Monday, December 12th, 2011
I made a youtube video the other night in which I talked about what Fat Acceptance is for me. I’m hoping to make it a regular thing, where I do a bit of an FA101 series from my view as a white, cis-gendered, hetrosexual male. It will be interesting to see how it goes, but so far I haven’t had any trolls, so I’m most appreciative of that.
Most importantly, I’d love to get questions or suggestions of topics to talk about. Rather than post them here though, please post them over in the youtube comments. It will be easier for me to keep track of everything in one place. I’m also happy to discuss things you think I get wrong or don’t articulate we well as you think. I won’t always get things right, and my views don’t invalidate the views of others who come from a different place than me, so I won’t be offended if you disagree.
Monday, December 27th, 2010
Yesterday I caught up with Sonya and her mother to do some shopping at the Boxing Day sales at the massive Chermside shopping centre. To put this in perspective, according to the centre’s website, there are 69 stores that cater to women’s fashion. Of these, there are three dedicated plus-size stores – Autograph, City Chic and MySize. Of these, City Chic is the only one that is geared towards a younger demographic. There are some others that cater up to a size 18 or 20, but generally speaking, most stop at 16 (or a 14).
Standing outside the door at 8:45am, waiting with a crowd of other plus-sized women, I began to feel irritated. The Courier-Mail online covered the sales, and City Chic actually got a name-drop, with the author noting that there were 30-40 shoppers waiting outside. My irritation stemmed from the fact that here we were, people lining up to get some nice clothes at a decent price, and yet retailers continue to insist that fat people don’t spend money, aren’t fashionable, ad infinitum.
(I bought a dress and a top, by the by).
But today, while talking to a few other like-minded fat people about store policies and supporting businesses with practices we agree with, I began to wonder: do stores that produce ethical clothing for fat people even exist? It is so damn difficult just to dress in the styles that I like, it seems like ethically produced plus-sized clothing must be like a frickin’ mythical unicorn.
I know that ethical fashion can have a wide range of meanings, from non-sweatshop produced garments, to retailers that treat their staff with fairness and follow the law, to just not treating their customers like fools, and who are pro-body acceptance. I can’t think of any Australia-based ones that I’m aware of.
When I think about what I’d like to see, it’s mostly to do with the third point. I simply adore Re/Dress NYC for this reason – they are explicitly pro-acceptance, in all forms. And since they stock mostly used and vintage clothes, I could shop there with a clear conscience. Sadly, being on the other side of the world from them makes it a bit difficult to get there regularly.
I’d love to see more retailers that engage with body acceptance. I’d love to see the moderators of the City Chic and Evans facebook pages delete shaming and negative comments, for example. (There were some simply horrible comments on a photo that Gazel of Bonjour Gazel entered in an Evans comp that were incredibly hateful).
The holy grail, of course, would be a pro-body acceptance, non-sweatshop-based, fair-wage-paying retailer that provided on-trend and classic pieces for men, women and everyone in between in a wide variety of sizes. Hey, a girl can dream.
So tell me – what do you want to see from your retailers? What does ethical fashion mean to you? And do any plus-size ethical fashion retailers exist?
Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m a voracious reader. I’m the child who got told off for trying to read at the dinner table, who was teased mercilessly in grade five for spending my lunch time reading, who carries a book with her everywhere she goes. I buy handbags based on whether or not they’re big enough to fit a book in or not.
Specifically, though, I adore Young Adult fiction â€“ always have. And I have very fond memories of Australian teen writer Margaret Clark, so when I wandered into my local second-hand bookstore and spotted a copy of â€śNo Fat Chicksâ€ť for $10AUD (this is cheap, fyi â€“ books in Australia are very expensive), I thought it would be the perfect subject for a review.
This is the blurb on the back:
â€śNo fat chicks? When Mandy Miratoosi sees that bumper sticker on her brother Mark’s car, she’s ready to pluck his cocksure tail feathers once and for all. Mandy’s a big girl, and Mark’s mates need to know that lean is not always dream material. Featherweights and bantamweights beware. Mandy is out to show that big chicks can be winners!”
