There has been a lot of great work lately on fat, health, and reality TV. While many reality TV scholars can point out while blind-folded the oppressive depictions of fat bodies on shows like The Biggest Loser, the BBC’s latest show, Obesity: Post Mortem, really, how should I say… takes the cake.

You can read about what happens on the show here, or here. Both of these accounts also detail why this show is, in academic terms, totally fucked up. I watched a few clips and found it really triggering. I don’t think you need to watch it to get a sense of what happens on the show, the above articles do a good enough job of that.

I haven’t let myself think about this show from my own personal perspective because, well, it is painful. But as I work through Charlotte Cooper’s book Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement, I understand that in any social justice oriented field, of which Fat Studies is one of many, we must make these conversations and reflections personal. It is important we talk about our personal experiences as a way of contributing to the production of  knowledge about ourselves. When we don’t, television shows like Obesity: Post Mortem get to guide the conversation about bodies that look like ours, like mine.

If you are close to me, you know that for the past 12 years I have seen many different doctors and specialists about digestive/gastrointestinal concerns, chest pain, migraines, back and joint pain. I have night terrors, do not sleep properly, and am always tired. I have spent years worrying that I am diabetic, that I have cancer, a brain tumour, or ulcers. I am truly afraid that I am going to die. I am a hypochondriac.

If you are really close to me, you would know that I have had multiple x-rays, EKGs, blood tests, allergy tests (including gluten and lactose sensitivities), and even a botched endoscopy (so fun!).

If you are not close to me at all and lack a fat politics analysis, you might assume that these health problems are a direct correlation with the size of my body, and might assume that these health concerns stem from my diet.

Every single one of those tests came back negative, or came back above-average or perfectly normal. Not one test concluded that I have a physical ailment (well, except one x-ray on my left ankle, which indicated that I have a bit of trauma to the area from when I twisted my ankle and ripped all of the ligaments in my foot as a kid). At my most recent doctor’s appointment, I was told that I have better iron and vitamin levels than most young women, that my blood sugar is (and has always been) perfectly fine, that I do not have cancer, and that my heart and lungs are incredibly strong.

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Here is a photo of my fat body in a bathing suit. I don’t have many, because that is a scary thing to do as a fat person – both to put your body in a swimsuit in public, and to document your revolt. In this picture, my body is strong, it is healthy, and it is fucking cold because who goes swimming on a cloudy, rainy day?

Every test result indicated that I am not going to die. And yet I am still anxious, I am still scared, I still have days where I am afraid that my body is going to give out and that it is my fault, my own moral failing, even though I am physically perfectly fine.

(There is a lot of excellent writing from fat activists and scholars as to why, if my body actually did have a physical health concern, that it is none of your business, that it might not be related to being fat, and *once more for the people in the back* that any intersections of health and fat are none of your business, anyways).

Frustrated and overwhelmed, I have read a lot in recent years about how mental health issues can manifest in the body as physical pain or discomfort. Indeed, my doctors (both medical and psychological), have suggested that I am an incredibly anxious person, and that my anxiety manifests in upset stomachs, head aches, and exhaustion. I now face the daunting task of unpacking the causes of my anxiety in expensive counselling sessions, some that I am lucky to have insurance for, however, many come from my own pocket. This means that sometimes I don’t have the money or time to commit to my own health care, to deal with things that happened to me, out of my control. The additional burden on fat bodies is exhausting, overwhelming, and unfair.

What I am concerned with now at this point in my life is asking myself ‘how did I get so anxious? So stressed out? So sad?’. Fatphobic micro aggressions and direct assaults on my person because I am fat are, I am completely certain, the root causes of my health concerns.

I have been a target for bullies most of my life, having had anyone from classmates in elementary school to random strangers on the street harass me for being fat. I have had well-meaning yet concerned family members approach me about my weight, asking me (and only me) if I want to go for a walk after dinner, or encouraging me to exercise and diet, even as a pre-teen when my body didn’t know what it wanted to look like yet. And I don’t completely blame them, because shows like Obesity: Post Mortem and all the other fat tropes in media give us permission to police each other and our bodies, to incite fear in ourselves that we are not okay.

As Katy Lee writes,

As an obese person I can tell you what ruins lives. It’s the gnawing anxiety when you watch the news, because you might be today’s Headless Fatty and see yourself minding your own business while a news anchor tells the entire country how you’re a drain on the economy. It’s seeing a body like yours get cut up on TV so the nation can call it disgusting and dangerous as entertainment. It’s worrying that this program might have a knock-on effect, and having to brace yourself because, for the next few weeks at least, there might be an uptick in the fatphobic abuse that people scream at you in the street. Fatphobia ruins lives, and it makes for strange and disrespectful television.

