A complete lack of Insight

It’s been a long, long, long, long time between posts. I’ve been busily trying to juggle various jobs and projects (PhD, teaching, admin, Aquaporko, Va Va Boombah, Chub Republic, Fat Mook, Queering Fat Embodiment…) while having some sort of a life. I haven’t been particularly successful with the juggling, and this blog isn’t all that’s slipped off the bottom of the to-do list. But thanks to the recent SBS Insight ‘Fat Fighters’ debacle, I’ve decided to resurrect the blog for at least this post (no promises beyond that – I’ve always intended to keep it going, but I’m not making any more commitments until a few of the old ones have been put soundly to bed).

We should have walked out as soon as we saw the graphic was a donut.
We should have walked out as soon as we saw the graphic was a donut.

I want to start by saying that I don’t usually do media. The kind of activism I’m interested in isn’t about fighting, or convincing the haters that they’re wrong. I find that exhausting and draining and futile (for me, personally – all power to the folks who do engage in that work, though). I’d rather invest my increasingly limited time and energy in building fat-positive community and creating spaces which open up new possibilities for thinking about and living as fat people in the world.

After a few less-than-satisfying media experiences, I don’t even respond to most of the requests I receive. When I do respond, I usually say no. I start from a position of refusal, and it takes a lot to talk me around to a yes. It’s a policy that has served me well – the few times I’ve ended up agreeing recently have been positive and worthwhile experiences, like this interview about Aquaporko with Kaitlyn Sawrey for Triple J Hack. So when John MacFarlane, a producer for SBS Insight, contacted me via this blog and the Aquaporko email back in April about a show on “fat politics and fat pride” my response was typically reticent. But I responded because Insight has a good reputation for exploring topics in-depth and drawing out alternative perspectives. I have since discovered this reputation is far from accurate – in the episode about fat, as well as previous epidodes on Aboriginal identity, on Muslim identity, on sex work, on animal rights activists, the voices of “experts” and lay people espousing stereotyped views dominated over those who the show was ostensibly about. To which I say:

I wasn’t a regular viewer, but I thought that the few episodes I had watched were better – or at least less infuriating – that the other current affairs shows on Australia television (a genre I typically avoid – fatties got to take care with our blood pressure after all!). I responded to MacFarlane saying I was willing to talk, but was generally reluctant to do media. I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, until I got an email to my personal account via Dr Jenny Lee (a fat studies academic and my Fat Mook co-editor), who was also being courted for the program, along with the inimitable Kelli Jean Drinkwater. In the intervening weeks, the focus of the show had shifted from “fat politics and fat pride” to “bariatric surgery“, and that strengthened my resolve to say no.

Then I spoke to MacFarlance, and he convinced me otherwise. The surgery angle, he said, was simply a topical hook – there was “recent research” which proved (yet again) that diets don’t work, and therefore the only “cure” for “obesity” is gastric banding or bypass surgery. I suggested that maybe “obesity” didn’t need to be “cured” and he said that’s exactly why he wanted us on the program. He wanted the show to explore alternatives to the mainstream discourse of disease and self-loathing. We talked for almost an hour, and by the end I was convinced that, while the show would cover a range of perspectives including the standard fat hating bullshit, there was a genuine interest in discussing fat activism and politics. I was, frankly, charmed.

And look, I was willing to be charmed. I was charmed by the interest in my academic and activist work. I was charmed by the fact that someone outside of my fat activist and queer theory circles really seemed to get it – to understand, to sympathise to think that the issues I devote a significant portion of my life to exploring were worthy of discussion. I’ll even admit to being charmed by the goddamn Canadian accent. And – no small consideration for a broke-ass student whose APA scholarship has just expired – I was excited at the prospect of a free trip to Sydney.

But I wasn’t entirely naive. I have ten years of critical media theory, and a handful of first-hand experiences to draw from. So I did my research. I googled MacFarlane’s work, and found a few things to suggest he was on the side of good. His LinkedIn Profile states that his goal is “To find ways to use media to connect people, promote change and make the world a better place” – certainly promising! His twitter bio says he appreciates “people who are nice” – also good!

