Friend of Marilyn

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On fat responsibility and activism September 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 11:34 pm

In August, I had the pleasure to attend two (very different) conferences. The first was the Competing Responsibilities conference held at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. This conference brought together scholars from across disciplines to explore the idea of responsibility. From the CFP,

Calls to ‘be responsible’ pervade public and private life. Notions of responsibility, for example, can powerfully underpin contemporary claims for political legitimacy, evident in President Obama’s (2009) hailing of his presidency as the start of a ‘new era of responsibility’. Demands for people to ‘act responsibly’ can also shape our most intimate relations, as in Australia where the ‘Family Responsibilities Commission’ in Cape York seeks to instill norms of ‘respect and responsibility’ in local aboriginal families through welfare regulations and education initiatives. Elsewhere, responsibility can be the marker of a good worker, as in Scotland where senior nurses have been called to take more ‘responsibility and accountability’ for their workplaces (BBC News 2012). ‘Responsibility’ and the ‘responsible citizen’ have become buzzwords for the adoption and internalization of some of the core ideals of contemporary governance…In the face of these diverse political and ethical claims to be responsible, there is increasing scholarly need to systematically interrogate the social and cultural assumptions driving contemporary claims and calls to responsibility. Recently, a number of scholars have explored the increasing ubiquity of responsibilization discourses across the domains of health, public policy, and economics…In this conference we seek to examine both neoliberal framings of responsibility and the variety of counter-currents to them.

I presented my paper, FAT resistance: How an online community constructs non-responsible and non-responsive discourses, during the ‘Norms and Resistance: The responsible and irresponsible body’ panel, chaired by Tayla Hancock, with Annemarie Jutel serving as the Discussant. My paper explored the idea that a good citizen of the 21st century is one who accepts responsibility for their own personal health, well-being, and success. Individuals then, who require structural support, or refuse to (re)produce white, cis, able-bodied, and heteronormative, systems, threaten the status quo and face marginalisation. I suggested that fat people are viewed as irresponsible citizens. They consume too many resources and fail to uphold the new social contract (the moral obligation to be healthy). In modern neoliberal contexts, this results in hostile environments and the development of spoiled identities. In turn, fat individuals are monitored by their governments, their families, and their workplaces. They are regulated by friends and strangers alike; fat bodies are public property to shame and scold for the betterment of the individual. I then argued that many individuals in the Fatosphere, an online community of people who have come out as fat, are engaging in anti-assimilationist activism. They queer fat embodiment, disrupting the normative obesity discourse and rejecting the demands of the neoliberal system. They are defiant resistors, constructing their own discourses for being non-responsible and non-responsive to the dominant systems. I shared specific examples like the work of the Fat Heffalump, Red No 3’s ‘Maggie’ series, and ‘Fuck Yeah! Fat PhDs’, to illustrate these non-responsible narratives.

The conference was a great experience for me. With the exception of the presentation by Tayla Hancock, none of the other presentations explored issues similar to my own, but I still found that the focus of the papers on responsibility – how it is defined, who benefits from it, how individuals embrace or reject it, etc, was very applicable to my work on fat identity. I’m very grateful to the organisers, Catherine Trundle and Susanna Trnka, for hosting this informative and challenging conference.

*****

The following weekend, I attended the Fat Activism Conference via teleconference. This three day event was organised by Ragen Chastain (of Dances with Fat) and Jeanette DePattie (of Fat Chick Sings). As noted on the conference homepage,

This virtual conference, on August 22-24, 2014, is for people of all sizes who are interested in creating a world that respects the diversity of body sizes. It is for people of all sizes who are interested in fighting the bullying, stigmatizing, shaming, and oppression faced by fat people, and doing that work intersectionally.

Whether you are looking for help in your personal life with family, friends, healthcare providers etc. or you’re interested in being more public with your activism with blogging, petitions, protest, projects, online activism, or something else, this conference will give you tools and perspectives to support your work, and to help you make that work intentionally intersectional and inclusive so that nobody gets left behind.

There were about 40 speakers who presented across the three days of the conference. Hand-outs were provided by many of the speakers, and there was a goody bag too! One of the best parts though, is that everything was recorded, so everyone who registered had access to the presentations that they may have missed (slept through/bathed through/etc) the first time around. I found this especially handy as many of the live presentations happened between 2am-9am for me in New Zealand.