Clark’s writing style is simple, fresh and engaging, and while this book isn’t perfect, it’s about as close as I’ve read to a pro-fat acceptance message in Young Adult Australian fiction.
The premise is straightforward: Mandy Miratoosi is fifteen, an ace at maths, and a big girl. Her mother died when she was three, and her father remarried, his new wife bringing three kids from her previous marriage into the family. Bennet is quiet, friendly and sweet, studying second year Arts/Law at university. Markerton, Mark for short, is seventeen, conventionally very attractive and, frankly, a fuckwit of the highest order who makes Mandy’s life hell. Then there’s seven-year Babeth, a gorgeous child model and pageant attendee, seemingly at the behest of their mother. The story revolves around Mandy coming to grips with her intelligence and her size with charm and humour.
Mandy refers to her stepmother as ‘mum’ and her stepbrothers and stepsister as brothers and sisters, and clearly has a lot of affection and love for Pandora (mum), Bennet and Babeth, and even Mark, despite the way he constantly torments her.
In chapter one, Mandy wakes up to find her brother Mark has plastered a â€śNo Fat Chicksâ€ť bumper sticker to her mirror, and shortly afterwards discovers she’s topped the state in the Maths Competition, and the action snowballs from there.
Let’s talk about the positives. This book shows real depth and nuance in articulating fat acceptance for teens, particularly in the way it intersects with feminism, and Mandy is remarkably self-aware. When Mark insults her for eating a croissant, Mandy knows it’s pointless to argue with him (p6). And on page 7, she thinks:
I was over it with all the references to my shape. It wouldn’t matter how little I ate. I’d still be big large with big bones. Maybe covered with a bit less fat, but still big.
Mandy tries to rip the sticker from her mirror, but only manages to tear of the ‘N’ of ‘No’. So she grabs a texta and scrawls a ‘G’ next to, creating the slogan ‘Go Fat Chicks!’.
I’ll resist the urge to go through the plot chapter by chapter, so here’s some choice quotes:
We had netball practice at the civic centre which is in a large park only a short walk from Newberry [High School]. Both Krys [Mandy's friend] and I play for the Dodgers, nicknamed the Podgers by Mark because there’s five fairly hefty girls on the team including our friend Lexie. But we’re running second on the summer premiership ladder, so maybe strength and stamina count.
I love this â€“ it’s so matter-of-fact: of course these girls play sport, they’re active! For those who haven’t heard of netball, there’s a summary here. I played it for about eight years, and let me tell you, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Mandy’s friend Lexie, who’s mentioned here, is also a fantastic amateur car mechanic, and this is used to great comic effect later in the book.
When the girls at Newberry High discover that the NFCC (No Fat Chicks Club) have plastered No Fat Chicks stickers all over their lockers, Mandy steps in amidst the bickering:
â€śThere’s only one to deal with this,â€ť I said. â€śWe have to form our own vigilante group and get our own stickers to plaster over theirs. This is war.â€ť
â€śIt’s action time. Pass this message,â€ť said Roxy. â€śAll females a size 14 and over are to meet in the Girl’s Common Room at lunch time.â€ť (p76)
We get a little dose of how fat is a feminist issue, too, when the girls discuss how their English teacher and one of their male classmates are fat and don’t have the same campaign against them. In fact, scrawled beneath the sticker on Mandy’s locker are the words â€śIf you can’t root ‘em, shoot ‘emâ€ť. (‘Root’ is Aussie slang for ‘fuck’ in the sexual sense). This is incredibly frightening. Advocating murdering fat women simply for the heinous crime of not being fuckable. So, so disturbing.
This meeting is one of the greatest things I’ve read depicting fat acceptance, or even any form of social justice.
At lunchtime Lexie, Krys and I hurried over to the Girl’s Common Room. It was crowded. I hadn’t realised there were so many size fourteens and over in our school. And of course a whole lot of them hadn’t come: either too embarrassed to say that they were size fourteen, or not into attending radical meetings. There were also a few thin girls in the crowd. That was okay if they wanted to listen in. (p80)
Straight away, Clark makes it clear that this is about the fat girls, but that they’re inclusive as well. It’s like holding up a little mirror for what I hope thin women see in FA â€“ a movement that includes them, but asks them to check their privilege at the door.
