On the FAT takeover of The Polyphony

I’ve been invited by an editor of The Polyphony to take over the website for a week with FATNESS. The Polyphony is hosted by the Institute for Medical Humanities at Durham University, and provides a platform to “stimulate, catalyse, provide, expand, and intensify conversations in the critical medical humanities”.

I LOVE the idea of a FAT takeover of this site – forcing conversations about fatness in the medical humanities. There are so many amazing topics we could cover, including the role of white supremacy in shaping anti-fat attitudes, fat stigma as a social determinant of health, how the medical community can ensure to provide fat patients with ethical and evidenced based healthcare, and more!

And I need your help to make it happen.

The plan is to have five authors produce pieces for the takeover; a new article will be published each day. At the start of the takeover, an introductory piece (written by me) will kick off the week.

Rather than shoulder taping the usual suspects, I wanted to invite anyone keen to submit their interest in being part of the takeover. You do not need to be an academic to submit; anyone who enjoys writing is welcome to put their hand up.

What you need to know:

Articles should be between 800-2000 words in length.

Referencing should be in Chicago.

Hyperlinks should ideally be embedded. 

Articles should be accompanied by at least one accredited image (or more, if that feels appropriate to the piece). 

A 1-2 sentence bio, linking to a professional profile, should be included for the author. Please include the author’s Twitter handle, if they have one. 

Articles would be due in mid September; this is a hard deadline as we will have space waiting for us in their schedule for the FAT Takeover.

If you are keen, pls prepare a short abstract for your piece and complete this form. Expressions of interest will be accepted until 1 August 2021; accepted authors will be notified by 5 August at the latest.

On the International Handbook of Fat Studies

The cover of the Handbook

The International Handbook of Fat Studies was published by Routledge on 19 April 2021. To celebrate this momentous occasion, many of the contributors joined myself and Sonya Renee Taylor to launch the book with a global Zoom.

An Instagram post from a contributing author celebrating their copy

Contributing authors from Canada, the United States, France, the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong, Finland, and Australia all helped us launch the book, along with about 35 people interested in Fat Studies scholarship and activism. It was a fatlicious mix of academics and activists.

Many of the contributing authors in a Zoom screen capture at the launch

The Handbook brings together a diverse body of work from around the globe and across a wide range of Fat Studies topics and perspectives. The first major collection of its kind, it explores the epistemology, ontology, and methodology of fatness, with attention to issues such as gender and sexuality, disability and embodiment, health, race, media, discrimination, and pedagogy. Presenting work from both scholarly writers and activists, this volume reflects a range of critical perspectives vital to the expansion of Fat Studies and thus constitutes an essential resource for scholars in the field. We are proud that contributors to the Handbook hail from fifteen countries; we are also proud that half of the Handbook was written by activists.

Many of the contributing authors in a Zoom screen capture at the launch

Many of the contributors responded to the CFP, while others were belly bumped by me to join. The resulting work challenges traditional ideas about fatness, reviews existing discourse about fatness, and produces new debates about fatness. There are gaps, though. Some of these gaps exist due to contributions that failed to materialise; some exist because of the paucity of scholarship on a singular topic.  

As Sonya Renee Taylor and I note in the conclusion of the introductory chapter,

This International Handbook of Fat Studies meets the world at a time of great upheaval. A moment in history where those navigating lives at the intersections of various oppressions are demanding change and one where those who have been historically nescient to these experiences are being ushered into greater awareness. Fat Studies and fat activism sit at the precipice of an emerging world, one where fat bodies and their liberations cannot be disaggregated from the liberation of all oppressions. We believe the work in this book invites you, the reader, into a more nuanced and yet expansive landscape of fat scholarship. We believe there is also a necessary summons into the queries, harms, and hopes of fat lives beyond the too often foregrounded western narratives. Most importantly, within these pages is an offering for Fat Studies and all who are impacted by the field to live juicier, more abundant, more robust existences. We hope we fatten up your world.  

We have such high hopes for this Handbook, but we recognize that as an academic text, the cost makes it inaccessible to many people. We are asking that people request that their local library (University, community, etc) order a copy of the Handbook. If you like to purchase a personal copy, you can find the eBook at a discount price from the publisher.

