New Zealand conference exploring fatness in society goes global
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a Fat Studies conference – an emerging field that confronts mainstream ideas about fatness – to go online.
The third Fat Studies New Zealand conference was scheduled to take place on the Auckland campus of Massey University on June 18-19, 2020. Instead the conference will now be hosted online during a three-week period, starting June 18.
The previous fat studies conferences have been well received and established New Zealand as a global leader in fat studies scholarship, says conference organiser Dr Cat Pausé, a senior lecturer at Massey’s Institute of Education and well-known New Zealand-based fat studies scholar and activist.
“The purpose of this year’s conference, Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures, is to reflect on the history of the relatively new discipline, consider the present state of the scholarship, and imagine what the future might hold,” Dr Pausé says.
The keynote speakers are Professor Esther Rothblum, editor-at-large of the Fat Studies journal and Sonya Renee Taylor, founder of The Body is Not An Apology, a digital media and education company promoting radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation. Renee Taylor is currently in New Zealand as an inaugural Edmund Hilary Fellow.
Renee Taylor’s keynote is entitled, “Fat black futures: Visioning a world beyond fatphobia and anti-blackness”. She notes, “as we seem to be moving into a greater collective awareness regarding the systems and structures of oppression it feels prescient that we address the experiences of fat people, as fatness intersects with nearly every axis of marginalization.
“There is much to be illuminated in this season and I believe this event is part of that essential light. The Fat Studies conference is a necessary endeavour and I am excited for what it will deepen in all of our pursuits for justice.”
Topics scholars will discuss include weight stigma and discrimination in Australia, the genetification of fatness, public health ethics and weight stigma, and embracing fatness as self-care in the era of Trump. Thirty speakers from ten countries will round out the three-week programme. Each week, a keynote and a set of panels will be available on the password protected site. Social media events across Facebook, Twitter, and Zoom will allow opportunities for the more than 350+ attendees to engage in real time discussion and networking.
Professor Rothblum says hosting the conference online has made it accessible to delegates and speakers who would not be able to attend because of the COVID-19 and travel restrictions.
“Putting on this important conference virtually allows fat people and their allies around the globe to participate. The field of fat studies critically examines society attitudes about body weight and appearance, and advocates equality for all people with respect to body size.
“Fat studies scholars ask why we oppress people who are fat and who benefits from that oppression. At a time when many of us are sheltering in place, it is delightful that we can get together virtually and throw our weight around,” Professor Rothblum says.
On Thursday 5 March 2020, fat positive radio show Friend of Marilyn will air its 300th episode. The show, which is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Access Media NZ, has been on the air since August of 2011.
Friend of Marilyn provides counter programming to the normal conversations and media surrounding fatness. It is a fat positive show that refuses to apologise for having reached the BIG 3-0-0. “Weighing 300lbs/135kg is a state of being that is used by trolls to scare people; it’s like the worst thing that some people can think of,” laughs the show’s founder and host, Dr. Cat Pausé. Dr. Pausé is a Fat Studies scholar who studies the impact of fat stigma on the health and well-being of fat people; she is also a fat activist who fights for fat people to have equal protection under the law.
Across its 300 episodes, Friend of Marilyn has cultivated a repository of global fat voices. “It is a project of significant cultural value to anyone interested in fat”, asserts Dr. Charlotte Cooper, a London based fat activist and author of the book Fat activism: A radical social movement. The show has been on a virtual tour since 2016, engaging with guests across Oceania, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Shows in 2020 are “located” in Canada; Pausé believes it will take a year to cross the country, and then another five years or so to survey the United States and the remaining Americas.
Manawatu People’s Radio Station Manager Fraser Greig shared, “This milestone is truly a cause for celebration. Not only is it a great achievement for Cat, the Adipositivity community and Human Rights, but it also demonstrates the necessity and importance of Access Radio. It is vital to a democratic society that the disenfranchised, the minorities and the under – or mis-represented have access to a platform that empowers them. Cat’s show is a classic example of the success of MPR. We’re excited to see what the next 300 shows will bring!”
