Confirmed. Will Anderson is still a dickhead.

So last night I was vegging out and watching the Melbourne Comedy Festival Oxfam Gala on Channel 10.  The Gala is always a bit of a mixed bag – some of the acts are hilarious and I wish they had longer spots, while other acts are dreadful and seem to go on forever.  It’s mainstream comedy, so I always expect a bit of fat-hate to make it in there somewhere, and there were a few quips throughout the night.  I may have made a couple of obscene gestures at the TV, but the moments  passed quickly.

Then Will Anderson came on.

I should have known better than to keep watching.  Anderson has built half his career on bad fat jokes (and the other half on dick jokes).  But after the whole Gruen Transfer Anti-Discrimination Ad hoopla, I was curious to see what he’d do.

Some background:  Anderson hosted a show on the ABC called The Gruen Transfer, which looked at advertising and how it worked.  In one of the segments, called ‘The Pitch’,  ad agency had to come up with a way to ‘sell the unsellable’.  In one episode, the ‘unsellable’ was Fat Pride.  Two ads were created – one, predictably, exploited  the stereotype of fat gluttons over-consuming for cheap laughs.  The ad was aired on the show and judged as the winner of the segment.  In contrast, the second ad:

…was made to be a legitimate approach to the problem, with a sincere intent to persuade Australians to reconsider their prejudices.

The ad wasn’t aired, however, because it was deemed too offensive and inappropriate.  It used a series of racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and fat jokes  to make the point that fat hatred is discrimination and is not acceptable.  I’m not questioning that decision, it WAS offensive and inappropriate.  (So was the ad that was aired, but fat hatred is obviously not deemed inappropriate on Australian television.)  Instead, viewers were directed to a (now defunct) website where they could view the ad and the panel discussion around it.  You can watch the Gruen Transfer segment here and the banned ad here, but be warned, they really are offensive and may be triggering.  I can’t find the panel discussion on youtube, but if anyone has a link, let me know?

The panel discussion was the most interesting thing about the whole hoopla, and Anderson seemed like he got it that fat jokes are on a level with the other types of discrimination.  But apparently not.

Anderson started his segment by whinging about how hard it is for him to get a blow job (Oh really?  I’m so surprised!), and quickly turned to fat hatred.  His routine went quickly from classist mockery to suggesting that we should run over fat kids for their own good.  Thanks, Will, that’s fucking hilarious.  Death threats always make me laugh.  No, I know that it wasn’t a serious proposal, but for fuck’s sake, joking about killing people based entirely on how they look? NOT FUCKING FUNNY. In fact, I’d say it’s stupid and lazy and boorish, and, wow, all the things Anderson seems to think fat people are.  Coincidence?

In other news, good news, happy news, my PhD Confirmation went extremely well – so well, in fact, that I don’t know what I was nervous about.  I’m counting that as a win for fat pride.

There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ body

This is my response to Donna Simpson aiming to become the ‘world’s fattest woman’.  Actually, no, this is my response to other people’s responses to the story.  The horrified, the disgusted, the morally outraged, the pitying.  The responses from fat-haters and fat-accepters.  Almost all of them are pissing me off (check out Charlotte Cooper’s take for the one thing I’ve read that hasn’t made me shouty; check out the comments for an example of the things that have).

One things that almost all of these responses have in common (and that Cooper’s take doesn’t) is that they’re all resting on an unexamined idea of a ‘natural body’.  AND THERE IS NO SUCH THING.  There, I said it.  I know this is an unpopular notion in Fat Acceptance.  Set point theory has been incredibly useful for many people in re-conceptualising fatness as genetically determined rather than the result of gluttony, sloth, a lack of self-will, a moral deficit.  I’m not coming out for or against the theory – I’m rather decidedly not interested in engaging with the statistics wrangling that characterises so much of these debates around fat.  The theory seems to make a lot of sense in a lot of cases, though I’m not sure it can account for everything.  But beyond the question of veracity, there are political implications to the idea of a ‘natural’, pre-determined fatness, and that is that “moral protection is founded on a loss of political control” (I’m quoting from my favourite chapter of Kathleen LeBesco’s wonderful Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity).  As LeBesco says:

While I understand the impulse to contravene declarations that fat folk are voracious, eating-obsessed pigs … I believe that allowing oneself to engage in such a debate drains pro-fat rhetoric of its power.  Saying “I don’t eat any more than anyone else” basically says, “I can’t help it – I’m not fat because of anything I did – so leave me along”.  It also says, “I will allow my right to exist as a subject (reflective, reasonable, with power to act) to be predicated upon how much I eat or don’t eat” – and this is ultimately a self-defeating move.

Again, this isn’t an argument for or against set point theory (which was never the point of this post anyway – how did I end up here?); it’s an argument against the political usefulness of the idea of the ‘natural body’.  Lesley at Fatsionista recently posted a take-down of the nature argument, and even though my argument is slightly different, I still recommend reading it (and not just because, despite my profound disagreement on the matter of Gaga, Lesley is one of my favourite fat bloggers).

One of the points Lesley makes is that the idea of ‘nature’ is actually a cultural construct.  What do we mean when we say something is ‘natural’?  I think that, in general, we mean that it hasn’t been altered or intervened with in anyway.  Which is completely impossible.  Everything we do changes our body in some way.  Not doing something changes our body in some other way.  Everything you eat becomes a part of you.  And if you don’t eat, well, that has other implications.  Breathing air, drinking water, wearing clothes, walking, driving, sitting, standing, sleeping, all of these things alter the body in some way.  The body is always in flux, and we can’t live without taking in things from our environment, things which change us.  An unaltered body is, by definition, not alive.  (This is highly influenced by a presentation I recently attended by Rachael Kendrick on metabolism, and while I’m sure I’m this is an obscene misappropriation of her argument, I found it very interesting.  Kendrick isn’t always entirely fat-positive, but she does an excellent critique of medial science and obesity epidemic discourse.)

