June 9, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
Once upon a time, I tried running a group blog dedicated to makeup. It was fun, but really difficult to generate enough content for. It died, as many things on the internet do – with only the best of intentions.
However, Tumblr offers a different format and some capabilities that make a huge difference. And so I have REVIVED the chicken:
Right now, bugawk.com doesn’t reflect the content on the Tumblr but once I figure out how to make it work, the domain should start showing new content. For now, if you’re interested in social theory and makeup combined with a lot of q&a, the Makeup Chicken tumblr might be just what you’re looking for!
And if you’ve got questions, please do ask them! If you’ve got recommendations, please share!
June 6, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
When I get up in the morning and get dressed, I always check myself in a full-length mirror. I want to make sure everything is going together the way it did in my head – but I also want to stay used to my own image. Looking at myself shouldn’t be difficult, you know?
The problem is that my mirror only shows one angle. And unless I go out of my way to see myself from all angles, there are views I just never see.
We were walking down the hall on the final Wiscon party night when my friend Julia told me to pause so she could take a picture. I saw it a few days later – and I’m always glad for that distance.
This is what I look like from the back. Well, this is what I look like from the back when I’m wearing a tight dress (thanks, crossbonesdj, for passing this dress on to me!) and Fluevogs. *grin* Because we’re all sort of trained to zero in on what our mainstream beauty paradigm tells us is “wrong” with our bodies, the first thing I saw was the little rolls of my backfat.
The great thing about seeing my body on a regular basis is that I’m not surprised I have little rolls of fat on my back. I’m a fat person. That’s how my fat hangs out on my back, y’all. It’s all fine. But I did surprise myself by thinking it was kind of cute in this picture.
It’s amazing to me how much we talk about our preferences – not because we don’t have preferences but because they are frequently cast as immutable. And, certainly, there are some things that we all like or dislike that we will always like or dislike. I will probably never love English peas, for example.
Of course, other people can enjoy English peas and I am fully supportive of this. I’m not out there making up bumper sticks or opening anti-English-peas gyms. Just saying.
But when I loathed my own body, I didn’t think back fat was cute. I actually remember the first time I DID think it was cute – it was part of an illustration for a now defunct magazine, the name of which I don’t even remember. It was just a little roll and it was cute.
Because I don’t loathe my body, I am free to like all sorts of things I’m technically not supposed to. At least, things I’m not supposed to like according to the diet industry that influences the culture around me. *snort* And because I don’t have to loathe my body, wearing a tight dress that shows off parts of my body I’m not supposed to love is… well, it’s not that isn’t a big deal. It’s that why do I care if this dress shows my back fat? There is nothing WRONG with my back fat!
That’s why the code of “flattering” irritates me to such an extreme degree. Because even if a garment doesn’t actively make us look smaller, we’re told, it’s supposed to “minimize our problem areas” – never supposed to highlight them. It’s like we’re not supposed to admit that we have flesh.
I have flesh. In abundance, y’all. I have little rolls on my back when I stand up and that’s what they look like in a tight dress.
It’s kind of awesome.
June 2, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
Hey, this is pretty cool! My first post on class, fatness, and Southern identity has been syndicated on BlogHer.com! There’s a little conversation already starting if anyone wants to continue some of the conversations we started here.
Read it here!
And check out my fancy button. *grin*
June 1, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
Yes, it’s a continuing series. It’s a big topic, y’all.
I talk about my own class background not in an attempt to gain some sort of cred but to give this discussion a framework. The idea of passing despite background highlights, at least for me, how class is generational rather than situational when you’re talking about identity politics. In other words, class identity is determined by more than personal circumstance. Even if a family member succeeds in the ever-elusive bootstrapping, it’s longevity that determines whether or not class boundaries have been successfully crossed.
In that way, class identity can be liminal, interstitial. My class identity exists in the spaces between two identities, on both sides of some imaginary boundary.
Because class is a complex category, absolutely. There is no single marker of it. And while some dispute fiscal indicators as being indicative of class, I’d say it’s still a big part of it. Middle class, as a category, grows increasingly murky as income continues to stagnate and the economy continues to quaver. But there still seems something quite distinct there, at least to me, particularly when it comes to the type of work that people do and the kinds of concerns that they have.