Friend of Marilyn airs at 8pm on Thursdays on Manawatu People’s Radio and additionally on Fresh FM (Nelson/Tasman region), Arrow FM (Wairarapa), and Radio Southland (Southland).
On 18-19 June 2020, I am hosting Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures at the Albany campus of Massey University. Submissions for FNZ20 have closed, and we have great speakers from seven countries. Our keynotes are Professor Esther Rothblum (Editor-at-Large of the Fat Studies journal) and Sonya Renee Taylor (Founder of The Body is Not an Apology). It is going to be an amazing two days of scholarship and activism.
Early bird prices hold until 1 April, and we once again have the online option for those who would like to live stream/access the videos of presentations, for those unable to join us in person. The online option is 50NZD/31USD/28EUR/24GBP (we have scholarships for this option as well; pls let us know if the cost is prohibitive)
Welcome to my 2019 fat academic year in review (check out my 2018 review for the value of engaging in such a practice). I began the year with a promotion to Senior Lecturer R2, which was very exciting. Getting “over the bar” from R1 to R2 is a tough hurdle and one that many struggle to “leap”. I am officially a midcareer academic, with almost as many academic years behind me as I can expect in front of me. As a Fat Studies scholar, I am often without a proper academic home/discipline in scholarly spaces, but I continue my work. Keeping the lives of fat people at the centre of my scholarship is key for me as I work to achieve my hope for fat futures.
I am very excited that later this year, I’m hosting Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand. Check out the CFP; I do hope you can join us in person or through the streaming option.
Pausé, C. J. (2019). Get together: Fat kids and physical education. Health Education Journal, 78(60), 662-669.
Parker, G. & Pausé, C. J. (2019). Productive but not constructive: The work of shame in the affective governance of fat pregnancy. Feminism & Psychology, 29(2), 250-268.
Pausé, C. J. (2019). Frozen: A fat tale of immigration. Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight & Society, 8(1), 44-59.
Pausé, C. J. (2019). Hung up: Queering fat therapy. Women & Therapy, 42(1-2), 79-92.
Parker, G. C., Pausé, C. J, & Le Grice, J. (2019). “You’re just another friggin’ number to add to the problem”: Constructing the racialized (m)other in contemporary discourses of pregnancy fatness. In M. Friedman, C. Rice & J. Rinaldi (Eds.), Thickening fat: Fat bodies, intersectionality and social justice (pp. ). New York: Routledge.
Pausé, C. J. (2019). Everybody: Making fat radio for all of us. In C. Bobel & S. Kwan (Eds.), Body battlegrounds: Transgressions, tensions, and transformations (pp. 171-173). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
*Not a book chapter, but I was thrilled to be a footnote in Sofie Hagen’s new book, Happy Fat
I was awarded an internal research grant to explore the experience of fat people in the healthcare system in New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 5 December). Fattening up Sociology. In A. Simpson (Chair), Fat Studies. Symposium conducted at the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Women’s Studies in Communication
Health Education Journal
Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight & Society
Social Media + Society
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 18 July). Queering fat therapy. Workshop conducted for the student counselling team, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 28 June). Fat stigma, discrimination, and bias: Implications for practice. Invited plenary talk at the Renal Society of Australasia conference, Auckland, New Zealand.
Hoffnung, M., Hoffnung, R. J., Seifertm K. L., Hine, A., Ward, L., & Pausé, C. J., Swabey, K., Yates, K., & Burton Smith, R. (2019). Lifespan Development (4th Australasian Ed). Queensland, Australia: John Wiley & Sons.
Invited lectures (Fat Studies)
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 3 April). Ethics, fat stigma, and you. GENA737 Obesity Prevention and Management . University of Otago Medical School, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 1 April). Express yourself: Fat resistance on film. 230.110 Tūrangawaewae: Identity & Belonging in Aotearoa NZ . Massey University, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2019, 20 March). Fattening up feminism. 175.720 Advanced Psychology of Women . Massey University, New Zealand.
Pausé, C. J. (2011-). Friend of Marilyn. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from iTunes. Produced weekly as a radio show on Manawatu People’s Radio 999AM, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Another year is ending; another holiday season is upon us! Every year, I try and keep track of all the cool fatlicious things that I see online so I can share and promote them with you at the end of the year. I enjoy supporting the work of fat creators especially.