A FB post by a contributing author celebrating the Handbook

ToC

Chapter One: Fattening scholarship byCat Pausé and Sonya Renee Taylor

Section One – Defining fat

Chapter Two: “Am I fat?” by Darci L. Thoune

Chapter Three: Quantifying or contributing to antifat attitudes? by Patricia Cain, Ngaire Donaghue, and Graeme Ditchburn

Chapter Four: Language, fat and causation by Kimberly Dark

Chapter Five: My life is intersectional, so my coaching has to be by Tiana A. Dodson

Section Two – Theorising fat

Chapter Six: Feminism and fat by Amy E. Farrell

Chapter Seven: Big, fat, Greek modernities by Sofia Apostolidou

Chapter Eight: Does that mean my body must always be a source of pain? by Laura Contrera

Chapter Nine: Fatness and consequences of neoliberalism by Hannele Harjunen

Chapter Ten: Fat and transgender by Francis Ray White

Chapter Eleven: Fatness and disability by April Herndon

Section Three – Fat in the institution

Chapter Twelve: Fat in the media by Katariina Kyrölä

Chapter Thirteen: Being fat in a thin world by Amena Azeez

Chapter Fourteen: Fattening education by Erin Cameron and Constance Russell

Chapter Fifteen: Fatness, discrimination & law by Stephanie von Liebenstein

Chapter Sixteen: Pregnancy, parenting and the challenge of fatness by May Friedman

Chapter Seventeen: Fat Studies and Public Health by Natalie Ingraham

Section Four – Living fat

Chapter Eighteen: Reclaiming voices from stigma by Jenny Lee and Emily McAvan

Chapter Nineteen: Save the whales by Kath Read

Chapter Twenty: Fat hatred and body respect by Tara Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir

Chapter Twenty-One: Desirability as access by Nomonde Mxhalisa

Chapter Twenty-Two: The impact of being a fat Chinese woman in Hong Kong Bertha Chan

Chapter Twenty-Three: Surviving & thriving while fat by Sonalee Rashatwar

Chapter Twenty-Four: Review of scholarship on fat gay men by Jason Whitesel

Section five – Fat disruptions

Chapter Twenty-Five: Genealogies of excess by Athia N. Choudhury

Chapter Twenty-Six: When you are already dead by Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford

Chapter Twenty-Seven: TransFat by Sam Orchard

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Lesbians and fat by Esther D. Rothblum

Chapter Twenty-Nine: What’s queer about Fat Studies now? by Allison Taylor

On #FATFEB 2021

The lgo

#FATFEB is a grassroots neighbourhood arts festival dedicated to radical fat body sovereignty, according to its website. Organized by Creative Director Amy Lautogo, #FATFEB2021 had a range of activities including an art exhibit, a Talanoa, life drawing, and a podcast. #FATFEB2020 organiser, Ema Tavola, was the producer for this year’s facilities and her gallery, Vunilagi Vou, was the location of many of the activities.

I was lucky to be an invited guest to the Fat Babe Pool Party, part of #FATFEB 2020, so I was definitely going to attend the 2021 festivities. Being located in a different part of the country meant that I could not attend the entire suite of events, but after taking a look at my schedule and the festivities, I decided to travel to Auckland for the weekend (my first plane trip post CV19!)

During my time in South Auckland, I was able to explore the PUSSY FAT exhibit. The exhibit “is a commitment to embodied resistance, a cheeky war cry to unite, fight for and beam body sovereignty, and sex positivity, and consider the gallery as a safe space to gather, reflect, find peace and community”. It featured work from Sara Moana and Ema Tavola, and I bought a delightful print of a fat woman from Sara Moana to add to my growing collection.

I also attended the FATFEB Talanoa. The Talanoa was facilitated by the Creative Director of #FATFEB2021, Amy Laugoto. On the Fale, fat activists Meagan Kerr, MahMah Timoteo, and Siobhan Tumai, joined her in conversation about social media, fatness, Brownness, and more. The discussion was lovely, and the yard of Vunilagi Vou was full. I laughed a lot, and cried a little, and enjoyed being in a space where Indigenous fatness was centred.

I really enjoyed the events I attended at #FATFEB, and am already looking forward to 2022!

On the year in fat 2020

Before the sickness came, 2020 was shaping up to be an incredibly exciting year for Fat Studies scholarship and activism around the world. Then the world changed. But even as most of the world had to stay away and stay home, incredible fat things did continue to occur (mainly in online spaces). In New Zealand, Elizabeth Heritage declared that “fat activism is blossoming, a welcome ray of light and hope in these stressful times” These are my favourite fat things of 2020; I’d love to hear about yours!