There’s discussion about how ‘No Small Dicks’ would be a good comeback, and here Clark surprises me again:
â€śWe know it’s sexist and rude and thoughtless for guys to have a No Fat Chicks club and stick labels all over the place. It’s a put-down. Now, we could do the same: say we don’t want small dicks, or thick ones, or whatever. But then we’re stooping to their level of mentality.â€ť (p81)
I’m thrilled to see the sexism connection, and we get a great moment where the meeting disintegrates into shouting, but Mandy takes charge. Much discussion occurs over whether men should be allowed to join their club, or thin women, what sort of slogans to have, how they’ll pursue their agenda, but the main thrust is that it’s collaborative, and that these high school girls have serious agency. I approve.
This may be my favourite quote of the novel (sorry about the length, it works better in context):
â€śWhat’s all this crap I hear about you starting an all girls’ fat club?â€ť asked Mark at the dinner table that night.
â€śThat’s a good idea,â€ť said Mum. â€śHealthy eating and exercise. I’m proud of you, Mandy. I can get some of my modelling friends to come along and give your club some tips on how to minimise your size by wearing the correct colour combinations and give you some make-up lessons if you like.â€ť
â€śMum, it’s not that kind of club,â€ť I said. â€śWe’re promoting the right of women to be large.â€ť (p86)
This is AMAZING. No ifs, no buts â€“ the right of women to be large. Not only does Mandy stand up to her mother, but is incredibly matter-of-fact about it. Love love love.
In the middle, Mandy has a discussion with her horrid brother Mark about why he does these things, and it’s a fantastically, frighteningly accurate portrayal of the way increasing numbers of men view women – as hilarious playthings for their amusement:
“It’s just a bit of harmless fun. You girls get all wound up. That’s why we do it.”
“Why do you want to wind us up?”
“I told you. It’s fun watching you all spin out. It was fun watching Krys try to impress me. [...] It’s fun driving down the road with ‘No Fat Chicks’ written on a bumper sticker. Nothing bad or evil. F-U-N.”
“So you’re causing all this aggro and grief to people because it’s fun,” I said. “You’re stucking offensive signs on lockers at school because it’s fun [..].”
Terrifyingly on point. Clark illustrates perfectly how thoughtless these tormentors can be.
The book isn’t perfect â€“ there’s talk about how Mandy wears a black dress because it’s ‘slimming’, references to women as ‘females’ and a couple of other things that set my radar off, but these are minor issues in the scheme of the overall themes of the book.
There’s so much more to this novel than I can give justice to in a blog post, so I really encourage you to seek a copy out if you can. It’s an easy 200-page read, and given its shortness, deals with the issues of being smart, the beauty culture and being fat in a remarkably nuanced way. It may be difficult to procure for international readers, but Australians will have a good chance of finding it in a library or second-hand bookstore.
One last quote to end with, after Mandy wins a waterslide competition at Wet’N'Wild:
â€śOn behalf of all large females I will use this victory in my campaign to fight against the ‘No Fat Chicks’ mentality,â€ť I shouted into the microphone.
If that isn’t activism, I don’t know what is. Love ya, Mandy.
No Fat Chicks by Margaret Clark
Published by Random House Australia, 1998
Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
A recent article in the Brisbane Times — Obesity (in the Beauty Beat section) was of the opinion that fatties shouldn’t be seen in bikinis. I assume a great deal of the commenters agree. I have trained myself not to read the comments on news articles because I don’t want to use up the despair for humanity section of my brain so early in the week.
The writer is saying fat should be camoflauged. I disagree vehemently. I am fat. How can that be ‘hidden’? Why should it be? Why should I have to minimise my body to fit in with bullshit beauty standards? Where is our sense of “decency”? I don’t think one should ascribe morals to a person’s body.
So, this is a call-out. A protest. If you’re fat and own a bikini, I want to see you in it. I want to see you flaut your sense of “decency”, I want you to show that body you should be so “ashamed” of.
ETA: Go Corpulent! Frances has kindly allowed me to use her photos in this post. Awesome bikini and awesome post.
