Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Recipe Box: Rosemary Balsamic Roast

Recipe is for about four smallish dinner-size servings of meat and potatoes.  It goes beautifully with a strongly flavored salad, like field greens with blue cheese. 

approx. 12 ounces of beef (I used 2 6oz sizzler steaks and they came out beautifully)

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 large yellow potato (or 2 red) cut into 1/2" cubes
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon whole dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
pinch salt
pinch pepper
  2 tablespoons water

mix together all ingredients except beef and and arrange around meat in a roaster pan.  Bake, covered, for 1 hour, 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Check after one hour and stir potatoes/add water as needed.

Done when potatoes are fork-tender. 

Some variations you could try include adding chopped leeks or artichoke hearts to the mix, substituting tofu or chicken, or play against the sweetness of the potatoes with a teaspoon of honey and some chopped walnuts or pecans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Giving Yourself Permission

I'm re-visiting the Fantasy of Being Thin with some friends right now, and thinking about when I gave up the one fantasy I had used as an excuse to hate my body.  When discussing this new round of examining all the people we would be if our bodies were different, JD used a key phrase that really stuck with me.  He said that you have to give yourself permission to be the person you want to be. 

He's right.  Right down inside all the fantasies is the idea that we have to conform to someone else's idea of perfect before we're "allowed" to live.  But there isn't an actual fashion police keeping me from baring my arms.  I don't have to ask permission from my friends to be confident.  Attractiveness isn't something given to you by others.

The year I blogged about my wild summer of giving up the "acceptable fatty" paradigm, I felt like I was really daring the disapproval of others by wearing tank tops and not covering up at the beach.  In retrospect, I realized that other peoples' disapproval wasn't really my problem.  They had no authority to tell me what was and wasn't okay to put on my body or show the world.  I was the only one who had that authority.  So what I was daring was my own disapproval.  What I was doing was giving myself permission.

Make a list of your fantasies...you know, the whole "when I am thin (or strong, or in less pain, etc.) I will be or do......" list.    How many of those things could you have right now, in the body you're in, if you give yourself permission?  Could you flirt more?  Dress differently?  Feel good about yourself?  Do more?  Do less?  How much of your fantasy is just you making your permission contingent on your weight or other physical attributes?  What is really stopping you from giving yourself permission right now, instead of in some hypothetical future body?

Friday, February 10, 2012

SAAS: Sewing At Every Size -- Circle Skirts

This is my SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) series on basic clothes that can be made for any size body without a commercial pattern. For other entries in the series, you can click on the Sewing topic in the sidebar category list.

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish anywhere. You are welcome to copy/print/save for your own personal use.

The Circle Skirt

I have been slowly converting my wardrobe to a 1950's theme, with classic, tailored looks including the pencil skirt and the circle skirt.

The extreme example of a circle skirt is the Poodle, but they don't have to be that costumy.  I love the clean A-line swish of the classic cut, but knee-length can be adorable for summer. 

A circle skirt is right up there with the gored or pencil skirt for the easiest thing to make. 

But first, the math.

You need the following measurements:

Your waist circumference
The length you want your skirt to fall from the waist

Yeah...that's it.  But of course in an evil bait and switch, you also need the radius of your waist circumference (i.e. half the diameter of the circle).  For a "close enough" measure, you can divide your waist circumference by 6.28.  If you had geometry in school and want to be more precise, go to it.  Otherwise you can enter your waist circumference here to have the radius calculated for you.

Add the waist radius to the length you want your skirt.  If the total is less than 22 inches, you can buy standard-width fabric.  If the total is between 22 and 30 inches, you can buy 60 inch width fabric.  If your fabric has a pattern that must be a certain way "up", you'll need to use the more complicated cutting pattern below.  Remember that you'll be adding a waistband and hem, so you can fudge about 1.5 inches. 

If you wonder whether you can do this with your waist size, do up the math before you worry.  Remember that the radius of your waist is MUCH less than your waist size (circumference). For instance, if you have a 50 inch waist, you can still make a 50" long finished skirt with 60" fabric.  For every additional 6 inches around your waist, subtract about 1 inch from your maximum skirt length.

Simple Cutting Pattern

(For those who can work with the 45" and 60" methods.)

We'll call the waist radius plus length of skirt measurement (A).

Take a length of fabric TWICE (A) long.  Flatten it out and fold it in half lengthwise (i.e. bringing cut ends together) with right sides together.  Then fold it in half the other direction.  You should have 1/4 of the fabric with one corner containing a double fold and no raw edges.