#FATFEB

#FATFEB was a month-long festival that took place at the art gallery, Vunilagi Vou, in Ōtāhuhu, south Auckland. Organised by Ema Tavola and Lissy Cole, the festival centered Pasifika art and community and included an exhibition, workshops, and a Fat Babe Pool Party. The exhibit, FAT, featured the work of Lissy Cole, Louisa Afoa, Riki Tipu Anderson, Jessica Hansell, Infamy Apparel, Meagan Kerr, and Elyssia Wilson-Heti with Jermaine Dean.

Louisa Afoa at FAT; Image credit: Raymond Sagapolutele

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Fat Babe Pool party, and it was fatlicious. My first fat pool party, and it will forever hold a special place in my life.

Friend of Marilyn hitting 300 episodes

Design by Ria Pugmire

My fat positive radio show, Friend of Marilyn, celebrated 300 episodes in March of 2020.  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. Across its 300 episodes, Friend of Marilyn has cultivated a repository of global fat voices. 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 were “located” in Canada; they’ve now begun in the Pacific Northwest of the USA and I am guessing it take about five years or so to survey the United States and the remaining Americas.

For a press release about the milestone, 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).

Fat Activist Mutual Aid Groups

Fat activists knew that governments would throw fat people under the bus during the CV19 pandemic. We knew we would be blamed for being sick, for needing help, for dying; and we were right. We also knew that we would be sacrificed when rationing came; and we were right. But we came together around the world to support each other. Groups like #NoBodyIsDisposable (USA) and We4FatRights (Europe) made sure that fat people were informed of the risks, had the tools to make preparedness plans, and could connect with one another to provide support and resources.

FSNZ20

Every four years, I host a Fat Studies conference. In 2020, it was supposed to take place on the Albany campus of Massey University, following the Weight Stigma Conference. Due to CV19, the WSC was cancelled and Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures, went online. The theme of the conference encouraged attendees to reflect on history of the relatively new discipline, consider the present state of the scholarship, and imagine what the future might hold.

The keynote speakers were 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. Topics scholars will discuss include weight stigma and discrimination in Australia, the gentrification of fatness, public health ethics and weight stigma, and embracing fatness as self-care in the era of Trump. Thirty speakers from ten countries rounded out the three-week programme. Each week, a keynote and a set of panels were available on the password protected site. Social media events across Facebook, Twitter, and Zoom allowed opportunities for the more than 385+ attendees to engage in real time discussion and networking.

An unintended consequence of hosting FSNZ online was making it even more accessible to attendees around the world; previous conferences had offered an online option and on demand access to the recorded videos. As noted by Professor Rothblum, “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”. To embrace this strength, FSNZ22 will be an online only conference, with FSNZ24 being both online and in person in New Zealand.

Sofie Hagen’s Fat Talkedy

The funniest fat person I know is my dear friend Sofie Hagen. Sofie, like the rest of us, was stuck inside for much of 2020. I cannot even imagine how difficult that is for someone like Sofie, who earns a living performing in front of live audiences. But the thing about Sofie is that she is resilient as fuck. And so she began Talkedys (Talkedies?), a series of online comedy shows. The first three explored being happy fat, fat-gender-dating-sex, and fat and health. As Sofie notes, “It’s a comedy talk – talkedy? – which is like a comedy show but less funny. Or like a long TedTalk but a lot funnier.” Regardless of how we describe them, they definitely kept me smiling during a year that was harder than most. You can still purchase them on the cheap; help support fat comedy!

Camp Boom

Joanna McLeod, the owner of House of Boom, hosted Camp Boom in Nov 2020 at Silverstream in Upper Hutt, New Zealand.

Joanna McLeod: Image credit – House of Boom

From the website,

Camp Boom is for fat women & non-binary people, age 18+. And it goes without saying but we’ll say it loudly anyway: trans women are women. You are welcome. As to what fat is – there’s no tape measure involved here. You know if you’re fat or not…. Camp Boom will be a mixture of activities and talks that are about being fat – and activities and talks that happen while fat. You choose what you want to attend – if something isn’t too your taste, take the opportunity to chill out in the lodge, go for a walk or have a nap. It’s your weekend.

The events at Camp included a clothes swap, colour theory, crotchet, and life drawing. There was a wide range of activities and a diverse group of session leaders. It was a really fun weekend and I am so glad that I was able to attend. The cost was prohibitive for some, but the Camp did have several scholarships for individuals who wanted to attend gratis. Camp Boom 2021 has already been announced, and you know I already have my ticket!

