CFP for fat studies edited anthology

Okay, pilule some catching up to do!  First up, malady a call for papers for a new fat studies anthology! NEW FAT STUDIES ANTHOLOGY! WOO!

CFP for fat studies edited anthology

Julia McCrossin and I were approached at the PCA/ACA Conference by a publisher and asked to put together a fat studies anthology. The result is the call for papers listed below. Please feel free to distribute far and wide with our thanks.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email either Julia or me. Our addresses are listed below. Huge thanks, and I look forward to hearing from many of you! 🙂

~Lesleigh Owen

Call for Anthology Submissions

Tentative title: The Unbearable Fatness of Being: Enlarging Theories of Embodiment

Type: Edited anthology

Submission deadline: August 20, 2010

Contacts and editors: Julia McCrossin,;

Lesleigh Owen, Ph.D.,

This edited collection seeks to publish recent scholarship that pushes at the boundaries of the existent scholarship on embodiment, from a Fat Studies perspective. As Fat Studies is an emerging field, there are copious amounts of terrain left to map out, and this collection will display the provocatively expansive ways that emergent Fat Studies scholars conceptualize the fat body and the cultural work the fat body does in various times, places, and societies. The purpose of this work includes pushing back at the “obesity epidemic” rhetorics in ways that are at once connected to affiliated work in fields like disability studies, queer studies, gender studies (to name a few), and yet uniquely their own. In conclusion, this edited collection will offer crucial new pathways for the generative field of Fat Studies, as well as offer an exciting look at the developing scholars in this field. Perhaps one might say that Fat Studies seeks to integrate within cultural studies and the academy in general a critical body of work on fatness, layering our current understandings of the material body along with metaphoric and/or immaterial ways that fatness saturates our (post) modern world.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

· representations of fat people in literature, film, music, nonfiction, and the visual arts
· cross-cultural or global constructions of fat bodies
· cultural, historical, or philosophical meanings of fat and fat bodies
· portrayals of fat individuals and groups in news, media, magazines
· fatness as a social, political, personal, and/or performed identity
· phenomenology of fat movement and be-ing in a variety of physical (and physiological) contexts
· fat as queering sex, beauty, gender, and other embodied performances
· negotiating fat within locations, space, and time
· representing weighted embodiments in such creative or abstract forms as, for example, visual art, poetry, personal narratives, and literature
· fat acceptance, activism, and/or pride movements and tactics
· approaches to fat and body image in philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology
· fat children in literature, media, and/or pedagogy
· fat as it intersects with race, ethnicity, class, religion, ability, gender, nationality, and/or sexuality
· functions of fatphobia or fat oppression in economic and political systems

Submissions are due August 20, 2010. We welcome traditional and non-traditional formats, including research articles, photographs, poetry, reports of performance art, and others. Articles and papers should range between 15 and 20 double-spaced pages. Please send submissions, along with a brief biographical sketch, directly to and/or

Well, that was exciting!

This post has nothing at all to do with fat.  But today was a pretty exciting day in Australian politics, and I want to record some of my thoughts about what has happened.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, today Australia has a new Prime Minister.  Our first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood down from his leadership of the Labor party after being faced with a party ballot which promised a resounding defeat.  There’s good coverage of the story on the ABC if you want more details.  His resignation speech was gut-wrenching.

When Rudd was elected in 2007, it was by far the best political day in my adult life.  It was the first time since I’d been old enough to vote that Australia had elected a Labor government.  More importantly, it was the first time in my adult life that we hadn’t elected a Liberal Government (Very Important Note: in Australia, Liberal does not mean liberal, it means conservative right wing assholes).  It was the first time I’d voted in an election that hadn’t resulted in yet another term of John Howard, whose political ambition revolved around returning Australia to the values of the 1950s.  His policies were anti-feminist, racist, and generally appalling.  So when he lost not only the election, but also his seat, it was a great night.  There was champagne and tears and hugging and shouting and jumping up and down with excitement, relief, joy, and … is that…pride?

But even then, I was cynical.  For me, the most important thing about Rudd was simply that he wasn’t Howard.  Now, this is a significant point of difference.  And while the Labor party had moved so far toward the centre they’d actually slid over to the right during Howard’s reign, it was also incredibly important that they weren’t the Liberal party.  That they were at least nominally left.  And Rudd did do some good things.  The Apology was one of the most significant to me, at least in terms of symbolism, if not real action.  He also failed to do some of the good things he’d promised, like tackling climate change.  Certainly, none of these things, the good or the bad, were his work or responsibility alone – governing isn’t about the will of an individual (thank goodness).