The ideal ‘natural’ body is also frequently invoked in anti-fat rhetoric, particularly in the figure of the ‘caveman’.  In fact, some people call for a return to this way of eating (if not this way of living).  The idea is that the human body is ideally suited to a palaeolithic lifestyle and that our digestive systems work best if we eat only foods that were around 2 million years ago, and avoid all that new-fangled stuff like ‘grains’ and ‘beans’.  This idea basically harnesses the discourse of evolution in the service of what amounts to a creationist argument.  It posits that the ideal human design was arrived at somewhere in the deep and distant past, and has remained constant ever since.  It denies evolution as an ongoing process, and most importantly, ignores the fact that the caveman body was as much a product of its environment as the modern human body is.

Again, this post isn’t really about evolution vs creationism.  It’s about the idea that there’s a perfect, or ideal, or just pre-determined way that the human body should be, and that any deviation from that is a sign that there’s something wrong. In anti-fat discourse, fatness is seen as a deviation from the ‘naturally’ thin body.  In fat-acceptance, dieting or otherwise deliberately changing the body is also seen as a deviation from the ‘natural’ body.  Neither of these positions interrogates the ‘should’.  Neither of them adequately accounts for the interactions of the body with the world.  Neither of them acknowledge that the body is always being altered, is always changing, adapting, becoming.  That the raw biological material of the body does not exists apart from the culture, the environment, their interactions.  That there is no unaltered, unmodified, unchanged, ‘natural’ body.

Now, I get why people are reacting strongly to the Donna Simpson story.  It’s confronting.  She’s already a fat woman and she wants to get fatter.  It’s almost incomprehensible.  And there’s the feederism aspect, which understandably draws some concern and criticism.*  There’s the question of weather her weight gain is ‘freely chosen’ (I have issues with the idea of ‘freely chosen’ anyway, but that’s a whole other post) or directly coerced or something she’s had to resort to.  There’s the predictable fat-bashing rhetoric about health, mothering, responsibility, and being a burden on society, which doesn’t actually bother me all that much because, predictable.  What bothers me is the claim that any deliberate modification of the body is ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘unnatural’.  Is ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’ because it is ‘unnatural’.

Nobody’s – NOBODY’S – body is ‘natural’.

____________________________

*I am, however, really keen for a re-thinking of the automatic and outright condemnation of feederism.  I think that yes, it is undeniably problematic, but I suspect it’s not a straightforward as the “No! Bad! Wrong!” responses claim.  I think the responses to feederism need to be understood within the context of fat-hatred, especially since it’s so easily posed in opposition to dieting, which may draw criticism but not the same level of disgust and outrage.  I also think it needs to be re-thought in terms of fetishism; I think that the idea of sexual attraction to fat bodies is still so taboo, that the desire for a fatter body is seen as reprehensible.  Similarly, taking pleasure in fat embodiment is inconceivable, so getting fatter could never be ‘freely chosen’.  ALL of this rests on a bed of fat hate, which is why it attracts much more vicious reactions than many other fetishes.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if I were to tie up my boyfriend and spank him for his/my/our sexual gratification, it would draw much less criticism and condemnation than if I were to deliberately gain weight for his/my/our sexual gratification.  And before anyone asks, no, I’m not going to do that, I’m just illustrating a point.

Confirmation

Well, I’ve been neglecting this little blog of late because I’ve been busily preparing for Confirmation.  I submitted my report on Monday, and my defence is in another week, then, all going well, I will be confirmed!  I’m a little nervous – even though everyone tells me it’s a congenial kind of affair, I’m still stuck on the notion that ‘defence’ implies ‘attack’.  Eep!

Aside from the stress of deadlines, nervous anticipation, and a bad case of imposter syndrome, I am really loving academia at the moment! In stark contrast to the horror stories I’ve heard about professional isolation and jealousy and bitter competitiveness, the fat studies scholars who I’ve connect with (some through this blog, which absolutely thrills me!) have been amazing!  Generous and friendly and welcoming and supportive and warm and all the things I’d been told didn’t exist in academia.  Huh!

It’s a strange experience to be invited in to this club of amazing women (so far) because of my fat (well, because of my engagement with fat, but still).  Especially when I’ve felt for so much of my life like my position anywhere was extremely marginal and tenuous because of my fat.  It’s actually not an entirely new experience – I’ve been warmly invited into other groups and events before, but – damn imposter syndrome! – have never felt like I deserved to be there, and so involved myself in only a marginal and tenuous way.  Because of my fat.

It’s tricky to talk about this stuff because it ends up sounding like an individual self-esteem issue.  And while yes, sure, that’s part of it, what I’m trying to get at is the larger cultural forces at work.  The cultural forces that produce individual self-esteem issues, that produce cultural marginalisation as an individual psychological issue.

I think there’s a friction within fat acceptance where we (generally) recognise that the ‘problem’ is cultural (a fat-hating society) rather than individual (a fat body), but the ‘solution’ is still located on the individual level, but has been shifted from the individual body (loose weight!) to the individual mind (change your attitude!).  Sam Murray says all of this in her excellent book, it’s not my idea, but it’s a contradiction that bothers me.  Not least because I think there absolutely is value and benefit in reforming individual attitudes.  That the whole entire world doesn’t have to be fat-positive for me to be ok in my body; the that whole entire world doesn’t have to want to shag me in order for me to feel sexy and have great sex.  At the same time, I think that part of what fat acceptance forums like the fatosphere does is to build communities, so it becomes about something much larger than the individual.  But there’s a disconnect there, and it’s niggling away as I work through these ideas.

Has anyone else noticed it? What are your thoughts?