Me & Lissy Cole at Camp

Those were the fat highlights of 2020 for me! I am very aware of the privilege I have had in opening and closing my 2020 with in person fat activist events; I am grateful to live in a country with a progressive government that took public health seriously from the start of the pandemic.

Me on Zoom

On my 2020 fat academic year in review

Welcome to my 2020 fat academic year in review. Presenting an academic year in review is useful in reflecting on how I did in the past year in meeting my goals, identifying areas of growth going forward, and being honest about mistakes made and my failures. As a middle career academic, this is an important yearly activity for me (you can 2018 and 2019 here). Due to CV19, it was a different kind of year. After Feb, there was no more travel, even within New Zealand. Events were cancelled, postponed, or moved online.

Two things stand out to me about this year: first up, I was pleased to be invited to examine two PhDs and one Masters. This is one of the best thing about becoming established in your field as an academic, the opportunity to work with emerging scholars. I have not had many chances to formally supervise Fat Studies scholarship, which is a downside of where I am located. But being able to come on board and evaluate work that these emerging Fat Studies has done was so exciting; I hope there is much more of this in my future!

Secondly, I am very proud of FSNZ20. Before the sickness came, FSNZ20 was supposed to be held in Auckland, New Zealand, in the middle of the year. We had to move it entirely online thanks to COVID, but the end result was glorious. We had over 400 participants from around the world, and still managed to facilitate engagement and networking in the cyber arena. I’m already planning for the next fully online FSNZ in 2022; watch this space!

Journal articles

Pausé, C. J. (2020).Ray of Light: Standpoint theory, Fat Studies, and a new fat ethics. Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight & Society, 9(2), 175-187.   

Book chapters

Pausé, C. J. (2020). Like it or not: A dose of fat activism for the medical community. In J. Andrew & M. Friedman (Eds.), Body stories: In and out and with and through fat (pp. 177-187). Bradford, ON: Demeter Press.

Funding

Zip. Zip. Zero. Surprisingly, no one is interested in funding fat positive scholarship.

Conference

Logo of FSNZ20

FSNZ20 took place online in June with over 400 participants from over 24 countries around the world, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Poland, Iceland.

Conference presentations

Zooming

Pausé, C. J. (2020, 8 July). Fattening scholarship. Closing paper presented at Fat Studies: Past, Present, Futures, Online [CV19].

PhD Examinations

Simpson, A. (2020). A fat chance in health. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Kotow, C. (2020). Big, beautiful affect: Exploring the emotional environment of BBW social events and its relationship to fat women’s embodiment. Unpublished PhD Thesis, York University, Canada.

Masters Examinations

Jolie, J. (2020). Body Positivity as Public Pedagogy? The Case of the #effyourbeautystandards Movement on Instagram. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Lakehead University, Canada.

Journal reviews

Fat Studies

Humanity and Society

Health

Invited seminars

A screenshot of @thisismeagankerr Instagram story about Camp Boom

Pausé, C. J. (2020, 8 November). In fat solidarity. Keynote [Camp Boom/Fat Camp], House of Boom, Silverstream, New Zealand.

Invited panel

Panel speakers and hosts of #FATFEB

Pausé, C. J. (2020, 15 February). #FATFEB Fat Babe Pool Party Panel. Fat Babe Pool Party [50]. Vunilagi Vou.

Invited lectures (Fat Studies)

Pausé, C. J. (2020, 12 May). Fat politics, nutrition, and you. 214.131 Introduction to Food and Nutrition [30]. Massey University.

Podcasts

Logo of Fat Girl Book Club; a fat fairy sitting on a pile of books

Radke, J. (2020, 26 November). Fat Activism by Charlotte Cooper with Cat Pausé [Audio podcast]. https://fatgirlbookclub.simplecast.com/episodes/fat-activism-by-charlotte-cooper-with-cat-pause Produced by Fat Girl Book Club.

