do a link-unloading post?
Should I write about the fact that my use of the phrase 'my feminist ethics' has skyrocketed since the NWSA CFC session?
Should I write about the folks who went to jail for starving their baby because they were afraid it would get too fat?
Should I write about how some people characterize me as a cartoon character and others have pointed out my obsession with footnotes, such that I make 'verbal footnotes' as a matter of course?
Should I write about the fab fat folks I met at NWSA, including lovelies Hanne Blank and TheSugarMonster?
Anything in particular you would like to see here?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obesity Contagion? Debunked Again.

Another critique recently came out of the now-famous (and infamously irritating) obesity-is-contagious study, which was all the rage in the media a few years ago. This research was published despite the common sense notion that homophily or the tendency for people to associate with people like themselves, was both a more obvious and rational explanation for why people in the social networks of fat people might also be fat. (For example, I share 90 friends with Marilyn Wann on Facebook--fat people and fat activist folks are literally my largest social network.) 

The first critique, in 2008, used the homophily argument. And there have been others. It seems there is a mass of work building which debunks the obesity-is-contagious silliness. The latest critique looks at the statistics and statistical models used by the the researchers. According to Indiana University Math Professor Russel Lyons':
"The problem is that their methods were deeply flawed from bottom to top: The models used to analyze the sparse data contradict the data and the conclusions, and the method used to estimate the dubious models does not apply," he said. "The statistical significance tests that were applied to the questionable estimates do not show the differences they have proposed."
There are a couple notable items in the article I link to above, which speak to the state of science and health research in particular. First, one of the obesity-is-contagious researchers had a profit motive:

"Christakis built on his research to form a company, MedNetworks, which proposes to help pharmaceutical companies get doctors to prescribe more of their drugs"
As if doctors didn't already have enough pressure from pharmaceutical companies on prescribing medicine. Maybe they should do a study on that sort of contagion

Second, Lyons' experience makes it clear that--although it's sometimes easy to publish crap research like the obesity-is-contagious study--publishing critiques of popular and widely celebrated research, if that research supports the status quo and the fat panic paradigm, can be quite difficult to publish. According to the article,

"Both of the leading, prestigious journals that published research by Christakis and Fowler -- the New England Journal of Medicine and BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal) -- rejected Lyons' critique, the first declining to give a reason and the second saying the work would be better placed in a specialist journal. Rejections then came from three other leading journals on the grounds that they had not published the original research. A statistics review journal rejected Lyons' paper on the basis that the original research of Christakis and Fowler was itself not sufficiently important."
 What does Christakis have to say about it all? According to the New York Times article, he doesn't say he was wrong but skirts the issue by chalking it all up to the scientific process.

"“This is how science proceeds,” he said. “We came up with a fact that no one ever thought about before. We published our methods. We published our data. We said, ‘Look, we think this is important. You should help us figure out how to do this better.’ ”
He's not wrong, exactly. The point is to do science, duplicate it, test it, critique it, make it better and do it better. Though he kind of leaves out the critique part, and his words leave me with the sense that he thinks people should be helping him better prove obesity contagion rather than proving him wrong.

I'll leave you with a quote, which I think is apt:
"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." -Tolstoy

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Charles Horton Cooley on the Self, Oppression, and Inhumanity

Upon reviewing some fantastic Charles Horton Cooley this morning, I came across this gem:

The immigrant has for the most part been treated purely as a source of labor, with little or no regard to the fact that he* is a human being, with a self like the rest of us. There is nothing less to our credit than our neglect of the foreigner and his children, unless it be the arrogance most of us betray when we set out to "americanize" him.--Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, pg 262
I find it jarring that this is still so relevant and significant in 2011. I don't know if hatred of immigrants is at an all-time high as compared to earlier periods in our history, but it's certainly at a peak right now in the U.S. In a country that looks down other countries for human rights abuses, we often offer citizens of other countries no better treatment, if not worse. Somehow being an immigrant (or being perceived as one) means your human rights are stripped. Immigrant folks who aren't "americanized" enough stand out and are at risk for the greatest abuse. 

Cooley goes on, noting other groups of people treated as less than human:

The negro** question includes a similar situation. There is no understanding it without realizing the kind of self-feeling a race must have who, in a land where men* are supposed to be equal, find themselves marked with indelible inferiority. And so with many other classes; with offenders against the law, for example, whom we often turn into hardened criminals by a treatment which destroys their self-respect--or rather convinces them that their only chance of self-respect is in defiance of authority. The treatment of children, in and out of school, involves similar questions, and so of domestic workers, married women, and other sorts of people more or less subject to the arbitrary will of others.

Again, the relevance of this passage is striking, despite social progress of the last 100 years. Charles Horton Cooley, keeping it real since (at least) 1902.

*I must note, of course, Cooley's androcentric language. Using "he" and "man" as universal serves to render women (including the married women he mentions) invisible, outside of the universal, other. Though, of course, this was common in Cooley's time.

**Since I often have to remind my students of this, I'll leave a note here as well. Words like "negro" and "colored" used to be acceptable and common terminology. When used in a quote, it is appropriate, but that does not mean it is appropriate for use outside of a quoted context. Similarly the term "people of color"--a currently acceptable and self-determined phrase--is not interchangeable with the phrase "colored people," nor does it signify that the term "colored people" is a currently appropriate term.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to Catch Yourself Before Enacting Privileged, Ignorant Assholery*

Just now I was thinking of how unappreciated our university janitorial and cleaning staff is, at least in my building. They are largely invisible--they come in in the middle of the night, clean the place, replenish goods, and leave before most students, faculty or staff get here. And the state of our building is something, then, we just take for granted.**

I'd imagine as cleaning jobs go, a job cleaning at a university pays more and offers more benefits than most, though I only imagine that--I don't know. Still, we are very fucking privileged to have people who clean up after us, who sweep our floors and dispose of our trash, who buffer the floors so that they are shiny at the beginning of the semester. Since the workers come at night, though, we find that things are magically clean and disposed of, and we are so used to it we barely think of it unless some anomalous uncleanliness presents itself.

"We should all appreciate and be cognizant of the work of our janitorial staff," I thought. "I could put fliers up in this building," I thought, "telling everyone to appreciate the janitorial staff they take for granted, to be mindful that the work they do in the middle of the night gives our lives ease." "Maybe just for a day, or a few minutes, people would remember to think about the people behind their tidy campus lives."

Now, let me say that those are not bad thoughts. All the intention there is good. But this is precisely why I try to get my students to separate intention from effect.

In a moment of clarity, I then thought, "Hmn. I wonder if the janitors would want that? What would it be like for them if I did that? Would they want me to do it? Would they want that attention? Would people think my signs represented their unhappiness or resentment? Would that attention result in harassment or foster negative attitudes toward them? Would it create a hostile work environment?" Heightened visibility can be a powerful and good thing, but it can also create harm, particularly if it's not chosen visibility.