One thing that does serve as a class indicator, in many people’s experience, is weight. While there are fatties roaming around every walk of life, there is a correlation between poverty and fatness. There’s a lot of effort spent to say this is a causal relationship – that it’s the eating habits of those with lower incomes that make them fat. And it’s probable that there is something causal; though it’s worth noting that even solving the problem of food deserts would not solve obesity at a class level because there are lots of reasons people are fat – or are fatter than they might otherwise be. Food politics in the U.S. center so obsessively on fatness that the real issues, issues of access, get obscured and only addressed through the lense of “zomg fat!” It’s ridiculous and actively harmful for the population in a way that fatness will never be.
I’m not sure that people look at fatties and judge them to belong to a lower class than they occupy; I don’t know that it functions that obviously. But I do know countless fatties who are afraid of looking like “those people.” We all know those people – fatties who are mocked, even and sometimes especially by their fellow fatties, because they don’t dress in some way that is considered fashionable. It’s the group of fatties who have “let themselves go” because they ostensibly don’t know or care enough to conform to “the minimum” of our mainstream standards of social acceptability. It’s the group of fatties who are poor and fat, who are presented with minimal options and who are often facing all sorts of intersections of oppression when it comes to receiving adequate medical care and education.
No one wants to look like a poor fat person – especially the upwardly mobile.
This motivates a lot of fatties to feel like they must present a certain way – and at a certain level – at all times. Julia Starkey wrote an essay about fatness and uplift that was included in Lessons From the Fat-o-sphere. It’s worth finding a copy of the book, y’all. (And I don’t just say that because I like selling copies of my book.) Uplift can, at least in part, be summarized by that oh-so-familiar saying: dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Uplift is about presentation, about trying to control the way other people, unfriendly viewers and friendly viewers alike, see you and judge you.
Controlling how other people interpret the signifiers you put out into the world is a fucking hell of a job. In fact, it’s a pretty damn impossible job, by and large, because people bring their own perspective – and prejudices – to their gaze.
No matter how nicely I dress in an effort to signify “middle class” or “competent” or whatever, some people are going to read “big sloppy fatty.” There is no getting out of this. That’s why I get so frustrated when people deny that bodies and fashion are political, and why it seems so counterproductive and harmful when fat people police each other – when fatties tear each other apart, it’s body policing that seems to spring from a deep fear of association. If other fatties look “that way” then there is a greater chance people, people we are desperately trying to prevent from judging us harshly, will see us and think of the other.
Think of the way middle-aged working class men are portrayed in sitcoms; they are almost universally fat to some degree. The young men can be as well – though plenty of those characters get the beefcake treatment instead.
When you’re trying your best to cross class barriers, things like the associations other people make when looking at your body become a big issue. Particularly when our fattest states and our poorest states tend to overlap. And those states tend to be in the American South.
When I was seven years old, I was a tall-for-my-age skinny kid. I started to fill out after a summer with my great-grandmother, and the general trend toward fatness was established. But, given the way dieting only makes us fatter, there’s actually no telling what my body would have done without intervention. What I know was that, unknown long-term consequences aside, making me diet was an expression of my family’s love and concern – and fear. Because my family is very focused on improvement. I was a smart kid – but they were keenly aware that being fat was and is considered a social drawback.
It isn’t uniquely Southern, this fear of fatness. But I think the Southern preoccupation with appearance (families often have no boundaries but oh, the shame if someone outside the family knows our troubles) that is so common does come into play, does emphasize that looking the right way is one way to reach a little higher, gain a little more ground.
This factors into the way racism continues to function in the South as well. There is an image of what it means to be successful – and that image is a white image.
There’s a lot of leeway for behavior and income and other class indicators of that nature. But in the South, people know what upperclass LOOKS like – and what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look fat.
May 24, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
Alas, this is not a post about Doctor Who.
Going to the gynecologist. Ah, that imperative ritual of having a uterus.