Our new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard is not only the first woman to be prime minister of Australia.  She’s also deliberately barren, unmarried, living in sin, working class, publicly educated, and godless.  These are all things I’m fully behind, and more than a little excited about.  But I’m not sure I’m actually excited about Gillard’s leadership.  I’m not sure it’s actually progressive.  I don’t think it will change much of anything at all.  I suspect that both of the major party’s policies on refugees, climate change, workplace relations, etc, will remain somewhere to the right of decent and humane.

After their defeat at the last election, the Liberal party sort of imploded.  They had leadership woes and internal splits.  When Tony Abbot became leader, I was both amused and relieved – I thought he was a bit of a joke, that Australia would never elect someone with such regressive ideas.  But he gained popularity and started to look like a serious threat to the Labor party in the next election, which *shudder*.

What I do think Gillard’s leadership means is that Labor is more likely to win the next election, and, despite everything, that’s a good thing.  Because the alternative is the Liberals and Tony Abbot.  The most disturbing thing about this whole situation is that Abbot is even a contender – if Howard was stuck in the 1950s, Abbot is positively medieval, chastity belts and all.  And the prospect of another decade of right wing government is just too much to bear.

You will never be rid of us

I’ve been working on the bit of my thesis where I justify why I’m not interested in writing about fat and health.  In order to do that, I pretty much have to write about fat and health.  Sigh.  Anyway, part of that has involved reading up on the Australian Government’s preventative health strategy, Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2020.

One of the aims of the strategy is to “halt and reverse the rise in overweight and obesity”, which is hardly surprising given that fat is considered self-evidently unhealthy and weight-loss is therefore considered self-evidently healthy.  The idea is so common-place I’m almost yawning with the can’t-be-botheredness of it (though I have a great deal of admiration for those who can be bothered and are fighting those fights).  But.  BUT. When I stop for a second and think about what that means, I realise my government is trying to put in place strategies to get rid of bodies like mine (I’m not the first person to point this out).

It’s not as overt as outright declaring war on obesity (which I hear happened in some other famously fat country), but it’s still clear: the fatties must go!  Why?  Well – and I’m barely paraphrasing here – because the fatties are lazy and expensive.  Fatties don’t work as much, chuck lots of sickies, and cost tax payers a fortune in health care.  We’ve all heard these arguments, again and again.  We’ve also heard these arguments smartly refuted, again and again.  The territory has been well and truly trod.  That doesn’t make it any less powerful or ubiquitous.  It doesn’t make the government strategy any less about my body, my personhood, my right to exist.

The title of this post references a quote about queers from Martha Shelly*:

You will never be rid of us, because we reproduce ourselves out of your bodies.

I goddamned love that quote.  I love that quote because it’s not only defiant, it’s right.  It’s a big fuck-you to obedience and conformity and towing the line.  It’s a big fuck you to neoliberal individualism, to notions of ‘proper’ citizenship, to any hope that freaks and rebels will just start behaving.  It’s a big fuck you to interventions like the Australian Government’s preventative health strategy which seeks to get rid of certain types of bodies, certain types of people who are positioned as troublesome, as non-compliant, as expensive.

Fatties have always existed.  Fatties will always exist.

You will never be rid of us.


*Which I read years ago and can’t remember the source – if anyone knows, comment please?  Also, I don’t know that much about Martha Shelly apart from the brief bio I googled.

Also also, I’m wary of co-opting queer work in the service of fat acceptance (even – especially – as a queer), and I’m also wary of collapsing fat acceptance into queerness, but I do think there are important similarities and sympathies.  People far more eloquent than me have written about this. I highly recommend Charlotte Cooper’s recent post ‘What is Queer Fat Activism‘ at Obesity Timebomb, as well as Kathleen LeBesco’s essay ‘Queering Fat Bodies/Politics‘ in Bodies out of Bounds (which can also be found in her book, Revolting Bodies).

fat at the gym

This week, I met one of my fitness goals: to do the ‘hundreds’* in my pilates class without cheating.  It’s a fairly modest goal, but I was still excited about it.