We're drawing curves, so unless you're a pretty steady hand your best method is to create your own compass.  Use a nail, heavy weight, corner of a table, etc as one end.  Tie a piece of non-stretchy string around it at least long enough to stretch to measurement (A) plus several inches. 

Put the double-fold corner of your fabric against the point you tied the string.  From that corner, measure out the waist radius you obtain earlier.  Pull the string taut to that point, and hold a pencil or piece of chalk with the string.  As you move the chalk or pencil towards either edge of the fabric, the string will force it into a curve.  You should now have 1/4 of an even circle marked on the fabric. 

From the same corner, measure out (A), which should give you the length of the finished hem.  Using the same technique with the string and chalk or pencil, draw another curve at this distance.  When you're done, the mark should be the same length from the point along both edges of the fabric.

Now, without unfolding the fabric, cut along both curves.  When you unfold the fabric, you should have a doughnut shape. 

Complex Cutting Pattern

For those who are using a fabric with a pattern that must go in a certain direction.

Using craft paper, an old bedsheet, etc, trace a square that is measurement (A) on all four sides.

Follow the tracing and cutting directions above to create a single, 1/4 slice of the doughnut. 

Trace the slice onto the wrong side of your fabric four times, and cut out each slice.

Stitch the slices together to create your full doughnut. 


Finishing the Skirt

Add a waistband to the inside of the doughnut following directions in the post on a
gored/paneled skirt HERE

Once you have a waistband, try on the skirt.  Your body shape will affect the hemline, so note if it's too long.

If it falls just right, then make a narrow hem or use binding to finish the edge without changing length. 

If it's too long, mark the point where it needs to be trimmed to, leaving 1/2 inch for a hem.  Cut  to the mark (you may want to fold the skirt in 1/4's and re-do a smooth curve as before) and hem, or leave off the hem allowance and use binding to finish the edge (recommended for stretchy fabric).

Adding some Body

For the classic full, poodle look, add some petticoats underneath, or several slips.  You can make a very simple filler with cheap netting:

Take a length of elastic that fits your waist securely but not uncomfortably tight.  Knot or stitch the ends together to make a loop. 

Cut netting into 2" strips twice the length of your skirt.

Fold each strip in half.  Set the loop of the fold (a.k.a. the bight) under the elastic, then bring the tails over the elastic, through the loop, and tighten.  This is called a lark's head knot, and anyone who has done latch hook will recognize it. 

Pull the tails tight.  Continue tying strips in lark's head knots next to each other around the elastic loop.

If you do very short strips, this looks like a tutu.  If you do longer strips, it will fill out a circle skirt pretty nicely. 

If you want to get some twirling action with the circle skirt, you can get a more finished look by simply repeating the instructions on a silky fabric or tulle to make a second skirt.  The extra layer gives you some fill, and when it flares out you get a flash of color.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to let yourself intersect

Intersectionality was originally put forth as a feminist concept, but has since spread to many other sociological arenas.  Essentially, it says that none of us live any part of our lives in a vacuum.  When we talk about fat discrimination, our gender, race, height, coloring, socioeconomic level, immigrant status, and a million other aspects of ourselves affect both the discrimination and our reaction to it.  A fat gamer has a different experience of discrimination than a fat lawyer, who has a different experience than a fat mother. 

One thing I see most people do if they are part of a subculture or non-mainstream identity is to segregate each aspect of their experience and create entirely separate lives for each one.  I am a different person when I am a gamer.  I have a specific set of gamer friends, a specific vocabulary, and a specific demeanor that comes out when I am gaming or around just gamers.  Erving Goffman and other theorists within the dramaturgical perspective would say that I have a specific gamer "mask" that I wear when I am in that environment.

A sociological mask is very different from what people call "posing."  This isn't attempting to act like someone else in order to fit in.  My gamer mask is ME.  It is an essential part of myself, with certain attributes that are emphasized and others that are de-emphasized.  For instance, I swear more.  I don't avoid swearing normally, but for some reason dice bring out the F-bombs in me.  And the aggression. You have masks of your own, unless you are extremely unusual, have certain developmental or personality disorders, or experience poor audience awareness like that which comes with the Autism spectrum.  You probably behave differently at work than at a party with friends, or with your grandparents.  You are still you, but you have adapted to your social environment.

One of the effects of this is that I keep different parts of my life separate.  If I have a party and invite both gamer friends and co-workers, I will have an internal conflict as to which mask I am in. So I don't.  I don't talk about work around my Pagan friends.  I don't talk about gaming at work. 

