Monday, August 24, 2009

Guest Post: The Good Fattie, Part 2

Jo: So I've been very sweetly and politely requesting (read: constant impatient nagging) JD to start guest posting for Unapologetically Fat. I know he has strong insights and the unique perspective of a feminist man who doesn't engage in body judgement, so I really wanted to see his voice heard in the FA community. He's come through with this post, which further examines the dangers which the Good Fattie mythology poses to the Fat Acceptance movement by comparing it with a similar dichotomy in the Second-Wave Feminist movement of the 60's. Enjoy!

The Good Fattie and the Bad Feminist
Guest post by JD

There's been a lot of talk recently about what it means to be part of the Fat Acceptance movement, and the way it changes how we think, both individually and collectively. Thanks to Jo's blog, I read MezzoShiri’s "Addicted to Life" post from a few weeks ago. I was struck by Mezzo's definitions of "good" fat people ("someone with pristine nutritional and exercise habits who remains fat") and "bad" fat people ("someone with imperfect eating and exercise habits") and the internal pressures she feels to be a "good" fat person.

I find it interesting how much the definitions of "good" fat people and "bad" fat people mirror one of the unspoken definitions of "good" feminists and "bad" feminists that came into prominence in the 60s and 70s (what is called "Second-Wave Feminism"). Though there was a lot of disagreement, even then, about what it meant to be a "good" feminist, it was easy to recognize one type of "bad" feminist – women who openly expressed their sexuality, even with the men who (it was said) opposed their liberation. In other words, "bad" feminists displayed lust.

When you look beneath the surface you can see how even in this so-called "age of acceptance" we're still subject to old-fashioned intolerance, justified by a thin facade of religion. Lust is a sin, a sin for which women are especially criticized, and therefore women who express their sexuality in the "wrong ways" are a bad example and they hurt the feminist movement. For a long time, a really good feminist was one who overcompensated for this perceived flaw by showing no outward sexuality whatsoever.

Though I suspect this guilt about lust began as an internal pressure felt by people simply seeking their identity – what I hear MezzoShiri describing – it didn't take long to become a force in the organizations that defined the feminist movement. The all-too-predictable result was women attacking other women for their lifestyle choices and the fragmentation of the feminist movement. If you question the depth of this fragmentation, listen to feminists argue (often violently) over the true meaning and impact of pornography, and the mental state of the women involved in it.

Yes, I said "mental state." The most commonly expressed feminist position on pornography is that it is not about sex, but is about violence and oppression, and that the women who participate in it are psychologically damaged and therefore incapable of giving consent to the actions they perform.

I’m not comfortable with pornography. I generally find it either laughable or disturbing. But what disturbs me more is seeing one group of women who seem rational and well-adjusted passing judgment on the mental health of another group of women who also seem rational and well-adjusted, but who make choices that first group doesn’t like. Both groups tend to identify themselves as feminists. I find myself asking: how does this advance the cause of women?

Within the Fat Acceptance movement there are people who feel torn in the same way that many feminists did:

Any fat person who doesn't look like she is enthusiastic about being active and exercising is automatically considered guilty of the sin of Sloth (a.k.a. good old-fashioned laziness). Since laziness is a sin and "bad" fat people are automatically assumed to be guilty of it, to win the rights of Fat Acceptance we should all be "good" examples of fat people, by showing no desire whatsoever to relax and take it easy once in a while. When I relax I feel bad, so it must be bad, right?

That kind of thinking has the potential to lead to influential people within the FA movement imposing their own inner guilt and prejudices on others. Already many fat people are labeled "psychologically damaged" by being diagnosed with eating disorders. While people readily agree that the cause of eating disorders is our current system of unhealthy social influences, all too often the social system gets the attention while the people labeled with these problems are marginalized. Given that state of affairs, how much of a stretch is it to see a future where fat people who say "I eat because I want to" are automatically seen as having a problem with their mental state? How far are we from that perception today?