This list doesn’t have any affiliate links; I do not get any kind of money or compensation from the items or companies on the list – it’s just fatlicious stuff you may want for yourself or someone you love. I also don’t promote stuff I cannot wear/use/etc for myself, so all of the clothes options will go up to at least 5x.
The second season of Insatiable is now available on Netflix, and I, for one, will not be watching. I have better things to do than watch a show that promotes fat shaming, crash dieting, and revenge fantasies. I could encourage a goose to cause mischief. Teach my dog a new trick. Listen to yet another white man explain why free speech is a more important value than the heath and safety of vulnerable people.
As a super fat person, I avoid media that subscribes to one dimensional fat characters that belly into fat stereotypes and tropes. I skip stuff with fatsuits. I avoid media that reinforces fat stigma and oppression; as you can imagine, my options are limited. Sometimes it cannot be helped, and I love something that is incredibly problematic (looking at my 20yr old self who LOVED and could not get enough of Friends). Other times, I have no idea the fat hating material is coming my way (see my piece on fat hate in the Avengers from earlier this year). So the second season of Insatiable, like the first season, gets a “NO” from me.
One reason I can easily look away is because I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to say no to media that will be hurtful for me. I can look away from The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, New Girl and whatever Tyler Perry’s Madea is doing next; I can take a pass on This Is Us, whose fat actor was required to include a weight loss clause in her employment contract. This took a lot of work, and there are still slips. But another reason it has become easier is because the choices of seeing fat people on screen have expanded beyond sad fatty stereotypes. We’ve always had singular fat performers who have often been in roles that allowed them to be more than one dimensional (think Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls or Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Orange is the New Black). But for everyone one of those, there were a dozen Dudley’s from Harry Potter and Eddie Murphy-wears-a-fat-suit again. With more providers of content, we are starting to see even more fat positive media representations.
If you are looking for a teenage story for this weekend, why not try Dumplin from Netflix instead? Dumplin’ a delightful film based on the YA story of the same name from Julie Murphy. Spend two hours with Willowdean “Will” Dickson, her mother, her BFF, their friends, a cast of drag queens, and a bunch of girls vying for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet crown. Will’s Mom, a former Miss Teen Bluebonnet herself, now runs the pageant and the only thing she’d rather have than that crown for forever would be a daughter who is not fat. It’s a familiar coming of age story, but with a fat protagonist at the heart. One who is not miserable about her size; who is not desperate to lose weight and be someone else. The film avoids many of the overplayed tropes of teen stories (she doesn’t take off her glasses and becomes hot; there is not a makeover in the film, nor is it all about catty female friendships or pining over boys). The story of Will and her misfit friends is full of heart, and relatable to people who felt they were often on the outside looking in during their adolescent years. In addition, all of the fat characters are played by fat actors (HELLO Kathy Najimy!), and have more than one dimension. Did I mention that Dolly Parton is the soundtrack? It’s not to be missed.
If YA isn’t quite your bag, why not try Shrill on Hulu? Shrill is a six episode series on Hulu, staring Aidy Bryant as Annie, the protagonist of the story. We meet Annie as a young adult, and see all the ways that her life is shaped and molded by fat shaming and oppression. We are along for the ride as emerging writer Annie begins to shrug off the self-doubt and internalized fatphobia. Like Dumplin’, Shrill is based on a book (this time by author Lindy West) by a fat woman; the book was West’s memoir. West is a young American writer whose sharp observations of sexism, misogyny being a woman writing online, earned her bylines on the weekly The Stranger (Seattle) and magazines such as Jezebel and GQ. In 2011, she published a piece titled, “Hello, I am Fat” in which she came out as fat. And the rest, as they say, is herstory (and can be found in her memoir and the show, Shrill). The show captures some of the book’s best moments, including West’s first experience with a fat positive pool party.