It was a deliberately modest goal because me and fitness goals, we’re not great together.  I often feel defeated by them.  I don’t track my progress at the gym anymore because it leads me to comparing and assessing and inevitably judging my performance as not good enough.  My one, long-term, abiding goal in relation to exercise is simply to do some.  To front up with some regularity and do some stuff.  More ambition, more pressure than that, and I stop going.  When the goal shifts from ‘move your body in ways you find enjoyable’ to ‘move your body more’, my attendance gets spotty, then ceases all together.  It can take months to re-ignite my enthusiasm.

Which is something I try to avoid, because I actually like working out.  I like the feel of my body working, and I like finding out what it can do. I enjoy the way that, even in the absence of goals or striving or any great amount of effort, my body inevitably changes, becomes stronger and fitter and moves differently.  It’s something of a revelation.

I’ve spent a lifetime being told I was weak, physically incapable, not able to do much of anything at all.  Now, some of that is actually true.  I have had dodgy ankles and knees since I was a wee thing.  I was on crutches due to various sprains and pains for half of high school.  I still have some issues now – I can’t walk as fast as most of my peers, and I can’t walk for too long without causing myself a fairly high level of pain.  It doesn’t interfere with my life (walking to the train station or around campus or going shopping is just fine), and the only time I really notice is when I’m walking with a group of people and I get left behind because I’m slow.  I don’t like it, but I’ve learned not to interpret it as a deliberate snub.  Mostly.

Aside from these specific musculoskeletal difficulties which have been been with me my whole life, I’ve always thought my body wasn’t capable because it was fat.  Because fat people and fat bodies are weak and lazy and clumsy and lacking in skill and finesse.  Ironically, it was writing about Australia’s The Biggest Loser for my honours thesis that made me realise the equation of fatness with weakness just wasn’t true.

It’s true that one of the main aims of The Biggest Loser was to encourage fat people to go to the gym.  By ‘encourage’ here, I actually mean ‘shame’.  The show went to great effort to emphasise how very difficult physical exertion was for fat bodies.  It showed fatties sweating while they ran up sand dunes, puffing while they climbed stadium stairs, straining to pull trucks.  The message that was imparted via the filming, editing, and the contestant’s own testimony was that these things were difficult because of their fat; because they had ‘let themselves go’ and ‘gotten into this state’.  The thing is, there is no ‘state’ that one can get into where running up sand dunes won’t make you sweat, where doing laps up and down the MCG stands won’t make you  puff, where pulling a semi-fucking-trailer is ever going to be easy.  Sure, a higher level of fitness and strength will make those things easier, but not effortless.  The reason why they’re hard to do, is because they’re hard to do, not because you’re fat.

It took me a while to see that, amidst all the fat-shaming and blaming, what The Biggest Loser showed was fat bodies performing frankly impressive physical feats.  Fat bodies which had strength and endurance, which were incredibly physically capable and accomplished, despite what the narration implied.  This is in no way an endorsement of the kinds of things the show subjected people to.  It was out-and-out sadistic punishment for being fat, and I found the whole thing abhorrent in its glee.  But despite the awfulness, it nonetheless showed (especially if you turned the sound down), that fat bodies were physically capable of amazing things.  And that was a revelation for me.

It wasn’t until about 6 months after I finished honours (and finished with Loser forever – I cannot tell you the joy I felt!) that I started going to the gym.  I’d left a physically active retail job to go back to office work, and my fitness was suffering because of it.  I was far enough into fat acceptance that I didn’t have that secret hope that this would be the thing, the change, the miracle that would make me thin.  But it was terrifying going to the gym for the first time.  Being up-front about the fact I was there for fitness and not weight-loss.  Reminding the instructors who designed my program and showed me how to use the equipment when they ‘forgot’ and said things like ‘try to get up to x speed to really burn those calories’ (I’ve since moved and changed gyms).  Dealing with ‘encouraging’ comments from gym bunnies, where ‘encouraging’ actually means ‘patronising as fuck’.  Dealing with my fear and projection about what other people might think of me, a fatty working out.  Dealing with the fact that I really wasn’t very fit or strong.  Four inconsistent years later, I’m still neither of these things, but I am fitter and stronger.  I’m also bigger – both fatter, and more muscular.  My thighs are enormous and wonderful.

When I first started, I could barely manage 3 minutes on the cross trainer.  My thighs and calves would burn, my legs turn to jelly, and the instructor who suggested I go faster to ‘really burn those calories’ would have got a punch in the nose if I hadn’t needed to hold on with both hands to stay upright.  My free weights exercises were all done with one or two kilogram dumbells, and they absolutely caned.  I was using my body in new ways, and it was hard work, and it hurt, and  I really, really liked it.