Everyone, fat or thin, is entitled to relax without feeling guilty, just as everyone, male or female, is entitled to a little guilt-free sexual excitement. Sure, we can all come up with examples of people who take it too far, but who gets to say how far is too far? Not "the movement." Not "great leaders" or major organizations. The only person in a position to judge someone’s mental state is a person directly involved.

I’m condemning anybody here. But discrimination within a movement is no better than discrimination outside a movement, and the attitudes of a movement come from the beliefs of its individual members. The whole point of fat acceptance is to do away with the concepts of "good" and "bad" fat people. We're looking for the acceptance of fat people as ordinary people who are free to be human. If that means some fat people are lazy (or lusty or whatever else), well, that's how they choose to be. Living that way is their right.

Your right.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plug and Apologies seems like there's a lot of apologies on this blog, considering the title :-)

At any rate, the current erratic posting schedule is due to my frantically attempting to get every last ounce of fun in outside before snow falls. I will be out for about two weeks hiking in the Smoky Mountains and then attending the festival at which I have to give the body acceptance talk (thanks for all the suggestions!). On my return I hope to be able to post more regularly.

In the meantime, I highly recommend a new blog that I'll be occasionally writing for, called Fatties United. It's spearheaded by my Tante' Terri, Uncle Bill, and their friends out in California. Tante's the one who turned the FA page in my life by sending me (out of nowhere) a stack of books and a link to something called NAAFA. I just cross-posted my Good Fattie post there per their request, but also hope to send some original material just to their blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Workshop Help!

So I've agreed to do a workshop in two weeks on basic body acceptance. I tried FA specifically as a topic, but was asked to broaden it (insert rimshot) to basically address how to accept and appreciate your body no matter what size it is.

Help! Where do I even start!?

If you were doing/hearing a workshop on body acceptance for the first time and had never read any kind of FA or HAES book...what would you want included? What would you want your friend/family member/daughter to hear on the topic as their first introduction?

The attendees will probably be a dozen or so adults (between 18 and 40) I know really well (for me it's always harder to speak to strangers I'll never see again...the distance helps my brain work better). They're close friends or family, including (eek!) my parents. Only a few of them have heard me rant on the subject. I know that there are at least two I expect to attend who are recovering from ED's, at least three current dieters, one struggling with long-term ill effects of WLS, and several who hate on their bodies on a regular basis. I expect them mostly to be women (except maybe JD if he's not doing his own workshop). They're strong but relatively open-minded on most subjects, primarily Pagan or Heathen, and will probably not give me too much heckle if I challenge their paradigms.

Last time this kind of topic came up I tried to convince a friend that it was a contradiction to be both accepting/proud of your body as an independent woman, and planning what plastic surgery and face/boob/butt lifts she wanted. The idea that the motivation to let yourself be cut open, sucked out and stitched back together came from external and semi-invisible pressures of society rather than the desire to be good to yourself took all night and into the next morning. But it did eventually get through.

So...any ideas on where to start? Basic concepts you think should be covered any time someone's doing a body acceptance workshop?

I'm heading off for the weekend, but I'll consider anything I find in the comments when I get back a real help :-)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Good Fattie

This post was inspired by MezzoShiri’s post “Addicted to Life

She brings up a theme that I’ve been struggling with myself, and have seen throughout the fatosphere as of late: The Myth of the Good Fattie.

One of these days someone will come up with a comprehensive “stages” list for Fat Acceptance, which a significant number of people pass through at some point or another on their path to body acceptance, although not everyone or in the same order.

One stage would be “ok for other people.” This means that you accept that other people could be happy with their bodies, but there’s something somehow radically unique about your own that makes it not an option for you.

Another would be the “Good Fattie” stage.