Now, maybe it wouldn't do harm. Maybe my signs would bring about a joyous appreciation of janitorial staff and people would value the work that they do and the way in which it improves their every day lives and that would catch on throughout the whole campus and the whole nation and the whole world and janitors would be respected and paid more and given more benefits.

Probably not.

But that's also not the point. First of all, my idea for janitorial appreciation signs assumes that in their lives, it's lack of appreciation and recognition that needs improvement. Some happy-go-lucky sign-hanging recognition day is a nice gesture, but would it be what they most needed? Would it create change that would most improve their lives? It's not that easy things to do (like hanging signs) never make a difference or are unimportant, but it's about whether it can make a difference and is that difference the difference that's needed?

Second of all is an important reminder for me that I cannot speak for other groups of people. Not having experience as a janitor--here or anywhere else--I don't know what the work life is like...and therefore, I can't really predict whether appreciation signs would be meaningful or whether they would do much more harm in the lives of the janitorial staff than they would good. Separation from the janitorial staff, which allows myself and others to take them for granted, is exactly why I shouldn't "help" them, at least not without getting well-acquainted with their needs by talking with them or by having them state their needs and suggested solutions. I don't have their lived experience, therefore I can't speak for them OR do for them. It also assumes they need help. Maybe they have recognized a problem and are organizing to fix it. Either way, I am not savior of the janitors.

While it's fine to have good intentions, if you don't consider the lived experience of others, you are bound to harm them. So before you go about saving anyone or helping anyone...before you think you have some brilliant idea:

1) Think about yourself in relation to the people you want to help.
2) Question whether your actions have the potential to do more harm than good.
3) Importantly, question whether your actions would address the self-determined needs of the group of people and whether, really, they need your "help" at all.
4) Humble your damn self.

*Alternative Title: On How I Checked My Own Savior Complex--How You Can too!

**Now, in my old building, on my old floor, we have a daytime janitor. The fact that we see him heightens our awareness and, perhaps, appreciation of him. He becomes a person, a visible part of our lives. He also regularly interacts with other staff, and sometimes faculty and students. However, in his experience--for all I know--his co-existence with faculty, staff, and students might make his life more stressful...might highlight the class differences that exist between janitorial staff, administrative staff, students, and faculty. Again, I am not him, so I simply don't know.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On never getting thin... or More Fat: Still Awesome

Tomorrow I go to my 10 year high school reunion. I have little doubt that I will be the fattest person there.

I spent a lot of energy as a teen thinking about how I'd be thin by the time I graduated high well, I'd be thin at our high school reunion and I'd show them all! Then they would recognize how awesome I am.

But I never got thin. I got a lot fatter. And then I got a lot less afraid of that.

At some point in recent years, I began encountering a critical mass of people who think I am awesome, and that has made a huge difference in my life. It's a big change from my life as a teenage girl who simultaneously didn't want to be seen (for fear of judgment) and was desperate to be seen (recognized as worthwhile) a 28 yr old who has the privilege of knowing many people who see her and even seek her out.

I don't know if people will be assholes or if I will have a good time. I am not going for anyone else. I am going for that teenage girl I was, the one who couldn't imagine a world in which anyone could see her as anything unless she became thin. And then I'm going to write a letter to a young girl I know, who is that girl I was, and really and truly make it worth my time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reflections on My Complicated Relationships with Other Fat Women

For awhile now I've been meaning to post about my reflections on the fat women who have affected me in my lifetime. I even began writing about it in a notebook--which is somewhere around here--before ever starting this blog. This is a new start and will probably come out in multiple rambling posts.

The way I related to other fat women and girls (and men/boys, but that's perhaps for another reflection another time) over time says something about my fat identity.

Fat women have always been in my life. Although my mom was thin when I was little, family on both my mother's and father's sides were on the hefty side more often than not. I remember the first time I saw a picture of my mother from high school. My body made so much more sense to me. In her childhood pictures she is an average sized girl with short blond hair, but as she aged her hair grew and darkened and she became heavier. Her high school picture was very different from the thin mother I knew as a child, or even the size 12 mother I knew as a teen. At age ten I was wearing my mother's clothes--in fact, I raided her closet often for the clothes I thought were funky and 'vintage,' which mostly meant I looked like a bit of a weirdo to my classmates, but I took a lot of pleasure in it and remember feeling a loss when her clothes no longer fit me. I hadn't quite found thrift shopping at that point.

I think middle school was the point at which I started to feel actively antagonistic toward other fat women and girls. One day in homeroom I was sitting with a table of boys. Assigned table, probably. Our homeroom teacher was fat. She had also, oddly enough, been my fourth grade teacher. I didn't like her very much then. Perhaps I already had some antagonism going on. She seemed nicer in middle school homeroom, though. In middle school she mostly taught kids who were lagging behind and kids who were differently abled.

In homeroom I sat next to a boy I had once had a crush on in grade school, who at that time had picked on me in art class and then gotten me called to the principal's office after I apparently reacted by smashing clay into his clothing (which angered his mother), though I didn't remember doing it even at the time I was called to the principal; what I do remember was that going to the principal was a BFD for a kid like me. Anyway, said boy, skinny and short with sandy hair in a bowl cut commented about our teacher being so fat. I agreed! She was sooooooooo fat. I'll never be that fat, I thought or said, I'm not sure. I couldn't imagine being that fat. My plan was to get skinny! I had already internalized the dream of showing up my classmates by getting skinny and (thus) beautiful (desirable, lovable). This conversation, in fact, is documented in my 8th grade yearbook where he wrote:
"Good luck in high school. cheerup and don't be a crump like usual. Surly don't end up like Mrs. _________. (fat)"
Next to it, for good measure or for posterity or as a reminder to myself, since it was my own yearbook, I wrote. "I won't. I PROMISE."

And I meant it. I couldn't imagine being as fat as our teacher. I trembled at the thought of becoming that fat. Looking back, perhaps my classmate didn't think I was fat (and maybe I wasn't, really), but I already thought I was. I remember having an identity as the fat girl because I also remember feeling like I had to take sides. Someone talked about the fat teacher, I had to also denounce her. And to cast off fatness even further, since the possibility of real fatness was borne on my body, I had to swear it off myself. I wanted nothing more than to disassociate myself with a fat teacher; I already felt enough stigma because of my body. 

My relationship with fat girls was more complicated. I had fat friends (at least 'fat' friends), but a few 'fat' girls--often, I'm ashamed to say, poorer and less physically attractive 'fat' girls--I didn't associate with. To be fair, several of these girls were seriously lacking in social skills and I found them to be mean, though I'm sure those things are partially attributable to the fact that they were heavily ostracized; it was hard to know which came first. It felt good to know I wasn't dead last on the middle school/high school totem pool...but honestly, not that good.