And here's the important bit:  I don't talk about FA much in either place, beyond "not interested in hearing about your diet" comments.   

But I am still fat at a game, at work, and at a festival. 

FA is applicable.  I just don't always overcome the barriers to talking about it.  Maybe I don't want to be seen as the "oversensitive, aggressively politically correct activist."  After all, many of the groups I'm in are not exactly socially aware and it's easy to come across as overly strident.  Maybe I just feel it is too personal.  But every now and then, something happens to remind me that it's not always personal.  Every circle of friends has people who are miserably uncomfortable in their own bodies because they have internalized hateful messages. 

So, if you're looking for a way to become more of an activist (and no one is obligated to do so), why not look close to home?  Could you start a forum or Yahoo Group for body acceptance geared specifically towards your spiritual group and invite your friends?  Could you start something for people with common interests?  Wouldn't it be cool to see an FA tattoo group called "Fat Ink"?  How about a motorcycle group called "Big Wheels"?  How about a Pagan HAES cooking group called "Magically Delicious"?  Of course these are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point.  More and more, our society is fragmenting into very specific interest groups with the power of sheer numbers on the internet to provide specific community within those groups. 

By reaching out to people who have very specific interests, you can really target your message to them.  If you have a Christian FA group, you can talk about FA in the language of Christianity (i.e. God's love for bodies and how we should love the bodies he created for us).  If you have a Pagan FA group, you can talk about FA in the language of Paganism (i.e. appreciating your body as a spiritual warrior, nurturing it as a healer, loving the strength and pleasure it gives you to experience the world.)  If you have a crafter's FA group, you can talk about altering or creating sewing patterns for people of size, or body acceptance issues in scrapbooking (i.e. dare to be in the picture!!)  You don't have to worry about alienating others by using language specific to your identity, because others in that forum share that identity. 

Here are some specific tips for starting a topic-specific FA group or thre

1.  Don't hijack existing forums.  This is important, because going into a "Dieting Vikings" forum and preaching FA is called trolling.  Create your own forum.  If you don't want to run a full forum, ask an existing group owner if you can either start a thread or send an invite for a face-to-face meeting group with like interests. 

2.  Check for interest first.  Just send a shout-out:  "Would anyone here be interested in a (thread, forum, meeting group) to talk about body acceptance and size diversity within our community?"  I did that in a local forum and got over a dozen enthusiastic responses (and no trolls).   

3.  The best part of starting in new territory is that none of it has been said before!  You can go through archives of any FA blog and find discussion topics.  Ask blog owners for permission to print copies of posts (or link to them) for reading and discussion.  Re-visit the topics that are well covered in the Fatosphere but entirely new to this group.  What a fantastic opportunity to start fresh!

4.  You don't have to be an expert to start a group.  Let people know that this is something you're just getting into and ask if anyone wants to explore it with you.  Sometimes it's even less intimidating for them that you're all new together. 

So let FA intersect with other parts of you and your life, if you feel safe doing so.  I think you'd be surprised at how relevant it really is. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

One small step for man....

One    giant   leap   for   all human rights.  Prop 8 gets one more critical blow from the justice system, which is finally living up to its name. 

A quote from Judge Stephen Reinhardt:

"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort.'"

What a great day to celebrate human dignity and diversity!

We Stand

Thank you, Marilyn Wann and all her photoshopping volunteers for putting together this project.  It means a lot to us to be able to take a stand.

If you haven't already donated to Ragen Chastain's fundraiser to put billboards up in Atlanta, GA protesting fat-shaming of children, they still need a few hundred donors to get a giant matching donation!  You can donate as little as a dollar, or as much as you'd like.  This is some real, tangible, and awesome public activism that you can be a part of. 

More information can be found at her blog Dances With Fat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 5)

This is part 5 of my series addressing the question of a caller on the first Body Love Revolution Telesummit. The caller was asking about the place for thin people (especially men) in the fat acceptance movement. Please read Part 1 for background.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

In this last post on this, I want to address the final element of the question: whether the participation of men is encouraged, threatening, or irrelevant to the FA movement.

Way back in 2009 there was a debate about men in Fat Acceptance feeling marginalized, and I commented on it.

Sadly, I think there's even fewer men blogging in the Fatosphere today than there were back then. Brian is still going at Red No. 3, and continues to be a great voice for fat men. There are a few male contributors at Axis of Fat.  Atchka posts at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties.  Those are the active bloggers I know of. (Please let me know if you're a man and I've missed your blog!) Paul Campos is also still writing articles all over the media attacking weight bias.

