Judy Freespirit

(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

Judy Freespirit, one of the founders of FA, has passed away today.

In honor of her memory, please read the following:

FAT LIBERATION MANIFESTO

1. WE believe that fat people are fully entitled to human respect and recognition.

2. WE are angry at mistreatment by commercial and sexist interests. These have exploited our bodies as objects of ridicule, thereby creating an immensely profitable market selling the false promise of avoidance of, or relief from, that ridicule.

3. WE see our struggle as allied with the struggles of other oppressed groups against classism, racism, sexism, ageism, financial exploitation, imperialism and the like.

4. WE demand equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life, as promised in the Constitution of the United States. We demand equal access to goods and services in the public domain, and an end to discrimination against us in the areas of employment, education, public facilities and health services.

5. WE single out as our special enemies the so-called “reducing” industries. These include diet clubs, reducing salons, fat farms, diet doctors, diet books, diet foods and food supplements, surgical procedures, appetite suppressants, drugs and gadgetry such as wraps and “reducing machines”.

WE demand that they take responsibility for their false claims, acknowledge that their products are harmful to the public health, and publish long-term studies proving any statistical efficacy of their products. We make this demand knowing that over 99% of all weight loss programs, when evaluated over a five-year period, fail utterly, and also knowing the extreme proven harmfulness of frequent large changes in weight.

6. WE repudiate the mystified “science” which falsely claims that we are unfit. It has both caused and upheld discrimination against us, in collusion with the financial interests of insurance companies, the fashion and garment industries, reducing industries, the food and drug industries, and the medical and psychiatric establishment.

7. WE refuse to be subjugated to the interests of our enemies. We fully intend to reclaim power over our bodies and our lives. We commit ourselves to pursue these goals together.

FAT PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE ….

By Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran
November, 1973

Originally Published by the Fat Underground,
Los Angeles, California USA
copied from Largesse Archives

(via fattypatties)

I don’t have to explain my fat to you

(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

When I was 21 I studied abroad in Rome for three months as part of my university’s Italian language studies program.  Because I was studying Italian language and culture, I was assigned to live with a host family (instead of in campus housing), which in my case meant a cantankerous little old lady named Paola who spoke almost no English… which would have been fine (I was there to learn Italian, after all!), except that Paola thought she was SUPER FANTASTIC at speaking English, which usually meant that all of our conversations ended in her screaming at me (in Italian) that I didn’t understand anything.

But Paola is a story for another time.  This is about my fat.

When I first arrived at Termini train station, I met up with the rest of my cohort and, one-by-one, we were picked up by our families.  When Paola laid eyes on me, she smiled big (or was it a grimace?  I can hardly remember) and said “Ciao Margitte!  Come stai?” (hello, how are you?) and then immediately said about five other things that were well above my Italian 101 knowledge.  She helped me cram my (laughably oversized) bags into her teensy car, and we zipped off to her apartment in San Giovanni.  After a traumatizing experience with her elevator (it wouldn’t fit the two of us with my luggage), she showed me to my room and I took a nap.

I awoke three hours later to the smell of delicious Italian cooking.  Paola excitedly ushered me into her itsy-bitsy kitchen and sat me on a rickety chair in front of my dinner.

Which consisted of three plates of food.

THREE plates of food.

Now I had learned that it was customary in Italy to eat a lot of food at dinner, but Paola herself only had one plate.  Not wanting to be rude, I smiled, said “Grazie,” and proceeded to try and eat as much of the food as possible.  At a plate and a half in, I just couldn’t eat anymore.  “Mi dispiace, ma non ho fame.”  My Italian was pretty shaky, but I basically said that I was sorry but I wasn’t hungry.

“Mangia!” (eat!), she insisted.  But I couldn’t, and Paola was shocked.

“Ma… come mai sei cosi grassata*?”

