Friend of Marilyn

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On spaces for fat activism and scholarship September 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 4:43 pm

As a super fat person living in New Zealand, I am rarely afforded the opportunity to hang out in fat spaces offline. I don’t know many fat people who embrace that identity, so I am always keen to have access to spaces designed by fat people, for fat people, about fat people. One of those yearly spaces (albeit online) is the Fat Activism Conference(FAC). This began in 2014, organised by Ragan Chastain of DancewithFat and Jeannette DePattie from The Fat Chick. This year, I’m pleased to be part of the organising team; doing my part to encourage that speakers are invited from all parts of the world, not just the Western Northern Hemisphere. And I’m excited that my radio show, Friend of Marilyn, has come on board as a Gold Sponsor this year!

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There’s a lot to love about this conference. It’s online, so you can access it from anywhere in the world on your phone or computer. If you can’t join the conference live (like me, due to time differences), you can listen to the recorded sessions at your leisure. Plus, this year they are providing transcripts. FAC runs from 23-25 September 2016.

The keynotes this year are Jill Andrew, Charlotte Cooper, Caleb Luna, and Dianne Bondy. Other speakers include Bevin Branlandingham, Alysse Dalessandro, Rajah Jones, Gloria Lucas, Mirna Valerio, and me (find them all here). One of the things I LOVE about these kinds of events are the opportunities afforded to fat people to share their stories – their truths – their experiences. Fat people are excluded from the narratives around fatness in favour of “experts on obesity”.

Another great aspect is the accessibility of FAC. There are passes at affordable prices, that gain you access to the sessions and transcripts, plus extras. And there is a pay-what-you-can-afford option too! Fat activism is important because fat hate hurts people of all sizes – and while we may not be able to change everyone’s mind about fatness, we can damn sure make it illegal to discriminate against us for our size. And we can strive for a society in which fat people are able to lead their lives the way they want, without apology or shame.

Register now to attend FAC 2016 (this is my affiliate link)!

If you are interested in fat scholarship, then make sure to check out FSNZ16!

Fat Studies: Identity, Agency, Embodiment (FSNZ16) was the second Fat Studies conference I’ve hosted in New Zealand. It provided a space for Fat Studies scholars and fat activists to come together and share pedagogy, scholarship, and activism. It was well supported by my Institution and received a great deal of media attention across New Zealand. Having hosted Fat Studies: Reflective Intersections in 2012, colleagues, admin, and the media alike, were not confounded by the idea of a Fat Studies conference this go around; a Fat Studies conference no longer seems odd, or, as odd, to the people in New Zealand.

cat1We had 22 speakers from eight countries across four continents; 5 of them joined remotely (a New Zealander with a sick child on the day, and individuals from Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom). All of the presentations were well received; one of the most popular was from a postgrad student, Jessica Maclean, who shared at the start that it was her first academic presentation. Our two keynotes were fantastic. Having two keynotes: one academic, Katie LeBesco, and one activist, Substantia Jones, drew attendees from across two crowds and acknowledged that Fat Studies is a discipline heavily influenced by both scholars and activists alike.

While we had presenters from 8 countries, I was disappointed that we were a space that (re)produced white supremacy; both keynotes were white, most speakers and attendees were white. This was further reinforced by the pictures supplied by presenters to use in the promotion material; we only had one picture from a POC to use in our materials. The organising committee had sought to ensure we had POC on the committee, and that our CFP reached out to feminist spaces, student spaces, and spaces for people of colour. We worked especially hard to engage with the indigenous communities in New Zealand. When all was said and done, though, we failed to produce a conference that represented a diverse group of voices. We are working on strategies to ensure that future FSNZ conferences do better, including a commitment to having a POC as a keynote.

Of our registrations, many of those were online registrations.  One of the drawbacks of hosting FSNZ is that many people are unable to attend a conference in New Zealand in person. Online attendees were able to live stream the two days, and submit Qs for presenters through Twitter; online participation allowed access to those unable to join us in New Zealand, and live tweeting allowed for engagement with those not in the room. Live Tweeting of FSNZ16 took place by four individuals in attendance, along with the organiser. Presenters were requested to provide 3-5 tweets (or bits that could be revised into tweets) beforehand; in total, the conference account (@FSNZ2016) tweeted about 325 times during the two days.

