Friend of Marilyn


On fatness, news, and fear mongering November 27, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 6:01 pm

There has been a lot of talk lately about fake news, or has some people refer to it, about propaganda. While concerns around fake news are valid and should definitely be of concern in the post-truth culture, I have similar concerns about the failures of mainstream media (real news), to report information in accurate and useful way for the public. We’ve seen MSM in the United States struggle with this with PEOTUS, who is unwilling to distinguish between a truth and a lie.


And it isn’t only the MSM in the United States that engage in irresponsible reporting. Here in New Zealand, the media has once again failed in their reporting around issues of fatness, and failed to present useful information for the New Zealand public. In a story entitled, “Claims of a NZ obesity epidemic are ‘fearmongering’, says academic”, it is reported that a “dramatic jump in the number of children considered overweight or obese is expected to hit New Zealand within the next nine years. By 2025, it is expected about 32 per cent of children will be considered overweight or obese….By 2025, more than one in four Australian children will be considered overweight or obese.”

The article concludes by listing the obesity rates for adults and children in communities around the country. The article is framed around the narrative that the sky is falling, and I am Chicken Fat, running around disputing the claim.


Let’s set the scene, shall we? I’m sitting in the lounge at the airport, waiting to fly up to Auckland. My phone rings, and caller ID tells me that it is the local paper. I answer and speak with a reporter who is keen to get my thoughts on a press release from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. He wants my thoughts, and of course needs them ASAP, so I suggest he email me the media release and I will read it and get back to him.


Here is what he sent me,




Obesity Epidemic Already Upon Us Say Medical Professionals

Thursday 27 October, 2017

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has issued a dire warning to Australians and New Zealanders about their countries’ weight problem, as alarming statistics highlight the prevalence of the problem in young people.

This warning comes as the Obesity Surgery Society of Australia and New Zealand (OSSANZ) holds its Annual Conference in Sydney starting today to discuss some of the more difficult areas of Bariatric Surgery and as the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC) prepares to convene a National Health Summit on Obesity in Melbourne on 9 November to discuss ways in which obesity can be reduced.

According to projections, by 2025, more than one in four Australian children aged between five and seventeen will be considered overweight or obese. This is up from one in five at the turn of the century, with a clear trajectory towards a one in three figure.

The numbers are even worse in New Zealand, where the one in three figure will almost be reached by 2025, when it is expected approximately 32 per cent of children will be considered overweight or obese.

RACS Fellow and President of OSSANZ, Mr George Hopkins, said that the increase in Australia and New Zealand had reached crisis point.

“We often refer to the obesity epidemic as a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, but the reality is it already has. You don’t have to spend long in any public shopping centre to work out how widespread it has become,” Mr Hopkins said.

“This is having flow on effects for the rest of the health system. There are strong links between obesity and a myriad of other health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.”

“Furthermore, obese people have a 50 -100 per cent increased risk of dying prematurely compared to people of normal weight.”

Mr Hopkins works as a gastrointestinal surgeon in Brisbane, where he has performed weight loss surgery on thousands of patients. He says there had been a noticeable increase in the number of obese patients requiring surgery, but most startling has been the rise in the number of children.

“When I am required to operate on younger people it is usually after every other weight loss strategy has failed. Compared to when I first started working as a surgeon it is alarming how common it has become for people to require this sort of intervention at such a young age.”

“With so many people now overweight this is not just placing an enormous strain on individuals, but it is also creating an untenable situation for our health system. There is only so much pressure it can take before it collapses.”

“Childhood obesity is preventable, but something needs to change urgently. Weight loss surgery has proven to be an effective measure, but it should not be viewed as a silver bullet or a cure.”

“We need to look right across the spectrum for how we are going to tackle this crisis, from education, to nutrition, to promoting more active lifestyles. Those figures are damning, clearly what we are doing at the moment isn’t working.”


