Friend of Marilyn

*Fatlicious

On fat kids and physical education September 5, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 7:12 pm

At the end of May, I travelled to Queenstown, one of the loveliest towns in New Zealand, to attend the Critical Health Education Studies Conference.

 

It was a last minute decision; I hadn’t planned on attending. But Professor Richard Tinning (a distinguished Professor in the area of physical & health education), invited me to fill a vacancy on symposium he had organized on “Critical health education and the affect of physical education”. This invitation was an honour, and even though I knew I would have to self-fund the trip, I accepted. The symposium also included Darren Powell, lisahunter, and Michael Gard; all scholars I admire a great deal.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much relevant scholarship was shared across the three days. Standout presentations came from Melinda Webber on the role of stereotype threat and cultural identity in the success of Māori as Māori and Gareth Treharne on the need for healthcare providers to be trained to meet the needs of trans New Zealanders.

I was, as usual, one of the few fat people in attendance. And I was the fattest person who spoke across the three days. It made my topic, fat kids, ethics, and physical education, especially relevant. I realised, in that space, that I was talking on behalf of all fat kids for these physical and health educators. And this is common for Fat Studies scholars and fat activists; we are the few speaking from the position of being fat. Most research around fatness doesn’t centre fatness or fat people – this is also true for most conversations around the topic. This is why growing the field of Fat Studies is so important. And why so many of us use autoethnography in our work; it provides a method in which the researcher remembers and reflects on personal experiences through a framework of theory and literature.

 

My talk, Losing the love of movement: Fat kids and physical education, explored the violence done to fat kids in PE and the disservice we do as we teach them to associate exercise solely with the pursuit of weight loss. I considered my own experiences with movement; how much I enjoyed physical activity as a kid, until I began compulsory physical education classes. In those spaces, I lost my love of movement. Uniforms that didn’t fit, activities that haven’t been modified for my fat body, taunting from my peers, and the anti-fat bias of my teachers; the end result was a hostile environment that removed the joy associated with movement and exercise for me.

This was reinforced by the idea that physical movement was meant to produce weight loss, rather than being allowed to enjoy physical movement for enjoyment’s sake. If I wasn’t losing weight, then what was the point? I was doing it wrong. Or not enough. Or not in the right way. (This approach is counterproductive to supporting fat kids to engage in physical activity, but understandable given the obesity epidemic lens that frames how most everyone thinks about fatness, health, and activity).

 

These experiences in physical education taught me that exercise was for the purpose of weight loss, and so from then on I would engage in regular exercise only during the times of my life when I was at war with my body. And during these times, I became militant about my activity. During my last war on my body, I took no prisoners. I was exercising between 3-4hrs every day, and would berate myself harshly when I took a day off due to illness or travel. (It’s amazing to me that during this time I was also completing my qualifying exams and my PhD research).

 

While I’ve left warring with my body behind me, I’ve yet to repair my relationship with movement and exercise. On the few times I’ve tried over the years, like when I did my first (and ONLY) mini triathlon, I found myself moving into unhealthy habits and thoughts quickly. But even though I’ve yet to work this out for myself, I’m hopeful. Because I know lots of fat adults who engage in movement they enjoy. Like the members of Aquaporko (a fat synchronised swimming group in Melbourne) or fat Olympians like Sarah Robles and Raven Saunders.

I concluded the talk by imaging a different future for fat kids in physical education. Spaces where fat kids could learn new ways to move their fat bodies without shame, or ridicule, or chafing. Spaces where fat kids could use their size to their advantage when appropriate in sporting situations, and learn modifications for other activities when necessary. Spaces where fat kids weren’t left out, left behind, or left feeling less worthy, because of their fatness. I can imagine these spaces. Can you? How can we support physical educators to make these spaces a reality? How can we support fat kids to not dread spaces of physical education? How can we support fat kids to be fat kids?

 

(I’m revising my talk into a paper appropriate for inclusion in an upcoming special issue on critical health education for the Health Education Journal – submissions are due in October)

 

 

On Fatness, employment, and physical spaces June 4, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 2:34 pm

There are a lot of challenges that fat people face in the workplace. That’s if they can get a job – as fat people are less likely to be hired than non-fat people. Once in a job, fat people earn less and are less likely to be promoted than their non-fat colleagues.