These two stories of fat women living their life with minimal shame are groundbreaking. Fat people rarely get to be included in the story, much less as the center of the story. And even fewer fat people (no matter their positon) get to escape the sad fatty trope. Fat characters are usually presented as cautionary tales; if we’re lucky, we are spunky and hypersexual best friend. It’s important to note that usually the stories of fat people onscreen have been written by non-fat people and often played by non-fat people as well (see the aforementioned fat suits). These stories are different. They are stories about fat people written and performed by fat people. When all you see is the same tropes in the media about fat people, it’s easy to remember that fat people are much more than those representations. And that fat people are a monolith; we may share similar experiences related to stigma, discrimination, and oppression, but we are all individuals living our lives.
Will and Annie are both white fat women, which means they experience their fatness with white privilege. They are also abled bodied, cis, straight; they have a lot of privilege impacting how they experience their fatness and the world. They are also two of the few size affirming fat lead characters; see if you can count the number of size affirming fat people you’ve seen in television and film. I doubt you can get past a single hand. I want more size affirming stories in our media. I want stories of fat people of colour. Fat people with disabilities. Fat people who are neuro-divergent. I want us to get to place where size affirming fat people on screen are completely ordinary; where our stories can be told in mediocre ways and it not be seen as a blow to the fat liberation movement.
Positive stories of fat people are only a drop in the bucket of the fatpocalypse media we are drenched in, but I am glad to see more fat positive stories being a chance to be told. Especially by fat storytellers. Especially to more mainstream audiences. Fat positive stories are revolutionary; watching and enjoying them is an act of rebellion and an act of alliance. And fat people need that alliance; we are too often left on the sidelines in social justice. Individuals who are committed to liberation and justice for people based on gender, sexuality, ability, race, class, and more, are often ignorant or purposively evasive on the fight for fat liberation and justice (see this great piece by Ijeoma Oluo, and this one by D’Shaun Harrison, for more on this). If you believe that none of us are free until we ALL are free, that includes the fat community. Yes, even the fattest of the fat community.
The British Psychological Society is calling for changes for how we talk about fatness, suggesting we should no longer use the phrase “obese people”, but instead, “people with obesity” or “people living with obesity”.
These changes are being proposed to recognise that fatness is not about personal choice and that fat shaming and fat stigma are harmful.
But this suggested language change is based on the idea obesity is a disease to be cured and fat people are not a natural part of the world. This serves to reinforce stigma, rather than prevent it.
How does stigma and shame affect fat people?
Fat stigma can harm people’s physical health, mental health, and relationships.
Fat stigma erodes self-esteem and isolates people.
People around the world, and of allages, hold negative attitudes about fatness and fat people. In a study in the United States, for example, more than one-third of the participants reported, “one of the worst things that could happen to a person would be for [them] to become obese”.
How terminology reinforces stigma
While many people are uncomfortable with the term fat, fat activists prefer the term. They see it as both as an act of rebellion – to adopt a word that has been wielded against them – but also because they argue it’s the most appropriate word to describe their bodies.
To be overweight implies there is a natural weight to be; that within human diversity, we should all be the same proportion of height and weight.
Obesity is a medical term that has pathologised the fat body. The British Psychological Society’s acknowledgement that rather than saying “obese people”, we should call them “people with obesity” reinforces that obesity is a disease; a chronic illness people suffer from.
The British Psychological Society’s desire to shift to person-first language is understandable. Person-first, or people-first, language is an attempt to not define people primarily by their disease, or disability, or other deviating factor.
Person-first language recognises people as individuals with rights to dignity and care, and puts the person, rather than their “condition”, first.
But others have argued person-first language attempts to erase, deny, or ignore the aspect of the person that isn’t “normal”, and reinforces that there is something shameful or dehumanising about their disability or disease.
They promote identity-first language, which allows people to take pride in who they are, rather than separating a person from that aspect of themself.
The problem with person-first language, they argue, is that those identities are stigmatised. But without the stigma, there would be no concern with calling someone a disabled person, for instance, rather than a person with disabilities.
So what should we do?
Ask people what they want to be called.
The best approach, especially for health-care professionals, is to ask people what they prefer their designation to be.
And for the rest of us, to acknowledge that what an individual wants to be called or how they want to talk about their experiences is up to them, not us. If a fat person wants to call themselves fat, it is not up to non-fat people to correct them.
Shifting the language we use to talk about fatness and fat people can reduce fat stigma. But continuing to frame fatness as a disease is not a helpful contribution.