Financially, the conference was tenuous. Many academic conferences are now supported or sponsored by industry; this has almost become an expectation within academia. As we do not have a large industry that could support us, FSNZ16 relied solely on registrations and financial support from the University. This makes us vulnerable to budget capacities of the institution, and to the willingness of the fat community to support the conference. In fact, we are still looking for fat community support, ascat2 registration remains open until 30 September for those who wish to access the recorded presentations from the conference. The price has been dropped to 25NZD/18USD, and we hope there are many out there who are willing to support us and ensure that FSNZ happens again!

Before the conference kicked off, a spoken word event was held at the public library. Fat Out Loud was hosted by Dr. Jenny Lee and myself, and we were thrilled to have six readers share stories about being pregnant while fat, being a fat child, negotiating life with an anti-fat mother, rejecting suitors who won’t be seen with you in public, and the role of chairs in the lives of fat people. You can find videos of two of those readings in this playlist. The closing night of the conference, The Adipositivity Project exhibit opened at Te Manawa, a local art gallery and museum.

For me, one of the most valuable aspects of the conference is the opportunity for community. To be in a space for fat people, with fat voices at the fore, is rare for me. As Kath Read of the Fat Heffalump wrote,

cat3But most of all, what I valued the most was the community.  This was a room full of people whom I did not have to educate from scratch.  This is almost unheard of for me – I spend the majority of my time engaging in Fat Activism 101, where I constantly have to justify the right of fat people to have a life of dignity and respect – something I have been doing for almost 8 long, long years.   I did not have to explain to any of the attendees the basic tenets of fat activism.  We spoke a common language, and are approaching the topic from a similar direction.  Not to mention, generally speaking, people engaging in fat studies are not looking to eradicate, cure or prevent fatness.  They’re looking at what it means to live in a fat body, how society treats fat people and how we can maintain fat people’s rights.

If you are able to support Fat Studies scholarship, please register for FSNZ16. You’ll get the full programme, along with recorded presentations from the two days. If you’d like access to the videos, but cannot afford the registration fee, please let me know and I will arrange for a scholarship for you!

(re-posted from the Health at Every Size blog)

 

On my own fat demise August 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 5:48 pm

Just old does a fat person have to get before they are able to die of old age?

The Fat Lip Readers’ Theatre

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own demise. Oh yes, I’m going to die. One day. I probably spend more time thinking about my own death than most people in their thirties who don’t have a chronic illness or spend their days base jumping. I think about it a lot, actually. At least once a week; sometimes everyday. I think about what a good death might look like for me. At what age I might die. Will it be slow? Will it be prolonged? Will it be of a fatty disease?

My thoughts about my death are heavily (pun!) wrapped up in my fatness. Because I’ve lived my entire life [as a fat person], being told by everyone – family, friends, doctors, strangers, trolls – that my fatness will kill me; that I’m a ticking time bomb. Common refrains include,

  • But what about your health?
  • Sure, you’re ok now. But wait until you’re older… *sigh*
  • I’m just, worried, you know? I hate to think of what this mean for you later on.

And these concerns are shared by family, friends, doctors, strangers, and trolls alike. I cannot think of something ever said to me by a stranger or troll that hasn’t also been said to me by a loved one. Living your life under the threat of “one day” is less than awesome. And being reminded, for your own good, by those around you, makes it even worse.

I’ve never assumed that I was alone in this, but thanks to an upcoming horrific infotainment offering on the BBC3, lots of fatties are talking about how not even our deaths are free from public scrutiny and shaming.

Because we think of some illnesses as fatty diseases, like Type II diabetes, we get to say, ‘I told you so’, when a fat person does develop this condition. I mean, it was inevitable, right? (Of course, this also means that we don’t often screen non-fat people for these fatty diseases, and it has been suggested that there are a lot of undiagnosed diabetics who aren’t aware they have a disease to maintain). When fat people develop cancer or heart disease, it’s expected. When non-fat people develop these things, it’s tragic.

Let’s say I develop Type II diabetes. Or cancer. Or heart disease.

Haters are gonna rejoice.