Within the workplace, fat people may be spending 8hrs a day absorbing microaggressions. The food policing & moralizing in the staffroom (“Oh, I couldn’t eat that”…”Should I be bad and have a cookie?”…”I just feel so fat today”…”I’m on this new diet that…”), the crammed boardroom with no space between the chair and the wall to squeeze through, the anti-fat attitudes of the colleagues and manager(s) demonstrated in the negative assumptions they’ve attached to fat bodies. These micro-aggressions are a form of fat stigma, which is a social determinant of health.

I’ve developed strategies to manage these indignities in my own working environment. I don’t eat or hang out in the staffroom. I work twice as hard to be considered alongside my non-fat colleagues (this is also true as a woman working alongside men; respectability politics are a bitch). I arrive early for staff meetings so I can snag a chair where others won’t have to squeeze by me – or me them if I need to leave early.

BodyPositivePoster

Outside my office door is a sign from the amazing Nalgona Positive Pride, which outlines the guidelines for entering my workspace: no diet talk. No body policing. No concern trolling. And I spent my own money to outfit my office with furniture that was accessible and comfortable for my super fat body. I’m lucky that I had the resources to do this.

But now my Institute is proposing to move its’ academic staff from private offices to activity zoned spaces. My understanding of this is a version of open plan, but with types of activity zones. These zones would be purposed for different activities, and might be arranged by noise level allowed or by types of furniture or tech in each area.

I’m horrified by the idea for many reasons, and have been protesting against this since the topic arose five years ago. I’ve pointed to the lit that demonstrates the negative impacts of this design – lower productivity, lower morale, higher stress, more sick & illness, etc.

I’m worried about having to work without privacy. Due to the collaborative & international nature of my work, I regularly have Zoom mtngs with postgrad students, research collaborators, and teaching teams. I also use Zoom (or similar tech) to run online teaching workshops, webinars, and overseas presentations. All of these activities require a closed/private space close by. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for me to receive concerned phone calls from colleagues or inquisitive phone calls from the media; these require a closed/private space close by and with some urgency.

And I’m nervous about the geography of the new space. As a super fat person, environments are not designed with my access or comfort in mind. Chairs have arms. Corridors/walkways between furniture are rather narrow, especially once chairs are pushed out to allow people to sit in them. Some modular furniture has attached benches/tables that are rarely wide enough to allow for fat bodies.

In my own space, I can ensure that my working area is accessible & comfortable for me. If a colleague’s office is too crammed for me to fit through to enter, I can hang in the doorway and chat without being awkward. My office is equipped, for example, with a chair I brought with me from overseas. It’s large & sturdy and supports my super fat body as I work.

When I’m out in public spaces, I have very little control of how accessible or comfortable I am. There are cafes I avoid because they only have booths that are immobile; when dining in small city restaurants I’ve learned to request a table by the front door when I book, knowing the likelihood of being able to make my way through the space without bothering my fellow diners is slim. It isn’t uncommon for super fat people to assess the accessibility & comfort of a space before agreeing to go someone with friends or accept an invitation. Is that now going to be my working environment?

 

I’m finding in the discussions with my colleagues (the ones excited for this new kind of space) that no consideration has been given to what these changes might mean for those of us whose bodies are different. Be they fat, disabled, old – deviant bodies interact with spaces differently than those who are “normal”, privileged. It has reminded me of a great blog about the way workplace wellness programmes can shift workspaces into hostile environments (& formerly good employees into non-compliant ones). For example,

“Not all disabilities are visible, and employers are not entitled to medical information about employees’ disabilities unless accommodations are needed to do the actual job. For example, if Susie in Accounting has Crohn’s Disease and can’t walk a mile immediately after lunch because it would take her dangerously far away from a desperately-needed toilet, her employer is not entitled to that information. So when Susie’s boss jumps on the “walking meetings” bandwagon, Susie now has a terrible choice to make: 1) She can share her deeply private and embarrassing digestive horrors with her boss; or 2) she can be labeled “not a team player” on her next annual review because she refused to participate in this “wellness initiative” sponsored by her employer. Congratulations, boss! You have taken a well-performing employee and made her body a barrier to success for no reason.”