Feminism has always been tied closely to the FA movement, because historically women in our country have been held to a stricter and more physical standard of attractiveness than men. While most academic feminists are simply looking to be treated as equal humans, unfortunately there are some advocates of popular feminism that attempt to cast men as the enemy. They classify all men as physically, mentally, and sexually dangerous. They believe that men get a "free pass" when it comes to weight and appearance, and therefore suspect them of trying to co-opt FA and dominate the women's voices. Usually when men speak critically of feminism as "man-hating," they're speaking of a very narrow but vocal sect of feminists.

I don't blame men for feeling excluded from FA. The majority of the voices are women. The fashion posts generally cover women's clothing. A loud minority tells them they are all potential rapists and deserve to be treated as such. Add to this a societal pressure to be both strong and silent, and to take responsibility for everything that happens in the world, and you have a dearth of men willing to stand up and fight/blog for feelings of oppression.

So when encountering men in FA, a woman may ask herself "Why is he here?" Generally it's because he supports FA. Sometimes he may be seeking a sexual or romantic partner. Sometimes women will simply assume that the man is a fat admirer looking for a partner, which is a poor assumption to make. I've been told by several sources that historically, FA was focused on providing a safe and supportive atmosphere for romantic hook-ups, (including in comments earlier in this series) but while a lot of that exists today, there's a balance of political and social activism as well. 

Fat Activist Men

More and more, men are being targeted for the same body and weight issues that have been foisted on women. The rate of eating disorders in men has skyrocketed in the last decade. The ideal of the strong, muscled man has given way to the ideal of the forever slim, youthful man in popular media. Mannequins for male clothing stores are coming out with 27 inch waistlines. In a competitive job market, fat men are less likely to be hired or promoted. They are depicted as undesirable partners on TV, and are subject to the same stereotypes of lazy, weak and gluttonous as women.

Men are also under pressure to choose partners that conform to the beauty ideal set by our society. Straight men are under peer pressure to obtain the thin, large-breasted, medium-tall woman who can fit into a sample dress. A postcard on Post Secret said it best: "I love you, but I broke up with you because my friends laughed at me for dating a fat girl."

Thin men, of course have the same vested interest as all thin people in creating a size diverse society; they have family, friends, partners, children, and potential future weight changes in their lives.

All this adds up to men having a voice and role in Fat Activism. We women need to examine what we do to make them feel unwelcome in the community. Do you include content in your blog that appeals to men? I look back on my own blog and am guilty on this count. To some extent, there's a certain natural progression where women sharing their personal experiences will be more relevant to other women. But those of us that share general content may want to make an effort to include gender-neutral or gender-diverse content. How many FA women with fat male partners or friends post fashion and shopping choices they make? How many Fatshionistas include links and reviews for shops that sell large mens' options? Also, what is the tone we take when discussing men? Do we make generalizations of them as dangerous, insensitive, or sexually aggressive? Do we use value-neutral language?

The truth is that the FA community isn't yet perfectly accepting of men. But it can be.

Fat Dating

The other can of worms inherent in the question of men in FA is, of course, dating. Men who are attracted to fat women sometimes seek out FA as a way to meet potential partners. Heck, many women seek out FA as a way to meet potential partners. It's a pre-screening option against rejection due to weight bigotry. There are FA dances, outings, vacations, forums, chat rooms, and other opportunities to seek out all levels of friends and lovers.

Not everyone is looking. Some of us are in stable, monogamous or closed polyamorous relationships. Some are taking a break from romantic relationships in order to spend some "me" time and get their heads straight (I did this for a few years). Some are looking for partners of a gender that isn't yours.

And I really, really hate to have to include it, but here it is: Fat women aren't desperate. It is a common myth in our culture. Every slapstick comedy seems to trot out the big woman in a flowered dress who throws herself aggressively (to stalking/assault levels) at someone in the movie. Usually it's the man deemed least attractive by our cultural standards. If you're attracted to fat women, you'll do everyone a lot of favors if you clear this particular stereotype from your head before you seek us out.

In general, the rules for dating in FA are the same as they are for dating anywhere; don't be an asshat. Respect the No. Respect body boundaries (no touching without permission). Don't be a troll. Most visible FA women have had an experience somewhere along the lines of this, and it doesn't endear us to solicitations in general.  Keep flirtation and solicitation appropriate to the environment and context. Respect the No. This message is for men AND women. The latter sometimes feel they have license to be sexually aggressive towards men in a way they would never tolerate if the roles were reversed.