Once I got more familiar with the gym and the equipment, the anxiety about what people would think or say subsided.  I put in my headphones and turn my iPod up and away I go.  The music is important.  I have a pretty ecclectic range of songs on my gym playlist, from The Pixies and The Clash to Florence and the Machine and Santogold.  There’s a lot of Gossip, because I love the Gossip, and because Beth Ditto is one of the most kick-ass fatties I know of and if I’m going to be in an environment which is traditionally positioned as anti-fat, then I want a kick-ass fatty there with me.  I get a kick out of being fat and working out and not loosing weight either deliberately or incidentally.  I get a kick out of being in the gym listening to someone who tells normative ideology to go fuck itself.  There’s also some Divynals, because I get a kick out of secretly listening to Chrissy Amphlett singing about kink and masturbation.  Same goes for the soundtrack from Hedwig and the Angry Inch – listening to a big queer musical in a room full of machismo fills me with glee.

The gym I go to now is a Serious Gym.  They have heavy weights and host powerlifting competitions and don’t harass you in the street to come along for a free trial.  They offer a free trial, but they don’t harass you about it.  They don’t market, and they don’t specifically target women, which means that their core business model doesn’t involve selling low self-esteem.  Some of the trainers are kind of fat – they’re strong and fit and round-bellied (although only the male trainers – the women are all quite slim).  I love seeing the people who work out there, from the super-cut femmey boy who always has a full face of (‘natural’) make-up and looks incredible, to the super-macho body builders who probably aren’t the least bit aware of the homoerotic undertones of their manly bonding which please me SO VERY MUCH. I love the variety of bodies, and admire the work that goes into creating them.  I think it’s a shame that bodies like mine aren’t legible as ‘worked on’, though, because what I’m doing when I go to the gym is essentially engaging in body work.  I am strengthening and stretching, and challenging and changing and working on my body.  That work isn’t aimed changing my size, but it is work on my body nonetheless.

I’m almost wary of posting this, because I’m aware of how discussing exercise can play into good fatty/bad fatty dichotomies, which I abhor – not only because they falsely heirarchise bodies and behaviours, but because they deny the complexity and contradictions of how bodies are lived.  Sure, I exercise and I’m a vegetarian with a fondness  for greenery, but I also eat an ungodly amount of butter, cheese, eggs, and chocolate.  I particularly love eggs served with butter and egg sauces (eggs florentine, come to meeeeeee!).  I regularly replace most of the fluids in my body with large doses of coffee and red wine.  Paragon of virtue I am not.  Hedonist would be a more appropriate label, and one that’s much more applicable to my experience of working out, too.  Simply put, I work out because it’s another way that I enjoy my body (and no, I’m not still talking about Chrissy Amphlett here).


*Hundreds involve lying with your legs raised and holding your torso up in a crunch position for a slow count of 100 while doing various things with your arms.  Believe me when I say this is hard work.  ‘Cheating’ involves lowering either your legs or torso at the point where you can’t hold them up anymore.  Mostly, I’ve been getting through sixties or seventies, so getting through hundreds was pretty damn exciting!

my body and bodies like mine

So I presented my paper a couple of days ago and the world didn’t end.  As far as I can tell, it actually went quite well.  People asked questions, and came up to me afterwards to say they liked my work.  Someone even remembered me from my last presentation and said they were looking forward to hearing my paper.  Let me tell you, that blew my tiny little mind.  I’ve long thought that I was pretty much invisible (I’m can be terribly shy and a bit of a wallflower), so it’s always surprising when someone sees me, let along remembers me.

It’s good to get some outsider perspective sometimes, too – a lot of my academic angst comes from knowing how far my work is from what I really want to say, how far I have to go (which is objectively a fine position to be in, that’s why the process of writing a thesis takes years and not hours).  For a lot of people, though, it’s the first time they’ve been exposed to these ideas, and that’s a good reminder that what I’m doing – what we’re doing as a community – is both new and important.  I’m still a little…anxious? awkward? embarrassed? about my paper.  I can’t tell if it’s because I’m talking about such a daggy film (Shallow Hal), or because I’m talking about sex with bodies like mine, which is, well, an awkward thing to talk about in front of an audience.  I’m pretty sure there’s a bit of that internalised shame about how ridiculous it is for a fat girl to ever think anyone would want to fuck her (a la every teen sex romp film ever made) – which is ironic, because that’s one of the main things I talk about in my paper.