 

I’m not sure what’s going to happen with my workplace at my employer, but I know that the new space will not be fat friendly by design without my intervention; which adds another layer to the paid work I engage in, and the unpaid labour I give my employer as well. All because spaces aren’t designed for all bodies.

 

 

 

On the Fat Studies MOOO May 4, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 7:35 pm

As a Fat Studies academic, I’m delighted at the number of undergrad and grad students who are interested in studying Fat Studies. I’ve met them all over the world! Some want to take a course or two, some wish for a qualification in the discipline, and some would hope to acquire a terminal degree.

Unfortunately, nowhere in the world can you earn a qualification in Fat Studies. Some FS courses exist, mainly in the US, but neoliberal Universities are culling disciplines such as Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Indigenous Studies – not supporting new ones. That’s why it’s important we support each other in our quest to study – learn – build – the discipline of Fat Studies. We share texts, we host conferences, we cultivate FB groups and Tumblrs, we share our lived experiences and connect with one another as best we can.

For my part, I act as an unofficial supervisor to many PhD students around the world; allowing them a space to talk about our epistemologies, and methodologies, and ontologies. To listen to rants about supervisors who just don’t get it, and share in the joy when something clicks. I also participate in #FatStudyGroup, a great tag created by @KivaBay as a way to co-construct our knowledge and share our literature with one another. It’s important work to do, and critical to building our field. And that’s why I’ve created the Fat Studies MOOO.

img_5454

It isn’t a MOOC – it’s not an online course taking place over several weeks/months. Instead, it’s discrete events that will happen once a month. Guest scholars will bring their expertise on a topic within Fat Studies to share with a small group. I’ve envisioned this as a resource for students who are eager for a chance to take a course in Fat Studies, but it’s open to anyone – student – academic – activist – anyone – who wants to build their understanding of this field.

The first Fat Studies MOOO finds us in the company of Professor Esther Rothblum, exploring the discipline itself. Each month, a new scholar and a new topic. I’ve reached out to Fat Studies scholars from across the world. They are an incredible group of scholars and incredibly generous to share their wisdom. If you’d like to learn more, you can read the info here: https://friendofmarilyn.com/fat-studies-mooo/

And if you’d like to participate in the first one, register at https://tinyurl.com/fsmooo

 

On finding a new doctor: One fat person’s tale April 5, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 1:23 pm

After four years without a primary healthcare provider, I finally got a new doctor. This is my story.

 

Going to the doctor can be very intimidating for fat people. We never know if healthcare providers will treat us with respect, hear our concerns, and see past the size of our bodies. Will they diagnose us as fat? Make assumptions about our health behaviours? Dismiss what we tell them about our health? Our lifestyles? Our experiences in our fat bodies?

 

Doctors (& other healthcare providers) are more likely than the general public to hold anti-fat attitudes. Doctors believe fat patients care less about health issues, are less likely to be compliant. Some doctors are explicit in their unwillingness to treat fat patients. Even when doctors are happy to provide care to fat patients, they may not have the proper education, training, and resources, to do so. Doctors aren’t taught how to palpate a super fat abdomen; most exam rooms don’t have the extra-large blood pressure cuff; hospital gowns provide little coverage (or comfort) for super fat bodies; waiting rooms are full of chairs with arms. For all of these reasons, many fat people avoid healthcare settings whenever possible. They skip screenings, minimize illness and pain, and feel trapped between their desire for medical care and proactive interventions and their desire to protect themselves against hostile environments & toxic situations.

 

My last doctor was great – he didn’t know about HAES when we met, but he was happy to be educated (note that that responsibility fell to me as a patient, as it usually does for marginalized people). He didn’t diagnose me as fat. He was happy to skip the scale & shelve his bias. I found him by asking around – I consulted the local women’s health collective and similar groups that support groups with deviant bodies – women, members of the LGBTIAQ community, indigenous peoples, etc. No one could point me to a fat friendly, much less fat positive, doctor – but he was recommended as someone who was kind, open minded, and committed to decolonising medicine and healthcare. Before my first appointment, I sent him a letter. I introduced myself, shared my concerns, and asked if he was comfortable treating – and touching – super fat bodies (that’s a Q I now ask anytime I’m booking at a new spa, massage place, sports instructions place, etc). But when he left his practice (& New Zealand), I couldn’t be bothered to go through the search again. And the few times it occurred to me that I’d like to have a doctor, I was either too busy to search or too fragile to embark on the quest.