Indeed, being fat didn’t make me sick. Fatphobia made me sick. I am still paying for it, literally and figuratively. And I deserve better. I deserve at least one night of good sleep.

Is this science in the public interest? Or is it a freak show, trafficking upon a group of already marginalised people to spin a grotesque, yet fascinating, narrative? This isn’t research: Examining a single cadaver without context provides no real contribution to science. And it’s not education: The goal isn’t to teach people about anatomy and physiology, but specifically to terrify people with a ‘gross’ body.

What it does is guarantee ratings and riveted viewers. And it perpetuates the stigma that surrounds fat people, who are likely to have an even worse go of it than usual in the UK as this airs. Children will taunt each other on the playground. Adults will feel emboldened to make hateful remarks. Physicians will find new reasons to discriminate against fat patients. Employers, thinking of the flayed innards of Jane Doe, will shudder when reviewing fat job applicants. This isn’t just a fiendish mockery of dissection and anatomical research, but something that will do very direct social harm.

Read more here.

As a reality TV scholar, I just love this poem so much.

It isn’t hard to write a love poem if you have a TV,
a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and a killer instinct
for where to break the line: This pool party is beyond
difficult, says Brad Womack, Season 15 Episode 7,
and what could be more true of love — the beyond
difficultness of lining up your sweethearts late at night
and having to tell them about the scarcity of roses
on the table? I’ve picked up women in helicopters,
but now I’m more confused than ever. Sweet
Emily Maynard tells Brad she’s met a billion guys
who can’t handle my life, hinting that her dreamy bod
belies the tangle of briars that is her tragic past
but something I’ve always struggled with
is what to do re: the briars if you were not born
a beauty queen. You become a confessional poet,
I guess: imagine me if I could afford hair extensions
and a strapless bra that actually fit, drinking Champagne
in a limo with a Fertility Nurse, a Funeral Director,
and at least one contestant named Ashley. Lower third:
Leigh, 31, Confessional Poet. If you don’t feel for me,
I want you to send me home.
Brad and Emily break up but good news
she gets her own season and one bachelor
brings an ostrich egg to celebrate;
another enters as villain, via chopper.
You have bad days so you know
when you have good ones, says Emily,
our Juliet of Charlotte, you kiss his lips
and some poison is left to kill your own self.
Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare knew
audiences want to see lusty young-ish people
fall in love under impossible circumstances
(see also: zip-lining in Costa Rica, hypothermia
in Alberta, hot-air balloon of terror) and so
whenever Chris “the Friar” Harrison is all like
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume, we know
we’ve been here before. Next time
someone refers to this show as guilty pleasure
I give you the power to contextualize the franchise
by looking to its timeless themes: man vs. nature
(I’m ready to get down and dirty in the jungle),
man vs. himself (I honestly don’t know what to do
with this rose), loss of innocence (I clearly did not grow up
in a jungle), love conquers all (Even though I lost my dad,
I’m going to get a great husband), and death as inextricable part
of life. When Emily says, I know I sound like I’m on my deathbed,
but I don’t want them to think that I’m not having fun,
she is speaking to the women watching everywhere —
women who fear their mortality is showing, like a blue bra strap
from under a little black dress. All we fucking want
before we die is for our one true love to turn to the camera
and say, She’s sexy without trying to be,
which makes her even sexier. Did you watch
Juan Pablo’s season? I didn’t, and it is the greatest regret
of my life, an entire chapbook of callous and indecipherable
cruelty and I like you A LOT poems that will never be written,
just as all the intimate moments of our own private carnivals
and helicopter rides and alcohol-fueled picnics and
upsetting phone calls with the ones we left behind will not be
aired on TV, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to ask
the right questions of ourselves and our beloveds:
What happened? Is this for us? Could you imagine?
You’re not doing it just because you feel sorry for me?
Are we horseback riding on trails?
This was the best thing that could happen to me?
Aren’t we already in the badlands?
The badlands are inside us, baby
and that’s where the consuming each other
with kisses comes in. Happy anniversary
to the show that never lets us forget
every time I start to feel special with you,
someone else has the same experience. 

-Leigh Stein

Read in full here.

Microaggressions — in case you don’t know — are the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership…

… A slight can take the form of people taking advantage of your professional or personal time because they see your time as less valuable or presume that you will be willing to make up the time later. Or, worse yet, they don’t imagine that you are competitive or able to create upward professional mobility for yourself.