Anyway, it was also fabulous to hear about the work other people are doing – there’s all sorts of fantastically interesting stuff to think about, and I’m feeling energised and full of purpose and direction.  Engaging with community is good for that.  So is socialising with other students, despite feeling awkward and out of my depth, and then tipsy and over-disclosing.  That’s kind of how it goes.

When I’m talking to new people socially about my research, there’s a lot of different reactions, but two stand out for sheer frequency.  When I say “fat embodiment and sexual subjectivity”, the most common response is “Oh, you mean like feeders and fetishism and stuff?”  The answer to that is now yes, I will be devoting a chapter to that, mainly because that’s the most common thing people ask me about which seems to warrant further investigation.  My chapter will be focussed on the reactions of the ‘general population’ more than fetish practices, though.

The second is a hushed, confessional “You know, I used to be big too”.  Followed by a difficult-to-divert disclosure of the hows and whys and whens and whats.  I don’t want to dismiss people’s experiences, and I think there’s all sorts of ways of managing one’s embodiment which are completely valid.  But I don’t want to talk about weight loss uncritically – which doesn’t mean I want to condemn it, but I do want to question, not so much a particular individual choice as paradigm which makes that choice mandatory.

(That said, we are all endlessly engaged in choices which, if not mandatory, are almost always highly constrained.  Which is to say, I think it’s important to understand that ‘choices’ are often compelled, that we’re not exactly the freely self-determining agents of our own individuality as neoliberal ideology would have us believe.  But then what?  I’m not sure where that line takes me, except to further individualisation, which is not quite where I want to go…)

The fact that the ‘choice’ to loose weight is socioculturally compelled is very high on the list of reasons why I try to avert these conversations.  Because as much as someone might genuinely be talking about their own, individual experience, as much as they might not be trying to imply “I did it so you can too” (and I believe this person really wasn’t doing that), the culture at large has had its metaphorical boot on my metaphorical neck trying to stop me from swallowing any metaphorical food since I was literally four fucking years old.  It’s also why I find the impulse toward a ‘good fatty’ defence so strong, even though I know it’s feeding into the same thinking which hierarchises certain bodies over others, which says this way of being is better than that way.  Even though I know it buys into the individualisation which I find so problematic.  It’s why health discourse about obesity is deeply fucking personal even though I’m in perfect health – because health discourse is mobilised against all fat bodies, healthy or not; because it is used to compel, if not change, then certain modes of embodiment and subjectivity, certain ways of being and being seen.

It’s hard not to take it personally when it’s about my body and bodies like mine.

the uses of social media, or, another navel-gazing post

I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media is, by definition, social.  I mean, obviously.  But in some ways the implications of that have not been something I’ve really come to grips with.  I get upset when I’m misunderstood on the internet, which, I mean, it’s the internet, that’s what happens here.

Obviously not the only thing that happens here, but to expect that I should be able to expound my ideas with such perfect clarity that no one will ever mistake my meaning is frankly absurd.  Yes, I have thought I should be able to do that.  And no, I’m not a perfectionist; I never do anything perfectly.

One of my main aims with this blog is to share ideas that are beyond the 101-type posts.  There are plenty of people doing that already, with far greater patience and clarity than me.  I have enormous respect for that work and the people doing it, but it’s not the work I’m interested in doing here.  I want to get past the normal structures of thinking around this stuff to something new.  When I talk about fat sexuality, I want to get at more than the same tired discourses of ‘body image’.  I’m not interested in claiming that every body is beautiful, but looking at why beauty has come to stand in for worth, at what the idea of beauty does.  I think fat acceptance is far more radical and fundamental than the vague, insipid blathering about ‘self esteem’ that goes on in ladymags and self-help books.  To me, fat acceptance is about the management of bodies and the body politic.  It’s about the production and regulation of identities and subject positions.  It’s about class and gender and race and citizenship and labour and capitalism and power.

Actually, what I’m talking about is probably more fat studies than fat acceptance.  While the two are by no means separate, there is a difference, and it’s that difference which draws me to academia despite the angst it sometimes (often!) induces.  Trying to push past the normal structures of thinking is always going to be a difficult thing, but I think it’s necessary.  More than that, I find it thrilling.  New ways of thinking are exciting, dammit.