They’re not gonna care if I developed these things because of heredity, or my behaviours, or because living a lifetime of discrimination is damaging, or because of my fat. Nope. Fatty got what was coming to her, and that’s all that matters.

5

But let’s say I live to 100. Will they rain down apologies on me, as they’ve rained down dire warnings? Probably not.

 

On fatness and chairs July 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 7:35 pm

Kicking off Fat Studies: Identity, Agency, Embodiment, was Fat Out Loud – organised by Dr. Jenny Lee, at Palmerston North City Library. I decided to try my hand at a creative piece of writing, which is quite different from the writing I regularly engage in. But with Jenny’s support, I penned a piece about chairs that I shared at the event on 28 June, 2016.

You can watch my reading on my YouTube page here: Video

Chairs

On a clear Autumn night in the Hawkes Bay, I sit in awe – I’m surrounded by the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra; their voices & laughter filling the night around me. It’s a magical kind of evening where anything seems possible. They begin to sing, and their melodies and harmonies dip & rise, & rise, & rise – and then I become very still as I realize that it’s not them who are rising – it’s me who’s falling. My chair is sinking into the soft ground, the mud like surface giving way under my girth. I surreptitiously glance around to see if anyone else has noticed my gradual decline, but luckily they are all entranced by the music. And maybe the weed. So no one is the wiser as I sink several cm; it feels like metres. Later, when we all stand to leave, I try to free my chair from the ground – but it’s of little use. The ground won’t give up its’ hard won prize. And in a way it seems a small price to pay to the chair Gods for my fat ass. At least this chair was ok. If a bit like the Titanic.

 

‘Cause, see, I’ve spent much of my life sitting in chairs that bruise my body.

 

Desk chairs. Lounge chairs. Studio chairs. Stationary chairs. Roller chairs. Chairs at school. Chairs at work. Chairs in waiting rooms. Chairs in salons. And don’t get me started on chairs that aren’t technically chairs – like airplane seats and train benches. The chairs of the world aren’t built for bodies like mine; the bruises and indentations have become common parts of the landscape of my fat body.

 

All of the chairs in my boss’ office have arms. And not just any arms, but old, wooden arms, on the old, wobbly chairs. Every time we meet, I have to precariously place myself into one of these chairs. And these chairs, oh, these chairs. These chairs bruise. My side fat is shoved aside; my ass fat droops off the back. For years, I would enter their office, sit in the horrible chair, and try to pay attention to the praise or consternation being offered. For years, I was quiet about my discomfort; some small part of me may have even believed I deserved it.

 

Even now, when I’m loud about most other things, I haven’t spoken up about the limitations of the chairs in his office. What could I say, I wonder. “These chairs suck.” “Those chairs hurt me.” “Why do you hate fat people?” None of these would necessitate the change that is needed – that the chairs in his office (all the chairs in the world) be adjusted or replaced with chairs that can serve all types of bodies. That can fit fat bodies like mine. I have, on occasion, picked up a better chair from the office of his secretary and brought that into the room with me. I’ve never explained why, and he’s never asked for an explanation. These are the days I’m feeling my strongest. Where I realise that I don’t have to be uncomfortable; that this isn’t some penance I’m serving. I’m allowed to sit and have a conversation with my boss without being bruised.

 

We spend our lives sitting in chairs. We sit to work; to meet; to eat; to watch; to read; to play; to live. Chairs are a primary vehicle through which we interact with the world and each other. For fat people, chairs can be a land mine. You never quite know what to expect when you walk into a public space – will you fit? Will the chair hold you? Will you wind up on your ass on the floor?

 

I’ve never broken a chair. It seems a shame, really – isn’t that a hallmark of a truly great fat person? To have decimated a chair? I thought I gained that achievement several years ago, when a chair I was sitting in almost seemed to melt underneath me while I spoke to a colleague across my kitchen table. At the time, I was mortified that it happened; especially in front of company. But later, when my landlord told me that the dining room chairs did that often and he kept wood glue on the ready for the fix, I found myself disappointed to have not achieved that level of fatness.

 

How much of your life do you think about chairs? How often do you notice the chairs in any given room? I’m aware of every chair in every environment I’m ever in. Even if the likelihood of me sitting is nill, I’m still paying close attention to the chairs. Are they sturdy? Do they have arms? Do they look like they can hold my 140 kilo body? And I doubt I’m alone in this. Ask any fat person you know how often they pay attention to chairs. Or anyone you know that isn’t abled bodied.