I also sought the advice of friends and colleagues who were more familiar with Insight as a show. I asked what they thought of the show, of the host, and whether I should go on. Of everyone I asked – in-person, on Twitter, and on Facebook – only one person had a bad word to say about the program. (Note to self: next time, don’t ignore the single dissenter. They probably know things that other people don’t.) I talked to Jenny Lee and Kelli-Jean, and we discussed our concerns and reservations. We tested ideas and compared notes. We all had several more conversations with MacFarlane via phone and email. We raised numerous concerns and were given reassurances for all of them. We came up with strategies and put contingency plans in place. For example:

I said: “I was very unsure about the show before talking to you – to be completely honest, I’m tired of the way that fat activism gets used as ratings bait, and how the discourse basically boils down to arguments about whether people with bodies like mine even have the right to exist.”

MacFarlane said: “My goal in producing these programs is to push beyond what’s already been said, and to create stuff that’s vastly different from the junk on tabloid TV, so I think giving serious attention to fat politics makes sense … With that said (I will happily be honest with you about this), to help our audience get to a new and different place will involve some reference to the existing constructions. We’ve got to bring the hegemonic discourse up in order to tear it down. I don’t think you’ll necessarily like everything that’s said, but I think that makes it even more important that you’re there.”

Another example:

I said: “I know you need to explore a range of perspectives, but in terms of fat activism, the rest of the world is already relentlessly telling “the other side of the story” – I think balance in that case is not necessarily about equal numbers, but having enough weight (heh) to have a chance at redressing prejudices and assumptions. Basically, I don’t want to be the lone voice of fat politics.”

MacFarlane said: “I’m totally on board about your concerns about being a lone voice. We’d have Jenny and yourself for sure, and I think Lupton and Gard – though themselves not fat, as Jenny pointed out – make the total composition very strong on the fat politics front.”
[NB: Neither Michael Guard nor Deborah Lupton appeared on the program.]

Jenny and Kelli-Jean raised similar issues. We asked about who would be on stage, who would have the opportunity to speak, which voices would be given authority and whose perspectives would be treated with respect. We knew that there would be fat hatred on the show, but we were convinced and convinced and reassured and reassured that there was a genuine interest in our perspective. When I got on the plane, I believed that:

  • Jenny Lee would be on the stage, giving fat politics a central voice in the show.
  • I would be sitting in the front row, miked-up and included in the conversation.
  • The show would include clips of Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s award-winning film, Aquaporko! The Documentary.
  • There would actually be a serious discussion of fat activism and politics.

What actually happened was:

  • Jenny Lee was shifted off stage to the front row, and given very few opportunities to speak.
  • Me and Kelli-Jean were relegated to the back row, where we were supposed to wait for the boom mics to be moved over toward us before we started speaking. Ultimately this meant that we had to resort to shouting in order to get the opportunity to say anything, thus setting us up to be angry fat bitches and discredit us as defensive and overly-emotional. In fact, after the filming the executive producer told us that we were all “tired and emotional” and should “go home and get some sleep”. I told him he was being patronising, and fortunately Jenny and Kelli-Jean stepped in before my head actually exploded.
  • The clip of Aquaporko which Kelli-Jean had previously approved was changed at the last minute to remove the voices of fat people. The justification for this was that we’d be in the studio to offer those perspectives ourselves, but this was clearly never on the agenda. The clip was subsequently cut from the program that went to air.
  • There was never any room for a discussion of fat activism, and in fact the only thing that anyone wanted us to talk about was what we ate. The host, Jenny Brockie, absolutely enforced this, insisting that what we ate was relevant and refusing to let us speak about anything else.
  • Every fat person on the show was interrogated about their health and eating habits before they were allowed to speak. Not a single thin person was asked about their health or eating.
  • One of the guests was bariatric surgeon, Wendy Brown, who is the director of the Centre for Obesity Research and Education at Monash University. CORE receives funding from Allergan, who produce the lapbands which CORE’s research says are safe. This conflict of interest is briefly mentioned in the show, but is smoothed over in a matter of seconds by the statement that this is standard practice in universities. (Which is true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic.)
  • The additional ‘fat politics’ guests (Guard and Lupton) never materialised. The only other guest who was on our side to any extent was Louise Adams, a clinic psychologist who (apparently) comes from a HEAS perspective – I say “apparently” because, while she’s against dieting, she encourages “lifestyle change” as a “weight management” tool, which doesn’t really accord with my understanding of HAES. She was excellent on the show, but the fact that our only ally was a psychologist only reinscribes the fatness-as-pathology trope.

In short, the show was exactly and precisely every single thing I was afraid it would be; exactly and precisely the reason I approach every media “opportunity” from the position refusal. It was a set-up, and I don’t really understand why they spent the money to fly us up to Sydney to participate. I was quite literally silenced in the version that went to air – they cut every word I said, although my rather eloquent bitchface made a number of appearances:

(If you want to watch the full show, it’s available online, but I’d avoid it unless you have a real need to wallow in boring, shitty fat hatred.)