Ok, now I really have to finish up that paper I’m presenting tomorrow.  (Yeah, it’s mostly angst at the moment).

Body Image is a Furphy

ETA: Even though it was prompted by last week’s events, this post isn’t about Mia Freedman so much as it is about the position she represents.  And while I think she was a little disingenuous in some of her comments, I’m inclined to believe that she didn’t see fat hate on her blog – not because it wasn’t there, but because it’s so naturalised as to be invisible.

This post is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time now, and the recent Mamamia furore has prompted me to finally post about it.  My argument in a nutshell is this: Positive body image has never been for fat girls.  It’s true that a lot of FA discourse focusses on body image and self-esteem – I think these things are valuable, and I’m not dismissing them when I say that positive body image has never been for fat girls.

The definition of ‘fat’ I’m talking about here is a bit contentious.  For the sake of clarifying what I’m talking about when I talk about fat, here’s a definition from a paper I gave last year:

The fat bodies I seek to address are those that are ‘fat enough’ to be visibly marked as ‘different’, and that are consequently routinely excluded in ways thinner bodies aren’t.  An arbitrary measure would be those bodies which are ‘too fat’ to find clothes in straight-size stores.  I’ve used this measure because fashion and shopping are closely aligned with normative femininity in consumerist culture, and because this provides a clear material example of the ways in which fat bodies are excluded from particular spaces, practices, and modes of being.  This definition is not intended to ‘police the boundaries’ of fat identity, but to insist on the centrality of the corpulent body which is otherwise marginalised.  I also use this measure to differentiate between the normative idea that ‘all women think they’re fat’ and those whose bodies mark them as always already ‘abnormal’.

That’s what I mean when I talk about fat.  And when I talk about body image, I’m talking about the mainstream discourse on body image (for which Mia Freedman is a prominent spokesperson).

Mainstream body image discourse has never had a place for fat girls.  While it may claim to empower women of ‘all shapes and sizes,’ in reality, it only includes bodies which fit into straight-sized fashion.  Freedman’s famous ‘Body Love Policy’ at Cosmo featured bodies ‘sized 6-16’.  The Dove ‘real beauty’ adds are similarly limited in the size (and shape and age and skin tone and ability and other ‘deviations’ from beauty norms) of the women they feature.  And The Proposed National Strategy on Body Image report which Freedman co-authored specifically excludes fat bodies:

When seeking to demonstrate good practice in their choice of models, organisations are encouraged to use models that are a healthy weight and shape (p40).

On p41, the report suggests that ‘for guidance on what is a healthy weight, organisations are encouraged to refer to the guidelines put forward by the National Health and Medical Research Council’ and provides two links (now broken, but I checked when the report was first published and can confirm that the documents referred to can now be found here) to the Australian Government ‘Obesity Guidelines’.  The document to which the report refers is Part 3 – Measuring Overweight and Obesity (PDF), which opens with this sentence:

Obesity, or even overweight, in a person is generally not difficult to recognise.

So, we can tell which bodies are a healthy weight just by looking?  It then goes on to detail different ways of measuring obesity, including BMI.  The discussion of the problems in using BMI as a measure of someone’s body fat is actually quite good, but nevertheless, the purpose of the paper is to classify bodies as ‘healthy and good’ or ‘unhealthy and bad’ on the basis of size alone.  The bodies which fall into the ‘healthy weight’ range by these measures are even less diverse than Cosmo’s 6-16.  The recommendation to use ‘healthy weight’ models according to these guidelines hardly constitutes a call for true diversity in representation.

I remember being a size 20 Cosmo-reading teenager, and being so hopeful whenever the ‘perfect jeans for every size’ features came out.  I desperately wanted a perfect pair of jeans to fit my body, and there were none to be found in my small country town.  I was so hopeful, then so disappointed – and then so ashamed – that bodies like mine were still too big to be included.  ‘Every size’ was never my size.  I lived a body that was too fat even for recuperative ‘every body deserves self esteem’.

The body image discourse also serves to reify the exclusion of certain types of (even straight-sized) bodies from ideas of glamour and desire.  To quote Rachael Kendrick (another scholar who is looking at fat, albeit in a very different way to me):

Rather than bring more varied bodies into the aspirational economy, through the ‘real woman’ tactic ladymags assume that the reader must be educated in how to read texts, specifically how to read images of slim women as ‘unreal,’ and that the reader must be taught how to apply good, prophylactic doses of self-acceptance to their own arse and thighs.  ‘Real woman’ is a nasty sort of consolation prize; the ‘real woman’ isn’t fashionable or desirable, she’s just morally upright, emotionally hygienic.