It was such a fun way to spend a weekend – surrounded by fat activists, sharing ideas and tricks and techniques for achieving social justice. I’m not in audio spaces like that very often; usually I get my sense of community from written and visual material in the Fatosphere. To hear the delightful voices of both the hosts (Ragen & Jeanette) and the speakers, added to the experience for me.

*****

Over two different weekends, I was able to connect with many people in two different spaces. The hallowed halls of academe was first, and I’d like to think that my presentation urged the individuals in attendance to consider how the idea of responsibility is used to situate fat individuals as failed citizens, and how fat activists are fighting back against that oppression. The activist teleconference found me among kindred spirits, and I hope my presentation on using Web 2.0 provided ideas and techniques for those who are interested in bringing their activism to the borderless realm of the Internet.  While each conference was unique it its purpose and audience, both served as venues that were meaningful for me, both as a presenter, and as a participant. Attending both in a span of a month, also made me reflect on the intersections, and tensions, between being an academic and being an activist. This is something I have been thinking about a great deal, especially as I feel pressure from both sides to ensure that I keep a firm wall between the roles. I’d like to read more on how others negotiate and manage this space, and I plan to write more about it soon!

 

 

 

 

On fat activism in the Web 2.0 age August 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 1:47 pm

On 22 August, I’m hosting a workshop on how to use Web 2.0 to promote your activism. It’s a subject I am passionate about, and have been thinking about for years. (It dovetails nicely with my interest in how scholars may use Web 2.0 tools to disseminate their research and build a profile as a public intellectual). I’ve actually written about using Web 2.0 as a fat activist in a book chapter for the soon published, The Politics of Size: Perspectives from the Fat-Acceptance Movement (Praeger Publishing). If you’re interested in attending my workshop, it’s not too late to sign up! Register here

It is part of a larger Fat Activism Conference being hosted by Ragen Chastain (of Dances with Fat) and Jeanette DePattie (Fat Chick Sings). This conference is going to be an amazing three days with 40 speakers. (And it’s only $39USD) If you’re not able to participate in real time, registered participants will also have access to recorded materials. (And I heard there may be a virtual goody bag!)

You may check out a full schedule here. The variety in topics being covered is staggering, to be honest. There are lot of familiar faces in the line-up (like Marilyn Wann, Linda Bacon, Virgie Tovar, and Lynn McAfee), and lots of ones I’m not familiar with as well. I’m excited to ‘meet’ so many new people!

I’m most excited about the panels around intersectionality. They look fantastic, and I’m always keen to learn ways that I can do my fat activism in more inclusive ways. I’m a little disappointed to not see more men (cis or trans) on the programme, and I wish there were more speakers from outside the US. But I’m still uber excited about the three days and I hope you will all register to attend as well!

 

 

On living a fat life June 30, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 5:46 pm

Fat bodies are public bodies. They are open to comment, judgement, and ridicule.

Fat lives are public lives. They are described, proscribed, and prescribed.

“Fat people shouldn’t wear skinny jeans!” “Fat people aren’t athletic.” “Fat people can’t find true love.” “Fat people only eat fast food.” “Fat people don’t run marathons.” “Fat people shouldn’t take pride in their bodies.” “Fat people aren’t happy.” “Fat people can’t have hot sex.” “Fat people only drain society’s resources.” “Fat people don’t have the willpower to complete PhDs.”

Any fat person will be able to tell you a litany of the Dos and Don’ts of being fat. Anyone who steps outside of the list opens themselves up to shaming, hatred, and policing by self and others (let’s be honest, fat people who remain inside the list are regular recipients of the same). Whether it is being harassed on the street, concern trolled by friends or family, or simply the subject of whispers and stares – the public act of being fat is often exhausting.

Many fat people decide to shy away from being visible; some withdraw from society – others cloak themselves in the shadows of dark colours. Some actively apologise for their fatness, and spend years (often their entire lives) engaging with the weight cycle industrial complex. This may provide some protection from the shaming and hatred – at least others understand that they are trying to become someone else; someone acceptable.