We received a sort-of-apology email from MacFarlane the next day (the sort of apology that says “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “we had different expectations” but doesn’t acknowledge any responsibility for setting up those expectations). I still want to believe that he was sincere – both about being sorry, and about the original intent to talk about fat activism in a genuine way (the alternative is that he’s incredibly manipulative and we’re gullible dupes, so of course I don’t want to believe that). I know that television is a collaborative process, and as much as I’m naming MacFarlane throughout this post, it’s because he’s really the only person who works on the show who I interacted with. I think Jenny Brockie – who, as the host, is in a position to control the discourse – is at least as much to blame. As is the insufferably patronising executive producer.

He thanked us for coming on the show, and insisted it was a better show because of us. To which I responded – of course it is, we’re amazing. But are we better for having been on the show? Categorically not. If we hadn’t been involved, it would have been just another example of fat hate in the media – one more turd in the a giant sewage plant of mainstream media. But instead, we got dropped in the shit, and our presence leant it the false legitimacy of an actual discussion. We invested time and money and effort that could have been so much better spent on productive and useful projects. Not to mention the time spent trying to rid ourselves of the stench of that experience.

Unfortunately, this sort of experience is all too common for fat activists (and others). Charlotte Cooper posted about her own media experiences, and created a survey to find out more about other fat activists’ experiences with the media. She’s had so many responses that the survey has been closed already.

If I were to agree to do media again (and it’s highly doubtful I ever will), some of the things I’d do differently are:

  • Demand “a big wodge of cash“. Flights and accommodation are well and good, but my time and expertise are valuable, and that’s why you want me.
  • Research, research, research. Watch every available episode and cast a wide net asking for references.
  • Don’t be satisfied with reassurances. Make demands, get guarantees, and get them in writing.
  • Make trouble. Be demanding. Speak up if promises are not kept.
  • Walk away if things aren’t working out. Walk out when you see the donut graphic. Walk out when you’re relegated to the back row.
  • Don’t do it alone. This is something we did right, and by far best part of the whole experience was spending time before and after the show with my fierce fat babes. And shared experience is a powerful antidote to gaslighting.
Fat Babes before the show
Fat Babes before the show

For journalists, producers and other media types – if you’re genuinely interested in this issues beyond making “edgy” stories (ie, exploiting fat people for your own fun and profit), then it’s worth considering why you don’t hear voices like ours very often in mainstream media. Think about what you’re doing and why you think it’s worthy of our collective time and talents. Yes, we’re amazing and we have things to say that are rarely heard, but we don’t see fighting to be heard over a sea of fat hatred as an ‘opportunity’. If you’re not absolutely committed to presenting our side, then we’re not interested in talking to you.

The saddest thing is, this could have been a genuine opportunity for everyone. Insight not only squandered the chance to explore alternative ways of thinking about fat (seriously, the three of us there and all anyone was interested in was what we eat? What a complete and utter waste!), but contributed to a hostile media environment which ensures these ideas remain unheard, and fat people continue to be stigmatised and treated as stereotypes.

In summary: We are all far too fabulous to be wasting our time on this sort of bullshit.

Va Va Boombah Performer Showcase – THURSDAY!!!

Va Va Boombah is back, treat fresh from the success of their debut in June 2012. Join them in the Gallery Room at Agent284 and reacquaint yourself with your favourite performers, and check out some new-to-Va Va Boombah performers.

Plus, you’ll be in the running to win fabulous door prizes from VVB sponsors Little Raven Publishing, Bliss for Women, NoXceptions Clothing, Hey Fatty Found Fashion, Bottoms Up! Burlesque and Pole School. There’s also free tickets to the next major VVB show up for grabs.

18+ event.

Date: Thursday 22nd November
Time: Doors 7:30pm, performances from 8pm
Venue: Agent284, 284 Smith St, Collingwood
Cost: $15 full/$10 concession, on the door

Performances by:
Cupcake Kitten
Miss Charity Case
Emmeline Spankhurst
Harlotte Brontë
Dame Titzi Te Kanawa
Ivy Minx
Hissy Loco
Fatty-A-Go-Go
and MCed by Lisa-Skye

Hey Fatty!

Have you heard about the Hey Fatty & Friends Fair?