 

When I was finishing up my PhD, one of the first things I did was buy my own desk chair. It’s huge. And it swivels. It has massive arms, positioned in a way that don’t dig into my side, and don’t leave me bruised. It’s a ridiculous chair for a Professor, and it’s fancier than any other chair I’ve seen since arriving in New Zealand; oh yes, I brought it with me. In many ways, that chair represents what I’ve accomplished in my life. A life that was never supposed to amount to greatness, because, well, fatness. My executive chair tells the world to fuck off – and it allows me a more than comfortable place to sit while I engage with my scholarship and activism.

 

In many ways, chairs represent the larger struggle for fat people to fit into society. Finding your place in this world is a challenge for most, but that place can be especially challenging when the world isn’t designed to accommodate you. When you don’t fit into chairs, it’s hard to fit into life. Surely we can do better with the chairs on offer? We’ve put white men on the moon and driverless cars on the road! How can we not populate the world with chairs that fit all bodies? That offer a welcoming place for assess of all sizes?

 

In the meantime, here is my call – Fatties arise! Don’t sit in those too small chairs. Don’t bruise your lovely rolls on those arms. Be braver than me and ask those around you to provide appropriate places to put your ass!

 

 

On #FSNZ16 June 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 9:26 pm

At the end of June, Fat Studies: Identity, Agency, Embodiment is taking place in Palmerston North, New Zealand. The two day event will feature fat studies scholarship and fat activism from individuals from seven countries. If you haven’t registered yet – do so now! I’m super excited about #FSNZ16, and  since I have the inside scoop, I thought I’d share snippets of some of the talks.

FSNZ16 Logo 2016

Concerns, culprits, counsel, and conflict: ‘Obesity’ and fat discourse in online news media

Patricia Cain, Murdoch University, Australia

 

In recent years ‘obesity’ and fat discourse in western media has matured; the sensationalist headlines and simplistic slogans that characterised early ‘obesity crisis’ discourse are increasingly sharing space with more sophisticated analysis that recognise the complexity and nuance of issues around fat embodiment and public health. Understanding how the logic and evidentiary components of critical fat perspectives are incorporated into everyday discourses around fat not only provides insight into weight based stigma and discrimination but also allows potential sites and methods for change to be identified.

 

KEYNOTE:

Genderqueer, Trans, fluid, fat: Physical modification and the politics of acceptance

Katie LeBesco, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, USA

 

The fat activist edict against deliberate weight loss intersects in fascinating ways with the trans drive for physical modification. In one case, accepting oneself means being satisfied with one’s own body, and thus precludes intentional physical transformation.  In the other, it is often the physical transformation that enables self-acceptance, as the body at birth seems incongruous with identity. Genderqueer, nonbinary, and fluid individuals further complicate the meaning of bodily modification.

 

Is Fat the new Black? Frantz Fanon and the fact of fatness

Jessica Maclean, Aotahi: School of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

 

Martinican anticolonial philosopher Frantz Fanon describes ‘blackness’ in an antiblack society as, not a self-created identity, but one that is thrust upon him by virtue of his physical appearance. His blackness becomes a social uniform behind which Fanon the individual disappears. This is the zone of non-being where a black person is not seen; only the fact of their blackness remains. There are parallels to be explored between aspects of Fanon’s work on black embodiment, and emerging critiques of the ways in which ‘fat’ bodies are conceptualised and pathologised. Fat bodies, like black bodies before them, have become contested sites upon which contemporary normative standards are imposed.

 

Childhood Obe$ity Inc: Governing the (un)healthy child-consumer

Darren Powell, Curriculum and Pedagogy, University of Auckland, New Zealand

 

In recent times, multi-national food and beverage corporations (described by some as ‘Big Food’) have been blamed for a global childhood obesity ‘crisis’. Unsurprisingly, these corporations have been quick to refute these claims and now position themselves as ‘part of the solution’ to childhood obesity. In this presentation I examine how corporations are using, even exploiting, concerns about children’s fat bodies for their own business interests by funding and implementing a variety of physical activity/health eating/anti-obesity programmes and resources in primary [elementary] schools.