It’s just about that time of year for me again – but because my doctor moved out of state, I have to find a new person I can trust to examine my area, inside and out, for general healthfulness. Finding someone to poke at my parts in a medical sense is actually way more aggravating to me than the examine itself. So I have some techniques for making the whole process a lot less painful. Metaphorically. If there’s physical pain, there’s something else going on. I thought it would be a good idea to share these tactics – I know going to the doctor is almost always fraught. It can be even more so when you’re going to wind up wide-legged on a table.
Before I take my pants off with anyone, I need to know a little bit about them.
This counts for dates and it counts for doctors, too. In fact, it counts EXTRA for doctors – they’re working for me and I’m paying them!
Before I go to any doctor, much less one who expects me to get naked on a table and submit to invasive exams, I call and do a quick phone interview. These are the questions I ask:
What is your office policy when it comes to the treatment of fat patients?
Is the practice familiar with and do you support Health At Every Size (HAES)?
What’s the largest size gown you have readily available?
How likely are you to market weight loss surgery to me?
Do you have large-size blood pressure cuffs in your exam rooms?
How do you respond if patients refuse to be weighed? Do you allow people to be weighed standing backwards?
These are some pretty straightforward questions. Not knowing what HAES is doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker – but the reaction of whoever is on the phone with me can be very revealing about the culture of that particular doctor’s office.
Remember – if you have any other concerns, this phone screening is a good time to mention them. Are you a trans man? This is a vital chance to make sure no one is going to give you any grief. Are you disabled? This is a vital chance to make sure they’ll accommodate you as needed without making you feel like shit. And so on.
Note that, at this point, you’re probably talking to whoever is on the phone. That is totally cool. Nurses and nurse practitioners are a huge part of creating and maintaining the environment and atmosphere of a practice. Even if the doctor is friendly, if the nurses aren’t, it might not be an office you want to visit.
Make sure to have a couple of offices you can call – don’t put all your eggs in one, um, ovary. So to speak. It’s also best to make these calls when you don’t have a particularly urgent issue. Remember, this person is going to be working for you. You want to come at this from a place of comfort and power, not a place of fever and emergency.
Once I have my list, I’ll go over my impressions. I don’t have the fiscal luxury of making appointments with multiple doctors, but if I did, I would absolutely schedule consults with a couple of different people. Schedule a consultation – not an exam – if at all possible. That’ll give you a chance to get to know this doctor in person, even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes, when you aren’t under the gun of illness. That’s important.
SETTING UP THE FIRST VISIT:
I like to schedule appointments in the morning. I don’t really like going to an office after I’ve been running around all day – always makes me worry I’m sweaty and gross. Rather than worry, I schedule for my prefered time as often as possible.
Remember, you want to arrange this appointment in a way that minimizing your own anxiety. Doctor’s are busy, absolutely. But you have to ask for what you need – if you need to arrange a time when you won’t be waiting in the lounge out front for very long, tell the person scheduling the appointment that and explain it’s due to anxiety. They’ll often be very willing to work with you.
And if they aren’t, it might be a good idea to move to the next doctor on your list.
THE FIRST VISIT ITSELF:
Remember all that advice people give to teenagers about to take tests like the SAT and the ACT? That’s pretty good advice for your first visit to a new doctor, too.
If you’re able, get a good night’s sleep beforehand. If you’re able, eat something small and easy on the stomach to help settle you.
Have your important paperwork (insurance cards, any necessary medical documents, etc.) ready beforehand so you aren’t scrambling to find it once you get to the office.
Remember, you can take a letter to be included in your file (I think I got this from Stef at cat-and-dragon). It can include your history with doctors, any discussion of your anxiety that you wish to share, your stance on weight loss, and the purpose of the your visit. It can include anything you want it to. And you can hand that to the doctor and expect them to read it. If you’re comfortable having a conversation, go for it. But it’s always good to have this stuff documented.
This first visit is a good time to let the nurse and/or doctor know if you prefer not to be weighed. If you are comfortable being weighed, or with being weighed backwards, that’s a good conversation to have, too.
AFTER THE FIRST VISIT:
Evaulate – how’d it go? Did the doctor treat you with respect? Did the doctor make eye contact? Would you feel comfortable going to this person with an actual medical issue? If yes, schedule an appointment for an exam! If no, if at all possible, repeat the process with a different doctor from your list.