“Grassata” was not yet in my vocabulary, so I couldn’t answer.  She just kept asking, over and over, “but how come you are so….?”, growing increasingly aggravated with my puzzled looks.

Then came the hand motions.  “GRASSATA!!!” She exclaimed, making a curvy shape with her hands while giving herself a double-chin and sucking in air to make her face look bloated.  She then grabbed her chunk of her belly.  “Grassata!”

I finally realized what she was asking, but went to get my dictionary just in case I was imagining things.  Horrified, I found out that I was right—she really had decided that asking me why I was fat was an appropriate topic of conversation (*the actual Italian word for fat is “grassa”… “grassata” literally means “greased” but is often used to describe fat people, from what I understand).  I shrugged and said “Non lo so” (I don’t know) and tried to leave it at that.

Over the next few days, Paola badgered me about why I was so fat, growing more and more frustrated when she realized I didn’t eat a whole lot and that I was fairly active.

One night during that first week, I had a friend (who just so happened to be vacationing in Rome at the time) over for dinner.  This time, Paola decided to ask Lauren why I was so fat.  Was I lying about my eating habits?  Did I really exercise?  Lauren and I were, I think, equally horrified at this line of questioning.  Then Lauren had the bright idea to take out the dictionary and look for the word “thyroid”.

“Tiroide!” I exclaimed, pointing to it in the dictionary.

Amazingly and suddenly, Paola was satisfied.  All was right in the world, because it finally made sense to her WHY my fat body was so fat—because I had a bad thyroid.  (In later years I would come to find out that I did not actually have said problem with my thyroid, but that is also another story.)

~

I’m not sure how often other fat people are asked by others about the how’s and why’s of their particular fatness, but I do know how often I’ve felt compelled to explain it to people even when they haven’t asked.  Fat hate being as rampant as it is, we fatties often find ourselves in the position of defending ourselves against the stereotype.  You know the one—the one that goes “fat people are ‘x’” and here ‘x’ can be anything as long as it’s negative (lazy, stupid, smelly, slow, unkempt, compulsive, weak-willed, gluttonous, unhealthy, etc.); indeed ‘x’ is often all of these things and more.  Prior to coming to body acceptance, it is usually a fat person’s only way to be okay with him or herself: “Yes I’m fat but at least I’m not ‘x’.”

Generally, we are vindicated (or at least feel “safer”) if we can “prove” our fatness is the result of something outside of our control (i.e. genetic predisposition toward a certain body type or a certain amount of adipose tissue, or a non-“obesity”-related disease or illness that causes fatness).  If we can prove that our fatness is not because of ‘x’, we can at least be “good” in our fatness.

There are many reasons why this type of thinking is poisonous, not only for our own bodies but for the bodies of other fat people, as well.  The painful divisiveness of the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy is discussed very frequently within FA, and not nearly enough in the general public sphere.

Last Spring I was waiting for the bus with a friend from my grad program.  We were talking about fat.  He (a thin athlete and vegan) came to the conversation with all sorts of assumptions about fat bodies and health; similarly, I came to the conversation with all sorts of assumptions about his assumptions based on my knowledge of his lifestyle choices.  That being said, we had an interesting conversation, which ended with me explaining that I often feel pressured to be a “good” fat in order to be taken seriously within an academic context.

“It does lend you a certain credibility,” he admitted.

I didn’t like the implication of this statement, in part because it confirmed my fears and because it even implied that he might not take me seriously if I exhibited stereotypically “fat” behaviors or if I were to become ill with some sort of “obesity”-related disease.  If I had type II diabetes, for example, would the importance of my work in fat studies be any less important?  Would my claims of discrimination and call for better representations of fat bodies in popular culture be less legitimate if I sat around and ate Cheetos all day?

According to him, it seemed the answer might be yes.

UGH.