I love movies. I enjoy going to the cinema; the entire production. The frozen coke and popcorn and fabric seats and big screen and surround sound. I love movies. Recently, I went to see Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Putting aside how problematic he is, and the problematic things with the film not related to the topic of this blog, what struck me while I was watching was how Cass Elliot was represented. I had heard she was depicted in the film, and I was nervous. Film is rarely kind to fat people, and I felt protective of the woman who played an important role in my childhood and adolescence.
As a fat child who wanted nothing more than to sing on Broadway, I had very few role models. One I discovered in my late childhood, and came to embrace as a teenager, was Cass Elliot (also known as Mama Cass, but we will get to that fatphobic nonsense in a bit) of The Mamas and the Papas. Cass Elliot was fat, fabulous, and had a voice that could make you cry.
Cass was initially kept out of the band she would make famous, The Mamas and the Papas (then the New Journeymen), because of the antifat attitudes of John Phillips. She brought about the band’s name change and her vocals helped the group rise to fame during the time of Haight Ashbury; the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
After leaving the group, Cass had a successful solo career that included two TV specials and international touring. She guest hosted on The Tonight Show and was a regular on talk and variety shows.
Unfortunately, she was unable to shake the moniker of Mama Cass. Unlike other members of the group, her designation as “Mama” followed her, even after death. Why don’t we call Michelle Phillips, Mama Phillips or John Phillips, Papa Phillips? Why were they able to leave that behind once they moved on to other projects? One reason is fatphobia. Positioning fat women as mothers – maternal – caretakers – is one of the few ways that society can palate fatness. It’s almost laughable to think of “sexy” Michelle or John Phillips as Mama or Papa. But for Cass Elliot, it was unescapable. Even after a TV special named, “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore”.
“I never created the Big Mama image,” she said. ”The public does it for you. But I’ve always been different. I’ve been fat since I was seven. Being fat sets you apart, but luckily I was bright with it”.
The fatphobic urban legend that follows the memory of Cass’s death to this day is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Cass died of a heart attack, most likely caused by crash dieting and substance abuse. However, many people still believe that she choked on a sandwich. Unfortunately, Cass is not the only fat celebrity to deal with such an indignity after death (see, for example, Elvis).
Only recently I learned that a group from the Fat Underground (a fat activist group in LA in the 70s) stormed the stage at a local festival and accused the medical community of killing Cass; they cried out against the genocide masquerading as the promotion of weight loss. I can imagine how powerful it would have been to be on that stage, or even in the audience, as a fat woman. Sharing their grief, sharing their anger (If you’d like to learn more about this, pls see the great excerpt on Charlotte Cooper’s Obesity Timebob).
Even after her death, Cass continues to influence. In the opening of S2 of ABC’s TV show Lost, viewers found themselves with a new character and the soundtrack of one of Cass Elliot’s greatest solo hits. The same song has been used in Showtime’s TV show, Dexter, among others.
And among other representations in TV and film, she is portrayed by Rachel Redleaf in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. I LOVED how she represented by Tarantino. She is fashionable, she is having fun, she is definitely the largest body at the party.
We don’t get much of her; seconds of her walking into the party, a few seconds later as she dances with friends – but those seconds are joyful. And playful. And devoid of any fatphobic nonsense. And for that, I’m grateful. For Cass’s memory, and those who knew and loved her; but also for me and the many fat people around the world who hold her to their hearts.
I was excited to receive an invitation to speak at the Renal Society of Australasia conference this year. A member of the organizing committee was familiar with my work, and convinced the cmte that I should be an invited plenary speaker (meaning I spoke to the entire conference). I was given a thirty minute slot to speak about fat stigma and its role in healthcare settings.
This is a topic I know a great deal about, as a super fat woman, a fat activist, and a Fat Studies scholar. I have published scholarly pieces on the topic, written about it before on my blog, talked about it on my fat positive radio show, Friend of Marilyn. The challenge, then, was how to deliver a short talk on the topic that would be meaningful for those in the audience. I wanted it to be informative, persuasive; I wanted them to walk out with frameworks for thinking about fatness differently and with tools for bringing a fat ethic into their own practice.