Friday, September 24th, 2010
You know, when a plus-size brand makes copies of runway fashion, or designers that only go up to a size 14, I’m pretty sanguine about it. It’s not the best situation, but if regular retailers aren’t going to make clothes in a wide variety of sizes, then more power to the plus-size stores for making fashion available to fat people.
What I don’t condone is a plus size chain store ripping off a smaller, independent plus size designer.
Kiki of Why, Kiki, Why? broke the story here, but I felt I had to chime in.
Here is City Chic’s Bumba top, a part of their current Spanish Rose Collection:
And here is Jibri’s Plus Size Ruffle Front Halter:
Eerily similar, don’t you think?
I contacted City Chic via their contact form to complain – I know that technically designers can’t copyright their products, but I was (and am) so angry that I wasn’t thinking super-clearly:
I am frankly appalled to discover that City Chic has blatantly lifted a design from a small, independent plus-size manufacturer. Your Button Bumba top is an obvious rip off of Jibri’s plus size ruffle front halter (http://www.etsy.com/listing/50369223/jibri-plus-size-ruffle-front-halter). I will not shop at stores that participate in the theft of small designers’ intellectual property.
Kind regards, Zoe (www.axisoffat.com)
I didn’t hold high hopes of getting a particularly interested response, and I was right:
Thank you for contacting City Chic customer care. Your concerns have been sent through to our buying and supply team and they will look into this further.
While I’m heartened that they might actually forward this on to their buying and design team, the official response from City Chic’s facebook page doesn’t fill me with hope:
City Chic Hi Jen,
Yeah, as Sarah said, all designs are copied… Our buying team set out to different locations around the world, and check out what’s happening in the fashion world with trends, and upcoming must-have-items… It’s not about stealing… credit from other designers, it’s here for you to have, not only for plus sized ladies to wear, but at a fraction of the price!!!!
Hope this answered your question!
â™Ą CC, x
It’s this comment that makes me want to facepalm so badly. Because here’s the deal: Jibri charges $90.00 for a custom-made garment. City Chic? $79.95. For mass-produced garment. Which, if you were buying internationally (and City Chic does seem to be trying to crack the international market), would actually be more than Jibri’s price, thanks to the cost of international shipping and the strong Australian dollar.
The comment about “credit from other designers” leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, given that there was no credit whatsoever given to Jasmine, the designer of Jibri.
City Chic might think it’s appropriate to copy from small, independent, plus-size designers, but I don’t. And that’s why I won’t be shopping there from now on. If you value supporting small businesses, up-and-coming designers and high-quality, well-priced fashion, I highly encourage you to vote with your wallet and take your business elsewhere.
As Kiki and Derryn would say: Shame, City Chic, shame.
Sunday, August 15th, 2010
Despite knowing how bad they can be for me and my mental health, I am still a reader of fashion magazines. I am a bit of a consumer at heart. I get a little thrill when I open the pages and the amount of “WANT. NOW.” overwhelms my senses and I am enthralled.
What takes me out of my “Oooo shoes!” trance is reading icky body shaming comments disguised as “helpful advice” for the girls.
My own fault for expecting something different from a mainstream women’s fashion magazine, I’m sure, but I was still disappointed to read a column in the latest issue of Shop ‘Til You Drop (September 2010), especially after their recent body love issue.
A writer from Australian Harper’s Bazaar has been writing a regular column for Shop from the viewpoint of being a plus sized woman in the fashion industry. I expect working in the fashion industry, being surrounded day in and day out by fabulous clothes that largely exclude a plus size body would take a toll on a person’s viewpoint of themselves, no matter how confident they usually are. The comment made in the column (“No one looks good with cottage cheese thighs” [pg. 60]), made me sad.
Yeah, ok, it’s probably seen as a pretty innocuous comment. Innocent, even. But couched in the “just us girls” rhetoric and the attitude that whenever girls get together, all they do is gossip about the state of their bodies, what they ate, what they bought, who is a bitch, how hot that guy is, it seems problematic at the very least.
Not everyone is at the stage of loving their bodies. I don’t love my body 100% of the time, 24 hours a day. To expect people to do so would be unrealistic. Everyone has their moments.