There is an idea that often crops up, if subconsciously, that somehow you have to “earn” fat acceptance by being as healthy as possible. If you exercise regularly and eat healthy and somehow escape disease or disability but remain fat, you are then relieved of an obligation to prove to people that it can be done. You can say, both to yourself and to others, “look, I do everything I’m supposed to. I’m fat and healthy. You can’t blame my lifestyle for my weight.”

But working hard, restricting your food and exercising while fat to justify your right to exist isn’t all that much different than doing all that to lose weight and justify your right to exist. They both start with the premise that you have to somehow earn your right to be a human being.

Don’t get me wrong here...if you’re active because you like to be active, or eat a certain way because that’s the food you like (or have religious or medical restrictions) then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact there’s everything right about that because you’re doing it for yourself. But if you can’t afford fresh produce every day, or you work two jobs (yes parenting counts as at least one full time job) and literally have no energy for anything but a microwave dinner and sleep, or you damn well don’t like vegetables, hate to exercise, are physically unable to exercise, etc......there’s nothing wrong with that either. The life you live as a fat person does not somehow disqualify you from deserving to be happy.

To the point, a quote from MezzoShiri’s post:

“But as I’m trying to find my own voice in FA circles, I can feel the weight of internal pressure about how I’m not being a “good example” of Fat Acceptance, and I’m not being any sort of example for the idea of Health at Every Size. Talk about cognitive dissonance.”

The Good Fattie kind of thinking does create a division in FA. I’ve seen questions from the beginning of my involvement about how the “Death Fat” (i.e. “morbidly obese”) or fat and sick feel they’re marginalized. There’s this fear that sick fatties especially serve as an example that contradicts the message of FA. So in-between, currently abled fatties serve as “poster children” for the movement, while the rest wonder how they fit in.

Is there hidden vestiges of fat prejudice behind this? Maybe there’s a part of me that I haven’t managed to excise yet which still contains the internalized message that I have to toe a certain line in order to deserve to be accepted as a fat person. Maybe I’ve transformed that message into the idea that I would be somehow “letting down the team” if I didn’t exercise and eat a balanced diet whenever I could afford to do so; That I have some kind of responsibility to the FA movement to be as perfect a representative as possible.

Or is it simply anticipating the fat prejudice of others? It could be that I’m afraid of being diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease (I expect both will show up in my life like genetic clockwork) because if I am fat and have one of the stigmatized “fat diseases” it will somehow take away the authority of my message. After all, wouldn’t I then be walking justification for all the “booga-booga-obesity!” hysteria? How can I say fat doesn’t cause diabetes if I’m fat and have diabetes?

No, what I think is more likely is that the real issue is self-confidence. Despite all my efforts towards banishing the self-hate and accepting my body in its natural state, there is still a part of me that feels I somehow have to earn the right to be treated as a human being. I still have that small lurking voice that tells me that I can only afford to be fat if I am Acceptable Fat, and toe the line of an acceptable lifestyle.

Now the first problem with that is that it hurts me personally. It attaches my self-image to the judgement of others, which is never healthy. I have made a point this summer of working on banishing the Acceptable Fat dependency in myself. Maybe peeling away those layers is what let me recognize this particular thought nugget.

The other problem is that no matter what my motivation, the myth of the good fattie lets itself out. By asserting my right to exist based on the premise that I exercise and eat healthy, I marginalize those who cannot or choose to not do those things. They, and I, have an inherent right to exist that has nothing to do with lifestyle or privilege. By hanging my lifestyle choices out like a flag of defiance I accomplish nothing but alienation. So I absolutely apologise if the unconscious belief in the Good Fattie has coloured my voice and opinions.

If I do believe that fat is not the cause of a person’s state of health, and if I do believe that everyone has the right to dignity and respect as a human being regardless of size, then it should naturally extend that they have that right regardless of health as well. Health issues are stigmatized in this country because we somehow still hold onto the Calvinistic belief that health is earned or forfeit through good behaviour. Supporting human rights for people of all sizes and states of health is accepting the idea that my own state of health is a combination of genetics and luck. It’s a heady thing to give up that illusion of control, but perhaps if health issues weren’t as stigmatized as they are, the superstitious need to blame something (previously sin, currently fatness) would also diminish. Or vice-versa.