Other 'fat' girls who were my friends sometimes simultaneously held this weird antagonistic place in my mental space. They were the sassier, bolder fat girls. Fat girls with attitude, striking and opinionated, and it felt like perhaps there was only room for so many of us. I never became very close with these girls. It was as if there was an unspoken competition--we were all about equal in status, so perhaps that made things more tenuous between us.

In fact, there's only one sassy fat girl I can think of from that period of my life with whom I did bond with. I met her in drama club, and she was a grade older than me. She'd scoff at me calling her sassy--she was the driest wit and had the most sarcasm in our whole high school--but it was a kind of sass. To this day she is one of my best friends. Our sass-es must have meshed well, harmonized. There was another 'fat' girl in drama club who was also a grade ahead of me, and she did hold that antagonistic position in my mind...though she did get the part I wanted in the play and was kind of a dick about it since her head inflated considerably. I told myself I would not have gotten such an ego about it, though I had wished the part would give me an ego boost.

Growing up I had a couple of good friends who were thin, but by middle school many of them were 'fat.' Less sassy fat girls I could bond well with. They were not void of sass--that simply would not do--just a milder sassy. Usually I was the sassiest. I felt a bond with my 'fat' friends based on the mere fact of our size. I thought there was a certain understanding, a certain point of view we shared. I didn't feel judged by them or in competition for my sassy fat girl identity. And I wasn't afraid to be associated with them, for some reason wasn't afraid that they'd bring me more stigma. I suppose as long as they didn't drag down my social status in other ways, that solidarity meant something to me socially. And none of them were "that fat"--as fat as our teacher--nor could I imagine that they ever would be.

Perhaps another reason was because, in a typical contradictory fashion, I started to identify more with other fat girls, though not fat teachers. There was a delicate balance of feeling and not feeling solidarity, but I certainly could not identify with the fat teacher.

In high school, though, even that started to change. Our Spanish teacher was a very fat woman with very thin curly long brown hair and a striking redness to her face which I now know to be rosacea. She often wore knee-length, long-sleeved dresses made out of sweatshirt material. I could not understand, at the time, why she would wear such hideous, unflattering clothing. I'm sure I understood, to some extent, that she didn't have many options, but I still couldn't fathom wearing what she wore.

Needless to say, high school kids were horrible to her. Terrible names for her playing on her last name. No respect whatsoever. She could not control the class, and I slept a lot because I was either very bored or annoyed. She stopped calling on me once she realized I could lift my head from my desk, open my eyes, and answer her questions correctly. I believe it was in her class that I realized I had to get the fuck out of that town...of the high school.

For one of group projects, we were to bring in food. Was it supposed to be food from Spanish speaking countries? I don't know, but my group brought in chocolate covered strawberries. Maybe she also taught an English class. At some point a student was going to put a tack on her seat, which I protested against and thought it was better not to cause a teacher physical harm. I thought they had given up on pranking her when suddenly I see the ass of her white sweatshirt dress is smeared with chocolate. Someone had put one of our chocolate covered strawberries on her seat or at least wiped chocolate on it.

I was horrified for her. I prodded friends to tell her, to no avail. Finally, at the risk of others thinking I was on the side of the fat, poorly-dressed, red-faced teacher, I told her about the stain. How could anyone in good conscience let her go around like that all day? In addition, I was furious at my classmates because above all, I knew that the reason they behaved this way was because she was a fat woman, a fat woman who didn't even have what most would consider a pretty face, nor a flattering outfit, to compensate for her size.

Something in me changed that day, just a little. I started to identify more with the way she was treated and less with my classmates who taunted her. I knew what it was like to face that stigma and disdain...and there was some emotional connection there that could not be mitigated by fear of that same stigma.

I could tell she was embarrassed, but I was almost concerned when she didn't seem nearly as mortified as I had expected. Perhaps she was used to these kinds of things. Maybe she didn't care so much about what people thought. But in her reaction I discovered a new respect for her. She wasn't the coolest fat lady, but it was clear to me that she was a stronger person than I had known.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Feminism, Anti-Feminism, and All The Cakes

I started reading Amy Farrell's Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture recently, and I am really enjoying it so far. 

Amy was supposed to be in one of my NWSA panels last fall, but couldn't make it, and so instead I read her paper for her...a fantastic essay on how antifat sentiment was used by both those for and against women's suffrage, which was part of a chapter in her (then upcoming) book. I was so impressed with her work and fascinated by the topic, especially because I think it shows the way in which antifat attitudes have been woven into the historical fabric of feminism.

The white, Western mainstream feminist movement took off the same time that Western attitudes about fat began to change. Fatness became a serious character flaw, a symbol of failed citizenship. As Amy says in her book, fatness was a sign the middle class folk couldn't handle modern society, couldn't regulate themselves in amidst the new potential for excess. And as Amy points out, the body was increasingly understood to be an important marker...indeed, it was also the height of the Eugenics movement. 

And sadly, these discourses about bodies were utilized by claimsmakers (or people trying to persuade) because those arguments were found to be compelling. 

As such, some feminists of the time used Eugenicist language/arguments to make claims about their (white) right to "women's" suffrage and "women's" rights. They used ideas that already compelled people, that already panicked them, that already tugged at their (a)moral compass. 

Which is why feminists use of anti-fat sentiment didn't come as a big surprise for me...though I find it tremendously interesting. In fact, before I had even read Amy's piece, someone showed me this link to an old book from that time period, archived in Bryn Mawr's "Women's Suffrage Ephemera Collection," called "Ten Little Suffergets."

"Ten Little Suffergets" is a sad piece of anti-women's suffrage propaganda; it's hilarious in it's ridiculousness until you think about the fact that feminists still face these kinds of ridiculous arguments. The "suffergets" (pictured as little girls in dresses, maryjanes with socks, and bows in their hair) hold signs like "Votes for Women" and "Equal Rights" (innocuous enough), "No More Home Rule," "Down with Teachers,"  "Down with the Men," "Let the Man be the Housemaid," "Protection for Infant Industries" (not sure exactly what that refers to), "Every Day a Holiday," "No More Bedtimes," and........."Cake Every Day." 

That's right. Cake. Every. Day. I think it's clear to us all now that suffragists are the architects of the obesity epidemic. Feminism really is the downfall of society!

The storyline of the book is merely that each of the "suffergets" encounters an issue--either she throws off her ideals (the "sufferget" who held the "Down with Teachers" sign ends up bringing flowers to her teacher, thus the end of her feminism)  or she is injured in some way (the story starts out with the first "sufferget" getting a whipping--get this, cuz "suffergets" are naughty. Infantilization + sexualization + physical domination  = sexism win!). Essentially, if she doesn't learn her lesson on her own...harm shall come to her, as it should be.

Guess what happens to the "sufferget" who was fighting for "Cake Every Day"?