In conclusion, men are welcome and necessary to Fat Acceptance. There will always be a few people who disagree and think that FA should be some exclusive magical vagina rainbow connection, but I don't think that's a healthy or constructive way to view the movement as a whole. As with thin people, there will be fat activist women who resent men's social power, feel threatened, or simply fail to be inclusive. That is the reality. The ideal should be to realize that we can't have a fat accepting culture by only enlisting half the culture; we can only have war. We are not men or women at every size, we are human at every size.


This marks the end of this five-part series on thin/male inclusion in FA, a movement that predominantly identifies as female and fat. I'm generally open to learning, correcting and clarifying my thinking on this or most other issues; especially when it is this complex and full of subtext. So please voice your opinion in the comments if you feel I'm off track on any of these posts.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 4)

This is part 4 of my series addressing the question of a caller on the first Body Love Revolution Telesummit. The caller was asking about the place for thin people (especially men) in the fat acceptance movement. Please read Part 1 for background.

Part 2
Part 3

In this post, I'm addressing the element of the question that is how a thin person can respectfully lend their support to the movement without co-opting the voices or having personal experience as a target of weight bigotry.

1. Every Experience is Different.

Let me start off with addressing the fact that everyone has some experience with prejudice. Whether you were bullied as a child for some arbitrary reason, or received snarky comments and hostility from service personnel or people in authority, everyone has had some experience. The trouble is that most people have trouble with the abstract thinking involved in extrapolating their experience to that of others. You can't assume that everyone felt or reacted the same way, because so much depends on personality, resources, and the level of empowerment you were allowed to develop throughout your life.

So when you say you've experienced, say, prejudice as a gay man, you'll probably get a response that somehow expresses how different that experience was from that of the fat person you're talking to. If done without a lot of insight, this can lead to a "more oppressed than thou" exchange. "Sure you got fired because your boss is homophobic, but at least you can HIDE what makes you different if you choose! I can't just not tell people I'm fat! That's why I can't get hired in the first place!"

Picking apart this exchange, you find that the fat person feels that they have to somehow defend and justify their experience and feelings. You may be trying to relate to them by extrapolating an experience of your own, but they may easily take it as (a) one-upmanship or (b) an attempt to negate or minimize their experience and what they're feeling. Your experiences are your own and you are an excellent witness to them; but don't assume that your experiences are similar to another's. Comparing oppressions is a no-win situation. Turn this into a more constructive conversation that acknowledges both experiences.

2. Examine Your Privilege.

As a thin person, you have certain benefits the world grants you whether you seek them or not. When you are in FA, you need to realize that a fat person's navigation of the world is very different. It's easy to say, "why don't you just do/say this?" when you do not have the weight of many years of intimidation and damage in your history. For instance, it's easy to suggest standing up to an asshat on a bus, but doing so is an act of extraordinary courage when you've been taught all your life to not draw attention to yourself and expect violence and shame when you do.

You also have privilege when it comes to many other areas of life. Understand that when you invite a fat friend to go clothes shopping, they may not find clothes they can wear in the store you visit. In addition, going to the mall or a size-limited clothing store means standing out like a sore thumb, getting glares from supercilious staff and hearing mocking titters from other shoppers. It can be an exercise in humiliation. Respect a friend's discomfort if they don't want to go. Or, if you take a fat friend shopping, plan to spend at least as much time in stores that carry clothes they can wear.

3. Put your money where your mouth is.

Your thin privilege does give you power in the world that can be wielded quite effectively against size prejudice. Clothing stores might not be used to hearing from customers who COULD be shopping in their store, but refuse to do so until they carry quality plus-size lines. Avoid giving money to companies that promote fat-hate (i.e. Subway, Slimfast) and let them know why. You have a lot of opportunity to make a real difference.

4. Let the fat person's words be heard.

Give them a chance to speak, be visible, and be confident in defending themselves. Validate their experience. They may be grateful for you standing up to defend them in a confrontation, but if they're already doing a good job of it, be willing to take a supporting role. Encourage fat people to speak through blogs, events and forums, instead of speaking for them. Then you can add your own voice. Acknowledge that they are the best witness to their experience, especially with prejudice.

If you were in on the Thursday, 2/2 Telesummit, you would have heard a wonderful example of this practice from Linda Bacon, a fierce ally in the fight for size diversity and HAES.  She deferred to Ragen Chastain (a fat professional dancer and HAES advocate) and solicited her opinion and experience throughout the call, and made sure that she didn't dominate the conversation.  When Ragen was cut off by a technological glitch, Linda tried her best to answer a caller's question about Ragen's experience based on what she'd been told, but worded it in a way that did not co-opt Ragen's voice and recommended that the caller ask Ragen again sometime to make sure she got Ragen's answer.  She was respectful and professional. 