All I know is that I really do believe that size acceptance applies at every point of the spectrum of body size. Healthy choices are possible at every point as well, but health is not a reflection of morality, any more than thinness or wealth.


Addendum: April D poked this topic with a "big old stick of introspection" that really heaped on more for me to think about! I highly recommend it.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Speaking Up

We were at my best friend's house, helping her and her family build an art studio, when a turning point arrived for me. Normally her household is pretty FA friendly, consisting of strong, empathetic, straightforward sort of people. Some of their near relations, however? Not so much. Her husband's brother showed up to help with the art studio wearing a tee shirt that said:

"I eat pussy like a fat kid eats cake"

Now this being a guy who hung a giant pink neoprene ball sack from his pickup truck's trailer hitch, I'm pretty used to his wearing shirts with sexual jokes on them. Since he prides himself on not caring what anyone else thinks, I doubt he even paused to consider whether he should wear this particular shirt on a day when he could expect to be surrounded by up to five fat women wielding hammers and power tools.

It wasn't my house or brother, but despite the handicap of a strong personal hospitality ethic, I spoke up. I told him his shirt was "fucking rude and obnoxious." I called it nasty. It took him a minute into the conversation to figure out that I wasn't talking about the sexual reference. I said it bluntly, but without anger. He took it well (meaning he didn't get all pissy and defensive, but then he's pretty easygoing as far as I can tell). I didn't get into FA 101 with him because I think it would be too much a challenge to his paradigm, but hopefully something got through.

The point is not whether he got it, but that I spoke up. I am too often willing to let things go rather than risk a confrontation; especially when I don't know the person very well. There's many a times when I've walked away from a situation with the "I should've said...." lines running through my head. I've often regretted being passive when I had an opportunity to speak up.

I can't promise myself that I will absolutely never shy away from a confrontation concerning prejudice (of any kind), but right now, in this case, I'm pretty proud of speaking up.

Oh, and rough framing a building in the sun when it's 95 degrees celsius and close to 100% humidity is my new definition of hell.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Basic Panties/Swimsuit Bottom

SAAS: Sewing at Any Size : Basic Panties or Swimsuit Bottom

This is my series on Sewing at Any Size, a protest against overpriced, badly constructed and badly-fitted clothing options available to anyone who isn’t shaped like a fit model.

You can see the rest of the SAAS series by clicking on the category link on the sidebar. As this will eventually become a book, please do not re-publish or re-post this material. Feel free to link to it however, or print/save for your own personal use.

Whether you’re plus size and sick of paying too much for badly-constructed underwear, or non-plus size and want to express your artistic side, the panty is the perfect place to start. We’ll start with the absolute basic panty shape, then play with alternatives (bikini, boy shorts, thong, etc.) in future posts.

The easiest way to create a pattern for panties without a single measurement is to sacrifice an existing pair. Pick apart the side seams and lay it flat. Trace it onto a piece of sturdy fabric or paper so that you have a permanent pattern for the future. You may then be able to stitch the panties back together if you’re really attached to them.

When choosing your fabric, your options are limitless as long as it’s stretch. You will also need a small piece of coordinating tee-shirt material (check the remnant bin) to sew into the crotch as a pantyliner. This is optional of course. If you’re making this into the bottom of a two-piece swimsuit, use lycra blend swimsuit material for the main piece and both the binding and liner. You can use other materials, of course, but they may not react well to continued soakings or hold the shape when wet. If you’re making a swimsuit out of non-traditional swimsuit material, test the effects of chlorine on the fabric by washing a scrap in bleach.

If you really, really want to start from scratch on the panties, start with measurements:

Measure around your hips where you want the waistband to be. Divide this number by two. We’ll call this measurement “A”.