Others, though, resist the pull to apologize or withdraw. They refuse to live their lives in a time-out zone; they want to do everything they want to do and they want to do it now. They don’t want to wait until they’ve lost five pounds. They don’t want to wait until someone says it’s okay for a fat person to wear a bikini, or run a marathon, or have hot sex. They want to live their fat life now. In living their lives the way they want, with little regard for how they are supposed to be living, these individuals are queering fatness. Queering fatness is a political act; an act of resistance.

My new co-edited text from Ashgate presents the perspectives of scholars from around the world on queering fat embodiment. The notion of fat as queer is not a new one; nor is the use of queering (as a method of thwarting the norm) new in considering novel ways of embodiment and performance among marginalised groups.

Sometimes groups of fat individuals come together to queer fatness. Consider those who swim in the fat synchronized group, Aquaporko. Or those who wear lingerie and dance for audiences as members of Va Va Boombah. These groups reject the accepted script of fat performance and present their own. Fat women in swimsuits; fat women in lingerie. Having fun. Enjoying their bodies being on display for others to see; scantily clad!

Within the Fatosphere there are many examples of queering fatness to be found. Sometimes groups of fat individuals come together to queer fatness using the ever awesome hastag. Take, for example, #notyourgoodfatty. Within my chapter in Queering Fat Embodiment, I consider a handful of Internet campaigns/activities that have helped reshape my own understanding of what it means to be fat; what fat may, and often does, look like. Rachele Cateyes’ “How to be a fat bitch” ecourse is a great example. It queers both fatness (as good and desirable) and femininity (bitchiness as awesome). A recent favourite of mine is Gabi Fresh’s video remake of #Flawless. Some actions of queering fatness are a direct response to a prescription or description of fatness by others (like Fuck yeah! Fat PhDs, Brian Stuart’s FATSPO Coloring Book, and Marilyn Wann’s I Stand campaign.) All of these offer a different way of understanding fatness – a way of queering fat performance and embodiment.

If you want to learn more about queering fat embodiment (both online and off), ask your library to order a copy of Queering Fat Embodiment today! Or check out the Introduction chapter, written by Jackie Wykes, that is free on the publisher page.

 

*I am very excited to share that this is the first stop on the social media for book for #QFE. Check back here to see other spots along the way!

 

On Queering Fat Embodiment & Social Media Book Tours June 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 12:10 am

QFE1

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QFE3

QFE4

 

On International No Diet Day 2014 May 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 8:51 pm

These pictures were taken during #INDD14 celebration at the Wellington campus of Massey University (New Zealand)

 

On #notyourgoodfatty April 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 12:07 am

A book I’ve co-edited with Jackie Wykes and Sam Murray, Queering fat embodiment, is set to be published by Ashgate in May, 2014. My chapter in the book considers how fatness is queered in cyberspace. As our book explores, queering is a method of disrupting the norm; of challenging essentialist positions and defying constructions of the dominant culture. Within cyberspace, fat activists often engage in queering fatness by challenging the expected idea of fatness. They present representations of fat life that deviate from the norm and they encourage alternative constructions of fat identity. Whether through blogging, posting fashion photos, using hashtags, or various other social media tools, they are offering a different way of considering fatness.

For the past two days, rad fatties on Twitter have been constructing a collective schema around the ways they queer fatness using the tag, #notyourgoodfatty. The hashtag began in a conversation between @FatBodyPolitics and @mazzie, and was quickly picked up by others and achieved trending status quickly. Some of my fav examples of the tag follow here,

 

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Melissa over at Shakesville gives a great explanation for those not well versed in the language of good (or bad) fatty,

Playing the Good Fatty might entail talking about how you totally eat healthy all the time, or totally work out regularly, or totally have “great numbers” (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), or totally make sure you wear clothes that aren’t too revealing.

It’s basically saying: I’m not one of THOSE fatties. You know, the ones we’re always hearing about, with their eating whole pizzas and destroying the healthcare system and stuff.

The transition from Good Fatty to Radical Fatty is when you decide it doesn’t matter why someone is fat. That fat people’s rights aren’t contingent on anything else but our humanity.

 

Reflecting on the use of the tag in social media, Amanda Levitt of Fat Body Politics, asserts that she is not interested in performing her fatness in socially acceptable ways. She, and the others embracing #notyourgoodfatty, are defiant resisters in the war against fat people. They refuse to be fat in appropriate ways. They are, in short, doing fatness wrong.