But, I worry about the influence of these comments and columns in a mainstream fashion magazines on impressionable teenage girls (hell, impressionable women and people who identify as women). I worry that it convinces them that it’s expected of them to hate their bodies, that they’re expected to tear themselves apart.
I’ll admit that, for a moment, I focused on my cellulite, the dimples on my arse.
Until I shook myself out of it. Until I remembered that I like my thighs, my arse. I’m still not quite at the love stage yet, but I’m getting there. And I don’t care if “no one wants to see it”, I will be happy when I’m ok to see it.
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
So in case you don’t know, the fat-o-sphere has a fair bit of activity going on via Twitter. This is how I was introduced to Dr Samantha Thomas – in my opinion she’s one of the coolest supporters of the Fat Acceptance movement. If you don’t know of her work, I highly recommend subscribing to her blog. Her latest post is so awesome; and it’s making me feel as if some people are finally getting it.
We at Axis of Fat have been approached by several different academic and media outlets to give fair and accurate representation about Fat Acceptance. While sometimes the questions seem a little obtuse to me, I think it’s merely because the idea of Fat Acceptance is so foreign to so many people. We currently live in a society where body shaming is key, so whenever anyone brings up a contrary opinion it’s a shock to the system. But I think it’s a good sign that people want our opinions. In ten, twenty or even fifty years, it will be this time where people will look back and say that the tide began to shift.
What do you think?
Monday, July 19th, 2010
Today I was part of a panel interview on ABC Radio Australia which also featured Samantha Thomas from Monash University (on twitter as @samanthastweets and soon to have a blog).
I don’t think they quite got what they bargained for as we certainly weren’t there to sell weight loss to the pacific. Have a listen and let us know what you think.
I made the recording myself so sorry in advance for my twitter client making all sorts of noises during the recording.
Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
We get a bit of mail at Axis of Fat through our contact form and a lot of the messages we get are wonderful, supportive and thankful and make us feel really good about our writing and motivate us to continue to blog about being fat Aussies. On the odd occasion there are media requests too, and Nick fields those because Iâ€™m not really interested in making a fool of myself in print or on air and he does such a fantastic job speaking as a fat advocate. Iâ€™m really proud of our blogging efforts, and even though I havenâ€™t been blogging as much due to being busy with my other endeavours, Iâ€™m really chuffed to see the blog chugging along and continuing the conversation about being fat in Australia.
Today Nick got a media request from a current affairs program requesting one of us appear in a story that involved swapping â€ślifestylesâ€ť with a â€śgymbunnyâ€ť for a period of time. The opportunity (and I use that word ever so loosely) was turned down straight away by those of us on the Axis team who have access to our emails during the day, with much booing. We found out that the journalist has approached a number of fat acceptance bloggers today regarding the same story only to be met with similar responses. No thank you. Weâ€™d prefer not to consent to being demonised on national television. But thanks. Besides, I would feel awfully dishonest pegging myself at the fat/ bad end of the good-fat lifestyle paradigm because while I am fat and I just ate lemon pudding, I also go to the gym and eat vegetables!
This kind of â€ślifestyle swapâ€ť story is tired and hackneyed, and I really question the value of stories like this – other than acting as stocking stuffers on slow news days. I follow Source Bottle on twitter and at least a few times a week there are call outs for fatties to participate in â€ślifestyle swapsâ€ť. Iâ€™m starting to think that there are very few fat journalists and producers in Australian media, because youâ€™d have to be completely unobservant or even mired in your own thin privilege to fail to see that people of all different shapes participate in different lifestyles. Unless theyâ€™re only observing whatâ€™s published by mainstream media – in that case youâ€™d go for months (maybe even years) without seeing any kind of positive representation of a fat personâ€™s lifestyle.
I wrote a FA101 post on my blog just the other day and I said, â€śThe truth is, healthful and not-so-healthful behaviours are performed by EVERY sort of body.â€ť I guess thatâ€™s just not an interesting enough news story for these journalists, when they get more ratings out of pumping out manufactured stories that fuel hurtful assumptions about peopleâ€™s body types and the kind of lifestyles those bodies lead. The media characterises fat people as lazy, disorganised and unattractive and a â€ślifestyle swapâ€ť story would only serve to make a fat person complicit in this characterisation, something we think is dishonest, reprehensible and irresponsible. Itâ€™s just not an accurate reflection of society. I guess â€śURGENT BULLETIN: WEâ€™RE ALL DIFFERENT. In related news, fat people have heads and feelings.â€ť is the kind of headline I can only envision in fits of mirth and delusion.