Her gluttony and cakelust is her own undoing and she can no longer protest on behalf of cakefreedom. Twowholecakes is one thing, this gal "gobbles" ALL TEH CAKES. If only feminists had an allthecakes shout-out back then to turn this on its head.

In her chapter on "Feminism, Citizenship, and Fat Stigma," Amy talks both about this kind of anti-suffragist attack and about how the suffragists tried to depict themselves a slim, young, and beautiful...and anti-suffragists as fat cats or fat and aging (behind the times).  

Rather than saying something radical, like, "We're fat, so what, give us our fucking votes!" it seems early feminists used the antifat sentiment and lookism of the day to argue for their cause. Although it's lazy (and often despicable), it's much easier to utilize narratives that people already accept or find persuasive, symbols that jive with their (often fucked up) cultural logic (Eugenics, antifat denigration, etc.) than to vie for your cause AND challenge systems of privilege and oppression that are in place...or at least refrain from perpetuating them. Fatness is a place marker people can use to rile people up and win them over with the sensationalism, fear, and panic (not so dissimilar from the functions and dynamics of panic about racial purity) when otherwise they fear their argument is not compelling or persuasive enough. When in doubt, rely on fear and hate, right? It's a surefire plan.

As fat activists, we should do our best to avoid falling into the trap of relying on or reinforcing systems of privilege and oppression and/or cultural tropes to vie for our cause. Our cause stands on it's own.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Highlighting Funny Fat Jokes?

I want to keep a file of funny fat jokes. I'm tired of being tired of tired fat jokes.

The beau and I watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (judge not!), and he regularly does fat jokes during his monologue. But last month it was like EVERY DAMN DAY a boring, irritating, and stereotypical fat joke. He made a manboobs joke about the fat guy who ran a marathon. COME THE FUCK ON.

Then SNL actually did a funny fat joke...or maybe even two. Of course, they made some fat jokes worthy of heavy eye rolling, but any fat joke that is not that is, sadly, noteworthy to me. I feel like when someone tells a funny fat joke, an angel gets its wings. President Obama even did an obesity joke during the White House Correspondents Dinner where (I felt) Michelle Obama was the butt of the joke, rather than fat kids/people. 

It seems like something we might try to highlight. If we say, "Yes, more of this please!" perhaps people will catch on and up their game!

Anyway, rad fatties, what are your parameters for a funny fat joke?

I think these two SNL jokes from Weekend Update are funny. The first calls out Martin Lawrence for his fat-suiting, stigmatizing movie characters.

Scene: Seth Meyers. Shown to right: photo of a headless fatty (masculine-presenting) wearing a button up shirt with thin vertical stripes, a belt, and jeans.

Seth Meyers: Some researchers are warning the efforts by global health officials to combat obesity is actually creating a stigma against fat people. Though I'm gonna go ahead and put equal blame on Martin Lawrence. (Shown to right: Enlarged photo of Martin Lawrence as 'Big Momma' from mid-chest up in front of the DVD covers of each Big Momma's House movie.)

The second one makes fun of Perez Hilton for being a bullying jerk.

Scene: Seth Meyers. Shown to right:A picture of a Perez Hilton from the shoulders up, smiling widely and wearing black. Underneath the picture, the words, "Writing Children's Book."

Seth Meyers: Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has signed a deal to write a children's book called, "The Boy with Pink Hair." But really he just took another children's book and scribbled insults all over it. (Shown: a picture of Babar the Elephant, a character from a children's illustrated book/TV series, on a sidewalk in a black suit and wearing his crown."Fat!" is written over the picture in white with a white arrow pointing to Babar.)

Are these jokes you would consider "funny fat jokes"?

If you have any funny fat jokes you would like to share, please send them to withoutscene at gmail dot com.

Note: I'm trying to transcribe videos to make their contents accessible, but I'm new at it, so I might not be doing the most thorough job yet. I'll get better. *Constructive* criticism is helpful.

Note, the 2nd: The captions on the videos are not synched up. Have tried to fix it, but each time I load the original video, the captions are out of synch.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

This is the story of a night on the internet. I went down a social justice rabbit hole, and I want to show you where I went. I want to tell the story of my experience and what I found. I am posting links rather than embedding video because it's gonna be a long haul, folks.

It started with a newsletter from Kimberly Dark. I met Kimberly for the first time at the 2009 National Women's Studies Conference. She walked up to me in the exhibit hall and introduced herself. She had seen me present on a panel about teaching fat studies earlier that day. Between my crazy hair and my loud dress, I suppose I was easy to recognize. She complimented me, we chatted briefly, and she gave me a postcard about her work. When I came home, I put her postcard on my board in my office with a thumb tack. Later, I visited her website and searched for videos of her performances on YouTube. I was in awe of the stories she told and the way she told them. I signed up for her newsletter. Since then, we've become Facebook friends and met again at NWSA 2010, where I was very grateful we got more time to chat. Kimberly is powerful artist/performer, activist, and sociologist. If you know anything about me and know anything about her you might understand why I look up to her. Let's just say she's my kind of gal.

So instead of leaving her newsletter in my Inbox to be forgotten, I opened it up and read it with a smile. Here's the part that started the rabbit hole:
Campus Pride Blog names Kimberly as one of the Top 25 "Best of the Best" LGBT speakers, performers who raises awareness of inclusion, visibility on college campuses nationally!

I clicked the link. I read Kimberly's bio. I scrolled. I wanted to see if there was anyone I recognized, and more importantly, find people I didn't know about who I obviously should know about. I began the YouTubestravaganza. Though I didn't YouTube every name, there were some people who stood out.

"Kit Yan tell stories through slam poetry from the lens of a transgender Asian American from Hawaii now lost in the big city of New York."

I watched Kit's "3rd Gender." I really wish I had known about this so I could show it to my class this week when we were talking about sexuality and gender identity. It would have blown their minds.

My favorite quote:
"Sometimes my gender is boy who looks like a girl who likes boys. And sometimes my gender is girl who is a boy who still feels like a girl sometimes. And sometimes my gender is a boy-girl who likes everything in between, but most of the gender is FUCK YOU, MIND YOUR OWN GODDAMN BUSINESS."

I also watched Kit's "Open Letter to HRC." Honest and touching. If you're not familiar with critiques of the HRC, do some Googling.

After YouTubeing a few more people/groups, I came upon the bio for Mia Mingus. I will post it in its entirety because it blew me away.

"Mia Mingus is a queer physically disabled woman of color, Korean American transracial and transnational adoptee, living in Atlanta, Georgia, raised in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, and born in Korea. Through her work on disability justice, race, reproductive justice, gender, queer liberation, transformative justice, transracial and transnational adoption, multiple oppressed identities and multi-issue politics; she recognizes the urgency and barriers for oppressed communities to work together and build alliances for liberation. Though her work for liberation changes and evolves, her roots remain firmly planted in ending sexual violence. Mia was a Co-Executive Director of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now until January 2010. She is a member of the Disability Justice Collective, the Sins Invalid Advisory Committee, and the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative. She is currently speaking at various conferences, universities and gatherings around the country in order to support her writing."