This applies no matter what kind of doctor you’re seeing. You are putting yourself in a vulnerable position when you go to the doctor, particularly the gynecologist. That means it needs to be someone you can at least trust not to abuse you.
An actual gynecological exam isn’t running through a field with rainbows and kittens. But it also tends to be fairly quick, and most doctors seem to be at least cognizant that it isn’t a happy fun position to be in. Doctors conduct exams differently, of course. But most will do the initial intake exam before you have to take off your clothes. A good doctor will talk to you and let you know what’s going on throughout the exam – which, again, shouldn’t take all that long once they get going. If you are ever uncomfortable or feeling panicky, tell the doctor to stop. Even when they’re in the middle of an intrusive exam, they work for you.
May 20, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
I was chatting with a coworker about rainbows today. (It’s a long story.) The end of the conversation was, essentially, me saying that sometimes I like to dress to piss people off – I like to use color and texture and certain pieces of clothing really aggressively to provoke reactions.
That falls into line with something I’ve been thinking about lately – the way that fat women are expected to dress in ways that are ostensibly minimizing but that, in reality, are really about us occupying less visual real estate. No bold colors, no stripes, nothing that would ever make us look bigger. It’s not that some of those rules are genuinely about looking slimmer – it’s that we draw less attention to ourselves when we comply with fashion rules. We occupy less space, metaphorically if not physically. We minimize ourselves for the comfort of other people.
It reinforces the sense of shame we’re supposed to feel because of our bodies, until we police ourselves.
People get angry when we deviate from these rules, not just because we AREN’T FOLLOWING THE RULES, but because it makes them take notice of us. When we refuse to fade quietly into the background, people have to register not only our presence but the space we take up as valid – there’s no imagining that we aren’t there, that we aren’t taking up more than one seat on the train, that we aren’t noncomforming and unashamed of it.
As I’ve discussed here before, I’ve always dressed funny – but when I got really into fat acceptance, I started dressing really aggressively. Not necessarily in a sexy way (though I definitely had my fair share of outfits that played into that). Rather, I dressed in a way that was a deliberate attempt to provoke response. I do that with color a lot – both by wearing bright colors and by wearing colors that don’t “match”.
I wear ugly clothes, with great deliberation. I’ll also wear stuff that is considered “tacky” with great delight – at some point I’ll finish putting together a roller skating outfit that incorporates high-waisted shorts, bright tights, and some kind of top (I’m not sure what I want this to be yet – maybe something with a bow). And when I wear it, people will be horrified.
People will be horrified by clothes.
How ridiculous is that, y’all?
I’m a nonsexy-dressing femme for the most part. Heteronormative goals of “sexy” aren’t usually part of my repetoire even when I’m wearing something low cut (which doesn’t happen all that often anymore, for some reason). But clothes that draw attention, outfits that aren’t designed to disguise my bulk? HELL YES. I have no interest in blending in. I have even less interest in catering to those who wish my body didn’t exist.
Every now and then it will hit me with a hardness just how much some people hate fat bodies. Sometimes I’ll step back and be a bit more quiet while I take care of myself. But generally, I pull out the red lipstick and the largest hair possible to wear with a tight dress. Because, while I often put the comfort of other people before my own, fuck that.
I wonder if this is why so many radical fatties dress in ways that could be described as ostentatious. My fat friends who are more conservative, not through body shame but just because they really like khakis and the like, don’t see as much representation – maybe it’s because their preferences, which are totally valid, can sometimes align with the clothes the rest of us are rejecting as a strange sort of costume.
There’s also a double standard, I suspect. Because people often comment on my outfits like they are outrageous when they’re really quite tame. The only thing remarkable about my habit of little grey dresses is that I FOUND so many little grey dresses in my size. The bar is just set a lot lower. “Oh,” people say, “that plus-sized woman is a snappy dresser” – because my clothing coordinates.
Visibility is, of course, one powerful way toward normalization – though more and more I hate the word normal these days. I just don’t think it exists for most people. And so I reassert that clothing and style can be radical acts of political rebellion. When we make people SEE US and acknowledge not only our presence but our requirement for space, we are refusing to conform in significant ways, the effects of which ripple out into the rest of society.