While I’ve no doubt that positive body image discourses and concomitant representational strategies do, in fact, assist some women in some ways, they also actively exclude other bodies, and in a way that can be more marginalising than standard representational practices.  We all know that images of models are idealised and unattainable (even for models themselves), but when your body is excluded from ‘inclusive’ representation, what then?

Mainstream body image discourse seeks to redress (but at the same time, serves to reinforce) the normative idea that ‘all women think they’re fat’.   To quote myself again:

I am explicitly not interested in discussions of “body image” which focus on how the idealisation of an unattainable standard produces a dysmorphic self-image – the tragedy of thin girls thinking they’re fat – but has nothing to say about those whose fat self-image is not delusional.  In these discussions, actual fat bodies cease to exist.

Except we do exist, and we continue to exist, and to work towards much greater goals than a compensatory ‘positive body image’.

Fat Acceptance Encourages

I have this fabulous postcard on the cork-board in my kitchen.  It’s called ‘Feminism Encourages’.  It’s a sepia-toned scene with two women in old-fashioned bathing suits standing in a forest clearing,  hugging each other and laughing.  There’s a quote underneath which is one of my favourite quotes of all time:

Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

Everybody who comes into my kitchen reads it and guffaws.  Oh, things were so lol in old fashioned tiems!  Then they read the attribution, and the date. 1992.  “What?  WHAT?  Are you fucking kidding me?”  Ah, ridiculous bigorty, you never fail to bring the lols.

I kinda want to make one of these for fat acceptance, with all the ridiculous, outlandish accusations that get levelled at this movement.  How about:

Fat acceptance encourages people to leach off society, kill all boners, eat two whole cakes, force feed skinny folk baby-flavoured donuts, and become immobile.

I’m sure someone feeling more word-smithy than me can come up with something cleverer.  Have at it!

on community, social media, and friends who wear my size

Last weekend I had the inestimable pleasure of having dinner with a bunch of awesome fatties from the intarwebs. There was wine, delicious food (thinks Kate & Chris!), lots of laughing, screaming, hugs, cleavage, and talking about cleavage.  It was an entirely fabulous night, and it got me thinking about quite a few things.

First of all, while I was a little nervousness about meeting new people – even people I knew online – I didn’t have that sense of steeling myself for it, the dread of not fitting in because I’m fat.  I know social stuff can be tricky for a lot of folks, but there’s something about the immediate visual difference of being deathfat that seems to add an extra layer of challenge for me.  The (real or imagined) pressure I usually feel to immediately overcome (real or imagined) assumptions about my intelligence, interests, tastes, self-esteem, sex life, or general awesomeness just wasn’t there.  And I liked it!

The other amazing thing about hanging out with fatties was the free clothes! Kate very generously offered a bunch of clothes to new homes and I picked up a couple of dresses and a top which I adore.  I think it’s actually the first time in my life I’ve been the beneficiary of someone else’s generosity in this way.  I’m usually too big for other people’s clothes; it’s always been me handing things on.  This was amazing and exciting and I felt more grateful and more guilty than I probably needed to.  The best of my new acquisitions is a form-fitting black frock with a fishtail bottom that makes me thing of Divine if she were a Melbourne hipster who wore all black all the time and not a fabulous and colourful queen.  I’ve actually been holding off posting this entry until I could get a photo to illustrate, but for now Divine herself will be more than enough.  (I will try to get a photo up in the next few days, though.)

The other thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is how I use social media.  There’s a lot in this I want to think through more, but when we talked about weather people were like their online personas, it made me hope that I’m not.  I realised that my twitter feed is kind of angry – I tend to use it as a quick outlet for frustrations (mostly at Metro Trains).  I do tweet delicious and beautiful things as well, and use it to connect with a lot of fatties, so it’s not all angry, but it’s certainly not how I (think I) am in real life.  My livejournal account is mostly dormant – I use it mainly for commenting, for checking out the fatshionista community, and occasionally for extreme emo.  My facebook status is primarily made up of song lyrics, which can be awkward when people misinterpret them as being about my actual life (I’ve started using “/” to indicate line breaks in the hope of stopping that).  As for this blog, it’s more serious and confessional than I really am in person, while my other blog is pure joy.  It’s a slightly uncomfortable feeling, to think about the gaps between my self-image and my self-representation.  And none of this even touches on reading practices, which for me are very different from my writing practices.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

against a cause: the (mostly) quotes edition

ETA: Apparently my efforts to block spambots have unintentionally stopped all comments.  Um, yeah, technology fail.  Should be all fixed up now, but drop me a note at if you’re having problems.