How is it okay to say that only “healthy” fat people who exercise and eat “right” deserve to be respected?  To see better images of themselves reflected in the media?  To have equal access to health care?  To sit in a damn seat on an airplane and not have to worry about the arm digging into their sides so much it makes them want to cry (this is of course from personal experience) or that they’ll be asked to leave the plane or buy an extra seat for “safety” precautions (the experience of Kevin Smith and many others)?  The answer is that it’s not.

So I implore you—you, me, fat people everywhere (and especially those beautiful girls posting over at FYCB—to resist the urge to “explain” your fatness.  Not only because these questions further divide us, but because they are, in and of themselves, incredibly problematic, embedded in a notion that we somehow can (and should) rid the world of fat bodies.

Every time you feel compelled to explain your fatness, you are participating (whether consciously or not) in a socially-sanctioned conversation about your fat body that is ultimately about “obesity” researchers’ bottom line: eradicating fatness.

I know that seems a bit harsh, but stay with me for a moment while I appeal to work by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (herself a fat woman) about a different oppressed group: the gay community.

In “Axiomatic,” Sedgwick argues that conversations about the “origins” of gayness—essentially the nature vs. nurture debate—are very problematic because the desire to know how or why people are gay is really about the desire to “cure” gayness.  If, for example, people are gay because they “choose” to be, the cure is super simple: just decide not to be gay.  Gay-hatin’ straights can do their part to encourage this by making the world a super inhospitable place for people who choose to be gay (yay discrimination and hate crimes.  Not.).  If we decide that gayness is “caused” by certain childhood experiences or certain child-rearing practices, we can just work to ensure those environmental factors (“nurture”) don’t happen.  If most gay people are themselves correct, and they are actually born this way, then by golly the “cure” is a lot harder but researchers sure are working their asses off trying to find the “gay gene”.  Can you imagine what might happen when and if they find this rainbow-magic gene?  Can you guess?  Because I bet it ends with preventing gay children from being born.

A similar line of thinking happens in conversations about the origins of fatness.  If we are fat because of our own behavior, just change the behavior (so says the multi-billion-dollar diet & exercise industry).  Choose to be thin.  If we are fat because of some other environmental experiences (childhood trauma, “bad” parenting, school lunches and vending machines, bullying, etc. and so on), then stop those things from happening.  If it’s genetic, spend billions and billons of dollars to find the fat gene, or some sort of drug that will alter our biology in order to make us thin.  In the end, it really is all about making fat people thin people…  which is really just about getting rid of fat people.  End of story.  Can you imagine what happens if they find “the fat gene” (as if there is only one)?  Because I bet it ends with preventing fat children from being born.

Every time you feel the need to explain your fatness, you buy into this system.

But it’s so damn hard not to.  I get that.  Part of the reason is because, within the genetic argument, non-normative bodies are begrudgingly granted basic human rights provided that they are the way they are because they can’t “help” it.  If it’s not our fault, then others have to at least tolerate our existence.  Indeed, this is sometimes the only way for oppressed groups to be included in laws that protect them from discrimination.

Implicit in this is the assumption, first of all, that if we could, we would naturally choose to be “normal” (aka thin, or straight, or white, or whatever).  When we have to “explain” our non-normativity, there is no room for us to make the powerful statement that we want to be this way.

Why am I not allowed to want to be fat?

~

Someone once asked me what I would say if given the chance to tell the whole world just one thing I wanted them to know about fatness.  At the time, I said that I wished that everyone knew that fat does NOT equal “unhealthy”.  While I still think this is incredibly important for people to know, in part because it has the potential to radically alter not only the medical community or the diet & exercise industry, but also the individual lives of people who have body fat (so… everyone), I don’t know that this is what I would say now if given the chance.

What I’m doing with my activism, and what I’m accomplishing in my grad work, cannot just be a fight to be seen as “healthy” or “good” or “genetically predisposed”.  It has to be a fight for all fat people, regardless of how or why they are fat, to be seen as people, period.  A fight for fatties to be acknowledged as having a multiplicity of identities, medical histories, eating habits, behaviors, childhoods, personal tastes and preferences, and life experiences.  A fight to obliterate any notion of the fat experience as any one particular thing, to end the need to justify our existence or prove that we are not “stereotypically fat”.  Rather than dividing us into groups of “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, “genetically fat” or “behaviorally fat”, we need to be understood as people who are just fat, end of discussion.