 

Narrative films on the impact of body standards in & on intersectional Queer community

Jen Rinaldi, Legal Studies, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada

Carla Rice, University of Guelph, Canada

Andrea LaMarre, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph, Canada

 

In our research project Through Thick and Thin, we engage with how persons in queer communities who identify as women and who claim multiple intersecting positionalities confront body image ideals and body management expectations. We explore how they negotiate and are affected by culturally inscribed body standards in and outside LGBTQ communities, and how they resist with counter-cultural practices. In this presentation we will showcase narrative films featuring assemblages of queer sexuality, gender expression and identity, and other privileged or minoritized identifications in confrontation with weight-based stigma, expectations around eating and exercise, and experiences of pathologization. In so doing we will speak back to assumptions that are projected on or work to discount diverse subjectivities, and that inform medical scholarship and practice especially related to fat and queer embodiments.

 

Hey Fat Bitch!

Kath Read, Fat Heffalump, Australia

 

For many women and girls, “fat” is the first insult they hear and/or are taught to fear in their lives.  From early childhood right throughout their lives, women repeatedly hear the message that fat is bad, and weight based insults are usually the go-to attacks on women.  When women and girls actually are fat, they usually have the additional abuse purely because of the size of their bodies.

This essay and image presentation aims to highlight the long term effect of weight based abuse on the quality of life of fat women and girls and ask how both activism and academia can work towards reducing these negative impacts.

 

Sex, saleability and self-esteem: Fat female agency in arranged marriages in India

Gurleen Khandpur, University of Otago, New Zealand

 

An estimated 95% of marriages in India are arranged. This practice of arranging matches, mostly by parents with the help of extended family, network of friends and go-betweens, is rooted in tradition and a web of complex social practices and belief systems. Of the many criteria that affect the value prospective ‘brides and grooms to be’ command in the marriage mart are those related to norms governing social & sexual desirability, and gender. Because of this there has been a long history of feminist discourse around marriage in general and a focussed analysis of arranged marriages in particular. Feminist analysis in this instance, however, has failed miserably in critically engaging with the position fat women occupy. In my paper I present an intersectional analysis exploring the challenges unique to being both fat and a woman within this context in India. In particular I focus on themes of female agency in the process of arranging a match and how internalised fat phobia and size based oppression play out within this scenario.

 

Extremes of volume: Anorexia and obesity in new media

Valeria Radrigán, TRANSLAB, Chile

Tania Orellana, University of Chile, Chile

 

The paper addresses the manifestations of extreme body volumes (anorexia and obesity) constructed and showed on the internet and in some reality- makeover shows. We will focus on the body transition from stigmatization towards a performative resistance in new media, both in social practices and specific artistic works, reviewing how they permeate the representation of these volumes, not only in terms of their their associations to sick / healthy, but also in the installation of aesthetics with extensive incidence in experience and sensitivity.

 

Clinging to fat acceptance: Experiences of fatness and early motherhood

Jenny Lee, Creative Writing, Literary Studies, and Gender Studies, Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia

 

This is an autoethnographic paper about my experience of conception, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding as a fat woman. There were times when my fat body was seen as barren, incapable, and excessive and also times when I didn’t know whether I could trust a medical opinion to be objective, because I inhabit a fat body. I discuss medical and cultural assumptions about a fat woman’s ability to conceive, how much weight a fat woman ‘should’ gain in pregnancy and what she ‘should’ eat according to medical guidelines, and whether fat women are in higher need of caesarean sections.

 

“Inside this fat body is a thin person trying to get out”: Negotiating fatphobia in Finland and North America

Jeannine Gailey, Texas Christian University, USA

Hannele Harjunen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

 

In this paper, we highlight the similarities in North American and Finnish discourses surrounding the fat body. Based on our respective empirical findings, we argue that the comparison of the two discourses indicates that there is a shared Western fat/obesity lived experience that perpetuates a stigmatized gendered landscape of living with a fat body. Through in-depth interviews and autobiographical writings with North American and Finnish women, we found that discourses tend to revolve around the internalization of fatphobia, the phenomenon of hyper(in)visibility, and a belief that fat is a temporary or liminal state. We argue that these findings are the result of the tremendous stigma and mistreatment that both of our samples of women are faced with in their daily lives.