Being visible can be dangerous. And so I don’t think it is an obligation for anyone to become actively visible in their community or, you know, at the mall. I don’t think anyone needs to deny their own personal preferences (though it is always worth considering what motivates those preferences). But I want to say this: I NOTICE YOU. I SEE YOU. I SUPPORT YOU.
And I dress to be seen as well. Not only because I am not ashamed of my body but because I will not be ignored for the comfort of people who aren’t used to seeing fat bodies in a positive light. I don’t often directly challenge people – I think that’s kind of coercive and what works for me might not work for you. But I want to challenge y’all this time: just think about it. Think about the ways we blend, the way we accommodate those who hate us. Think about your own comfort zone and ways of making yourself safe. I think we just need to think.
And, you know, maybe wear brightly colored horizontal stripes. But that might just be me.
May 19, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
Note: It’s important to stress here that, while I am discussing class, if there’s anything resembling a nasty remark about my family, I’m not putting up with it. I love them fiercely and if you need to judge, you need to damn well do it elsewhere. I was close to not posting this at all because a lot of it is personal; but it’s also an important conversation.
The concept of passing privilege is one I’ve seen talked about a lot in both discussions of race and of gender. It means, most simply, that you pass for something you are not considered to actually BE when it comes to mainstream society. That means a person can pass as white – and receive the privilege that entails. That means a person can pass as cis-gendered – and receive the privilege that goes along with being cis-gendered (at least to a point). Passing seems, in these examples, a dangerous proposition – because if a person ever fails to pass, other people who have made a lot of (uninvited or invited) assumptions feel betrayed and, all too often, turn to violence.
Because passing can be so fraught, I hate to borrow the term for my own purposes here in discussing class (and I’ll get around to fat as well – this is going to be a series); yet it seems the most apt at the moment.
When people look at me (and my extensive wardrobe) I’m pretty easily pegged as solidly middle class. I wear a really good dress made of middle-class acceptability, middle-of-the-road class identity. I work an office job in an urban area. I travel for work and recreation. I own a computer and a smart phone. My income puts me in this bracket, as do my actions, my education, my interests, and my expectations for what I should be able to accomplish.
But sometimes I think I am only passing as middle class.
One thing you have to understand is that my mother’s family and my father’s family come from two very different places. My father’s family is very country club. They have a restrained sense of being well-off about them – they live and travel internationally on a frequent basis. My dad went to boarding school in Switzerland for a while. My mom, though: my dad met my mom when she was still in high school. He was in the small north Florida town, attending a community college with a special program not available all over, and the two of them started dating.
Family rumor is that my grandparents weren’t too exicted about the relationship – which led to my mom dropping out of high school the last semester of her senior year to marry my father. She’s never gotten a GED or otherwise continued her formal education. My dad finished his two-year degree and, for a very long time, was the only person on either side of the family to have gone to college.
My dad’s family is full of wonderful people. But they are kind of restrained and we’ve never been what I would call close. When I think of family, I think of them, absolutely. But mostly I think of my mother’s family.
My mother’s family is a sprawling working-class clan. No matter what, because they have their pride, they would never identify themselves as poor; that doesn’t change the reality that some of them are poor. They all believe in bootstraps and making a better life for their children, but that’s been difficult to realize in any sort of meaningful way for most of them. I don’t say this as a passing of judgment: they are my family and they are a part of me and I am a part of them. But it’s reality. The fences between class identities keep getting higher all the time.
Sometimes I think the reason I love Faulkner is because his people feel like my people – they all feel like family all the time.
My mother’s family is my primary influence when I think of the way things are and the way family IS. But my father’s family has never been without influence. Not only did marrying my father temporarily pull my mother out of a small-town semi-rural area, it guaranteed at least a window into some other worlds for me. I attended a private school for kindergarten and first grade. I received a near-endless supply of books. I had relatives (especially my great-grandma Mimi) who believed in the power of the written word even if they didn’t practice it themselves – and they passed that on to me through constant encouragement but also through letter writing. I went to golf tournements and dinners and company events – I was quite the little adult in some ways. Most of that came from my father’s family in one form or another. They taught me how to act, how to speak, how to walk, how to sit, all of it in a way that was related to their own class identity. (They also had no idea what to do with me when I got fat at 7. *laugh*) What social graces I possess came from them.