5. Respect the triggers.

Don't complain about your own weight. In fact, eliminate negative body talk from your conversations altogether. Don't criticize food choices, activity levels, or talk about dieting. Don't ask if someone is losing weight; especially in a tone of voice that implies that it's assumed to be a positive change. If someone wants you to know their body is changing, they will bring it up. If you don't know the triggers, be willing to listen respectfully and be corrected until you do. Every subculture has their own language, and words might not have the same connotations as you're used to (e.g. "fat" or "queer").

6. Be a model

Not the catwalk kind; the developmental learning kind. Role models also come in all sizes.  Set and defend boundaries concerning your own body. When someone gives you a size-based compliment, consider using it as an opportunity to educate the complimenter ("thanks, but I'd be just as pretty if I wasn't thin/tall/etc."). Eliminate negative body talk (your own body or anyone else's) from your vocabulary and encourage those around you to do the same. Don't let doctors (or anyone else) make assumptions about your health based on your size. Refuse to be weighed in the Doctor's office if it's not relevant to treatment, and let them know why. Love your body and yourself at your size. Regardless of your weight, you can inspire others and act as a template for their own behavior.

As I've said, everyone (fat or thin) has a stake and voice in reducing size prejudice in our culture! I feel that even if a thin person adopts none of these, diets constantly, and still believes that people deserve the same human rights regardless of size, they are part of the solution and deserve the same kudos we give anyone who raises a hand for what they feel is right. We're all in this together.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my series addressing the question of a caller on the first Body Love Revolution Telesummit. The caller was asking about the place for thin people (especially men) in the fat acceptance movement. Please read Part 1 for background.

Part 2 was posted yesterday. 

In Part 2, I addressed whether there is specific hostility towards thin people in FA. In this post, I want to address the part of the caller's question asking whether thin people are welcomed as part of the "family" in FA.

There's a lot of crossover with the last section, but there are also enough nuances here to warrant its own posting. Here's the thing; you can fight with a group you don't identify as part of in order to secure rights for that group. But that doesn't change your identity or your privilege.

As much as we are all fighting for the idea of equality and for all humans to be treated as humans regardless of size, we fat people cannot completely ignore the fact that for thin people, this is a choice. They are already accepted. In fact they are held up as the ideal. They can't help this anymore than I can help being considered the opposite. That's what privilege means; you are granted a certain social status based on criteria outside of your reasonable control.

I consider myself an ally of the LGTBQ community. I write my government representatives on LGTBQ issues, push for awareness amongst the people close to me, and try to confront prejudice when I encounter it. I also vote. But all the advocacy I can engage in does not make me part of the "family". There is always a certain divide between me and my experiences, and my LGTBQ friends. I have privilege. I can get married, talk about my partner at work without retribution or stigma, and generally not have to worry about being subject to a certain kind of discrimination in housing, employment, or service because of my identity as straight and cis-gendered. When someone complains that they encountered LGTBQ bigotry, I can listen and empathize, but I can't relate. Not on the same level as someone who has also had that experience. I can try to extend my own experiences with fat discrimination, but it really isn't the same.

I have many thin friends who don't see me as a body size. But every now and then one of my thin friends will say something. They will talk about their latest diet, or complain about the size of their hips, or laugh over a "huge" pair of pants at a clothing store without remember that I wear an even larger size. They will make an unwitting comment that they would have never made if they knew it was hurtful, but their experience does not fully sensitize them to the nuances of fat prejudice. I expect this, and suspect other fat people do as well. There is a certain wariness and awkwardness I sometimes feel around thin people who aren't aware of their privilege. They may accept me, but they also have a certain power to hurt me. Even if they never use it, I can't ignore that power.

This is why only fat people can make fat jokes, or why only gay people can make gay jokes, or why only women can make cracks about PMS. This is the perfect example to highlight a very subtle form of otherness. I can make a joke that expresses my identity or my frustration with associated issues. You can't, because you are making them from the outside. It does make a difference.

Just to prevent anyone from thinking I'm throwing stones here, I want to give an example where it was entirely my fuck-up. I heard the other day that Canadian airlines are not allowing people to fly if their dress and appearance doesn't match the gender on their driver's license or I.D. I was really angry, and made a snarky crack about how Canada is forcing people to cross-dress in order to fly. My intention was to validate people's gender identity and highlight the ridiculousness of the rule. If a woman was born male (Canada won't change gender on official documents unless you're post-op) then she would have to dress up like a man in order to get on the plane. Here's the problem; I'm cis-gendered. As an outsider, my joke could just as easily be interpreted as reinforcing Canada's justification for the rule by saying it was easy to just put on different clothes for the flight. My intentions don't count; only the effect of my words. Luckily I have people around who call me on this kind of thing so that I can stop acting unintentionally like a jackass.