I YouTubed her and found this POWERFUL video of Mia speaking at the CLPP conference. Holy shit. This woman busts it up. She reminds me of Andrea Smith, who spoke at the 2010 NWSA conference, because she just pummels you with knowledge and liberating passion.

The finale of her speech:
"We have to start relating to each other more as whole people. I don't want to live in a world where I have to leave the movements that I'm a part of in order to feel like I'm whole or in order to be able to practice healing. I don't want to do that. I don't want to have to feel like in order to stay connected to this movement or to other social justice movements I have to cut off pieces of myself, and say, "Okay, well I won't talk about my queerness." "Okay, I won't talk about being an adoptee." "Okay, I won't talk about being disabled." That's not the kind of movement I want. And that's not the kind of movement that I know you want. So I hope as we go through this weekend, we can practice what it would be like. Challenge ourselves to be as whole as possible and to be as connected as possible."

Of course then I had to know what CLPP was. CLPP = Civil Liberties and Public Policy. I watched the video on their homepage to get a sense of what they were about. Seems like I should know about them too. I signed up for their listserv and also bookmarked their amazing resources page.

Then I YouTubed Unique Robinson, one of the interns for CLPP, who appears in their front page video. Unique and Monika Martinez, performing also at a CLPP conference, weave a beautiful and painful narrative, drawing on their experiences as women of color. They end by highlighting the unproductiveness of tearing each other down and suggesting, "Just listen to ourselves/ a future trapped in our past/ where whiteness equals beauty/ and brown paper bags/ Drain your brains of this poison/ and embrace all that is true to you/ so we can't call ourselves free/ until we call ourselves beautiful/ until we call each other beautiful." Definitely thinking of pairing this with Kiri Davis' "A Girl Like Me" when I teach beauty, body, and race next time.

Unique is also a part of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. So I decided I should get more educated and browse their website. I knew about SisterSong, and am still hittin' myself for missing the opportunity to hear Loretta Ross speak at NWSA a few years ago. I'd only heard about the anti-choice billboards that are targeted at communities of color, so hadn't seen these videos of theirs about the group behind the billboards and their "Freedom Rides" event. Another long haul, but worth it to watch em. It's some messed up shit and is also revealing about the complexity women of color face when it comes to reproduction and abortion in the U.S.

Then I was on twitter and saw a Crunk Feminist Collective post called "How Chris Brown is Effing Up My Sex Life: A B-Side to Dating While Feminist." The post is about whether or not you can sleep with someone who believes things you think are harmful. I think it depends on the people involved and the situation. I think no is the right answer for some and yes is the right answer for others. But regardless, it's an important question to consider.

In the comments of that CFC post Alexis said, "Makes me want to create an ad campaign that gives new meaning to the phrase “come correct.” Then, like magic, someone created a Tumblr in honor, called "Betta Come Correct." Apparently some amazing women created it over their lunch break.

Betta Come Correct introduced me to the Lost Bois, D.C. duo A.O and B.Steady, speaking about consent with the Consensual Project. After watching this video, I YouTubed and Googled Lost Bois. Sincerely was the first Lost Bois video I watched, full of cute nerdiness, crushing hard, and swagger. Here's a good interview interspersed with videos. GEMS.

BCC also has an interesting post on Jessie J's "Do it like a Dude," which I had never heard. While the video gives a crazy amount of visibility to queer women of color, again we see a white woman appropriating women of color and using them as "background color" in a video for a song that admittedly is making fun of black masculinity in hip hop. While calling out that appropriation, CFC notes that Jessie J also invokes the male gaze and CFC asks the question, "What does it mean that boys are getting hot by women performing a decidedly black masculinity?"

If you've never observed the fact that people of color are used as background color for white people, you need to think about that some more. Think of Outsourced, a show about a call center in India, where the show's main character is a white man. Google "Gwen Stefani cultural appropriation." Hell, I watched Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days are Over" video the other day and was just SHOCKED at the level of blatant excessive cultural appropriation. And if you may not yet think cultural appropriation is a problem, go back and read the Background Color link and the subsequent posts on the same topic.

So that's my social justice rabbit hole for the week. I'll leave you with a US Social Forum compilation video on "Liberating Gender and Sexuality" that features Mia Mingus, Andrea Smith, and Loretta Ross, among others.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Badass Fatasses of the Week

First, the Fat Strong Lady, from California. Two days ago, she posted a video of her exercising and talking about her experiences, and it has been making the rounds. From the video description:

I created this video in response to all the fat hate in our culture right now. From Michelle Obama's many comments about the "obesity epidemic" to the non-stop flood of trolls who jump at the chance to shame and attack fat people who are enjoying their bodies and living healthy and free. Hating someone "for their own good" has never worked.

While it can't be said enough that we don't have to be healthy or strong or ANYTHING AT ALL to deserve dignity, respect, and rights, I think it's really important to see fat people being in all sorts of ways; and it's transformative, in my opinion, because seeing different ways of being expands our ability to envision and embody different ways of being. When we know more possibilities for fatness, we are better able to challenge a world that reduces us to myth and stereotype and even monsters.

And our second Badass Fatass of the week is Kim Selling, who's video of her slam poem "Fat Bottomed Girls" is also making the rounds. Kim takes a different approach in this video, the fuck you approach, if you will, to fat activism. She says many great things, but here are a few:

I was going to post my favorite quotes, but instead, just watch this video as many times as you need in order to soak all those powerful words in (I've watched it about 10 times now and I'm still not done soaking up the awesomesauce). And then do a body love booty shake in honor of badass fatasses everywhere.

"SKINS" Open Mic: Kim Selling from Champ Ensminger on Vimeo.

Hoodwinked By Fat Panic

The "church makes you fatter" articles are making the rounds after a new study tells us confirms what similar previous correlational studies have told us before: people who are regularly involved in religious activities are fatter.

Each article I've seen on this current study briefly mentions that
meaning in this study:
1. Church is not correlated with bad health
2. Fatness is not correlated with bad health

Hoodwinked. Our culture is so fucking hoodwinked by fat panic, by 'obesity epidemic' discourse that OMGFATTIES is the default EVEN when 'health concerns' are admittedly non-existent. That's because it's not about health at all. It's fat panic for fat panic's sake.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Keep on Livin'

I wish there were a way to properly explain how much joy this video gives me.

Le Tigre Karaoke - Keep on Livin' - Unskinny Bop

I love watching it and pretending I'm in a big, queer dance party. Even after 5+ years of YouTube, it amazes me how people you don't even know can touch your heart, can get you through when you're feeling down. I suppose I feel that way about the internets in general.

