09 February 2015

Fat people should speak for fat people!

Like many of us* who use the internet to say what we think, I get hate mail from time to time. The flavour of it varies – sometimes it's really vitriolic, other times it has this hurt and surprised quality – but the bottom line is always: SHUT UP! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SPEAK!

I found this little comment in my spam folder:
"surely if you want to blog about obesity you should not be fat yourself sorry but it dont make sence"
I usually delete this kind of thing because I think it's stupid. But this one was accompanied by the author's email address, which I Googled. This person is a bit of a troll and I was amused by two of their comments elsewhere: "i agree i am a real asshole and love to piss off people," and "i am a liar i find it helps me get my way and get attenshun". So true!

Anyway, enough about them. I was interested in the gist of what they said, which I think is something like: if you are fat you have no right to talk about it, you are a failed person and can never be considered an expert of your own life, it's nonsensical to think otherwise. The only people who should talk about fat are thin people, preferably anti-obesity professionals of some kind. I might be reading more into this than the commenter offered, but this is where it took me regardless.

I've come across this conviction in lots of places, not just mean commenters. It's a fundament of fatphobia, about reminding you of your place as a fat person and reinforcing the rights and entitlements of the medical industrial complex to your body and your life. It silences and diminishes fat people through fear. I've met many fat people who are waiting for their lives to begin and Fat Studies scholars, like Hannele Harjunen, have written about this process, it's a recognised thing. People are waiting for romantic rescuers, medical miracles, an elusive feeling of self-confidence, whatever, and they'll be waiting forever as far as I can see.

I'm giving the mean commenter special attention here because I disagree with them completely and I want people to know it. As a fat person it is vital that I write about fat and obesity (yeah, they're different) and don't leave this to the others, whoever they may be. Claiming my own life, connecting with others, that's where the power is. It does make sense.

*people who are not entitled and privileged white guys

05 February 2015

The jolly fat person makes the normals feel better

Not so long ago I gave a talk at a conference where I described an event that I had co-produced. The subject matter was serious, but I like to throw in a laugh or two when I talk, especially if I'm presenting to a bunch of chin-stroking academics. This lot must have been starved for humour because they really went for it. I was pleased. Later, in the Q&A part of the talk, someone asked me a question that prompted me to reveal some slightly less jolly facts about the thing I had been talking about. People seemed quite shocked by my disclosure, but I felt that it was important they see the reality of what I work with.

The conference organisers and speakers went to a dinner that evening and the person in charge came and sat and talked with me. She was a senior academic, a little bit drunk and braggy, exuberant, thin, kind of posh, straight. She said that she enjoyed my talk but thought it was a real shame that I had disclosed the hard stuff. It had ruined the moment. I felt angry but I smiled and nodded because I didn't want to be blamed for destroying this moment too whilst eating fancy food that her department had paid for.

I thought: this is what oppression looks like. She wants to hear the funny stuff, the joy, which is an undeniable part of my life, but not the struggle. I suspected that she'd rather I hadn't mentioned that part so that she could carry on thinking that everything is fine. She didn't want to engage with my reality, even though she was pretending to do just that.

It's taken me a while to write about this incident because I realise that, up until now, I felt that I had to protect other people. I was worried that if I said what I actually thought, it would make life difficult for people I actually do care about who sometimes have dealings with her. Maybe there would be some knock-on effect on me too, that has certainly happened in the past. This is also oppressive.

This is a small interlude. I don't have much more to add, just wanted to get it off my chest. I suppose I'm offering it as an illustration of a micro-aggression, dressed up as something else. Maybe she thought she was on my side or something, enlightened and enlightening me. It's like a sibling behaviour to concern trolling, or a kind of concern trolling, hatred that is kind: I need you to be happy so that I can feel ok about your oppression.