King, H. (2020, 27 September). Fat isn’t a four-letter word. [Audio podcast]. https://www.planetaudio.org.nz/archive/the-c-word/fat-isnt-a-four-letter-word/668759 Produced by Planet FM104.6

Media

An image from the Barnett story of me standing over the radio console

Barnett, A. (2020, 3 Nov). When is the right time to use the word ‘fat’? Stuff [Online]. https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/teach-me/300147403/when-is-the-right-time-to-use-the-word-fat

Du Plessis-Allan, H. (2020, 12 Oct). Health researcher calls Judith Collins’ obesity comments “heartless”. NewstalkZB [Online]. https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/heather-du-plessis-allan-drive/audio/dr-cat-pause-judith-collins-obesity-comments-heartless/

1News. (2020, 13 Oct). Judith Collins says obesity is ‘generally’ a weakness, urges personal responsibility over blaming the ‘system’. 1News [Online]. https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/judith-collins-says-obesity-generally-weakness-urges-personal-responsibility-over-blaming-system

Barnett, A. (2020, 26 Aug). The strawberry dress saga: Tess Holliday calls out fashion for what it is – fatphobic. Stuff [Online]. https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/fashion/122566689/the-strawberry-dress-saga-tess-holliday-calls-out-fashion-for-what-it-is–fatphobic

A screenshot of the Heritage article on The Spinoff

Heritage, E. (2020, 26 April). Fat activism in Aotearoa is having a moment. The Spinoff [Online]. https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/26-04-2020/fat-activism-in-aotearoa-is-having-a-moment/

Sommer, A. (2020, 17 Feb). How to stop being afraid of the word ‘fat’. ReNews [Online]. Retrieved from https://www.renews.co.nz/how-to-stop-being-afraid-of-the-word-fat/

On fatlicious gift giving in 2020

Another year, another opportunity to bring fat positivity into your life and the life of your loved ones! One of my favourite ways to do that is through supporting fat creators; many of the items on the list below will help support amazing fat writers, artists, and more. None of these are affiliate links; none of them have asked to be included.

These are simply my favourite things of the year. And they would make great gifts for yourself or someone else.

For the reader

Lute Como Uma Gorda by Malu Jimenez

Fat Girls in Black Bodies by Joy Cox

Fattily Ever After by Stephanie Yeboah

Fat by Hanne Blank

Body Sovereignty by Caleb Luna, et al  (Dec 2022)

Fat and queer: An anthology of queer and trans bodies and lives by Miguel Morales, et al (May 2021) @TrustMiguel

Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun Harrison (Aug 2021)

What we don’t talk about when we talk about fat by Aubrey Gordon @yrfatfriend

For the dreamer

The Luna poems by Yesika Starr

Fatty Fat Fat Playtext and Button Badges from Katie Greenall

For the artist

The Venus Nanas Colouring Book from Fancy Lady Industries

Ophelia Sticker from SexyFation on etsy

Big Tummy Goth Sticker from ShelBerries

Take Up Space Pencil from House of Boom

For the fatshionista

The Cookie Coat from Plus Equals

Green velvet skater dress from Interrobangirl on etsy

Venus layered dress block from Loud Bodies

Contrast trim floral print dress from eShakti

Glorifying obesity crop-top from Mary Lambert

Decolonise your body belt from Infamy Apparel

For those who accessorise

No Wrong Way to Have A Body pin from NoWrongBody on etsy

I’m FAT Get Over It Tote Bag from Monster Cliché

Fat hate/fatphobia/fatmisia is white supremacy phone and laptop case from SkyGriffin

For the home

Hug A Planet Fat Black Print from SchwarzRund on etsy

Fat Sisterhood Print from MegGarrodArt on etsy

Speedbumps Print from Dimmie

Fat Tiger Figurine from Bu2ma on etsy

Fiona Ornament from the Cincinnati Zoo

Umber Luna Torso from Secret Scents of Ella

For all of us

Sofie Hagan’s Lockdown Show, “Fat Gender Dating Sex

The Fat Activist Vernacular from Charlotte Cooper

The Adipositivity Project 2021 wall calendar from Substantia Jones

Fatlicious guides

2019 Guide

2018 Guide

2017 Guide

2016 Guide

2015 Guide

2014 Guide

2013 Guide

2012 Guide

2011 Guide

On being heartless

The battle of the bulge is back in the headlines in New Zealand as we head to the polls to elect our next government. This was kicked off by One News story about Uaina Pupulu, a super fat man, who allowed cameras to follow him for over a year as he moved from his family home to a nursing home for weight loss care (the story notes that the District Health Board was involved, but it is unclear if he and his family made this decision themselves, or if this was a forced intervention). He decides to have weight loss surgery with hopes he can return home after addressing his issues with physical mobility.