So I read the release, and Google to learn more about the Obesity Surgery Society of Australia and New Zealand (OSSANZ). Because this press release has been released on the first day of the OSSANZ’s annual conference in Sydney, and understanding the Obesity Surgery Society is central to understanding the press release. Unsurprisingly, I learn that the OSSANZ is an organisation that is comprised of obesity surgeons and works, among other things, “to form a closer association of the obesity surgeons of Australia & New Zealand for the advancement of the obesity surgery & management”; it is also part of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, which itself is a “federation composed of national associations of bariatric surgeons”, because these national associations, like the OSSANZ, are everywhere.


My main reaction to the press release was that it made a lot of claims about rising rates of obesity in New Zealand and Australia, but did not direct the reader as to where one could go to find the evidence to support the claims made. So, this was my response:

Hi Nick,

As they haven’t referenced/cited where they are getting their evidence/statements, I can only really speak to the tone of the piece. Which is fear mongering; it feeds into the existing moral panic we are having about obesity.

And it’s especially dangerous when targeted at children. We are already seeing the effects of the war on obesity in kids – the hostility & bullying of fat kids (by both peers & adults) is increasing, as are the numbers of eating disorders being diagnosed in youth. Further efforts to fight obesity will only increase stigmatisation of children’s bodies. Fat kids are living in hell, and non-fat kids are engaging in undesirable behaviours to avoid becoming the fat kids.

What we need are approaches to health that are independent of weight. And we can do this. We can teach kids about health seeking behaviours, without it being attached to fear or shame about weight. We can assess and measure the health of a population in many meaningful ways without using BMI.

What we do, though, is use weight as a proxy for health. And that isn’t helpful for anyone, except those who make their living performing weight loss surgeries.



I specifically mention that I can’t comment on their claims about the numbers in New Zealand in 2025, because the press release itself doesn’t provide evidence or any citations for how those projections are made. I specifically mention that all I can speak to is the tone.

And yet.

And yet.

The piece itself – presents the claims of the press release without question, and presents me as Chicken Fat. Read the first two sentences from the piece:

 “A Manawatu academic has slammed a warning about a projected spike in child obesity as “fearmongering”. A dramatic jump in the number of children considered overweight or obese is expected to hit New Zealand within the next nine years.”

A bit later in the piece, we get this: “However, that projection has been criticised by Massey University human development senior lecturer Cat Pause, who says such messages are dangerous when aimed at children.”

I didn’t provide a criticism to the projection; I noted that it wasn’t supported by evidence. The only feedback I provided was to the tone of the release. And yes, it was fear mongering. Specific examples of the fear mongering in the release include (emphasis mine),

  • alarming statistics highlight the prevalence of the problem in young people”
  • “the increase in Australia and New Zealand had reached crisis point
  • “We often refer to the obesity epidemic as a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, but the reality is it already has”
  • “it is alarming how common it has become for people to require this sort of intervention at such a young age”
  • “There is only so much pressure it can take before it collapses

While I am annoyed by how I was misrepresented in the story (a common experience for Fat Studies scholars and fat activists – see this and this on suggestions for how to not get stitched up by the media), it is not my biggest concern. My biggest concern is how the information itself – the facts – was misrepresented. The reporter simply repeated the projections from the press release, without providing links to further evidence – or noting that the press release itself didn’t provide evidence or citations. Or even repeating the projections as claims made by this particular group (with a particular dog in the fight). It could easily read, “The OSSANZ claims that by 2025, 32 per cent of children will be…” And while the word projection is used once in the article, the presentation of the projections read like established facts,

  •  “By 2025, it is expected about 32 per cent of children will be considered overweight or obese, according to Australian and New Zealand obesity surgeons.”
  •  “By 2025, more than one in four Australian children will be considered overweight or obese.”

Most people reading the article will come away believing that these are realistic projections supported by scientific evidence. But are they? Without any reference to the evidence, we can’t know. There is no doubt, however, that these projections are great for the OSSANZ. Who benefits from obesity fear mongering? Obesity surgeons – bariatric surgeons – the professionals who can present themselves as the only ones with the answer to the problem (as Mr George Hopkins in the press release notes), benefit greatly from these projections. But where is the evidence? I’m not willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the OSSANZ, or even the larger Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. We have too long a history of being taken in by projections – of judgments – from obesity science; these past proclamations have done a great deal of violence to the fat community.