There are so many people who can be on board with FA or other fat-positive principles, provided the fat person in question is healthy, or “tries not to be fat,” or is conventionally attractive (and thus curvy or voluptuous or even “chubby not fat”).  Fuck that.

I’m done with trying to please these people.  And you should be, too.

For more information on divisive identity politics, eliminating “health” from the discussion of fatness, and other things I’ve talked about here, check out these fantastic blog posts:

Tasha Fierce’s “Fat As I Wanna Be”, Snarky’s Machine’s “You Are My Sisters”, The Rotund’s “Second Verse, Same as the First; Fat Acceptance is for Everyone” and Fatshionista’s “Q&A: On dressing femme, being a ‘bad fat’, and changing the FA blogosphere

“Huge” potential

(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

(For a much more nuanced and amusing recap of Huge’s first episode, head on over to Lesley Kinzel’s post.)

Full disclosure: I LOVED Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray.  Yeah, yeah John Waters devotees swear that it totally shat on the original AND John Travolta is no Divine (not even close, amirite?), but I actually really, really dug that movie.  I saw the Broadway musical when it debuted in Seattle, and I think it might have been my first experience with something even remotely approaching fat acceptance/body love.  When I first heard “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” it warmed my own little big, blonde and beautiful heart.

But I digress.  Nikki was the shit as Tracy Turnblad, and she sadly hasn’t done much since then, aside from a shitty Lifetime movie and a little-known, straight to DVD indie flick.  (And of course there was that pesky arrest.)

So I was excited to open my recent Entertainment Weekly and see this ad:

Of course, I’m a little perturbed that she looks so scared and uncomfortable (especially given her character’s own self-acceptance attitude), but HOLY FUCK!  That body!  That beautiful fat body that looks just like mine!  In a magazine!  If I had seen this in high school, my mind would have been thoroughly blown.

Anyway, onto the episode itself.

I missed it last night, so watched the replay tonight on ABC Family along with my trusty DVR remote and my snarky boyfriend (Joe).

First of all, the show gets props for the sheer amount of fat actors (all shapes and sizes!) it employs.  I haven’t seen this many fat kids since Heavyweights (although it’s sad that these things gotta be set at fat camps in order to get more than 1 or 2 fat characters in ‘em).

The episode opens with a whole lot of fat teens in their bathing suits, hanging out on the first day of camp and taking their “pre-fat camp” (and, ostensibly, “pre-weight loss”) photos.  (Joe called this process “disturbing”—he doesn’t share the same sordid history with extreme childhood dieting that I have, so he’s not really acquainted with these sort of dehumanizing rituals.)  BUT THEN: Will/Willamina (Blonsky) strips supersexystyle in front of the whole camp when the formidable Dr. Rand (Gina Torres, whom I’m already inclined to dislike thanks to her turn as the maggoty-faced big bad from season 4 of Angel) forces her to take her clothes off for the “pre-fat camp” photo… and I love Nikki Blonsky even more than I did before.

The rest of the episode is really about introducing us to the characters:

There’s the radically self-loving Will, who refuses to buy into the camp’s anti-fat bullshit and sells candy like a crack dealer (more on this later);

Will’s new BFF Becca (Raven Goodwin), who is bookish and shy, and is (as Lesley points out) one of the first NON-sassy black girls on mainstream/white TV like, ever.  (Glee ought to take a cue from Huge here.);

Ian (Ari Stidham), Will’s cute potential crush and fellow Pixies lover, whose feelings for Will might be compromised by his more obvious feelings for…

Amber (played by David Hasselhoff’s daughter, Hayley), the skinniest and prettiest girl at camp.  She is (despite her new-found popularity) incredibly insecure and self-loathing, and comes complete with her own set of “Thinspiration” pics torn from fashion mags.  She quickly befriends the other camp queen bees, Caitlin and Chloe.