Uaina Pupulu

Uaina self identifies as being addicted to food, and “ate his way” to 300kg; the narrative bellies into the trope that the act of feeding is a love style in South Pacific cultures. The story speaks to his limited physical mobility, and attributes his health issues (like diabetes) to his weight. He is understood to be a burden on his family, and a burden on the larger society. His wife cries as she speaks of the neglect to their children as the family has been focusing on his needs; his teenage son tells of the harrowing experience of having to lift his father off the shower floor after a fall. His bariatric surgeon speaks to the resource cost of having the equipment in the hospital to be able to provide care to super fat patients.

The next morning, National leader Judith Collins was invited to comment on the piece and she responded that obesity was a matter of personal responsibility. When I was invited to speak to Collins’ comments on NewstalkZB later that day, my aim was twofold. First, to note that Collins is simply reproducing the same neoliberal line that conservatives have been using for decades: fat people are fat because they make bad choices and they deserve the bad things that happen to them. Not our problem or responsibility. Before you begin thinking that liberals are any better, I assure you this isn’t the case. From the left we get a paternalistic fatphobia: Fat people are fat because they are unable to make good choices; poor fatties just don’t know any better or cannot afford better food or to exercise.

The paternalistic attitude in action can be found in the Uaina Pupulu story on One News, thanks to the contribution of Professor Boyd Swinburn. Swinburn insists that New Zealanders are getting fatter and yet the country is not doing anything to address what he frames as the ‘obesity epidemic’. Swinburn acknowledges the negative stereotypes associated with fatness and suggests that individuals are not responsible for their food choices (and resulting fatness) in the current environment. He speaks to the cost of fast food vs the cost of fresh food, the advertising of fast food, and the number of fast food outlets found in lower income communities.  While rejecting the neoliberal positioning of fatness as a result of fat people making bad choices, he instead adopts the paternalistic positioning of fatness as a result of fat people being unable to make good choices. Professor Swinburn has made several media appearances since the remark from Collins, and he keeps pushing her to explain the “global collapse of willpower” that has led to increased rates of fatness around the world in the past several decades.

As I try to dodge the additional news coverage, the fatphobic messages continue to seep through my shields and I hear the common messages we always hear about fatness. Fatness is bad. We are too fat. Who will think of the children?!

An image from The Simpsons: The pastor’s wife is clasping her hands and pleading, “Won’t somebody please think of the children”

What has been absent from the narratives in the media is that when we talk about obesity, we are talking about fat people. People. Your fat family members, your fat friends, your fat neighbors, your fat members of Parliament. These are people we are talking about, not a talking point or a political football. A war on obesity is a war on fat people.

A screenshot from NewstalkZB

Which brings me to my second purpose in responding to Collins– and what really mattered to me as a superfat person, Fat Studies scholar, and fat activist – which was to highlight how heartless her response was. Uaina allowed us into his life to share his experience – and the bravery that takes, knowing that he will be met with disgust and scorn, is incredible. But his bravery is ignored. As is his pain. His very humanity is overshadowed by his physical size for Judith Collins. She pays him no attention in her rhetoric; not his pain, his needs, his life. Only his size is relevant as a talking point. It is heartless to be confronted with a person who is in pain, physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, and to have no empathy for them.

The One News story relies heavily on dehumanizing imagery of Uaina; we see him being negotiated into an ambulance, as he makes his way to a nursing home for care. At the nursing home, we see his naked body being washed by a carer. When he travels to see the anethestis, his wheelchair cannot fit through the office door (and the it breaks under the stress of his size). He is shown only as his bulging abdomen during the surgery, with laparoscopic tools impaling him and amputating his stomach.

The dehumanization of fat people by the media is common; fat activists even have a name for the image that usually accompanies stories about fatness: headless fatties. The headless fatty is the fat person who is presented without heads, often only as a bulging abdomen. Take a look at most of the stories in the news about this very story, and that’s what you’ll see as the cover image or used as b roll. These images dehumanize fat people, which contributes to fatphobia and fat oppression. Politicians, talking heads, and lay people, alike can share their opinions and thoughts about fatness without ever thinking about fat people because we have stripped them of their humanity.

In stripping away their humanity, fat people become less than human: they become a problem to solve. And many believe the solution to this problem is amputation. Like many, Uaina makes the decision to be amputated; many super fat people see this as their only way to humanity. The bariatric surgeon in the piece, Dr. Richard Barbor suggests they do around 150 bariatric surgeries a year at Auckland Middlemoore hospital; there are approximately 600 people on the waitlist. He argues, “Unless we do something about it, they are going to have short and miserable lives”. The “they” he speaks of is assumed to be fat people. The evidence to support his statement is unclear. Others have made similar claims; perhaps most famously were Dr. William KIish of Texas Children’s Hospital and scholars Jay Olshansky and David Allison.