 

KEYNOTE:

Adipositivity: Part fat, part feminism, part f**k you

Substantia Jones, The Adipositivity Project, New York, USA

Shrinking bodies is a growing business. And the more it grows, the more fat people are being shut out of positive or neutral representation in media and culture. But visibility is vital to our well-being. So what do we do? We create our own. And we support the homegrown visibility of others.

 

The closing night of the conference, Substantia has a show opening at Te Manawa – I cannot wait to see her work on the walls of gallery!

Adipositivity Poster for Web

 

If you’re interested in attending #FSNZ16, but cannot travel to New Zealand and attend in person, we’ve got an online option that allows you to live stream both days and access on demand videos after. You can also tweet us questions @FSNZ2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

On why I don’t care about health May 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 10:55 am

As a Fat Studies scholar and fat activist, the issue of health is forever looming around me. In the background; in the foreground; off in the wings; waiting to pounce. Much of my scholarship has focused on fat identity and how it is managed in social media; much of my activism has focused on securing equal rights protection for fat individuals. And yet, when speaking to the media about weight discrimination in the workplace, or submitting an academic manuscript to a humanities journal, it is almost a guarantee that a reviewer or reporter will ask questions about fatness and health. “What about their health?” they’ll query, as though it has any relevance on whether fat people should be paid the same as non-fat people for work of equal value. “But isn’t fat unhealthy”, they’ll ask, as though someone’s health status has any bearing on whether they deserve to have a Facebook or Tumblr account.

Questions around health are always present in my work on/for fatness. Because health is one of the few lenses through which we, as a society, are capable of viewing fatness.

I spent much of my doctorate degree waging yet another war against my body. Even though I had been fat my whole life, and had a sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I still went to war with my body regularly. I had all the tools – the scales, the points, the counting, the gym membership, the calendar on which I would check each day where I achieved at least 30 minutes of exercise. At the same time I was waging this latest battle, I was researching how very fat women constructed, maintained, and revised their weight identity. All of the women in my work had similar stories to my own; lifelong fatness, lifelong dieting; lives spent chasing that elusive fantasy of being thin. One of the women I interviewed was different from the rest; she wasn’t ashamed, wasn’t afraid, and didn’t believe that her weight was holding her back from anything, including health. At the end of our interview, she casually suggested I read Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth. It was my first exposure to work that was critical of obesity studies. And from there it began; like many scholars, I fell down this new rabbit hole and read everything I could.

When I began, I was most drawn to understanding how tenable the links between weight and health really were. I spent a great deal of time reading empirical studies that disproved that weight was a reliable predictor of health, or that permanent weight loss was possible, even while concluding that weight loss should still be pursued by those who fell outside the desirable range. (This was before Health at Every Size; before scholars like Bacon, Aphramor, and Burgard, began revolutionising understandings of health and illuminating that keeping the definition of health as thin as it was ensured that many people of all sizes were excluded). This science, that never seemed to be at the fore of people’s minds when they casually dismissed fat politics, seemed to me to be the answer.

If I could just convince enough people that being fat isn’t automatically unhealthy, then things would change! They wouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their body sizes. They wouldn’t judge a fat person for eating at McDonalds while they themselves consumed the same food themselves. They would acknowledge that fat people deserved the same rights and dignity as non-fat people! I set to work doing just that: I facilitated workshops for healthcare providers, I wrote about the relationship between weight and health, I shared evidence through social media.

In 2012, I agreed to do a segment for 20/20 in New Zealand. By this time, my understanding of health as a social construct and a social contract had developed. When the interviewer asked me whether I was healthy, I first spoke to the varying definitions of health. Who’s health? Who gets to define health?  Who is excluded from these definitions? Then I moved into speaking specifically about my personal health. Was I metabolically healthy? Yes. Did I engage in health seeking behaviours? Yes. Did my BMI fall within what was believed to be healthy range? No. I then went on to speak on whether it should matter – did my worth of being a person with dignity and respect depend on my health status? Most of my response was edited down, and I cringed when the Me on TV began talking about my health behaviours. In my earlier work as a fat activist, I was willing to speak about my health, and the relationship between weight and health as demonstrated in the literature as I understood it. I kept thinking, one more time for the camera, and things will change. (I probably don’t have to tell you that they never have).