We at Axis of Fat are, sadly, rare kinds of publicly and unashamedly fat individuals, and itâ€™s natural that weâ€™d be approached to represent fat people. When the angle is as damaging as this, we will not be complicit. What kind of person would submit to having their character slighted in such a way? To the current affairs program we turned down – we aren’t regretful not to take part in this story, and we hope that no fat person agrees to participate in this â€ślifestyle swapâ€ť segment. Iâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™ll have terrible luck scouting talent from fat acceptance blogs anyway. However, if youâ€™ve got time to fill on a slow news day weâ€™d love to talk to you about producing a fair and positive story about visible fatties fighting social injustice.
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
As a male member of the Fat Acceptance community and as a blogger on this site, I have been contacted by the media to talk about fat acceptance or being fat in general. I’m more than happy to agree to these requests where I’m sure that it isn’t just a chance to put down fat people for being fat. I have no interest in helping the media reinforce the negative perceptions which were created by the media in the first place.
People have commented on how confident I sound and how I have the capacity to communicate my points clearly and in an manner that is easy to understand. It probably comes as a surprise then to learn that I actually have problems speaking on the phone or in person with people I don’t know. I’m hopeless at face to face communication with someone I don’t know when it is a social situation. If I don’t have to do it, I don’t seem to do very well at it.
Perhaps then it is my passion for Fat Acceptance and how strongly I believe in it. It’s because of my unwavering belief in myself and those around me. Let me tell you this is wrong. Very wrong. Very recently I’ve been struggling a bit with how I feel about my body. It’s very easy in these times to fall back to old habits and believe that all my problems are because I am fat, and therefore weight loss is the solution.
Yesterday I was in the chemist and they have a weight loss program that they run there. I saw the after picture of the lady who had completed the program and she seemed so happy with herself. I want that happiness, so surely by drinking nothing but shakes and losing 75+kg I’m going to be just as happy as her.
Somehow I doubt it.
Happiness comes from within a person. How many unhappy people do you know who aren’t fat? Does the height of a person affect their happiness? What about their race? Does the fact that I was born in November mean that I’m more or less happy than Natalie, who is born in December? Think about it for a minute instead of sprouting the rote learned answers that the media/your friends/your parents/society have conditioned you to have.
I’m not a psychologist. In fact, I struggle to spell the word correctly without a spell checker. If I asked you to think about what makes you happy and unhappy, you would find two things (or at least I did). I feel happy or unhappy when a) someone does something/something occurs/something external to me makes me feel happy or unhappy or b) when I think something/feel something/something internal makes me feel happy or unhappy.
Being fat doesn’t make me happy or unhappy. People’s reactions/thoughts/words about me being fat make me happy or unhappy. How I perceive the fact that I am fat make me happy or unhappy. And really since you have to process the external stuff as well as the internal stuff, it’s how you process it that determines how you feel about it.
“Wha? It’s all my fault that I’m unhappy? Should I just accept being discriminated against?” No. But you decide what you feel about it.
I can decide to feel sad and retreat inside myself. Alternatively I can calmly explain to the person why I think they are incorrect in whatever they’ve said (or done). There will be times where I just decide that the person isn’t going to get it, so I choose to not waste more time and more on. I can remain happy because I realise within myself that I am fat and that this doesn’t mean I need to be unhappy or feel inferior and that is all that really matters.
Sometimes I will not feel happy about being fat. It’s true that society is designed around the “normal sized” person, whatever that is. There are things that I want to do that I physically can’t because the designer has said “Thou shalt not be fat.” Other times, I’ll just feel fug in my clothes and blame being fat, instead of raising up against the fashion designers who decide that a tent is perfect for a fat man to wear to work.
But it doesn’t make me any less committed to the Fat Acceptance movement. Sometimes you have to fall over, feel like crap and then get up again. It doesn’t mean you failed.
It means you’re human.