Dr. Klish told the Houston Chronicle in 2002, “If we don’t get this epidemic [of childhood obesity] in check, for the first time in a century, children will be looking forward to a shorter life expectancy than their parents”. When he was asked by the Center for Consumer Freedom for the evidence to support his claim, he had to admit that it did not come from any evidence, but his gut. Three years later, Jay Olshansky, David Allison, and colleagues published a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that claimed obesity would cause, “youth of today may, on average, live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents”. The scholars did not provide evidence beyond their “collective judgement”. When pressed for evidence for an article in Scientific American, David Allison hedged, “These are just back-of-the-envelope, plausible scenarios…we never meant for them to be portrayed as precise”. I’m not planning to ask Dr. Barbor for the evidence that supports his claim, but who wants to guess that it’s his collective judgement (or maybe his gut) speaking, rather than empirical evidence?  

A screenshot from RNZ

 In the days since the initial interview, Collins has doubled down on her message: fat people are weak people and need to take responsibility for their fatness. Anything negative they experience due to their fatness is their own fault. Various news outlets are running stories about additional comments made by Collins, and the responses from other politicians, including the Prime Minister, about whether they believe fat people are irresponsible and weak (all of the responses given can be categorized into the neoliberal or paternalistic buckets; all of them accept the framing of the question that fatness is a problem to be solved, and to solve a problem, you need to understand the origin(s)).

A screenshot from The Guardian UK

It’s all fatphobic nonsense to me, as the real question is not whether fat people are responsible for their fatness, but how can we as a society ensure that fat people have equitable access to healthcare, to employment, to housing, to clothing they love, and hobbies they enjoy? How can we ensure that fat people are allowed their full humanity in New Zealand? Which party will commit to amending the Human Rights Act of 1993 to include physical size? That’s a question worth asking each political party this election season.

On getting a CT scan

I had my first CT scan today. I’ve lived a rather blessed life when it comes to my health: I’ve never needed diagnostics like a CT or MRI, I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had one outpatient surgery during my PhD to get my tonsils out, but that’s it.

My GP ordered a CT scan to check my kidneys. I’ve had an intermittent acute pain in my lower back on the left hand side, and she wonders if perhaps I’ve got some kidney stones (I see you Substantia with your gall stones!). I did blood work, and then headed to the radiologist today for a CT scan.

My knowledge of CT scans was minimal. I knew it was a series of X-rays that would provide a comprehensive picture of the area in question. I knew it is often called a CAT scan on TV shows. In my mind I thought it would be much like a normal X-ray, just with different positioning and more machines. Of course, most of my knowledge about medical things comes from decades of watching China Beach, E.R., Scrubs, and Grey’s Anatomy. Turns out, I had no idea what a CT would be like.

They had instructed me to drink loads of water beforehand. You’re allowed to use the restroom at any time during the day, but they want you to be loaded up on water. I arrived at the office with my own robe in tow. I assumed that I would need to be in a gown, and I assumed that they would not have one that would fit my fat body.

My robe

After a basic health questionnaire, Cindy brought me back to the room where the CT would take place. As she directed me to the change room, I saw a large machine in an adjoining room and asked if it was for MRIs. Cindy smiled and told me that no, that it was in fact the CT machine; she said they called it the donut.

The donut

Whoa. Nothing at all like what I expected, and honestly, my first thought was the episode of Scrubs where they have a super fat patient that cannot fit into the imaging machine (no idea if that was a CT or MRI machine). Not a helpful thought, of course, as I tried to size up the size of donut hole to see if I was going to fit or not. It turns out that a CT uses rotating X-ray machines inside the donut to take the imaging, and can be used to image any part of the body, from the head to the toes.

An MRI machine, which is more of a tunnel that could fit your whole body

In the changing room, they clarified some questions on the questionnaire, and invited me to remain in the dress I arrived in for the CT (eShakti cotton knit empire maxi dress); I only had to remove my bra (due to the underwire). When I was ready, they led me into the CT room, and I lied down on the strip of bed provided. The tech asked me to raise my hands above my head and asked if I would be comfortable to keep them there during the procedure. I’m not sure if the arm placement was about fitting into the machine, or concern that arms could get “caught” at the edge of the machine and they ask everyone to do this? It was fine and I settled into position.