 

Because it takes a lot of strength to find, assess, and then meet, a new doctor when you have special needs. Having to explain, during the search, why you’re looking for a fat friendly doctor. Exhausting. Having to assess whether the person/practice you are considering is bias free (or at least less biased) and a safe place to receive care. Exhausting. Preparing to have that first conversation (w/o crying!), and then having it (w/o crying!), with your new doctor. Exhausting.

 

But after being without a primary care provider for four years, it was time. And just last week, I had my first appointment. I first had an appointment with the manager of the practice, where we reviewed my family history, my health history, my lifestyle, and my needs. I specifically asked about how the practice met the needs of fat patients. The blank, blinking, face I received wasn’t a good start. The manager wasn’t prepared to respond – not surprising. When I unpacked it for her in some concrete ways, she was able to talk about chairs & cuffs & even attitudes. Although she asserted strongly that no one in the practice had anti-fat attitudes (sure, Susan – sure). I left that appointment willing to meet with the primary care provider I requested (based on advice from others), and proud that I had raised my concerns. And glad I had managed to do it without crying.

 

Before my first appointment with my PCP/GP, I was able to use their online system to request that she ordered blood tests beforehand. Concerns with the metabolic health of a fat patient are understandable; I did these tests yearly with my last doctor. Doing it before my apt would prevent me from having to go back a second time for results. Being able to make my request online was easy, accessible, and allowed me having to ask (& explain why) in person. I always find it easier to have tough conversations through written formats, so this will be great for me moving forward.

 

At my first appointment, I shared with my new doctor (& the intern that was with her for the day) my concerns about being seen as my BMI – having my body pathologised – missing a diagnosis because of my size and her assumptions. I pointed out to the intern that I appreciated the one (of three) armless chair in the space; explaining that it was more comfortable for me and wouldn’t risk bruising me during the appointment. In fact, through the entire apt, I continually turned to the intern to explain things or highlight why treating a super fat patient may be different than a non-fat one (or even a fat one). He seemed eager for the info (& less uncomfortable as time went by). I left the appointment confident that I had made my needs (& concerns) clear, and that my new doctor had heard me. I’m hopeful we will have a respectful & productive relationship moving forward. I’d love to not have to do this again (find a new one).

 

Having a doctor you feel comfortable with is important. Having your healthcare needs met in a safe space is important. Being able to exercise agency in healthcare decisions is important. Healthcare is an important part of living a happy & fulfilling life. And fat people deserve that.

 

 

 

 

On fatting it up across Texas (with a friend!) March 5, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 5:45 pm

I know I just returned from seven months in Europe. I know I promised you lots of blogs about my travels, and what is was like for a super fat person, and all of the tools and resources I used to make my travel experiences as comfortable as possible. I promise those are still coming.

 

And I know that I’ve whinged a bit about all the travelling I did while I was there; fourteen countries made my itinerary. And nine of those were results of invitations from Universities and other organisations, inviting me to give a talk or a workshop on my scholarship and activism.

Giving a keynote in Munich

A guest lecture in Finland

A seminar at Oxford

It was such a success, and I had so much fun connecting with similar scholars and activists, that I’m going to do another one. Another speaking tour, that is. And this one will be closer to my home (my hometown, that is): I’m coming to Texas. And I’m bringing my friend, Substantia Jones.

 

 

Cat and Substantia

 

 

That’s right, Cat Pausé and Substantia Jones are coming to the Lone Star State in December of 2018 to give talks, run workshops, take naked photos, and eat good TexMex. Seriously, I am so excited to feed Substantia all the TexMex she can handle.

At the moment, the plan is be in Houston, Austin, and Dallas; we are very happy to fit in additional stops along the way if the invitations are there and we can make it fit into the schedule. We appreciate that Dec isn’t the best month for Universities, but I’m afraid I don’t finish my own teaching in New Zealand until mid November, so the earliest we can be booked in would late Nov.

If you, or anyone you know, would like to schedule either of us – BOTH of us – to give a seminar, workshop, etc, at your University or organisation, please let me know. And check out our flyer; please share it far and wide!