A slight can be someone taking advantage of your time or resources because they are banking on your inability to set boundaries. We know from research and also from personal experience that fat women are taught not to value our bodies and our resources and so we find boundary-setting more challenging…

… A slight can take the form of presumption that you are always interested in helping because that is your role in society so why shouldn’t it be your role in their relationship with you?

All of these behaviors slowly erode your mental health and ultimately your physical self. You have the right to recognize this behavior as undesirable and act accordingly…

… Take the extra time you have gained and put it into a project you care about, or a deadline you’ve been avoiding that will help YOUR professional or personal life. Stop giving away your labor and your power and your energy to people who are essentially fatphobic vampires. It’s not your job to take care of them or teach them to be better people. It’s your job to take care of you.

Excellent advice from Virgie. Read more here.

I also grew up with the pain of being systematically dehumanized by boys at schoolfor more than a decade because I was a fat girl.

This is not to mention all the violence that comes with surviving sexism and racism; this violence is so deeply entrenched in my daily life it takes effort to analyze its potency sometimes.

Each of these experiences has shaped me in a unique way, yet they all map onto each other seamlessly.

I mean, this week I couldn’t accurately tell which part of my history was making me rage out…

Your trauma brain is definitely up and alert — hypervigilance is what that’s called. It’s a symptom of PTSD and it is what keeps trauma survivors safe in a lot of ways and situations — but later on it can definitely interfere with moving forward.

Read more here.

Her Instagram account is the BEST.

Also, this:

Seeing big women winning Olympic gold medals and being praised for their incredible athletic prowess in the world’s most exclusive arena tells us that not only are we able to wear the clothes we want or date the people we want, but we’re also worthy of praise and admiration because of what our bodies can do, and not in spite of them. The growing trend of diversity at the Olympics, be it racial or body type, shows that on at least one world stage, those of us who are marginalized needn’t apologize for who we are.

Read more here.

A few weeks ago, a man walked up to me and insulted my body while I was standing on the street with a friend waiting for a taxi. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The friend I was with didn’t know that earlier in the evening I had spent the better part of an hour continuously asking another friend of mine if my outfit was “flattering enough.” Many of my friends were/are not aware of my efforts to be a “good fatty.”

I am so grateful that when that man approached me and tried to embarrass me in public, my friend didn’t tell me to “let it go.” She looked at me in a way that I could tell she was waiting to see how I wanted to respond, and that there was space for me to respond in any way I wanted. That is how it should be.

I have learned not to share my sadness as a fat person. Growing up, I learned that my body was unpalatable enough without adding on cumbersome, messy feelings like sadness. Sad fat people would show up on TV, crying and sweating, their unsavory feelings the only space they were allowed to take up. The only time fat people could be tolerated was when we renounced our bodies, or made them disappear into our suffering. Fat people who stayed fat could be neither seen nor heard…

… When faced with false images of ourselves, distorted by the funhouse mirror of misperception, it can be cathartic to make ourselves their opposite. Not depressed, but eternally joyous. Instead of unsexed, burlesque. In place of slothful and gluttonous, starved and athletic. We become consumed by opposing who we’re assumed to be.

And in the process, we distance ourselves not only from the characteristics of those stereotypes, but from anyone who takes on those characteristics. A fat woman who is genuinely sad or depressed becomes a threat, a flesh-and-blood reminder of who we’re assumed to be. A fat person eating Cheetos represents the glutton we’re meant to be, and a fat person eating a salad turns into the paragon of dietary virtue we’re expected to become.

But, my darling, those are fat people, too.

Read the full article here.

How do we learn to see people around us when they are not producing things—art, community, writing, etc. –that makes us want to see them? How can we see “untapped,” hidden, or invisible brilliance around us? And why does social visibility only become possible when we are producing things? Why is it so hard for us to see the magic and beauty of those around us who are not producing things, who choose not to produce things, who may never produce consumable things for us?…
... We so easily replicate capitalist and colonialist logics of what it means to be a “good”community member when we forget that we are all intrinsically valuable in our existence and that our value shouldn’t depend on assimilating to any one else’s standards of productivity or extroversion. We forget that simply tokenizing the one trans woman of color or disabled queer who is asked to speak on every other panel does not actually mean we are supporting and uplifting all marginalized people of those identities.

Read the full post here.

I remember when I got my first (and so far, last), decently-paid job. It wasn’t (or I guess, shouldn’t have been) a mind-blowing salary, but it was enough that I opened up an RRSP and TFSA, had a savings account, and bought my first car. (Side note: all of these things are now essentially defunct, except for my car, which I sometimes live out of. #gradschool).