The not-designed-for-a-fat-body “bed”

The tech left the room, and the bed was raised to then slide into the donut. A mechanical voice instructed me to take a deep breath in and hold it, then several seconds later, as the bed slid out of the donut, the same voice told me I could breathe. This happened three times, and then it was over. A doctor looked at my scans and was happy with the quality, so there was no need for them to inject me or ask me to drink any contrast (a material that would appear white in the X-rays and provide additional definition of the area if needed). The entire thing took about 10 minutes from the time they invited me back to the room to the time I left.

I fit into the machine just fine, and it would fit someone much larger than me. There were no loud noises, either, which had been a concern once I realized I was going into the donut. There was a clicking, but it was not too bad and it did not raise any anxiety for me. Because they were only scanning my abdomen, it might have been possible for me to have on headphones to distract me or block out the noise of the machine, if needed. If you think that might help you, better to have them with you and ask, right?

I am grateful to the radiology team, Sam and Cindy, for being so lovely during my time with them. And not laughing when I asked to take pictures of the donut afterwards. I’m glad to have had a positive experience with my first CT, and perhaps by sharing my experience (and unfounded fears) I will help reduce the fear and anxiety of other fat people who may need a similar test. Have you ever had a CT? How did it go? Let’s chat on Twitter or Facebook!

On FSNZ20 – the Press Release

FSCNZ20 logo -revised date

MEDIA RELEASE

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.

Dees photo of me 2020 cropped
Professor Esther Rothblum

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.”

Sonya-3
Sonya Renee Taylor

 

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.

 

Registration remains open until 1 July 2020 www.fsnz.online

For additional background:

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Fat Babe Pool Party (Auckland, NZ, 2020)

Long before CV19 changed the way we lived in Aotearoa New Zealand, there was a pool party. A fat babe pool party. The first of its kind in NZ, as far as I know, the Fat Babe Pool Party was hosted by Lissy Cole and Ema Tavola. It was one of the many #FATFEB events organized by Vunilagi Vou.

Image credit: House of Boom

The Fat Babe Pool Party took place at the Mount Richmond Hotel in Ōtāhuhu and was supported in part by the Auckland Council as part of the Pacific Arts Programme. Lissy and her team did an amazing job with the decorations and gifted some of us with special flower headpieces. I kept mine on all day. And I often tossed it on during the CV19 lockdown to brighten my spirits.

Me & Lissy

In a similar spirit, I thought I would write about the Party for my blog; I am not the first fatty to attend a fat pool party, nor the first to write about a fat pool party experience (check out these pieces about fat pool parties in Los Angeles, Columbus Ohio, Minneapolis Minnesota, Brooklyn, Montreal,  Toronto, New Orleans), but I wanted to share my experience on the day and reflections I’ve had since the event.

Image credit: PATI SOLOMONA TYRELL (used with permission)

The party is itself was a huge success. The tickets sold out, and the Mount Richmond Hotel was a lovely space to hold the party; their pool area is gorgeous.

Mount Richmond Hotel Pool

The outdoor area was a lovely space; it was surrounded by covered patio, where people could take shelter from the sun at comfortable table and chairs. The hosts of the events had secured the use of additional fat friendly sized restrooms across from the pool area. The party area was decorated in bright colours and there were several floaties in the pool before anyone arrived; there were moments I felt I was in a movie.

Image credit: Lissy Cole

For even more about the party, you can watch a cool video about the party here! And read this great piece from Elizabeth Heritage in The Spinoff.

In addition to the pool party, the hosts had organized a panel and a meal. The food was yummy, and there was plenty of it. The panel was three local fat women working in the space of fat activism: I was honored to speak on the panel at the event alongside fatshionista Meagan Kerr and artist Coco Solid. We each answered questions from the hosts and the audience.

Image credit: PATI SOLOMONA TYRELL (used with permission)

Throughout the entire day there was a great energy in the air; everyone knew this was something special and we were all thrilled to be part of it. I have never had the pleasure of being around so many fat people at one time. And all of these fat people were somewhere along the journey of fat liberation; what an amazing thing.

Image credit: PATI SOLOMONA TYRELL (used with permission)

 

One of the best parts of the day was meeting fellow rad fatties in person, like Jo from House of Boom (come join us at her rad fat camp later this year in WLG!) and connecting with rad fatties friends I rarely get the chance to see in person like Jackie from The Aunties.

I met a lot of new people that afternoon, and I hope I get the chance to spend another sun filled day with them in a post CV19 future.