I opened my session with the story of Ellen Maud Bennett, a Canadian woman who recently died. In her obituary, Ellen shared that her dying wish was for fat women to advocate for their own health, especially in healthcare settings.
I continued with a story from the The Evening Standard in the UK about a fat man whose tumor went undiagnosed for a decade because of antifat attitudes. When it was finally removed, it weighed 55lbs. And I shared that these are only two stories of thousands – that fat people around the world received poorer care than non-fat people because of fat stigma, discrimination, and bias. These stories, which once we only shared in whispers among fat people, or loudly by the rare activist, are now shared en masse in online spaces; Web 2.0 tools have provided a medium for fat people to share their individual stories with the larger collective. To see they are not alone; to support one another; to share strategies for next time.
It is the antifat attitudes and beliefs of doctors that are responsible for fat people receiving unethical care. Numerousstudies find that doctors believe their fat patients to be gross, undisciplined, non-compliant. Doctors do not want to palpate a fat abdomen (if they even know how); they spend less time with their fat patients. Part of the responsibility falls to their lack of education in providing care for fat people. A growing literature is dedicated to documenting that healthcare providers do not know how to appropriately administer anesthesia to fat patients; how to locate veins and administer appropriate levels of drugs to fat patients; how to appropriately perform CPR on fat patients.
All of it creates a hostile environment for fat people. And so many fat people avoid it.
Jan Fraser died of cancer after her symptoms were ignored by doctors and her weight loss was celebrated by all, even her family. As shared by her sister, Lara, “the hospital’s gynecologic oncologist removed the largest endometrial tumor he said he’d ever seen, the size of a volleyball. It had peppered her pelvis with cancer, infiltrating her bladder and other organs.”
In the final part of my talk, I suggested there were three things that those in the audience could do to improve the care they provided to their fat patients. First, make sure your physical spaces are fat friendly. Are there chairs without arms? If gowns or BP cuffs or other materials are needed, do you have ones large enough for fat bodies? Second, recognise your own bias. I pointed them to the Harvard Implicit Attitudes Test, which is free online and has a range of bias tests, including for weight. Lastly, I urged them to treat people’s symptoms, not their body size. And I recommended that they check out NAAFA’s Guidelines for healthcare providers for more information; I also invited them to check out the writings of fat people online about their healthcare experiences.
I ended up speaking for half my time, and then it was opened to questions. There were a lot of them – people were willing to stand up and approach the mic and ask what was on their mind. Some were predictable, “But what about their health?” – yeah, what about it? How can promote the health and well-being of fat people if they receive shitty care and shitty attitudes? Others were insightful, asking questions about intersectional experiences of fat people. It was a nice reminder that fat people are not a monolith (and a point for me to acknowledge that the three examples I used were all of white fat people). Overall, the response from the audience was positive and I left the podium feeling that I made a real difference in this space.
When similar opportunities arise for me, I’ll take them. Because speaking in their spaces is important, and one of the ways we can enact change for the fat community. If only a handful of people in that room have changed the way they treat fat people, that’s a win. If only a handful more left thinking about fat people differently, and sharing that new perspective with others, that’s a win. If the ones who left pissed at me went and shared their anger and frustrations with others, who may then hear some of my main points during their rant, that’s a win.
I will keep speaking about fat people – for fat people – in the spaces I have access to. And whenever possible, I’ll pass that mic along to other fat people who do not have accessibility to those same spaces. We need more fat voices in the fray, not fewer.
In October of 2017, I travelled to Iceland. Iceland is a Nordic island nation that feels like it is the top of the world. It has a population around 350k, and most of the people live in the capital city of Reykjavik. Seeing Iceland was one of the goals I had when I planned my European Sabbatical. I travelled to Iceland at the invitation of the Icelandic Association for Body Respect and Gyða Pétursdóttir at the University of Iceland.
At the University of Iceland, I gave a session during their “Equality Days”. My session, called What’s size got to do with it? Bodies, Fatness, and Fairness, explored fat politics and the oppression experienced by fat people. It followed a session by a member of the Association for Body Respect, Sólrún Larusdóttir; she spoke about the association and work they were doing in Iceland. Both sessions were great, and the audience was very enthusiastic. Afterwards, we met up with many of them (including some other Americans!) and decided to grab drinks.