A “Jillian Michaels”esque trainer (petite, loud, super mean, wants people to work out until they cry, etc.) is the exact opposite of her assistant, the attractive nice-guy and all-around “golden boy” George (Zander Eckhouse) whom Amber immediately falls for (and the feelings are mutual).

And then there is Dr. Rand, the former fatty who has redeemed herself by becoming thin and beautiful and the head of a fat camp so that she can make other sad fatties thin and beautiful, too.  Blechhhh.  (Also, the camp’s cook is her dad and they seem to have a weird relationship.  Dunno what’s up with that.)

There’s a whole lot of drama from the very beginning, and while my 24-year-old self is a little “over it” already, I know my high school-aged self would have loved the shit out of this show.

The Good:

  • There are ALL sorts of fat characters, which makes stereotyping really hard
  • The stripping scene
  • Will’s incredulous facial expressions at all the fat camp ridiculousness
  • The super shy/awkward Alistair, whom we haven’t really had a chance to meet yet but does funny things that make me laugh
  • Will: “Me and my fat are like BFFs.”
  • Random character, reading a celeb gossip magazine: “Miley Cyrus walks her own dog.  She’s so down to earth.”
  • Will, to Dr. Rand, insisting that she is not “too afraid” to “change her life” via weight loss: “I’m not scared, I just think everything you stand for is crap.”

The Bad:

  • Will as candy drug dealer.  While I’ve so far read a lot of complaints about this part (especially because it reinforces the stupid ass stereotype that all fat kids have fucked up, secretive relationships with candy and ho-hos), I still thought it was a fair depiction of what might happen under such extreme food-related deprivation… and it also highlights just how much like prison this fat camp really is.  Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this bit is more about the “fatties love junkfood” trope than about making a “deprivation is ridic” point.
  • The show seems to be framing Will’s body acceptance as stubborn resistance to the well-meaning folks who just wanna help, rather than as radical self-love.
  • Amber randomly sits on a dude’s lap.  I don’t get this scene: it’s supposed to show how surprised and relieved Amber is when she realizes she can sit on a guy without killing him because she is a big fat whale, but really?  It’s just creepy.  Joe’s only comment: “….aaaaaaaaaand boner.”
  • The acting in general is questionable (but maybe it’s super good for ABC Family?  I dunno.)
  • All of the pro-weight loss stuff in general.  For as fat-pos as Will the character might be, the premise of the show is still that these kids are here to lose weight, because being fat is unhealthy/bad/etc.  When Will runs away from camp and her only recourse is to hitchhike, Dr. Rand expresses her disappointment that Will would “rather risk [her] life than change it”—because losing weight is, you know, the most life-changing thing you can do for yourself as a sad, self-loathing, cake-eating fatty.  Puh-lease.

The Ugly:

  • Amber’s “thinspiration” (my teenaged self SO had a computer folder full of thinspo pictures of plus-size models).
  • The camp counselors take away all “illegal contraband,” including sugar-free gum.  Joe’s response: “You can’t have gum?! Is it because chewing is like eating and eating makes you fat?”
  • Amber: “I’ve been dieting since I was 10, it’s probably the thing I’m best at.”  This is so honest, and is one of the many things that is horribly wrong about our society.
  • Caitlin gets sent home because Dr. Rand finds out she’s been binging and purging.  First of all, props to the show for reminding us that fat kids can suffer from bulimia (and other eating disorders/disordered eating), too.  And man, fuck the culture that cultivates this kind of whacked relationship with food and our bodies.  Fucking fuck!

The verdict, according to Joe:

“It has potential.”

And I, with a healthy dose of cautious optimism, agree.