I no longer participate in this form of respectability politics, a term coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham to explain the efforts made by black women to demonstrate they were good enough for white society to overlook their flaw of being black (and women). In fat activism, respectability politics is often expressed in the performance of the good fatty; the fat person who apologises for their body, who demonstrates their efforts to seek health despite their size, who performs their fatness in ways that are most tolerable for the fat hating world they live in.

As a scholar and an activist, I’ve come to recognise that any conversation about health and fatness will be centred on physical health, and the ways that fatness impedes the achievement of health. And while increasingly conversations will include acknowledgement of the role of environments on health acquisition (the dreaded obesogenic environment), rarely does the conversation include a consideration of the impact of fat stigma and hate on the health and well-being of fat people. And for me, that’s the only interest of health that lives on in my scholarship and activism.

I am incredibly fat; death fat, as we like to say in the Fatosphere. In this way, I may have learned earlier than others that engaging in respectability politics wasn’t going to get me anywhere. It doesn’t matter how much I exercise or am seen eating a salad, the world will perceive me as incredibly unhealthy and incredibly unworthy. It doesn’t matter what my health status is, everyone, including healthcare providers, will treat me like a ticking time bomb that will, one day, implode and double-stomachedly take down public health care systems.

Health is the latest form of respectability politics for fat people. And I want no part of it.

 

Cross posted from the ASDAH blog

 

 

On the legality of weight discrimination in New Zealand March 5, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 5:25 pm

It is legal to discriminate against me in Aotearoa New Zealand. Even though research clearly demonstrates that fat people are discriminated against in educational, employment, and housing, settings, New Zealand hasn’t legislated to make it illegal. In fact, very few places around the world have provided protection for individuals from facing discrimination based on their size.

 

The Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Acts in the state of Michigan, USA, prohibits discrimination based on weight and height (in addition to the usual categories of race, sex, nationality, etc). A handful of cities across the United States, including San Francisco and Washington, D. C., have also passed laws against weight discrimination. In 2012, a parliamentary group in the UK discovered that 1 in 5 people in Britain experienced weight discrimination and called upon adding appearance-based discrimination to the Equality Act 2010. The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut has found that legislating against weight discrimination is popular across many countries, including Australia.

 

I’ve advocated for this at my own place of employment, and hope to soon work at possibly the only employer in the country that includes physical size in its EEO policy. But most fat people do not work in such conditions. Research shows that fat individuals are less likely to be hired, less likely to be promoted, and less likely to earn the same pay, as their non-fat co-workers (this is especially true for fat women, and even more for fat women of colour).

 

It’s almost certain that this conversation will be derailed by those who believe that fat people should be treated like second class citizens. Because they believe that real or perceived (or even future) health status is a pre-requisite for citizenship. They believe that fat people should experience shame, and have bias used against them in their daily lives, as maybe that’s the key to weight loss (suggests no evidence ever).

 

Living as a fat person means experiencing daily micro aggressions. For example, I avoid morning tea because of the inevitable “I’m so fat, I shouldn’t eat that” and “I was bad last night; I had dessert and a cocktail” conversations from those around me. Every time I turn on the television, log online, or wait at the bus station, I’m likely to be presented with fat hate. Everywhere I go, I’m reminded that I’m a bad person who must make bad choices and isn’t holding up my part of the social contract.

 

Fat people don’t owe you anything. We don’t owe you apologies. We don’t owe you excuses. We don’t owe you erections. We don’t even owe you health.

 

What fat people deserve is the opportunity to access evidenced based healthcare and outlets for safe and shame-free activity. We deserve to live in a country where our physical size cannot be used to discriminate against us in employment settings. We deserve the same rights as non-fat people. And we also deserve the dignity to lead our lives without shame and prejudice.

 

Regardless of your personal feelings about fatness, fat people, or obesity, legislation to protect against weight discrimination is a social justice issue that people of all sizes should expect from this government.