And I was reminded of the above because of this video, one of the most touching "It Gets Better" videos I've watched, by JD Samson (formerly of Le Tigre), simply and meaningfully reading the lyrics to Keep on Livin.

We are touching each other across the world. And for all the cries about how the internet isolates us, our connections matter and they are real.

I imagine the people who may have watched these videos, and hope that they did keep on livin. And I hope you do too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Suggest You Do Some Clicking /or/ Sleep for Me, Reading for You

Read this Psychology Today post "The Demon Fat and Why We All Need to Make Peace with It" by the fabulous Harriet Brown. Harriet, as always, does an excellent job of cutting to the core and illustrating the fucked up relationships we have with food and how they are connected to eating disorders. (Speaking of which, have you checked out Harriet's Project Body Talk lately? Cuz, well, you should!!!!)

Also, if you haven't put resilient fat warrior Pattie Thomas' Psychology Today column, I Take Up Space, on your feed...I suggest you do some clicking. Pattie has come faced some hate-filled personal attacks there, and I'm sure she'll continue to need our support.

Finally, whether or not you've heard of the story of Casey Heynes, who was bullied and fought back (on video tape), you should check out Nicholosophy's post about his personal experience of bullying and its effects on Samantha Thomas' blog Discourse, and both of Paul Campos' posts (here and here) related to the story, where Paul breaks it on down (as usual), building on his argument from this lecture. After that, or you know, at any time you please, also read Brian's badass takedown of an apparently idiotic takedown (I refuse to read or link, for my own sanity) of Paul Campos' argument on Red No. 3.

And now, sleep for me. I mean, "I'm going to sleep." Not, "Dear readers of my blog, please sleep for me." Get the rest you require, but to my knowledge it's not transferable.

Aaaaaaaand I think this meta-conversation I'm having with myself demonstrates exactly why sleep is an important goal of mine at this point in time.

So. Yes.
Sleep. For me. Reading. For. You.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Resource for Kids: The Body Positive

Hey new readers! Thanks for coming by. A lot of people have read my newsletter, which is both exciting and kind of scary, cuz their was some personal stuff in there! But I'm very glad if my newsletter can touch anyone out there, kids or adults.

As a follow up, I thought I would direct you to the trailer for a film called Body Talk for Teens, which the wonderful Kelly Bliss alerted me to today. It is produced by The Body Positive:

The Body Positive's mission is to implement educational programs that transform individual and societal beliefs about weight, body image, and identity. The result is a growing national movement of healthy, confident individuals contributing to positive change in the world.

I feel like I've been to their website before, but obviously I didn't really know what they do/have been up to because I would have included their resources in my newsletter. Sad that their site didn't come up when I was Googling "body image and girls."

Apparently the film was created by teens themselves. That makes it even cooler.

In addition to the film, The Body Positive offers training for mental health providers, a curriculum for kids in grades K-3, kids in grades 4-6, and apparently kids in grades 7-12 too, but they don't seem to have it for sale. They even have their own newsletter.

Their blog is going on my list of things to read regularly, even though they don't seem to post very often. All of the videos on their YouTube channel are great, as well.

I find this organization and the women who created it so inspiring, especially right now when I feel like writing that newsletter reinvigorated my desire to change the world and make it a better place. Honestly, I wonder if they'd hire an overeducated fat girl like me. I told Notblueatall that there was no way chance fat people could go into schools and speak to kids about loving their bodies. This organization makes me think I might have been wrong.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Candy Bar Rebellion: Sorting Out Our Fucked Up Relationships with Food

In case you're interested, I'm talking about the minefield of assumptions about fat people and food and sorting out fucked up food issues over at my other blog Finessing the Fuck You.

For background on the whole 'fuck you' thing, see Background on the 'Fuck You.'

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bliss, Obsession, and Over-achievement

I just finished my letter-turned-4pg-newsletter to my friend's niece, who is bullied for her weight. I have worked on it for two weeks now, but it's pretty awesome. And I think it shows how far I've come, personally, that I state in the newsletter that I am awesome. I may still cringe at self-promotion, but I can say I'm awesome and not be ashamed.

I wish I could write a newsletter like this to every fat kid. I wish it were my job to do that

Edited to Add: Since a lot of people seemed excited about the idea of a newsletter for kids and a friend requested that I post, I have depersonalized the newsletter and post it for anyone who knows a kid (or adult) who would benefit.

Listen Here! A Body Image Newsletter for Kids and Teens

Monday, February 28, 2011

Kids and my inner fat girl

I've been writing a letter to a friend's niece...well, I was writing a letter to a friend's niece, who is bullied because of her weight.

I started writing a her letter. Then it got long.

And if you know anything about me, you might have expected that a little letter would be a bit understated for me. Shucks, I'm an over-achiever.

Since the little gal likes crafty things, and since I'm pretty good with Microsoft Publisher, I decided to take my too-long text and make it into a newsletter. I have compiled her some links and am making a page or two of fantastic fat female role models.

This has been like writing a letter to my pre-teen self. It's also compelled me to reflect a bit more, not only about my own experiences, but about my relationships to other fat women growing up. I hope to write more about that soon.

But finding size-acceptance resources for kids was harder than I thought. There was a lot of stuff ABOUT kids, but very little actually written for them, on their level. What are we doing for kids? What CAN we do for kids?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Healthy Food Rituals

In my house, we have a food ritual. I'm not sure quite how it started, but it developed from our habit of getting each other something special when one of us would go to the grocery alone. By something "special" I really just mean something the other person would like or something new to try...whether it's a little out of the ordinary or a little more expensive or just a new kind of the same old something.

See, we're cheap, y'all. I mean, we grocery shop cheaper than most people I know. But at the same time we use food as indulgence. For example, we'll get some really fresh asparagus sometimes, even if the price is ridiculous. Tonight I bought some low-sodium soy and teriyaki sauces and some couscous. We try not to eat out a lot, so instead we really focus on enjoying food at home...which is pretty easy when you live with a magnificent improvisational cook.

When one of us comes home from the grocery, our ritual is to show the other person the items we got. We "oooooh" and "ahhhhhh." We show off even the most mundane items...but we save the best for last. If the other person isn't home when we come back from the grocery, we commence the ritual upon their return.

I think this is one of the healthiest food rituals we have. We celebrate all the food. There is no good food/bad food. We get excited about green beans. We get excited about a new whole grain bread. We get excited about funfetti cake mix. Any one of those items could be the "best" we save for last, the little indulgence of the day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Body Positive Song for Men?

When looking for a song to play before my Fat Feminisms guest lecture (really, a Fat Studies 101 lecture with a feminist/intersectional bent) the other day, I came upon this song, Forrest Whitaker by Brother Ali, posted on the blog Happy Bodies.

Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did (lyrics below). *

Brother Ali-Forrest Whitaker

Perhaps I'm way behind on this one, but I was pretty fucking impressed. I don't feel like you hear many songs like this by men, since men are usually taught that body issues are women's issues and that they either need to present a strong, disembodied front, or joke about it. With increasing pressure on men regarding their looks, we need songs like this by men (and by women).

I especially like this part of the song, which comes after the "let me list the things you'd pick apart and tell you so what?" introduction.

"I'm not the classic profile of what the ladies want
You might think I'm depressed as can be
But when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me
And if that's somethin that you can't respect then that's peace
My life's better without you actually
To everyone out there, who's a little different
I say damn a magazine, these are gods fingerprints
You can call me ugly but can't take nothing from me
I am what I am doctor you ain't gotta love me"

1. Your assumptions about me are wrong. 2. If you can't respect me, see you later. 3. Body diversity, fuck yeah. 4. You don't have to love me (implied: but I have a right to exist and live with respect).

Also, he mentions 'doctor.' I don't know enough about him or his music to take the reference at face value, and he references same elsewhere. But when I first heard it, I certainly took it literally, happily assuming he was referencing actual doctors and stigma/discrimination in health care. But alas, the only reference I could find of him talking about 'doctors' was when he was interviewed for Rock the Vote about health care. He is quite a political fella, and I will definitely be checking out his music much more, having only seen him perform a few times on TV.

The mention of Forrest Whitaker is pretty straightforward, as he's a fat Black man with a lazy eye who actually made it pretty well in Hollywood, winning both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Beauty tips according to Forrest Whitacker, eh? We should all follow the implied, uh, "fuck em!"

Full Lyrics

And yo whatever comes up comes out
We don't put our hands over our mouth
And whatever comes up comes out
We don't put our hands over our mouth
Whatever comes up comes out
Please mister bass-man lay it on me

Ayo, Dependin on the day, and dependin on what I ate
I'm anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds over weight
I got red eyes and one of them's lazy
And they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy
I'm albino man, I know I'm pink and pale
And I'm hairy as hell, everywhere but fingernails
I shave a cranium that ain't quite shaped right
Face tight, shiny, I stay up and write late nights
My wardrobe is jeans and faded shirts
A mixture of what I like, and what I wear to work
I'm not mean and got a neck full of razor bumps
I'm not the classic profile of what the ladies want
You might think I'm depressed as can be
But when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me
And if that's somethin that you can't respect then that's peace
My life's better without you actually
To everyone out there, who's a little different
I say damn a magazine, these are gods fingerprints
You can call me ugly but can't take nothing from me
I am what I am doctor you ain't gotta love me

If you would please turn in your bible
To beauty tips according to Forest Whitaker
In the third chapter of the third line
Brother Ali would you please read to the choir for me son

[Sung 3X]
I'ma be all right, you ain't gotta be my friend tonight (you ain't gotta love me)
An I'ma be okay, you would probably bore me anyway (you ain't gotta love me)

Forest Whitiker y'all


*Upon reading through the lyrics again, the line "And they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy" obviously relies on ableist (and lookist) tropes (more on that here). Well, if Brother Ali really is political, there's something we can help educate him about. **
**And with that Google search I realize that the fantastic blog FWD/Feminists with Disabilities has closed. It was a great blog, I'm glad they made such a difference, and I'll continue to read the archives!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Self-Care Exchange

Self-care is a feminist ethic, largely because women tend to be socialized to care for others' needs and disregard our own. And, I know a lot of women who are so busy kicking ass and taking names that they forget to take time and pleasure for themselves.

Self-care is also an important ethic in the fat acceptance movement, largely because fat people are taught to disregard and dis-identify with our "disgusting" bodies, in addition to being taught we are already too self-indulgent. We often internalize this shaming and hatred, which, un-surprisingly, doesn't lead us to love and care for ourselves. When I talk about fat shame and it's effects with students, I ask them what it is they do when they are made to feel bad about themselves. No one shouts, "Self-care!" though we'd be in a better world if self-care was an instinctual reaction to shaming.

Despite knowing the importance of self-care, it's not easy for me to do. Sometimes I find it hard to feel deserving. Sometimes I am distracted. Sometimes I feel too tired. Sometimes I look to the wrong things for "self-care" out of habit. Sometimes I'm not quite sure how I would enact self-care. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and it seems like just one more thing on my endless list of things I need to do/should be doing.

My loved ones are very good about encouraging my self-care, though. My partner encourages me to get the sleep I need and take care of my body. My friends encourage me to give myself breaks and room to grow. In all honesty, I am blessed to be around so many people who want me to treat myself nicely, not to mention their providing me with so much encouragement and support.

One day, my friend and I had a conversation that I will never forget because it really defines our friendship. If I remember correctly, upon giving me some advice, she said, "Oh, I don't mean to be mothering you." I said, "No, it's okay, it's good. We are each other's mothers. We are mutual mothers." And that phrase has stuck with us. Mutual mothers. We take care of each other, nurture one another, and give each other reality checks whenever necessary. The idea of mutual mothering really struck a self-care chord with me. We cared about each other, but also about each other's self-care.

Once when I was having a terrible time with my back, she gave me a massage. I've gotten used to my partner caring for me in such an intimate way--and honestly, I wouldn't feel at all uncomfortable, myself, about giving a friend a massage--but I'm pretty fucking terrible at letting people care for me. This friend of mine, another friend of mine, my partner, and others are helping me learn how to let myself be cared for. I am learning more all the time about how to trust and how to ask for help and support. I am getting better, but I am still not good at it.

Letting her care for me in such a way opened a door in my mind. Letting others care is an important part of self care, something I'm realizing more and more all the time. I started thinking about self-care a little differently. For a long time I rolled the idea of a self-care exchange in my head, but I never verbalized it. I don't know why. Perhaps it was because deep down it felt greedy or selfish to ask someone to care for me; perhaps it was because sometimes things just need to evolve naturally.

When Christmas rolled around, she asked for a list of things I wanted. On my list was a manicure, as I'd never gotten one. At first, my friend thought, we might get our nails done together. That could be fun. But my friend, someone of my own heart, had a better idea. “I love to give manicures and it would make me really happy if I could pamper you and give you a manicure myself.” She wanted to care for me! I was touched and agreed that I would like that much more.

About a month ago we finally set a date. We spent a whole day together having fun. But when it came to me, she went all out. She had taken a lot of time to think about exactly what she wanted to do and how she was going to make me feel comfortable and relaxed and loved. At the same time, the focus was still on what I wanted.

Afterward, we agreed that it was a great time and it made us both feel very good. I told her that I had thought a long time about a self-care exchange, and this certainly seemed like that was what we had done. What if we made an effort at a regular self-care exchange?

She was instantly on-board. Now, we plan to do a self-care exchange at least once a month, ideally every two weeks. There are all sorts of things we can do for each other—things we would almost never do for ourselves.