Measure around your upper thigh right where it meets the leg. We’ll call this measurement “B”.

Decide how far above the top of the leg you want the waistband to be. For high waisted panties this will be a larger number, for low waisted it will be smaller. We’ll call this measurement “C”.

Decide how wide you want the crotch to be. This is a good time to measure an existing pair of panties! Divide the number by two. We’ll call this measurement “D”.

We’ll start by making a pattern out of scrap fabric. You can also use a piece of brown paper bag for this, since the test pattern will be relatively small. Since you want the shape of the panties to be symmetrical, start by folding your scrap fabric in half.

Trace the approximate shape below (red lines) with the dotted line on the fold of the fabric.

Now the reason why you’re using test fabric or paper is that this shape will not be perfect! Cut it out and unfold it. Try it on (holding the sides together at “C”). Remember that we don’t have any seam or hem allowances yet, so it should fit exactly. Adjust the shape as needed to fit the way you want. If it needs to be smaller or narrower, cut away until you like it. If it needs to be larger, approximate how much and cut a new piece from your test fabric (if you’re using paper you may just be able to cut pieces and tape them on to expand areas instead of cutting a whole new piece.)

Once you like the shape, you have a pattern! You can continue to construct a practice pair out of your test fabric by applying the following instructions (recommended), or jump straight to your final fabric.

Trace your pattern onto your fabric.

Add ¼” to each edge that had the measurement “C” (the ones that will become the sides.) Use a pencil, chalk, or water-soluble marking pen (you can get them from the craft or fabric store).

When you cut out the shape, include the ¼” seam allowance you just created. The lines to cut are in red dots in the figure below.

We’re going to use stretch binding to finish the panties. You can also use ½” wide lightweight elastic, folding it over the edge like regular binding. If the original fabric you used has a good firm stretch, you can use a piece of it as binding.

See this post for instructions on how to use binding!

Stretch fabric, elastic and binding are notoriously hard to work with on a sewing machine, especially when dealing with tiny measurements like these. You want to use something to stabilize the fabric while you work with it to keep it from getting sucked down under your foot plate and ruined.

The ideal stabilizer for this project is probably lightweight tissue paper. I don’t mean kleenex or TP, I mean the stuff you use in art class or stuff into the top of gift bags. This is available at craft stores and card stores, or you can save it from past gifts. Place it between the fabric and the footplate as you sew, then tear it out later. Remaining scraps should come out when you wash it, or you can pick it out fairly easily.

If you choose to use a panty liner, cut a piece of tee-shirt or other lightweight jersey the width of the crotch and approximately half the length. Hem the top and bottom ends, and sandwich the sides into the binding along with the fabric of the main panty.

Sew binding along the top and bottom edges of the panty, and along the curves that will be the leg holes (red dotted lines below). If you added a liner, make sure the binding captures both layers of fabric. Make sure you place a layer of tissue paper under the fabric as you sew.

Fold the panty up with the right side together (the side you want to show while wearing it). Stitch the sides together, leaving a ¼” seam allowance.

If the fabric you use doesn’t unravel or shred when it’s stretched, you can simple trim the seam to where you want it and be done. If it does, add a strip of zig-zag stitches to secure it (or overlock if you have it available). Trim the fabric back to the stitches.

At this point you have a very basic pair of finished panties or a swimsuit bottom. In future posts we’ll go into variations on cut, assembly and decoration.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Response to Comment

From Carmen's comment on yesterday's post:

Dear Unapologetically Fat:

I like you and have been watching your blog for a while. I consider it insightful and intelligent. I enjoy reading your personal perspectives, but think you are a little duplicitous. Certainly, you have the right to be militant about embracing your size and empowering others to embrace theirs, but in your zeal (defensiveness?) you seemingly ostracize all others. In my observation, you hold the position that if a person is not fat or secure in their fat, then they need to shut the hell up.