When I was promoted shortly after joining this company, I remember taking a look at my first pay stub and feeling a quick punch in my stomach when I saw how much money I was now paying in taxes. Later that night on the phone with my dad, I told him that I was shocked and kind of annoyed.

He replied, “it is a privilege to be able to give back to your community.”

In short, he told me to check myself. I was embarrassed, but appreciative of the reminder.

I come from a family who takes care of each other and the people around them. My parents generously donate to various organizations and charities, and volunteer much of their time and resources to the community they live in. My Nanna recently told me that our only job in life is to “make other people happy”; for as long as I can remember, my Grandad will pull the car over and hop out to pick up garbage while driving into the little slice of a conservation area that he pours himself into maintaining so that we all can enjoy being outside and in nature.

I came across Melissa Chadburn’s essay, The Throwaways, this morning, and was again reminded of how important it is to focus our efforts on systemic inequities and systems of oppression, rather than coming at everything from an individualistic perspective. I was led to this essay by her article Resilience is Futile, which you can read here.

I used to “teach” at a juvenile detention center and came to find very quickly that in order to learn a child needs four things 1) safety, 2) shelter, 3) food, 4) love. Don’t we want all children to have that?…

…One of my friends tells a story of being in daycare. All the kids had to learn how to take turns. They lined up to each take their turn on playing in a tire swing. Eager to make new friends she offered up her turn to another girl. The girl took it. My friend was denied hers because she gave it away. She remembers praying afterward, asking god why it hurts so bad to be nice?

Greed is taking all the turns and not sharing any. Greed is having all the money and not paying taxes to help deliver a safe system for abused and abandoned children in foster care. Or greed is having all the money and refusing to pay taxes that results in the separation of families who have plenty of love but no resources to stay together. Greed is what keeps Los Angeles (at 94,000 homeless people) the homeless capitol of the nation despite its residents that belong to the top 1% income bracket. 

Greed lies to people, fueling their fears that if oil companies like Chevron or Shell were charged an oil severance tax they would charge us more at the pump.

Greed is what convinces people that if you charge more taxes big corporations would leave your state.

Here’s a secret that the Haves are keeping from us: Taxes are revolutionary. Taxes are a medium to distribute wealth in a capitalist society. Today, I’m happy to be accountable in this way. Accountable to my community. I love my community. I want my community to thrive…

…If we are saying I value you when we pay our taxes, what is a corporation saying when they don’t pay taxes? Are they saying the opposite? Are they saying they don’t care about whether or not other people have healthcare? I think it’s not too much to ask for people to have healthcare…

…In 1980, CEO pay equaled only 42 times the average blue-collar worker’s pay. By 2010, CEO pay had grown to 343 times a worker’s median pay. This is the widest gap in the world…

…That’s how I feel when I vote. Like finally after all of it, all the standing in hungry lines, and marching on asphalt in dark negative degree mornings, all of the gripping of signs, all of the anguish of loving a mother and being terrified of a mother and leaving a mother, has led me to this one place; this one slip of paper. I take the paper and the tiny pencil, that looks like no big deal but is the biggest deal, and I think about all the mega-important times in my life that are marked with dinky little pencils and I put my mark on the paper and plop it in the box and think of it as the box of wishes and prayers for babies to have 1) safety, 2) shelter, 3) food, 4) love.

Read Melissa Chadburn’s full essay, The Throwaways, here.

I finished this book recently. It was hard to get through. The author’s emphasis on her self-loathing attitude really bothered me; politically, I oppose her message, and yet personally, I can identify with it. With her.

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It is exhausting feeling like a hypocritical fat activist. Shame is exhausting. Feeling like a performer, a fraud, is exhausting. There is no room for political fat folks to be human, to have feelings, to have bad days. It is no wonder why fat people avoid talking about things like eating disorders, fitness, or concepts of health – doing so has the potential to undo so much hard work that fat people invest in in order to receive love and respect from their families, friends, and communities.

Fat people take on this hard work to receive things that everyone deserves by nature, yet few receive for free. If we talk openly about these complexities, we risk making invisible the work fat folks and their allies have done to show how fatphobia in the medical, health, and fitness industries, perpetuates false concepts that ultimately harm everyone. We would be fuelling a fire that has flames much higher and deeper than our own. We would be working against ourselves while trying to help or be kind to ourselves. 

Besides, even if we start talking about these things, even if we acknowledge these realities and feelings, what if our bodies don’t change? What a lonely life and future that would be. What a lonely feeling it is to hate your body. The feeling of double-consciousness when I read about fat folks who want to lose weight (are you doing it for yourself? Or for others?) is political. And it is personal. 

I wish there was room for both.