The personal is political

(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

Share time!

I wanted to tell y’all about two recent experiences I had with medical health professionals and my fat body.  The first experience was totally rad:

Last Monday I went to a therapist for the first time.  I was understandably nervous and a little bit freaked out.  Among other things, I wanted my therapist to know that I was happy with being fat, and that I would NOT be okay with any “food as comfort for childhood pain this-is-why-you’re-fat” psychobabble.  So I was brave.  We sat down, I told her a bit about myself and what I was doing in school (fat studies) and then launched into my little diatribe about Health at Every Size.

My therapist’s response?  “That’s great!”; she then proceeded to show me the following bumper sticker:

Turns out, she specializes in disordered eating and body image, and is totally against dieting!  I love her already.

My second experience?  Not so rad, but a self-love success story anyway:

Last Wednesday I went for my annual gynecological exam and as it was with a new doctor, I was incredibly nervous.  But, because I know it helps to get a better response from doctors (who are already pre-programmed to treat me differently because I am fat) I had my jovial fat girl game face on. The doctor (tall, thin, female and also ridiculously cheerful) and I sat down to go over my personal and family health history, none of which includes any sort of typically-associated-with-”obesity”-diseases. Then, without warning, she asked me if I knew about the “fantastic” nutritionist on campus, and advised I look into losing weight while I’m a grad student, for my “health”.  With my heart pounding and my mind convincing my flight-or-fight impulses to *calm*down*, I smiled and said “No thanks” and told her a bit about HAES and recent blood tests showing that I am perfectly healthy.  She then proceeded to point out my BMI on a chart, asking me (very slowly, so that I would be *sure* to understand) if I knew what a BMI was. (Doesn’t she realize that I, as a fat person, have been forced to track this number since age 9? How patronizing.) I told her that my PhD research is in Fat Studies, and was about to get into “why BMI is a load of bullshit” when she cut me off and said “oh so you know about all this then,” and that was that.

Needless to say, it was *not* a good start to an appointment that is supposed to be entirely about my ladyparts and NOT my fat. BUT, I was “good”-–I stayed calm, kept my cheerful disposition, and tried to seem as compliant as possible. Everything from there went really well, but when I left I couldn’t shake the feeling that it sucks being a “good fat” at the doctor. I want to be able to be nervous, or upset, or PISSED OFF when I have a right to be (I mean, she advised me to see a nutritionist without asking me anything about my eating habits or other lifestyle choices) but I can’t if I want to be treated with respect.

Just another example of how people with non-normative bodies have to adhere to different rules in order to ensure fair and equal treatment… but I consider it a “success” because I was able to stick up for myself AND keep my cool, without shaking my self-esteem one bit.

The point of all this?  Fat people deserve equal respect and care while at the doctor. If you’re not getting it, or if you’re made to feel bad because you are fat, stand up for yourself.  It’s hard, but it can be incredibly liberating.  It also might require that you do your homework: look into HAES, read up on others’ experiences at the doc, and arm yourself with facts about BMI and other issues regarding the “OMGbesity epidemic”; don’t be mad at yourself if you’re too scared to face the doc alone—you can also call and/or write letters if the thought of talking about this stuff in person is too anxiety-inducing.  Equal respect and care should be a RIGHT and not a privilege.

Fat bodies everywhere!

I really like this photo; it’s a great illustration of a variety of fat bodies.  It’s also interesting to think about how many people could just look at these silhouettes and immediately ascribe certain (largely negative) behaviors and personality traits to them. The article it comes from is a great piece about the REAL health risks of being fat.  (p.s. the answer is “discrimination”)(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)

I really like this photo; it’s a great illustration of a variety of fat bodies.  It’s also interesting to think about how many people could just look at these silhouettes and immediately ascribe certain (largely negative) behaviors and personality traits to them.

The article it comes from is a great piece about the REAL health risks of being fat.

(p.s. the answer is “discrimination”)