I think that is definitely a prejudice of a different nature. Why is it okay to be accepting of only yourself and others who tilt the scales and not those who think it's responsible to salvage their health by reducing? Not all heavy people are healthy, by the way. Does that mean that everyone who does not align their perspectives with your fat acceptance is evil? Just askin'.

PS: I fully expect you to either 1) delete this comment or 2) throw rotten verbal eggs at it.

I had too much to say to restrict it to a responding comment, so I decided to take the opportunity of having nothing else to write about today.

What I'm reading here is a classic response to any civil rights stand, in short: By asserting your right to be a human being, aren't you trying to limit my rights in the process?

It's very common when questioning the status quo of any form of prejudice to be accused of "reverse prejudice" in the process. It's why feminists are stereotyped as hating men, or civil rights leaders are accused of such nonsense as "reverse racism" or playing "race cards". (note, once again, I'm NOT playing the "my oppression is worse than your's!" game.) I've frequently seen accusations thrown at the FA community that we are somehow resentful towards thin people, or think they don't have a voice in body acceptance. The fact is that my asserting that I am a human being is a reflection of EVERYONE being a human being. I don't have to resent you in order to respect myself. That would actually be pretty counter-productive.

There's a reason why I generally don't specifically address body acceptance in terms thin people; it's because I have no experience whatsoever AS a thin person. This blog is all about my personal experience and perspective, and to try and fake the perspective of a thin person WOULD be duplicitous. I'm sorry if you personally feel left out, but (and this is important):

There is a big difference between expressing my personal voice and experience, and oppressing the voice and experience of others.

I cannot be all inclusive on this blog. I'm not a man, for instance. I regret that there aren't more men offering up their voices in FA, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'm currently abled and Cis-gendered, which means I can't speak from those experiences either, despite also hoping that those who can speak up.

Another point is that a lot of what I say DOES apply to anyone, regardless of weight. Body-image oppression against fat people IS body image oppression against thin people, young people, old people, male people, female people, etc. The hatred directed against fat affects or has potential to affect the confidence, health and body image of everyone exposed to it in any way. The very nature of Fat Acceptance is all inclusive.

I believe that everyone should be secure in their body...period. That means being secure and accepting of your weight no matter what that weight is. If your body is not inclined towards being fat, no amount of body confidence in the world will make you fat. If your body is not inclined towards being thin, no amount of body confidence (or, to that matter, dieting, surgery or willpower) will make you permanently thin.

The only people who I think need to shut the fuck up on this issue are people who want to force their ideas of healthy, fit, thin, pretty, etc. onto ME. The ones who think their opinion should have anything to do with how my body looks. That's the line between respecting your right to your opinion and adopting that opinion for my own.

Now while the first paragraph of your comment invites reasonable debate, the second is pretty trollish. I'm not going to spend nearly the time on it. Deliberately reducing your weight is NOT being responsible for your health; in fact more and more studies are showing that it is outright harmful to your health. Read the 101 section for more info, as I've gone over this many times. There are healthy and unhealthy fat people, healthy and unhealthy thin people. trying to become artificially thin is not "salvaging" anything, nor inversely is accepting your body somehow giving up on your health. Fat and Thin are not indicators of health, and only the pharmaceutical companies and Jenny Craig would have you think otherwise. This blog is about body acceptance. You cannot accept and respect your current body while seeking to change it. They are mutually exclusive states of mind. I blog about body acceptance because that is the path I'm on.

Having said that, if you feel like your body is unacceptable and you need to change it, that's your decision. Your body is none of my business. But the reverse of that is true as well. My body is none of your's. Or the CDC's. Or the Washington Post's. Or the random asshat driving by in a rusted pickup truck. The moment we go from copacetic and someone's opinion is their own is when they try to enforce THEIR opinion on MY body. Their right to an opinion ends where my body begins.

As far as thinking everyone whose opinion is different than mine is evil, that's a helluva stretch. I have strong opinions. I have a blog to express those opinions. You aren't forced to read them :-)