Hey Fatty & Friends Fair

Sunday 16th September, 12-5pm
St Brigid’s Parish Hall
378 Nicholson St, North Fitzroy
$5 entry

That’s right – it’s going to be a giant fat fashion fair in Melbourne! With vintage, recycled, and independent fashion and accessories! Chub Republic will have a stall, and all proceeds from that will go toward rad fatty projects in Melbourne. There will also be stalls from Hey Fatty themselves, the excellent Bombshell Vintage, and – I am *dying* of anticipation for this one - Gisela Ramirez will be debuting her new collection!!!

The day will be hosted by the incredible Kelli Jean Drinkwater! There will be catwalk shows with the chance for everyone at the fair to strut their stuff! And cupcakes! And Logicbunny Photography (who is the absolute best and most fun!) will have a pop-up studio!

All the deets at Hey Fatty and on Facebook!

See you there, fatties!

Va Va Boombah!

Yes, this is turning into a (neglected) blog of event announcements, but bave you heard about Va Va Boombah? They’re Melbourne’s first all-fat burlesque troop, and their debut show is on Friday 1 June at Revolt in Kensington!

I’ve been involved with the organisation, along with the adorable Aimee of @wordsandsequins (who has a guest post up at Fat Heffalump) and the inimitable Lisa Skye, and we have an AMAZING bunch of fatties lined up to perform!

Tickest are selling fast, so make sure you get yours soon!

Fat Burlesque

Friday 1st June 2012 – Doors 7pm

Revolt Melbourne, 12 Elizabeth St, Kensington

Tickets from Revolt Productions – Full $25, Concession $20, Groups (5+) $17

www.vavaboombah.comfacebook.com/VaVaBoombah
fatburlesque.tumblr.com
@fatburlesque

Being Fat on Radio National

This morning, Radio National’s Life Matters program focussed on cultural attitudes to fat.  I was invited in as a guest along with the wonderful Dr Cat Pause, and eating disorders specialists Professor Cynthia Bulik and Professor Stephen Touyz.

While I don’t agree with everything that was said on the program (when will that fat-is-the-last-acceptable-prejudice meme die? And can we please get over shaming-fatties-for-their-own-good already?), I think the overall program was really positive.  It was great to have some non-fatties talking about how diets don’t work.

You can listen here (though be warned, there’s some concern-trolling from the callers).

 

A Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!

Have you hear about Chub Republic? It’s this little group I’m involved with, and we’re hosting a plus-size clothes swap in a few weeks!

It’s on Sunday 11 September at Loophole Community Centre, 670 High Street, Thornbury.  You can drop off clothes between 11am-1pm, and then the real fun goes from 2pm-5pm!

Chub Republic Presents a Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!
Chub Republic Presents a Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza!
 Are you size 16 or more, and have nothing to wear?  Do you own clothes you’ll never wear again and they’re just taking up precious space?

Well here’s a clothes swap just for you!  Drop off your pre-loved plus-sized garments between 11am and 1pm, then enjoy the Thornbury shops and cafes until 2pm, when doors open and a whole new world of sartorial brilliance will be yours.

Entry is $5, after which the clothes are FREE! All genders are welcome, and drinks and baked goods will be available.

Follow us on Twitter: @ChubRepublicMel
Join us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/175134172549558/
Check out our website: http://www.chubrepublic.au.com/blog/
And reblog us on Tumblr: http://chubrepublicmelb.tumblr.com/

Cherchez La Femme

Well, it’s been a good long while.  And this isn’t a ‘real’ post so much as a drive-by thank you to all the folks who came along to Cherchez La Femme on Tuesday night to talk about fat and feminism with us.  Y’all were awesome and amazing, and it was great to have the opportunity for a public discussion about fat in such an open forum.

I’m also in awe of my co-panellists, Jenny, Elizabeth, and Lili, who were all incredibly articulate, generous, and damn funny to boot.  And of course massive thanks to Karen, who put the whole evening together.  It was a really fantastic night, and it’s reinvigorated my enthusiasm for fat activism and community.

I also wanted to post a few links to some resources for folks who might be new to fat acceptance (or just looking for new things to read).

First, some Melbourne fat groups you should check out:

Chub Republic – a newly formed group of rad fatties intent on changing the world through dance, fashion, and other joyful things.  Check out our inaugural Fabulous Fatshion Extravaganza on Sunday 11 September.

Aquaporko Melbourne – a fat femme (and femme-friendly) synchronised swim team.