I’ve been toying with a post about eating histories.  About my eating history.  I think it’s an interesting thing to reflect on (for me, anyway).  And I’m interested in food, in how people eat, in the development of tastes and habits and patterns.  I’ve been noticing lately how differently everyone cooks, and I find it fascinating.  But I’ve been reluctant to make that post because … well, it seems too personal.  More than that, it seems too diagnosable.  Oh, you were neglected as a child and didn’t get regular meals?  That probably messed with your metabolism and that’s why you’re fat.  You probably think food is love.  You probably binged as compensation.

Yeah. Not where I want to go.

Instead, I’m going back to the first fat studies work I ever came across, Kathleen LeBesco’s Revolting Bodies: The Struggle To Redefine Fat Identity.  I first read it in 2005 when I was in third year, and I devoured it in three days (unheard of for an academic book!).  It crystallised all these things that had been going around in my head at that time, that I hadn’t even been able to properly identify let alone articulate.  It enabled me to see, to say, after all those years in classes about ‘the body’, that fat mattered.  That fatness was an embodied difference.  A socially dis-empowered identity.  And that it was a valid object of scholarly enquiry.  It gave me the way forward for my honours thesis, which led into the research I’m doing now.  It literally changed my life.

When I read back over the book now, I don’t have quite the same breathless excitement about it.  But I keep going back to it, and I keep quoting from it, and it falls open at my favourite passages.  Like this (all emphasis mine):

An essentialist position on fat identity can take a biological or sociocultural perspective; the common theme is the idea that the condition of fatness is necessary, could not be otherwise, or is the outcome of some essential (usually failure-related) cause.  Whether tracing along a biological path to bad genes or hormones, or along a social path to traumatic childhood experience, proponents of essentialiat positions argue that fat identity is the unfortunately inevitable outcome of a causal relationship with some original variable cone awry… In contrast, an anti-essentialist position on fat identity does not attempt to reveal causal factors; instead it focusses on the ability of human actors to participate in the creation of meaning (including the meaning of material bodies) through the discursive processes of communication and politics (p14).


We’ve heard about genes, hormones, fear of being sexually attractive, and dozens of other causes for fatness … each one advanced with the understanding that finding a remedy would be a financially rewarding proposition.  Why, though, do we need to explain (away) these modes of being, when few scientists are hard at work on finding the cause for slenderness … When we engage in cause-seeking rhetoric, we presume that some intervention into the ‘problem’ is necessary (p85).

And the bit I quote again and again, from the chapter ‘Fat Politics and the Will to Innocence’:

Fat is treated as volitional – “a choice made out of laziness, hostility, social disdain, or other moral shortcomings like lack of willpower, failure of motivation, greed and dependence” – so the tendency when dealing with this regressive attitude is to suggest that fatness cannot be helped.  I wonder what would happen if, instead of giving up our volition, we worked to alter the terms of the choice, to emphasize that subjectivity mustn’t be predicated on perception of innocence (P117).

I wonder, too.  I recognise the impulse to explain (away) my fatness.  How could I not – the idea that bodies are ‘naturally’ thin, that fatness is the result of something going wrong*, is central to this culture’s understanding of bodies, to the hysteria of ‘obesity epidemic’ discourse, to fat hatred.  I’m aware that an eating history could be so easily co-opted into this framework of causation, even if that was never the intention in telling it.  I’m all too aware of the easy equation of eating (especially women’s eating) with pathology.  I know that the current meaning of material bodies which are fat lends itself to a pathologisation of eating habits and histories, no matter what those habit and histories are.

I love food. I love cooking and I love eating and I love sharing meals.  Sometimes I am greedy.  Maybe that contributes to my fat, maybe it doesn’t.  Like LeBesco, I think cause-seeking is a limited political strategy.  And I don’t want innocence.  I want a different choice.


*Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why body size changes, and all sorts of very valid reasons for intervention.  But I’m talking about the idea that all fatness is cause by something going wrong, and should therefore always be ‘cured’.