I think self-care exchange could be revolutionary. I like that I have a close friend who will help me with self-care, but at the same time I don't think self-care exchange is something just for close friends. I think if people were more open with one another, we could all help each other with self-care. I am amazed when I hear stories about people coming together to share resources, like poor women of color taking turns making meals for their families. That's fucking community—investing in each other and coming together to make life better for one another. And on a fundamental level, that's self-care en mass.

A self-care exchange is about human connection and human care. It's a mutually agreed-upon activity that is mutually beneficial. It's bonding. It's intimacy. It's love. Letting someone care for you is deeply touching, and so is caring for someone else. Let's care for each other!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Father, Parts I & II...and thin mom in my psyche.

Father, Part I

While my father was visiting recently, my body weight did not come up...but I think it almost did.

I mentioned that my feet hurt.

His response was to shake his head slightly and say that a person of my age (nearly 28) shouldn't hurt so much. He didn't quite have an empathetic tone. Now, he didn't say it, but I felt like it was a hint at my weight. Fatties get a sense for these things. And since everyone tells you your feet-knees-everything would hurt less if you just lost weight, I subverted what I felt was an impending weight statement.

"Well, my feet have always hurt, that's the way it's always been." He couldn't disagree.

Essentially, extraordinarily tight ligaments and tendons which get tighter and cause pain in my feed and legs if I'm on my feet for too long or walk for too long, which isn't very long at all. At any rate, it's been this way since I was little. And, in twist that will utterly baffle people who believe the anti-fat hype, the pain has gotten less and my recovery quicker as I've gotten fatter. That is, I think, not because I've adapted or because I stretch more, but because my body presses down more, which forces my tendons to stretch. If I wear a heavy backpack, it's also easier and less painful to walk.

So, he didn't say anything about my weight. I'll never know if that's what he was getting at, but if that's what he was thinking, I was way ahead of him.


Father, Part II

My father doesn't say much about my weight anymore. The last thing he ever said about it was that he was worried about my health. I can't remember if I had the knowledge at the time to combat that claim or if I just shrugged it off.

I recently realized something interesting about my father, who's been a hefty guy or at least "husky" since his twenties or earlier: He married my mom when she was skinny.  (They have been divorced since I was 5.)

I don't know why this struck me right then. It's not like I didn't know this.

My mom comes from a family of a lot of fat women, and a few fat men, and was fat in her teens. I don't know when my mom got skinny, but she had me when she was 27 and all my childhood memories of her are of skinny mom. Now, I don't know her size, but she wasn't just "not fat," she was skinny. Skinny mom with straight brown hair so long she would sit on it. And growing up that's the image I had for the way I wanted to look some day. My only wedding fantasies were about fitting into her wedding dress one day...not because I gave a damn about a wedding, but because I wanted to be as thin (and therefore, beautiful) as she was when she was first wed. I even held on to the fantasy of super long hair well into my twenties before figuring out it just doesn't look good on me.

A few years ago my mom revealed to me that, of course, she wasn't thin by accident. She was exhausting herself to be thin. In addition, she told me that my grandmother, my dad's mother, would often give her clothes several sizes too small, even after she'd explicitly told her what size she wore. Classy, grandma!

Honestly, I'm not sure if my mom was fat when she met my dad or if she had already slimmed down. His second wife was very thin, his third not so much. My dad, himself, fluctuates in his weight. At one point in my childhood he slimmed down quite a bit--a time when he was obsessed with lifting weights and running (which explains why I could lift weights and had a weight bench in my room in my early teens, a time when I was obsessed with losing weight and doing a lot of unhealthy things in an effort to become thin).

While not completely invested in the thin ideal, my dad would like to lose weight, I am sure. He lost some weight recently. I don't compliment him on it, but I know some people do. I know he doesn't hate fat people, and he loves me like nobody's goddamn business, but thinking about that image of him and my skinny mom struck a nerve.

For some reason I wondered, for a moment, if that was my dad's image of an "ideal" woman. I felt a little insecure. "He loved thin mom," I thought. "Is that his image of what I should look like in my twenties?" Naturally, he loved my mom for all sorts of reasons. He has never lamented the thinness of my mom's once-thin body.

I don't know why I thought his long-ago marriage to thin mom had anything to do with me (except for, you know, the obvious).  He certainly sees how much my partner loves me. Honestly, my dad has been one of the most compassionate people I know when it comes to my weight and my insecurity about my weight over the years. The fact that he loved a thin woman (or two) doesn't mean he doesn't love his fat daughter.

If nothing else, reflecting on all of this has made me even more aware of the effect thin-mom-as-ideal has had on the development of my own self image, and the place it, perhaps, still holds in my psyche.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lessons from Astronauts

We're not supposed to connect emotions to food, right? We're not supposed to eat for comfort or so that we feel better. Food should not be our pleasure.

But the thing is, food is connected to emotions. Food is comforting. Food is pleasurable. Food does make us feel better.

This was reinforced for me when watching NOVA's "Can We Make it to Mars?”--a significant portion of which host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spends with astronaut food scientists. In the segment, they reference the psychological importance of food and quote several astronauts.

When you're in space, stuck inside, basically, a can. Food becomes...kind of a highlight of the day.” -- NASA Astronaut Jerry Linenger

You have to eat in order to survive. But what people don't...understand, I don't think, is the psychological aspect of food.” – NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Because it is one of the few pleasures you have control over. And I think, people serving on submarines have long understood the importance of food for crews' well being.” – NASA Astronaut Andrew Thomas

Of course, most of us aren't astronauts or part of submarine crews. But when it comes down to it, food has psychological value. It's something most of us don't think about...because we don't have to. It's something you mightn't think about lest you suddenly find yourself lacking.

I'm not saying food is the main course of emotional and psychological well being. However, taking pleasure in food is, in fact, helpful.

I recognize that most people's relationship with food is fraught, some people consistently rely on food for comfort in ways that are harmful to their well-being, and some people become unable to control their binging (just as some people become unable to control their urge to deny themselves food--let's not set up a false dichotomy where anorexics and bulimics are 'in control' unlike binge eaters). But that doesn't make pleasure in food inherently bad or taking comfort in it an inherently negative behavior.

Food has value for your mental health. Food has psychological value. You are not a bad person because you take pleasure in food. In fact, overall, we're probably better for it. 

For more on this from someone brilliant, visit The Fat Nutritionist here and here.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I am finally giving in to the urge to start my own blog. The timing is in no small way related to the fact that I finally came up with an awesome title for a blog.

I have blogged elsewhere about fat stuff, and on LiveJournal for much longer. I even met my partner on OpenDiary way back in 2001.

I am a feminist fat activist sociologist grad student queer goofy awesome nerd, in no order because all of those things are interdependent.

I'll be writing stuff. That is all.