 

We also mentioned (and in some cases, forgot to mention) a bunch of books.  These are a great place to start, but there’s plenty more out there.  Omission from this list is in no way condemnation; it’s necessary to get this post up.:

Screw Inner Beauty: Lessons from the Fatosphere, Kate Harding & Marianne Kirby (You can also read “The Fantasy of Being Thin” on the Shapely Prose archive.  Do it, it’s brilliant.)

Fat!So? Marilyn Wann

Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity, Kathleen LeBesco

Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression, edited by Kathleen LeBesco & Jana Evans Braziel

The Fat Studies Reader, edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay

The ‘Fat’ Female Body, Samantha Murray

Health At Every Size, Linda Bacon

Big Big Love, Hanne Blanke (NB: A new edition is due out in September)

Fat & Proud, Charlotte Cooper

 

Also some blogs:

You should definitely read Elizabeth & Lili’s blogs (linked above), but there’s a whole big wide fatosphere out there.  Here are a few places to get started (ditto with omissions here):

Two Whole Cakes

The Rotund

Definatalie

Adipositivity

Fatshionista Flickr Pool

Notes from the Fatosphere feed (one of a number of fat-activists feeds)

 

Happy reading!

Big Fat US Adventure

So, I’m in the USA.  I’ve been here for 6 weeks now.  I meant to write about it sooner.  MUCH sooner.  I meant to write before I even left, but, as usual, study/planning/life/tv watching got in the way.  And then actual travel got in the way.  But it’s been amazing.  AMAZING.

I started in New York, where I met (and posed for) the incredible Substantia Jones of Adipositivity.  I went to the Breaking Boundaries: Body Politics and the Dynamics of Difference at Sarah Lawrence University, where I met the famous Marilyn Wann, the fabulous Zoe and Arun, and one of my all-time academic heroes, the fantastically brilliant Katie LeBesco, and too many others to mention.  I went to Re/Dress and found incredible vintage dresses (the amazing vintage Lane Bryant in this video).  I got to meet the ferocious Tauret, who is incredibly sweet and wonderful and took me shopping at Forever 21 (I have a whole other post I want to write about fat girl retail in the US).  I met Polianarchy and went to Rebel Cupcake and explored New York City and it was amazing.

I went to the University of Connecticuit in Storrs to look at the Mayer Collection of Fat Liberation in their archives.  It’s an incredible collection of letters and materials from the early fat liberation movement.  I also went to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard in Boston, where they have some more collections of early fat lib materials.  At both archives I met other researchers who were looking at the same collections – fat grad students are taking over the world!

I also got to meet my long-time blogging hero, Lesley Kinzel, and hang out with some other Boston Fats, who were some of the most generous and welcoming people in the world.  I went to Lafayette, Indianapolis and met Mychii, who is brilliant and driven and we had wonderful conversations about fat and fat studies and teaching and activism.

I went to Portland and got to meet Stacey Bias, who took me to a big fat queer cabaret.  I’m currently in San Francisco, where I’ve spent time looking through Judy Freespirit‘s papers at the GLBT Historical Society, and hanging out with Marilyn Wann.  I’m about to get ready to head over to Oakland to see the spectacular Ladymonster perform tonight, and tomorrow I’m off to Fatshion!…Turn to the left! before The Socialist arrives to spend my birthday week with me.

After that, I’m off to the PCA/ACA Conference, which has an awesome Fat Studies area.  I get to meet Abby Lentz who does amazing fat girl yoga. And I get to meet Hanne Blank, whose book Big Big Love changed my life (keep an eye out for the new edition, which I think is coming out later this year. I also highly recommend her erotic!). And finally, I head back to NYC for the Fat Girl Flea.

In short: This is truly the Fatty Dream Tour (TM).

I’m not writing this just to name-drop (although I am completely thrilled to have met so many amazing people!).

I’m writing this because I’ve always been scared of travelling as a fat person – of the physical inconveniences, yes, (and there have been some), but mostly the social isolation.  I didn’t do the youthful travel-as-right-of-passage for that reason (well, that and having no means to afford it).  I’ve always had the fear – the expectation – of social rejection, of not fitting in, because of my fatness (and it’s not an unfounded expectation; there’s a long history and plenty of evidence).  And while I’ve been friendly enough with my hostel roommates, I haven’t made any real connections that would be socially sustaining (which I’ve no doubt is partly a function of age and interest, as much as size and socialisation).

What has happened, though, is that I’ve found fat community on the other side of the world and felt  immediately welcome, understood, and connected.  I’ve had the audacity to ask people to spend time with me, and they have all, every single one of them, not only said yes, but gone out of their way to welcome and accomodate me.