 

 

Cross posted from Stuff.co.nz

 

On irresponsible reporting (just another day in the fatpocalypse) February 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 10:24 pm

“‘Fat people should be fined’ – experts say” reads the headline of a story posted on the NZ Herald website this afternoon. It’s yet another example of irresponsible reporting on fatness by the NZ media.

The story gets a lot wrong, including that the study in question doesn’t say anything about fat people being fined (in fact, the word ‘fine[d]’ is not used in the 12 page article). Other falsehoods include the claim that global obesity levels are increasing, and that “exercise and healthy eating are the key to reversing this trend”. (Go ahead and find the science that demonstrates that diet and exercise result in permanent – more than 5yrs – meaningful – more than 10kilos – weight loss. Go ahead. When you find it, send it to me). The Herald story then continues to talk about the key to weight loss that is found in the study.

Unfortunately for the Herald, the study has nothing to do with weight loss. And the scientists didn’t conclude anything about the efficacy of fining fat people to lose weight. Or even exercise. What they did conclude is that the potential to lose a reward was the best motivator for getting the fat people in the study to achieve a set number of steps per day. The researchers wanted to apply behavioural economics to workplace wellness programmes.

Specifically, there were four groups:

  • The control group didn’t receive anything
  • The gain incentive group received $1.40 each day they achieved their steps
  • The lotto incentive had the potential to receive $1.40 each day they achieved their steps
  • The loss incentive group was given $42 at the start of the research, and then lost $1.40 for every day they didn’t achieve their steps

So, not about weight loss. It was about achieving steps. And in their conclusions, the scientists don’t talk about the efficacy of fining fatties to achieve the steps. It’s not about fines at all – or even rewards – it is about immediate gratification and the incentive to not lose what you’ve gained. How does the Herald get this so wrong?!

The Herald piece even includes this,

Senior study author Dr Kevin Volpp told the Daily Mail: “Our findings demonstrate that the potential of losing a reward is a more powerful motivator.”

The quote, from the senior study author, isn’t that fining people is the key to anything. But that the potential of losing a reward is the motivator. And nowhere does it mention weight loss. Nowhere in the results. Nowhere in the conclusion. Nowhere in any of the quotes from the scientists reported by the Herald.

This isn’t to say that the study itself isn’t problematic. Workplace wellness programmes are incredibly problematic. Especially when they focus on fat people, rather than encouraging wellness in the workplace for people of all sizes. Alida at Fit is a Feminist Issue summarises the major issues with workplace wellness programmes (including the mounting evidence that they fail to be effective in meeting their goals). She writes,

Are the health habits of employees who are off the clock really the business of employers? Attempting to alter these habits might seem unduly invasive, even if it does save the company money by reducing healthcare costs. It isn’t appropriate for a company to incentivize a certain behavior simply because it saves them money. For example, pregnancy and childbirth incur healthcare costs, but this doesn’t mean that employers can reward employees who do not get pregnant, or financially penalize those who do.

The step study (published in the Annals of Internal Medicine) notes that across the groups the mean steps achieved were lower than the goal of 7k, and chalk that up to their participants being highly sedentary. One thing that is striking is they don’t even bother to engage with the possibility that achieving 7k steps assumes the physical ability to achieve these comfortably. Of course, many workplace wellness programmes (and narratives from supporters) completely ignore ability; the assumption is that all workers are able to engage in these programmes. A great read about the ableism inherent in workplace wellness programmes is this piece from The Fat Personal Trainer. Theresa reminds us,

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.

 

Towards the end of the piece, the NZ Herald comes closer to accurately reporting the science. But who is reading towards the end? Or remembering much past that soundbite that “experts have concluded that fining fat people is the answer” (to the fatpocalypse)? It’s poor reporting. And dangerous.

It feeds into the existing narrative that fat people should suffer punitive damages for the size of their bodies. That they should be charged more for health insurance, airplane seats, education, housing – simply for existing. Even conversations around punitive measures against behaviours, like a sugar tax, are framed within a curbing obesity narrative (because only fat people consume sugar – or sugar is only a problem when it leads to obesity).

The Herald has a responsibility to accurately report on issues, and to take extra caution when what they are reporting reinforces the oppression of vulnerable people. Reporting that experts claim that fining fat people [is the key to weight loss] isn’t only inaccurate; it’s irresponsible.