For example, in 1999, David Allison and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association that asserted that obesity caused 300,000 deaths a year in the United States (while noting several times that this was probably a low estimate). It’s since been cited by over 2,000 other papers and that number (300k) spread everywhere. Picked up by policy makers, healthcare providers, and NGOs alike, it is still often used in documents. Allison and colleagues received a great deal of criticism for the methodology they used to determine this number, however. In the paper itself, they note “…our calculations assume that all (controlling for age, sex, and smoking) excess mortality in obese people is due to obesity”. This means that they concluded that all the fat people who had died had died of their fatness.

Another popular assertion is, “Because of obesity, this is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents” – ever heard anything like that? In 2002, the Houston Chronicle ran a story that included the dire warning of Dr. William Klish of Texas Children’s Hospital, “‘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 pushed for evidence to support his statement, Klish acknowledged that he didn’t have any, but that it is based in his own intuition.

Similarly (albeit in a scholar journal, rather than the MSM), Jay Olshansky, David B. Allison, and colleagues published a piece in a 2005 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine that made a similar claim to Klish, “youth of today may, on average, live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents”. Towards the end of the paper, Olshansky and his co-authors acknowledge that their dire prediction relied on their “collective judgment” rather than empirical, scientific evidence. “It is important to emphasize that our conclusions about the future are based on our collective judgment”. When pressed for further explanation by a reporter for Scientific American, Allison responded, “These are just back-of-the-envelope, plausible scenarios…We never meant for them to be portrayed as precise.” (If you want to read the entire story in Scientific American, entitled, Obesity: An Overblown Epidemic? you can find it here and here).


Both of those talking points – obesity kills 300k people a year, and children will have shorter life expectancy that their parents – are still kicking around the Internet, government policy documents, and the scientific literature. MSM still repeats them when useful – and rarely does the use of either talking point include an acknowledgement that there is NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT EITHER. That these shouldn’t be taken as fact. As truth.

And there is also NO consideration given to the violence that is done by statements like these. Whether through government policy, structural discrimination, workplace programmes, or bullying/harassment enacted by family, friends, and strangers, make no mistake that those talking points bolster (and in many cases justify) the oppression of fat people.

In a democracy, a free press has the responsibility to provide the readers with factual information to inform their lives and decision-making. This requires not simply parroting back information found in press releases, especially where a conflict of interest may be apparent (like, obesity surgeons making predictions about how many obese patients there may be one day needing their surgeries, without evidence to support it). So for the Manawatu Standard to repeat those predictions, without providing any context to the reader, is incredibly irresponsible and gross.


On fat girls and social justice November 12, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — cjpause @ 9:53 pm


Fat girls have often been at the fore of important social justice movements. We’ve been protesting for women’s rights, indigenous rights, LGBTIAQ rights, rights for those with disabilities, right for those in racial and ethnic minorities, and more. Taking to the streets – taking to the interwebs – taking to our own communities – fat girls have long been adding our voices, and our bodies, to the chorus for social change.

Fat girls are protesting for social change all around the world!



Latasha Ngwube, of About That Curvy Life, helped organise plus-size fashion models taking the stage at this year’s Lagos Fashion & Design Week. The show, #AboutThatCurvyLife Collective powered by Intel, was the first time a plus-size show was included in LFDW and featured collections from four designers.




Charlotte Cooper & Kay Hyatt facilitated the Fattylympics in London in 2012. Pushing back against the nationalist corporate tones of the London Olympics, the non-competitive event was accessible and free, and aimed to celebrate fat activism, body diversity, and bodies of all abilities. Events included twirling, rolling, and spitting on the BMI.  You can read more about it here.