What I find most remarkable is that this trip is happening – is motivated, enabled, and made so incredibly wonderful – not inspite of my being a fatty, but emphatically because of it.

To have grown up my whole life being bullied for my size, feeling isolated, unloveable, and unworthy because of my fat, to have never been able to fit in, it is truly remarkable to me that it’s the thing that has opened up whole new worlds of friendship, intellectual inquiry, love, and awesome adventure to me.  It’s especially remarkable given the efforts of an increasingly fat-phobic society to convince everyone that fat people can’t have love or joy or mobility or excitement.  This whole trip has been a big fuck you to that idea.

 

 

sovereign fictions

Yesterday I was re-reading Laurent Berlant‘s essay “Slow Death (Sovereignty, Obesity, Lateral Agency)”.  I think it’s quite a brilliant essay, particularly the first half where Berlant critiques the idea of sovereignty as it is used to describe individual agency.  Berlant’s argument revolves around the Foucauldian notion of biopower, that is:

“the power to make something live or to let it die, the power to regularize life, the authority to force living not just to happen but to endure and appear in particular ways [which are related to] the normatively framed general good life of a society” (p756).

One of the ways in which life in our late capitalist society is regularised is through the imperative of health (another is labour, another consumption).  It’s worth noting that, as Berlant points out, the definition of ‘health’ under capitalism equates to ‘fitness for work,’ a concept warrants a great deal more elaboration than I’ll giving it here.  In short, capitalism requires a ‘healthy’ population in order to secure a productive labour force.

The idea of health, the imperative to be healthy, to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, compels the population to certain behaviours – the regulation of diet and exercise, the consumption of products and services supposed to promote health, the allocation of time to particular healthful behaviours.  Such behaviours are posited as individual choices that individual sovereign subjects can (should) make for their own betterment and happiness.  Yet this elides the way that such ‘choices’ are compelled, and – this is Berlant’s concern in the second half of the essay – the ways that such choices are foreclosed by the very system which requires them.

The argument that emerges in this first part of Berlant’s essay is that the very notion of sovereignty is a neoliberal fiction.

That’s not to say the fiction should be done away with altogether – “some may want to continue using the concept because of the history of investment in it as a marker for the liberal sense of personal autonomy and freedom or because of the association of democracy with the legal protection of the body politic and subgroups within it” (Berlant 756).  It is (currently) a politically useful, and even necessary, fiction: “legal and normative ghosts have precedential power, after all” (p757).  It’s a fiction that is central to many of the aims of fat acceptance as a movement, and I think that’s important.  But I still think it’s a fiction.

In the second part of the essay, Berlant enumerates the ways in which late capitalism wears out its labouring population, and here we find familiar arguments about increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the ease and affordability of fast food, the lack of access to fresh fruit and vegetables in poorer neighbourhoods, the spatio-temporal barriers to exercise, the comfort of eating, the horrific and life threatening consequences of obesity.  To be clear, I don’t think Berlant is invoking these consequences to promote fat hatred, but rather in an attempt to connect her arguments about the everyday exploitation of capitalism with real-life consequences – the ‘slow death’ of the labouring population.

The thing is, such a connection is overly simplistic and does a disservice both to actual fat people and to the arguments against modern labour relations.

I’m almost too bored with the argument to bother saying that actual fat people have a wide variety of eating and exercise behaviours, just like non-fat people.  That we eat out or eat at home or skip the gym or walk to the shops just like non-fat people.  I actually don’t want to argue that eating and activity have no bearing on weight, but that to equate fatness simply with sedentary-ness and over-eating not only perpetuates fat stigma, but obscures the real stakes of her anti-capitalist argument.

The conditions of workers and consumers under late capitalism, the slow death of the labouring population, is important not because it (maybe) causes fatness, but because of the conditions of workers and consumers under late capitalism. Access to fresh, tasty, and nourishing food is important, not because a lack of access might contribute to increased weight, but because access to fresh, tasty, and nourishing food is important.  Addressing the lack of time, space, and energy left to exercise is important not because being sedentary might make people fat, but because addressing the lack of time, space, and energy left to exercise is important.

These things are all extremely important issues in and of themselves.  There is no need to co-opt the ‘plight of the obese’ to make them matter, and doing so damages both sides of the argument.  I find this is a common problem with otherwise excellent critical work on fat done outside of fat studies.  What’s more, in talking about fat people as an abstract category, it misses the complicity of this approach with the frequent violence done to actual fat people.