This is why some of my mother’s family members think I am prissy. *laugh*
I am well versed in manners and all sorts of situational etiquette. I am also a person who is horrified at the idea of banning guns because my family at one point hunted for subsistence and taking away their guns would have taken away our FOOD. I have an incredibly visceral response when people say no one has any reason to own a gun: FUCK YOU. It’s not couth or reasoned or measured – it’s a response to the idea that people would have denied my uncles their ability to literally provide for our family.
There’s a tension in my identity – something that is taking the correct and appropriate measured steps for what people think I should be and what I should become. But there’s a part there, too, living in a trailer on a dirt road with an entirely different background that no one really wants to hear about because they don’t understand it. Or because I’m somehow supposed to be ashamed of it. It’s like some people think I’ve “escaped” and should never look back. That’s not how it works.
I pass as middle class, and no one thinks twice before they make jokes about tornadoes in trailer parks, People of Walmart, or NASCAR. I pass as middle class, and people are surprised I don’t have any expectation of being able to fall back on my family in an emergency situation (they’d be great during a zombie apocalypse but not so good in a fiscal crisis). I pass as middle class but I don’t tell people one of the reasons I didn’t have a wedding is because we just stone cold could not have afforded it – the little reception my family threw was in the Relief Society room down at the church and it was a pot luck.
My life is a lot easier now than it has been at various points in the past – for a whole lot of reasons. But I pass as middle class and no one knows that I am, at every moment, completely aware of how easily it could all collapse around me.
It’s difficult to figure out how I should identify when it comes to class. Bankruptcy aside, my parents worked in offices, did work that could be considered more mental than physical. But there’s so much more to my life and identity than my parents in isolation. None of us are simply our parents.
I don’t think that’s uniquely Southern. But I think class, as much as race, is part of the struggle that exists in the American South. The concept of “poor white trash” isn’t a new one – it’s cited in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. At the time, it was a term directed at poor white servants by slaves. Now, poor white trash, as opposed to the other terms that might be applicable (redneck, cracker, hillbilly, for example), is a term that judges morality and human worth. Crackers may be dumb racists but poor white trash are dumb racists who deserve to die in a tornado because of their moral failings, apparently. It’s a phrase that’s been used to describe a great big chunk of my family – often in my presence. Because I pass as middle class.
May 19, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
The time has come, the fat lady said, to talk of many things: of shoes – and clothes – and steampunk style – of epaulets – and rings – and why body con is so dang hot – and whether fats need wings.
(Yes, we totally do.)
It’s been way too long since we did any kind of Etsy shop round up around here, y’all. In fact, a helpful email I got this morning (Hi, Allegra!) informed me I hadn’t done once since, like, 2009. That’s so long ago!
So let’s get started with this particular treasury:
This treasury features specifically steampunk stuff in size fat, whatever that size happens to be. I’m fiending for that Tomboy in Space dress, y’all. PINTUCKING IS MY WEAKNESS.
Or one of them.
There’s also a new team called Volupuasitie. I know I applied for membership!
What are YOUR favorite shops on Etsy? I have a particular love for shops that specialize in clothes for fatties – but I also enjoy shops that do custom work. Do you have a shop that you think we should know about, too? Lemme know!
I’ll even start: Reclaimed Whimsy. When I sell stuff on Etsy, that’s where I sell it. Lately it’s all epaulets all the time. *grin* Bring on the recommendations!
May 17, 2011
| Posted in Guest Blogger, Uncategorized
I LOVE GUEST POSTS. I especially love guest posts by Rebecca (she has posted here before) because I love childrens and young adult lit. Sometimes it is hard to talk about fat kids – because I don’t have any kids, just my own experience as a fat kid. But I think kids are absolutely shaped in their perceptions by the media that not only surrounds them but that is explicitly aimed at them. It’s nice to know when there’s a shining moment or two in cultural construction. Thanks, Rebecca!