This campaign, and the other ways that fat activists queer fatness online, demonstrate the usefulness in the Internet in providing a space for oppositional fat politics (along with other kinds of oppositional politics. For example, see #WhitePeopleEquivalents)

#notyourgoodfatty is not the first tag to rally fat people together online. Recent memory recalls #clublardo#obeselifestyle, #IAmNotADisease, and #fatmicroaggressions. Melissa from Shakesville gifted us with #fatmicroaggressions last December. It also trended, and managed to attract the attention of mainstream media.

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Sharing the small acts of violence that are inflicted upon fat individuals everyday is powerful – making them visible is an important step in fighting back against the fat phobic culture we live in. Some may argue this is yet more slacktivism, as if low effort acts of activism that occur online are less powerful than other more traditional forms like marching or carrying a sign. In cyberspace, we are able to march the cyberhighway across the entire world. And the signs we carry are able to be adapted, crafted, and suited for a range of audiences on demand.  In queering fatness online, we are able to reject that our bodies are problems that need solutions. We are able to make our voices heard, if only in 140 characters and only for a snapshot in time.

 

On Fatshion February March 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 4:08 pm

 

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Every February, the Fatosphere engages in an activity, Fatshion February. Bloggers and non-bloggers alike take OOTD photos and post them in various social media forums (blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc) with the tag, #fatshionFebruary. The purpose of Fatshion February is to promote conversations around fatshion, and provide opportunities for fatties to show off their rags.

I decided to participate in Fatshion February this year, partly to challenge myself to wear the many frocks I own. Somewhere along the line, the idea that dresses are only to be worn on special occasions took root in my mind (it may have had something to do with growing up a tomboy and hating to wear dresses; having to be coerced into them for special occasions). Since entering adulthood, my reluctance to engage with something other than separates remained. UNTIL! I was introduced to fatties wearing frocks.

As I came out as fat, I was exposed to fat women (in person and online) wearing dresses (super cute dresses, at that!) And slowly, my resistance to dresses, and dressing up, began to recede. And I started to purchase the occasional frock. After some time, I had amassed a sizeable collection of cute dresses (mainly sundresses)*. The problem was that I rarely worn them. Outside of Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, in fact, I never wore them. I saw participating in Fatshion February as an opportunity to challenge myself to wear my frocks while engaging in an important activity within the fat positive community.

I spent the month of February wearing a different dress (or skirt) every work day. And I managed to find people willing to take my picture every day (I failed to learn the art of full body selfie. Maybe, with time…) I know that for some, taking selfies or OOTD pics, seems a narcissistic act of a generation too consumed with itself. But I think there is a power in fat people putting forward images of themselves. If we relied on others, all we’d ever see are headless fatties. In a post about selfies, Sarah at Radically Visible writes about the value of visual representation. “What taking selfies and sharing them does is fill our immediate environment with a far more diverse visual language of bodies than we have access to otherwise.” Sarah is writing specifically about selfies (even unflattering/uncomfortable selfies), but I find that her message resonates well for Fatshion February as well.

Anytime I am able to see a fat body presented outside of a negative light is an occasion. And for me, seeing how other fats engage with fashion is exciting. I enjoy being introduced to different ways to put together outfits, and different ways to wear items I own. I also like seeing the pieces of clothing from lines, both new and familiar, on actual fat bodies. Very rarely are clothes modelled on fat bodies in catalogs or on websites (shoutout to Domino Dollhouse!)  To see how articles of clothing look on other fatties helps me further visualize what it may look like on my fat shape.

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In the aforementioned piece, Sarah concludes, “For me, taking and sharing selfies reminds me that I can challenge the received narrative of beauty my culture has given me and either place myself in it – which I’m not supposed to be allowed to do – or discard it completely as the situation warrants.” This, for me, is the most important part of an event like Fatshion February. To allow a space for fatties to produce their own images to share – ones that disrupt the normative discourse and narratives that surround fatness. And getting to share in a bit of fashion in the process? Delightful!

*My favourite places for frocks are eShakti, Domino Dollhouse, Modcloth, although I occasionally find something I like at The Avenue or Lane Bryant. Other popular places for fatshion: Igigi, Torrid.

 

 
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