Now after pointing out the otherness, let me emphasize that I'm NOT saying thin people aren't welcome in this movement. Thin people have a vested interest in supporting size diversity, and we fat people need to acknowledge it. Thin people have friends, family, children, past and future size changes, employees, employers, and a hundred other reasons why they, personally, need to create a world without size prejudice. They are bombarded with "conform or die" messages every day that try to convince them to hate and fear others. They are told that their privilege, worth, attractiveness and health are contingent on never looking different. Thin people have a place and voice in the fight for size diversity! It's important for everyone promoting diversity of any kind to examine assumptions and privileges, and respect that each person comes with their own experiences and motivations.

In addition, fat and thin are arbitrary designations on what is really a spectrum. I have a size 10 friend I think of as thin, but she frets about what she sees as excess weight. As one of the speakers in the first telesummit said, we have the right to self-identity.

The ideal is to bridge the gap and eliminate any feeling of otherness between fat and thin people. We are fighting for humanity at every size. The reality, however, is that many fat people feel more comfortable around other fat people.  They know that the other fat person "gets it" on a level that a thin person can't. They will be friends with thin people, and there are often very close relationships with empathetic thin people that bridge the gap. There are many who truly see all people as part of the human family.  But there are others who still struggle with validating their own identity and their right to it. There are many who have had such devastating and traumatic experiences with thin people (even "best friends" who really weren't) that it takes time and familiarity to build trust. If you're a thin person in FA, you're very much welcome, but everyone on the fat-thin identity spectrum must bring patience and understanding to the table. We are not activists in a vacuum, and our lives have generally involved some wear and tear on the soul. Acknowledging the reality is the first step towards enacting change.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my series addressing the question of a caller on the first Body Love Revolution Telesummit. The caller was asking about the place for thin people (especially men) in the fat acceptance movement. Please read Part 1 for background.

I use "she" in this post because I am, in part, talking about my own experience in FA and I identify as female. This should not be taken to mean that people of other genders have not had the same experience or aren't welcome voices in FA.

The first part of the question outlined in Part 1 was whether we (i.e. fat acceptance activists) are hostile towards thin people. I think Marilyn Wann nailed this when she said we want to be all accepting, but, she said, there is still envy out there. While we would all like to think that once we become advocates for size diversity we suddenly consider everyone to be just like us, the truth is that we don't become activists in a vacuum. Many become activists because they are angry.

You see this often in anything that could be considered counter-culture. Some Pagans resent Christians. Some women resent men. Some fat people resent thin people. It is a perfectly natural first step towards breaking away from dominant culture; first reject the culture. My favorite name for it is the "Jan Brady Syndrome." See, as fat people, thin people are held up to us on a constant basis by everyone around us with the message "why can't you be more like Marcia?" This is a classic conflict between siblings, and often leads to trouble whether on the micro or macro scale. They are the ideal, and we are the failure. How can anyone come away from that without some resentment?

It is only after we have broken away and put space between us and the false ideal, and learned to love ourselves as we are and for what we can do, that this anger fades. It's something we should all work towards, with self-forgiveness and patience. Remember, though, that a freshly minted fat activist is just now struggling with the idea that they spent all their lives fighting desperately and futilely towards being just like Marcia, engaging in self-loathing and harm along the way. She has just had the massive paradigm shift that not only is she okay just as she is, but has ALWAYS been okay, even when everyone was telling her she wasn't. This is an amazing, liberating, uplifting revelation. But it also makes us angry. Really angry. We've wasted decades of our lives hating ourselves unnecessarily, envying the effortlessly skinny girls who had everything we wanted. We are conflicted, and ready to lash out.

This is why you see people projecting that frustration by making claims that fat people are somehow better than thin. You see slogans about how "real women" have curves (or eat cake, etc.). This is a defensive posture, because we still feel like we have to fight to assert and accept our identity as a fat person. We call thin people twigs, or make snide comments about them needing a cheeseburger. This is a perfectly normal psychological move to convince ourselves that we are normal, desirable, and generally okay. It is pushing back. We are making space for ourselves not only in the world, but in our heads.

