That Kevin Smith Thing

So everyone has heard about the whole Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines thing by now, yes?  (Just in case you haven’t, you can find out all about it here, here, here, or, well, a whole bunch of other places.)  Basically, Kevin Smith got kicked off his flight for being too fat, and there’s been a whole of a tweet/blog/cast explosion about it.

It’s been really interesting to see some of the things that Smith has said, especially given that he’s not by any means a fat-positive guy.

I’ve been listening to his SModcast about the incident, and along side his anger and indignation at being publicly humiliated and treated with something less than dignity, there’s some really interesting discussion of thin normativity and fat self-policing, like in this exchange:

K: I live my life fat, and I have to navigate through a thin person’s world all the time.  And as such, you would never put yourself into harm’s way, so to speak, um, in regards to your girth or size.

J: You wouldn’t set yourself up.

K: Never.

I can sort of sense an almost apologist streak to some of what Smith says, but what’s interesting to me is that he’s talking very clearly about self-policing, about being acutely aware all the time that the fat body doesn’t fit, and avoiding situations where that’s going to be a ‘problem’, where fatness is punished with pain or shame or public humiliation.

He also talks about being at a ‘bear convention’ and being able to relax and not ‘suck his gut in’ all the time:

K: I was in a room full of people who looked like me.

J: How was that?

K: Muscle-y and gay.  No, they’re fat, they’re dudes who look like very large dudes who look like me.  It’s awesome!

Yep, I think that’s some fat solidarity right there!

Coincidentally, all this has happened just as I’ve been reading Joyce Huff’s fantastic ‘Access to the Sky: Airplane Seats and Fat Bodies as Contested Spaces’ in The Fat Studies Reader.  Huff interrogates Southwest’s policy of forcing fat passengers to buy two seats and the arguments which are used to justify it.  As Huff points out, ‘the “average” customer, for whom Southwest presumably designs its seats, represents and ideological construct rather than a statistical average’.  She goes on to argue that:

The underlying ideology that determines the size of the so-called average customer to whom Southwest supposedly caters is a capitalist one.  Although airlines and their supporters may invoke average customers who represent cultural ideals, in fact seat sizing has a lot more to do with profit margins and maximizing the number of paying customers.

This arbitrary allocation of space is normalised and the ‘corporately constructed environment’ is rendered invisible by invoking as ‘average’ the ideal passenger for whom the seats are a comfortable size, and stigmatizing (and penalising!) those bodies which fail to conform to this arbitrary ideal.  Blame for everything from lack of space to increased fares is shifted onto the offending bodies, and individuals – rather than corporations or cultures – are stigmatised and held responsible not only for these problems, but also for their solution (ie, in this case, weight loss).

As Huff argues:

Southwest’s policy assumes an audience accustomed to capitalist modes of thought, one that will endorse the premise that businesses need to continually increase profit margins, one that will believe that this need is sacrosanct to the degree that they will subordinate their own needs and desires to it.

I for one am glad that Kevin Smith is a loquacious dude with a platform, and that he’s not willing to subordinate his needs to the rhetoric of corporate profit.

Taking Up Space

Fat acceptance has given me my body.  Of course, I always had a body, but for a while there I was pretty disconnected from it.  I remember years ago someone telling me that they had seen me some place and I was shocked.  I was shocked that they had seen me, that I was visible, that I actually, physically existed.

I’ve also, in the past, had trouble consciously acknowledging physical pain.  I’ve had chronic ankle and knee problems since I was a kid, and even though I knew that, and could articulate it to some extent, I would recast the physical limitations engendered by that pain as defects of character.  Rather than consciously acknowledging that I couldn’t walk too fast or too far without causing myself pain, I would ‘forget’ about how much it hurt and interpret my reluctance to engage in physical exercise which actively hurt me as being a bad, lazy fatty.  I have, thankfully, developed much more awareness, and I find it easy to manage when I’m by myself – I’ll just catch the tram for two or three stops rather than walk, for example.  But it’s harder when I’m with other people and have to negotiate the shame (or fear of shame) of being (perceived as) a lazy fatty.  I not only walk with them, but often try to walk at their pace.  Which hurts me.  And I have to stop.