The Fattylympics Anthem 2012 (please, please, PLEASE, go listen to the recording!)
Words by Charlotte Cooper, music by Verity Susman

When you’re looking in the mirror and you don’t like what you see
Try to dream of social justice
Try to dream of being free

Trapped in the shadow of a corporate beast
You don’t have to fuck people over to survive

You can try a different way
Maybe today we’ll learn a new way to be alive

Let’s try to dream it together
Let’s dream it together today

It won’t be perfect because things never are
But when times are hard we’ll remember messing around in the park

Doo doo doo doo doo doo…



Jill Andrew, of Fat in the City and the Body Confidence Canada Awards, is working to update the human rights code to make size discrimination illegal in Canada. Similar fights are underway in Iceland and New Zealand.



Nalgona Positivity Pride is a xicana/brown*/indigenous group that works to bring decolonisation to the fore of the growing body positive movement. Gloria Lucas started the group as a way to address the white supremacy in eating disorders spaces and treatment. As she writes on her site, “Through NPP, I am able to bring into light that gender, ethnicity, class, and historical & modern day oppression all have a role in the development of violent relationships with food.”



Friend of Marilyn favourite, Substantia Jones, is the host of Fat People Flipping You Off. A fantastic project that is full of pictures and videos of, you guessed it, fat people flipping you off. Substantia writes, “Fat people who’re angry about sizeism, both institutional and individual. Cheesed off about revisionist science, body policing, and implicit weight bias….When words fail, aim it at those who’re immune to logic, reject social justice, or care not about the bigotry of their words and actions”.  If you’d like, you can add yours to the mix!



In Australia, Kelli Jean Drinkwater uses art to engage in radical body politics. From her documentary, Aquaporko, to the recent Nothing to Lose dance troupe, Kelli Jean challenges the dominant discourses on size and self through her use of queering fat embodiment and taking up space. Kelli Jean’s TEDx Sydney talk, Enough with the Fear of Fat, was recently added to the main TED page, and has been watched over 600k times.



Amena Azeez, of Fashionopolis, uses fashion to challenge people’s perception of fat bodies – of brown bodies – of non-Western bodies. Educating people on fat shaming, and how pervasive it is, is a primary goal. She works to bring freedom of self-expression to fat women in India, and the rest of the world. She’s also active in protesting against social justice issues like #demonitisation.



Here in New Zealand, Sandra Grey is a regular part of what our Tory government likes to call, “Rent a crowd”. Sandra was the face of the MMP campaign, which successfully ensured that the New Zealand Parliament is made up of a variety of political parties that represent the wide ranging views of Kiwis. As the current President of the Tertiary Education Union, Sandra has been front and centre in the protests against stripping tertiary institutions of representative governance, removing Humanities, and limiting the fair working conditions for TEI staff.



Coulter’s Tweets are just more fat hate that pile onto the backs of fat people daily. These particular pieces have the intended purpose of keeping people, especially women, silent. Before you decide to exercise your first amendment right to protest, her Tweets imply, consider if you are willing to become a fat joke for millions courtesy of bullies like Coulter. That just might make some people reconsider adding their voice – and that’s exactly what Coulter is hoping. Bullies like Coulter and Trump are afraid of the people, because they know that our collective power – our collective voices – our collective hope – is stronger than they will ever be.

For those of us involved in social justice – or fat politics – or both – we recognize the purpose of Ann Coutler’s message. Fat bodies are undesirable, after all. No one wants to be associated with fatness, especially non-fat people. Calling out protestors as fat is yet another tactic of getting people to be quiet and stay still. After all, you wouldn’t want to be associated with fatness, right? I’m surprised she didn’t include femi-nazi in the Tweet as well.

But fat girls will keep protesting; protesting for our right to live with dignity and respect, in our fat bodies; protesting for the rights of others to love who they want, with dignity and respect. Protesting to protect our Muslim friends, our immigrant neighbours. I hope fat people all over the world will use her Tweet as motivation to continue protesting – or start protesting – social injustice and threats to humanity wherever it crosses our path.

Our fat bodies make a hell a shield, after all.



p.s. Want to get a commemorative hoodie? 50% of proceeds go to the American Civil Liberties Union, and they go up to 5x!


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!


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.


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


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.



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.



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