Many people have moved beyond this stage. It should be a stage. We should actively work towards making it as short as possible. Some people skip it altogether, or only need a week. Some people need years. However long it takes, it takes.

What does this mean for thin people who have thrown their effort, their indignation, and sometimes their reputations in with us to fight for size diversity? It means you need a certain level of patience. You need to understand that it isn't personal. You can set specific boundaries with your FA friends and colleagues (i.e. "please don't make snarky comments about thin people; I identify as one and those comments are hurtful to me.") without getting on a soapbox or exchanging like for like. You can acknowledge the history and hurt, the defensiveness and fear that if we let our guard down for even a moment, our thin friends may cause us pain by some unthinking comment or action. It means really examining thin privilege, and knowing that it's difficult for us that we speak the same message, but yours is the only one people hear. That's why we can make fat jokes, but you can't. Even though you can't help the way you're made anymore than we can.

What does this mean for fat people fighting for body diversity? Remember that thin people have a personal, vested effort in making this a world where body diversity is the norm. They have privilege, but they do not live in a vacuum. They have friends, family, children, spouses, employers, employees, and others affected by prejudice. They may be recovering from or have an eating disorder triggered by our culture's fear of fat. They may gain weight as they age and want to be able to still love themselves. They are bombarded every day with messages that their worth to the world and the love they experience is contingent entirely on them not allowing their bodies to change. We also need to remember that thin people can't help the way they're made. They're living the size they come in.

The ideal (and goal) should be for everyone to acknowledge that we are all part of the same human family. We all come in the size we are, and none of us can help it. We should acknowledge that the very thin people suffer prejudice and snark and negative assumptions about their mental and physical health, and that the medium thin have to fight falling into our cultural trap of obsessing about their weight to stay thin.

But we're talking about human beings here, with human fallibility and emotions. The anger is a reality that must be acknowledged, respected, and resolved.  Remember that we cannot control our emotions, and have a right to feel them.  What we can control is what we do with and in reaction to those emotions.  Do we use them constructively or destructively?

It's not reasonable to expect us to become enlightened overnight, anymore than it's reasonable to expect everyone to examine and relinquish social privilege on demand. It's been five or more years and I still struggle with the little commenter in my own head that sees a very thin girl and starts diagnosing eating disorders (especially now that I've been studying the DSM).  I still experience some sharp stab of envy when I see someone in awesome retro clothes I can't wear.  With a lot of patience, though, I can work towards the ideal of letting that go and respecting all bodies the way I want to be respected. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 1)

I was in on the fantabulous Body Love Revolution Telesummit on Tuesday (There's still time to register for upcoming sessions!). A question came up that I think needs much closer analysis. The caller organized diversity events on his campus (hooray for him for considering size diversity!). He asked how and whether thin people, specifically thin men, are accepted as voices or advocates in this whole Fat Acceptance movement. It was a really thoughtful, and painfully real question.

The first thoughts that came into my head were about Malcolm X. Whatever you think of any or all of his messages, he did advance the idea of self-determinism; that a minority group does not have to rely on the majority to represent their voice or be a witness to their experience. He believed that if a group was not protected from hate and bigotry, they must protect themselves. This is why straight people are allies of the LGTBQ community, but not always accepted into every community as a full member of the family. It is about standing up for yourself, because being dependent on another person to approve you or vouch for you in order to be okay is NOT okay.

We as a fat acceptance movement have sometimes needed advocacy from thin people. I remember the introduction to Paul Campos's book, where the publisher would only take the book if Campos was thin. Likewise, Linda Bacon's advocacy success may be based, in part, on the fact that she is thin. Our voices must often be carried by thin people where they normally wouldn't go. This is not a bad thing. These people helped carve out huge chunks of new territory for us to carry the diversity message, and provided us with the strong empiric ammunition we needed to fight the good fight. On the other hand, they have a very different experience and perspective from Marilyn Wann, or Peggy Howell. They acknowledge and fight against size bigotry, but they have not really experienced it.

So when the caller asked this question, he's asking a few things. He's asking whether we are hostile towards thin people. He's asking whether thin people are welcomed as part of the "family". He's asking how a thin person can respectfully lend their support to the movement without co-opting the voices or having personal experience as a target of bigotry. He's asking whether the participation of men is encouraged, threatening, or irrelevant to the movement. It was a damn good, but complex question.

I will be giving my answers to these questions over the next week or so, trying to tackle each area of a complex web of activism and identity. Your mileage may absolutely vary, because there is no "one true way" of any movement. You may have answers to these questions that are very different from mine, because your experience and paradigm are very different from mine.