PauséJones Flyer 2018

 

On failing out loud February 5, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 3:07 pm

As a fat person, I’m very familiar with failure. My body, to most, represents a failure. A failure of discipline. A failure of self control. A failure to appropriately manage my body and the burden it may become for society (NEOLIBERALISM, AM I RIGHT?!)

As a super fat person, I’ve spent decades failing at making myself smaller. Bodies get to be my size after decades of succeeding, and then failing, at weight loss. I get the congratulations and appreciation when I succeed to lose. And the sheltered looks of pity and “you’ll get ‘em next time” pep talks when I fail through growth.

My failures at weight loss are public. People in my daily life know when I’ve failed. I don’t have to tell them, it’s written on my body. Social media makes it more likely that people who entire my life long after those failures could discover them for themselves; here’s a memory for you from 10yrs and 100lbs ago, Cat. Hoozah!

My failures as an academic, though, aren’t as public. No one knows if an article is rejected by an editor, or if I’m turned down for a funding grant, unless I chose to tell them. And while I do speak about such things with my close friends and colleagues, I don’t share them on social media in the same way I share my successes. We don’t talk about failing in academia very often, and this probably leaves many out in the cold. It may appear that everyone else is only ever succeeding, if that’s what we share on social media. So, I’m going to work on failing out loud.

Most recently, I failed to secure an appointment to a faculty position I really wanted. In many ways, it was a dream posting. It’s in an awesome team doing critical health scholarship in the University where I’m already on faculty. My work on fat stigma & oppression would have fit in well with these colleagues, and it would have been a nice change to share a corridor with scholars who work in a complementary field to my own. But they went with someone else, as often (usually?) happens in academia. They decided I wasn’t the best fit for them, and that’s ok. I’m bummed, and disappointed, but not terribly surprised. And I’m taking some comfort in knowing I did my very best in my research presentation and my interview. But it’s a failure, for sure. One that many experience.

I’m not here to write about what you can learn from failure. Or about whether it is better to try and fail then not try at all. I’m vocalising a big failure so others might read it – see it – hear about it. Maybe it’ll help. Melanie Stefan is credited with the idea of a CV of failures; since her piece in Nature, many successful academics have crafted failure CVs to sit alongside their regular CVs as evidence that all of us have failed along the way. All of us have heard “No” at some point. Many have taken issue with the failure CV, pointing out that most people who produce them do so from a position of privilege.

I’m not planning to create a CV of failures, although I have documented in many places my failures at becoming smaller. But I will make an effort to talk openly about my losses across social media; maybe others would like to join me?

 

On joining #FatStudyGroup January 5, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 4:52 pm

It’s a new year – and I’m freshly home from my European sabbatical (promise to write many more posts about this, including my love of train travel, the cool fatties I met across Europe, and my frustration with how inaccessible that entire continent seems to be). I’m not much for making resolutions, but I do find it useful to make lists of things I want more of in the new year and things I want less of in the new year.

 

On the top of my “More” list is reading; specifically reading as scholarship. Like many academics, I find it difficult to carve out time for scholarly reading. Most of the academic reading I do is ‘just in time’ reading – reading something I need for the project or manuscript I’m working on. There are suggestions for how academics can ensure they are reading regularly, even during heavy teaching times (if you’re not already taking tips from Raul Pacheco-Vega, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!).

All the pretty books! (A shelf in Iceland)

More pretties! (A shelf in Finland)

 

I had actually hoped to make reading a priority during my sabbatical; I had intended to read the entire Fat Studies literature during my time away and build an annotated bib to share. This didn’t eventuate, largely because I received so many invitations to share my work around Europe (good problem to have, I know!); but most of what I had hoped to read remained unread.

 

As I settle back into my life in New Zealand, I am prioritizing reading as an important part of my day. I’m planning to read for an hour everyday after lunch. And to help keep me focused on this – and motivated – I’m going to live Tweet my reading.

My lovelies

 

The amazing @KivaBay began #FatStudyGroup on Twitter last year, and she’s used the tag to share her thoughts about Fat Studies texts. I had intended to build an annotated bib with my reading, so why not do that in real time – and threaded Tweets – in addition to the Word document I hope to one day share online?

 

If you’re interested in keeping up with my live reading, follow me on Twitter (@FOMNZ), or search for the #FatStudyGroup. And if you’re reading/watching/listening to anything about fat – join the conversation!