In the last year or so I’ve also had pretty bad RSI in my shoulder, from all the time I’ve been spending on the computer (note to self: blogging may be a break from thesising, but it’s not a break from the computer!).  I’m doing what I can to manage it – gym, stretching, regular breaks, yoga, massage.  One big factor – and by far the hardest for me to negotiate at the moment – is that I need to let my body take up space.  I find it particularly hard on public transport, where space is extremely limited already.  I’ve noticed how I hunch my shoulders, draw my arms across my body, try to shrink down to take up less space.  And how I stay that way even when my shoulder starts to ache and my neck muscles spasm.  Well, at the point of my neck muscles spasming I start to stretch and wriggle and find some way of sitting that doesn’t actively hurt me.

I do think it’s useful to be aware of my body in space and how it relates to other people.  I am endlessly infuriated by people (mostly men, but certainly not all or only men), who  s p r a w l  a n d  s p r e a d  o u t  and take up a four-seat all to themselves when the train is packed.  But this is not simply an awareness of my body in space, it’s also an awareness of how taking up more space is coded as selfish, anti-social, and shameful.  And how this coding affects the way I manage my fat body in public spaces.  And how subtle the monitoring and disciplining of the body can be.

Call For Papers – Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

I cannot even begin to describe how excited I am about this!  A fat studies conference!  In Australia!  With Charlotte Cooper!  And the absolutely brilliant Sam Murray!

PLEASE CIRCULATE TO ALL INTERESTED PARTIES

Call For Papers – Fat Studies: A Critical Dialogue

To be held 10 ­ 11 September, 2010 Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

While cultural anxieties about fatness and stigmatisation of fat bodies in Western cultures have been central to dominant discourses about bodily ‘propriety’ since the early twentieth century, the rise of the ‘disease’ category of obesity and the moral panic over an alleged global ‘obesity epidemic’ has lent a medical authority and legitimacy to what can be described as ‘fat-phobia’. Against the backdrop of the ever-growing medicalisation and pathologisation of fatness, the field of Fat Studies has emerged in recent years to offer an interdisciplinary critical interrogation of the dominant medical models of health, gives voice to the lived experience of fat bodies, and offers critical insights into, and investigates the ethico-political implications of, the cultural meanings that have come to be attached to fat bodies.

This two-day event will put Australasian Fat Studies into conversation with critical fat scholarship from around the globe by gathering together scholars from across a spectrum of disciplinary backgrounds, as well as activists, health care professionals, performers and artists. This conference seeks to open a dialogue between scholars, health care professionals and activists about the productive and enabling critical possibilities Fat Studies offers for rethinking dominant notions about health and pathology, gender and bodily aesthetics, political interventions, and beyond.

Confirmed keynote speakers:

* Charlotte Cooper (Department of Sociology, University of Limerick)

* Karen Throsby (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick)

Abstracts are sought that engage with topics such as (but not limited to):

* Interventions to normalise fat bodies (such as diet regimes, exercise programs, weight loss pharmaceuticals and bariatric surgeries);

* The ethico-political implications of the medicalisation of ‘obesity’;

* Constructions of the Œfat child¹ in childhood obesity media reportage;

* Representations of fat bodies in film, television, literature or art;

* Intersections of medical discourse and morality around ‘obesity’;

* The somatechnics of fatness;

* Fat performance art, fat positive performance troupes;

* Histories of fat activism and/or strategies for political intervention;

* Fat and queer histories/identities;

* Fat embodiment online, the Fat-O-Sphere;

* Feminist responses to fatness;

* Constructions of fatness in a range of cultural contexts;

* Systems of body quantification, measurement, and conceptualizations of (in)appropriate ‘size’;

* Fat as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender, disability and/or ageing.

Please send abstracts of 300 words, or panel proposals, to Dr Samantha Murray via email at Samantha.murray@mq.edu.au by Friday, 16 April 2010.