FAT READER SINGING by Rebecca Rabinowitz
Do you yearn for young adult books featuring a fat protagonist who doesn’t lose weight as part of their emotional growth arc? They’re rare – incredibly rare. Even many books that go beyond shallow fat stereotypes to portray a complexly human fat teen often feature weight loss along the way. Sometimes the weight loss is conveyed in merely one line; but one line is enough to tap into the ubiquitous cultural meme that weight loss connotes emotional growth. Physical fatness that diminishes as emotional growth occurs is literarily stale and played-out. It’s also wildly damaging.
Today I’m going to talk about two books that feature fat teen protagonists who don’t lose weight over their growth arc.
FAT LADY SINGS by Charlie Lovett is full of gusto and damn fine fatassery. You know what it’s not full of? Weight loss. Not a single line. Protagonist Aggie grows and learns and accomplishes everything along her plot arc without becoming one jot thinner.
So now you’re thinking “glutton,” and honestly, I like ice cream and pizza as much as the next person, but not any more than the next person, and a lot less than Cameron and Elliot, who can each eat enough to feed a small Albanian village and still look like an ad for famine relief. So call me big-boned or well-endowed or voluptuous or any of those other euphemisms—even call me fat. I embrace “fat.” I am fat.
Just don’t call me overweight—because if I’m “overweight,” then that means there is some ideal weight that I should be, and I’m not buying that one. 
Here are some things that I love in THE FAT LADY SINGS: a multitalented protagonist who is actually fat rather than simply “feeling” fat (nothing against books addressing that issue, but it’s not the same thing, and it’s not what I personally crave). Musicals and lots of singing. Prose that while not always polished is unabashedly warm and enthusiastic. Loyal friendships in groups. Fallibility. Queerness of some teens *and* some parents. Teen competence and creativity.
THE FAT LADY SINGS is not perfect. It’s pretty darn white. It’s not *absolutely* devoid of fat stereotypes (there’s a gratuitous “Oreos” line that frankly feels as if it’s in the wrong book).There’s a bit of body shaming and a bit of classic reactive/defensive skinny-equals-anorexic name-calling that’s character-based but unfortunately never gets textually up-ended. Aggie’s sometimes-insecurity makes for a certain type of unfriendly narrative objectification of her body from her own point of view, which can be defended as realistic but is not the only realistic option, and sometimes goes too far for me.
But that’s not the main thing going on here, and y’all, this book rocks so hard. It’s lively and inspiring. Aggie is a hoot, and gifted in fun ways, and lucky in friends and family, and hot; and also, she’s a self-centered diva who needs to get the hell over herself. All this happens while she’s fat. Life While Fat. That’s revolutionary.
THE FAT LADY SINGS comes from a very small press, so don’t expect to see it displayed at your local bookstore. You can order it online, or order it *from* your local brick and mortar, or request that your library buy it, or get it on Inter-Library Loan from another library. (Be careful to get the right book, the one by Charlie Lovett — the same or similar titles have been used before by other authors.) It’s worth it, I promise. And then, if you’re inclined, give it a signal boost and/or give it as gifts, because a book from a tiny press needs that.
The second book I’m recommending today is THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN by Josh Berk. Fat protagonist; no weight loss along the way. Yay!
Here are some things that I love in THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN: screamingly funny narrative voice (I really did fall over laughing). Wry, dry, ironic wit peppered with references to, for example, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and the Hardy Boys. Genre: comedy/mystery/realism — all three! And: a deaf protagonist. Will is both fat and deaf — almost as if a person can have more than one identity that’s otherized by mainstream culture. Shocking, right?
The text doesn’t capitalize the word “deaf” as it describes Will, which is why I’m not capitalizing it here; but that’s just one detail about deafness which I don’t feel fully equipped to evaluate. I’m not deaf, so I’d love to read some deaf and Deaf reactions to this book. I’m unsure if the amount of lipreading that Will does is realistic, and (despite research) I’m unsure about some other details; plus there could well be aspects of the text’s portrayal of deafness that I missed completely.
Most of the main characters in THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN are white (sigh), but when Will forms a detective team of three teens, one of them is a deaf black girl. Deaf black characters, or even (to broaden the category) deaf characters of color, are so incredibly rare in children’s literature* that it’s great to see one, even if she’s a secondary character.