I was honoured to join the Icelandic Association for Body Respect for a dinner while I was in Iceland. It was a lovely meal, and we discussed common issues in the fight for fat rights, including the tensions between the body positive movement and fat liberation. A few nights later, the Association held a cocktail party for me, where I experienced other Icelandic treats like eðlan/lizzard (cream cheese, salsa, and melted shredded cheese) and ALL of the liquorice. They are serious about their liquorice here!
One member, Tara, spent a great deal of time with me while I was in country.
She was an excellent tour guide, driving me around the Golden Circle, and making sure I experienced proper Icelandic things like ice cream at Ísbuð Huppu (kinda like a Blizzard from Dairy Queen).
She even took me to the hot pools near her family’s home; it was a smaller (and less touristy!) place than the Blue Lagoon. One thing that I knew to expect (thanks to Google!) was that you had to shower naked in a communal shower area before putting on your suit and going out to the pool. I was a bit nervous about that part; I had never showered naked in public beforehand. I found, though, that the casualness of the rest of the Icelanders, helped me relax quite quickly. By the time we exited the pool and had to do it again, I had no anxiety about my super fat body being nude and on display.
On my free days, I wandered around the town, exploring the sites. I enjoyed the large flea market, Kolaportið and had a hot dog at the famous Bæjarins Beztu. I found a lovely Icelandic nutcracker to add to my collection. One surprise for me was all the American things to be found in Iceland (including brands, stores – even a Taco Bell!), but I learned while I was there that the US had a base in Iceland during the Cold War. I also spent a day on the Hop On/Hop Off bus (I LOVE those).
My final night, I did a Northern Lights tour. I had been lucky to see them my very first night; about two hours after I checked into my AirBnB, my host Arthur sent me a text to let me know they were out. I peeked from the window, and they were fantastic. Having already been in bed, and just exhausted from the day of travel, I went back to bed and promised myself I’d look more closely (and try to get pictures) on another night. Of course, they did not come out again before I left!
The Northern Lights tour was okay; it was useful to have something to keep me up until my 4am bus ride back to the airport (the airport is about an hour away from the city). The bus made many stops to look for the lights, including a stop with a café for refreshments and restrooms. If you wanted, though, you could stay on the bus the entire time. Since it was pitch black, I spent a lot of time listening to podcasts and playing on my phone during the tour.
Getting there and getting around
I flew Icelandair and found the seat was an okay fit; I had no issues with getting checked in or during the boarding or flight. I did not use public transport while I was there, but I did find that most places were accessible (much more than Europe, to be sure). Most of the eateries I visited had appropriate seating, and room to move around the space. I did not feel that I was under a great deal of scrutiny while I was in Iceland, and the Association were very welcoming.
I stayed in an AirBnB run by Arthur and his wife. Arthur was a gem, picking me up from the bus station the night I arrived and offering to drop me in town on any day I’d like. The AirBnB itself is a nice studio apartment above the garage (so there were a few stairs to climb, but they were gentle stairs and I did okay, even with my luggage). It had a comfy bed, a sitting area, dining table, kitchenette, wardrobe, and bathroom. Very fat friendly on all counts. It was right down the road from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral of Iceland, and Stop #4 on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus, so I was able to hop right on the bus. It was not too much further to walk into town, but I hopped the city bus instead.
The things to see and do
I found most of the main attractions, such as Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area, Gullfoss waterfall, the Perlan museum, Hallgrímskirkja, etc, to be accessible for super fat people. Many of them require walking, if you want to see most of the attraction, but the walkways/ground are relatively even and would probably not cause any issues for mobility aids. Much of them, especially the National Park, can be enjoyed from within the car while driving. The Perlan Museum has a “walk through a glacier” exhibit, for which they provide large parkas to keep you warm while you walk through the ice. I was delighted to find that the largest parka they had did fit my super fat body.
Overall, I would say that Iceland is a good place for fat people to visit, and if you do go, make sure to share your own experiences with the rest of the fat community!