Will’s fatness is justified in a particularly anti-fatpol way: he’s fat because of how he eats. Stale, right? SO STALE. However, given that, his eating isn’t moralized or demonized, and it isn’t emotional or symbolic; and his own final acceptance of it is crisply refreshing.. Just prepare to roll your eyes at the simplified and stereotypical reason given for his fatness (and the fact that a reason is given at all), and then enjoy his attitude about it:
Oh, and I’m going to get really skinny and buff. All slim like a swimsuit model. Ha-ha, totally kidding. I’m just like my dad and grandfather and great-granduncle Dummy Halpin. Some people simply like to eat. Get over it, world. 
THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN is from a large publisher — Random House — so it should be easy to find. Enjoy!
FOOTNOTE TEXT: For reading about the general rarity of black women and girls (let alone deaf ones) in media-constructed groups, see Scott Westerfeld’s post, The Missing Black Woman Formation, and then be sure to also read Claire Light’s response about how the truth is more complicated than that, and also that Westerfeld got some things wrong, and the Angry Black Woman’s followup to both.
May 16, 2011
| Posted in Uncategorized
So. If you’re on Twitter, hopefully you’ve seen the stream of tweets about this Pschology Today article (Thanks to @racialicious for being the first tweet I saw on the topic) (Extra thanks to @thefiercestgirl for pointing out the google cache here. I had a guest post scheduled for today but I am interrupting that to say all of this:
Y’all, this kind of racist bullshit masquerading as science is unacceptable. It’s vile and on par with the “science” proving black people weren’t human that used to be so popular. If you believe – especially if you are a white person – that we live in a post-racial, post-racist society just because we have a mixed-race guy in the White House (or just because you don’t know anyone personally who’d say this stuff), you need to read this article and you need to spend some serious time thinking with yourself about why something like this can be taken seriously enough to get published. Y’all, this guy got PAID to write this.
There is no objective measure of beauty, first and foremost. And any subjective study of aesthetics (as an entry-level anthropology course would make clear) is going to be informed by the cultural conditioning – and that includes racism – of the study’s participants. If you can’t control for that sort of bias, unless you are actually studying that bias, you can’t do a goddamn worthwhile study.
Y’all, I was an English major and I know that article isn’t how science works. Critical thinking skills for the win!
Seriously, people throw some charts in and expect that to be enough even though the foundation of their hypothesis is some weak ass racist bullshit.
And then we come to this choice bit:
The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone.
Seriously, this “researcher” can only think of ONE think that will “explain” the results – that black women are too manly. How thinly veiled does a racist attack have to be before Psychology Today sits up and realizes, hey, maybe we shouldn’t be printing this because someone obviously forgot to take their “anti-internalized racism” pills this morning? And how bad does the science have to be before they go, hey, you know what? That’s fucked up.
How about this? Black women score lower on the (totally subjective) aethetics poll because black women are presented as unattractive in our mainstream culture unless they conform to a very narrow (white) beauty standard or appear significantly “exotic” enough to be an exception. How about this? Black men are viewed as more attractive because they are, again in mainstream culture, reputed to have animalistic sexual stamina. How about this? Studying the relative attractiveness of the races is flawed from the get-go because (aethetics aren’t objective) it’s seeking to construct a hierarchy of superiority and supremacy based on (unsubstantiated) race characteristics. Hello, white supremacy! It’s been so long! Except it hasn’t really been!
I think my favorite – and by favorite, I mean it made me throw up in my mouth a little bit – is the part where the writer talks about how black women THINK they are pretty. Though it might also be the “oh, no, I totally controlled for how all black women are fat” part. And controlled, somehow, for net intelligence even though… you can’t really do that.
A list of contacts at Psychology Today is available here. (Thanks to @AfroLez for the tweet and @IAmDrTiller for retweeting the info.)
ETA: They’ve already pulled the article but that isn’t actually an adequate response. An acknowledgement of exactly how fucked up the article was would be a start. I’ll link to screen caps as soon as I have access to them.
EETA: Image cap here. Hotlinking at the moment – will upload it to my own space when I get home from work.
EVEN MORE ETA: Read this response by Karnythia.